Craig Carton will return to WFAN on Nov. 9, partnered with Evan Roberts, completing a swift comeback 38 months after his arrest and later conviction and imprisonment on federal fraud charges.
The station’s parent company, Entercom, made the announcement on Thursday morning, one day after Joe Benigno, Roberts’ longtime partner, announced his retirement, which opened the door for Carton to join Roberts in afternoon drive time.
Boomer Esiason, Carton’s former longtime morning co-host, announced Carton’s return near the end of Thursday morning’s show.
"He’s back where he belongs; he’s coming home again," Esiason said. "He paid just an incredible price in his own personal life and I think for those of us who know what he went through and what he’s gone through, we realize exactly the damage that he did. We also recognize that he paid a very, very big price by spending over a year in jail.
"As a former partner of his and somebody that worked beside him for 10 years, I’m overjoyed that he’s coming back to the station and that he’s going to be a part of our family again and that he can return home again."
The move did not come as a surprise. Carton, 51, is personally and professionally close to Chris Oliviero, who is the New York market manager for Entercom and oversees WFAN.
In June, shortly before Carton was released after serving about 12 months of a 42-month sentence, Oliviero told Newsday, "If a time in the future came where Craig had gotten his life back on track, fulfilled all that was asked of him and was in a position to resume his career, of course we’d talk and discuss."
Talk and discuss they did over the months since Carton’s release, with the goal of invigorating WFAN’s lineup with a lightning rod whom listeners tend to like or dislike strongly.
In that sense, Carton is an appropriate successor in afternoons to Mike Francesa, who left that time slot for a second time last December. The two men do not get along, but they invoke similarly passionate feelings among listeners — and on social media.
"The station is just being made stronger today by the return of Craig Carton," Esiason said. "So I’m happy for that to have happen."
The station strongly considered pairing Carton with a retired athlete, a formula that worked well for a decade when he was with Esiason on the morning show.
Bart Scott would have been an intriguing option for the station, but after making a bid to re-sign him late last year, WFAN lost him to ESPN, which enticed him with television work in addition to a radio show.
By pairing Carton with Roberts, 37, the station is counting on him bringing out another side of Roberts, who with Benigno mostly stuck to sports and showed relatively little range outside the area. That proved to be a particular problem in the spring, when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the sports world.
Carton, too, presumably will seek to adapt to the different vibe of afternoons, which tend to be less freewheeling than morning.
He also will have to navigate a world in which some listeners and callers will be skeptical that they can trust him — and in which gambling ads are a critical driver of sports radio revenues.
It was Carton’s admitted addiction to gambling that led him down the path to personal and professional ruin in 2017, when he was arrested for misusing funds intended for a ticket brokerage to repay gambling debts.
Carton and Roberts will be heard weekdays from 2 to 7 p.m., presumably only until 6:30 on Yankees game days next season.
The long-range goal will be to reclaim WFAN’s longtime but recently lost ratings edge on ESPN New York’s "The Michael Kay Show," an aim that will be more realistic in the full winter ratings book than for the current one, which is well underway.
"Craig Carton was part of the fabric of WFAN for a decade, both on and off the air, engaging and entertaining audiences with his one-of-a-kind personality and talent," Oliviero said in a news release Thursday.
"We all hope that this next step on his road back will not only be beneficial to Craig, but also for his audience as he shares his story and looks to make an impact through the power of his voice. WFAN welcomes him back and is excited to have him join Evan Roberts in afternoon drive."
Said Carton in a news release, "I am grateful to Entercom for the chance to return home to WFAN. I have dreamt about this moment every minute of every day for the last three years.
"I know I have work to do to regain the trust of my colleagues, listeners and advertisers and am committed to doing just that. I can't wait to get started with Evan Roberts on November 9th."
Carton spoke extensively of his rise and fall in an HBO documentary that premiered earlier this month.
Benigno and Roberts will work together through Nov. 6. Carton will be on the air alone Thursday from 5 to 6 p.m. to discuss his return.
"We’re very happy to have him back," said Gregg Giannotti, who replaced Carton alongside Esiason. "I think they’re going to do great and I want this lineup, now that it is the way it is, I want us to be one big team that sticks together for a long time, because there’s been too much instability here."