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'Validation' of WFAN's Craig Carton and Evan Roberts: SNY simulcast and rapid ascent to No. 1 in sports talk radio

Long Island native and WFAN afternoon host Evan
Craig Carton on air on the first "Carton

WFAN afternoon drive hosts Evan Roberts, left, and Craig Carton.

Evan Roberts has been practicing sitting up straight. Easier said than done for a noted on-air slumper. But as of Monday, there will be more eyes on his posture.

"Now hopefully I never think about it when I’m doing the radio show," he said. "That’s the way I hope it goes."

Effective at 4 p.m. on Monday, the 6½ -month-old WFAN afternoon program Roberts hosts with Craig Carton for the first time will have a television simulcast, on SNY.

WFAN has distributed video content from the show digitally, but the TV deal is a milestone for a program that since Nov. 9 has made steady ratings gains and restored the FAN’s edge over its ESPN New York counterpart.

"I think it’s validated what Evan and I are doing," Carton said as he sat beside Roberts for a joint video interview with Newsday. "I think it, selfishly, validates my being back on the radio. As a show, it validates the content and the fact the audience has very quickly become attracted to the show, adopted the show."

The YES Network has simulcast WFAN and ESPN New York shows since its inception in 2002, but this is a first for SNY. Initially it will carry only the 4 to 6 p.m. portion of a show that runs from 2 to 7 p.m.

Why only two hours instead of starting at 2 p.m.? SNY president Steve Raab told Newsday earlier this month that that felt right to him, at least initially.

"Too much of a good thing, of anything, becomes diminishing returns," he said. "But if two hours proves to be terrific and the FAN and SNY, we both decide that there’s a reason to look at expanding it, I’m sure we’ll look at that."

Like most radio hosts with simulcasts, Roberts and Carton insisted they will not significantly alter the radio show with an eye on the cameras.

"The simulcast is going to be just a voyeur into what we normally do," Carton said. "So we know there will be cameras in there, but we’re not going to change one bit the content or the manner in which we attack the stories that we talk about on the air . . . You’ll just be able to see us."

Said Roberts: "When I watched ‘Boomer and Carton,’ when I watched Mike [Francesa] on TV, the best part about it was it was the radio show on television. There was no difference."

Still, their studio has had a makeover to improve the look on camera, and it seems likely there will be times the two play to the cameras.

"We’re aware the cameras are there, so we’re going to give that part of the audience something to see," Carton said. "But at the end of the day, we get paid to do a great radio show, and we’ll continue to do that."

As for whether they will hold back on certain topics until 4 p.m., Carton said, "We don’t do a show that way. There are things that we plan for certain hours, for sure, but I wouldn’t plan something, and Evan wouldn’t plan something, around, ‘Oh, we have this great story, let’s not do it until 4 o’clock.’ "

Carton said he is unconcerned about the simulcast cannibalizing radio ratings. Rather, he believes television will expand the audience by exposing more potential listeners to the show.

"And let’s be honest: As long as the New York Mets keep winning and the Mets are relevant, people are going to start tuning in for the Met pregame show," he said.

"There’s more of a chance that we’re going to find more listeners and viewers that never would have considered listening to us, so I think the Mets’ relevance is a good thing for us as well."

Carton left WFAN in September 2017 after being arrested on federal fraud charges and spent a year in prison before being released last June. He rejoined the station in November.

In each of the five months since, WFAN has improved its ratings relative to ESPN’s "The Michael Kay Show."

Asked if he is surprised by the quick success, Carton said, "No. I was disappointed it took as long as it took . . . I thought the show would kind of find its giddyap a lot quicker than most new shows. And I’ve never wavered on that."

He added, "There’s still a lot of room for growth. If these are our ratings six months from now, a year from now, we might be disappointed."

In the most recent quarterly ratings book, which ran from Jan. 7 through March 31, from 3 to 7 p.m., when the afternoon drive time shows overlapped, "Carton & Roberts" finished third overall in the New York market among men ages 25-54, averaging 5.3% of those listening in that demographic. Kay finished fourth, averaging 4.8%.

In the April ratings report, with an overlapping time of 2-6:30 p.m., Carton and Roberts averaged 6.4% with Kay averaging 4.2%.

Carton credited Roberts for adapting to his changed circumstances after partnering with Joe Benigno on a more traditional, meat-and-potatoes sports show.

"When I was doing a show with Joe, we were doing a very different kind of show," Roberts said. "So I wasn’t going to talk, necessarily, about getting a tick on my genitalia, because why would we ever discuss that?

"I don’t think I’m any different, I just think Craig does a good job of getting a different side of me out."

Now he will try to do so with Roberts sitting up straight.

"The fact we’re being simulcast so quickly into our tenure speaks volumes to the way the audience has embraced our content," Carton said. "It doesn’t happen overnight. There’s no guarantee it ever happens.

"But the fact that it’s happened and happened this quickly just validates that the show works."

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