Craig Carton ended his nearly 38-month absence from WFAN with a flourish on Thursday, beginning a whirlwind day with the announcement of his return in the morning, then spending 70 minutes on the air in late afternoon.
And he was in vintage form, even as he spoke frankly about his gambling addiction and personal demons, and apologized to his family, colleagues and listeners for his behavior.
"Let’s be honest, I made it very hard for a lot of people to be very supportive of me," he said after opening his preview appearance with a nod to WFAN’s afternoon drive time history.
He imitated Chris Russo’s signature show opening, then noted the irony that he was working in the studio named in honor of his old archenemy, Mike Francesa.
"I am thrilled to be here," he said. "This is frankly the culmination of a dream that I’ve had every minute of every day for the last three years."
The long-expected announcement confirmed that he will join Evan Roberts starting Nov. 9, following Roberts’ final show next Friday with his current partner, Joe Benigno, who is retiring. They will appear from 2 to 7 p.m. most weekdays.
The station gave Carton an hour to whet fans’ appetites. He did not disappoint.
He said he spoke to ESPN New York’s Michael Kay, his ratings competition, on Thursday and said, "My job is to beat you; good luck."
He said of people in the business who thought they deserved a shot at the job before him, "You have had plenty of time to get better at what you do. You didn’t. That’s on you. That’s not on me. Got it? Good."
He said the directors of a recent HBO documentary about him reached out to Francesa to participate and got a two-word answer: "No chance."
But mostly he expressed gratitude to the station for another chance after he spent about 12 months of a 42-month sentence in prison upon being convicted on federal fraud charges.
"It’s for me to make sure I don’t f-up the second chance," Carton said. "I can guarantee you there ain’t no third chance. That’s off the table — with my family, with WFAN, with life. There is no third chance.
"So if you don’t like the fact I’m getting a second chance, there’s nothing I can tell you."
The station had been talking to Carton since shortly after his release in June, but not about a return to mornings, where he partnered with Boomer Esiason from 2007-17.
He admitted he dreamed of getting the morning band back together, "but the reality is that it was never offered. It’s not on the table, and that’s a great nod of the cap to Gregg [Giannotti] and what they’ve done there."
Esiason’s relationship with Carton was strained after Carton threatened the show’s future — "I poured gasoline on it and lit it on fire," he said — but Esiason called in to express his support and well wishes on the air.
Carton’s gambling addiction fueled his downfall. He was convicted of diverting funds intended for a ticket brokerage to pay off debts. He said he attended a rehab center in Arizona to work on his problem.
He hopes to use his WFAN platform to help people with such addictions, and he will not participate in gambling talk on the show, letting Roberts read the many ads for sports betting heard on the station.
"I see no reason why my being an addict as a gambler and Entercom and the FAN needing to bring in that type of advertising needs to be mutually exclusive," he said.
Roberts joined Carton on the air and the two sought to assure listeners they will be a fit. Carton said he will let Roberts be the sports expert and "I’ll take care of everything else. I’ll stay in my little pigpen over here and I’ll do what I do."
The station had considered pairing Carton with a former athlete and might have tabbed Bart Scott had he not left WFAN for ESPN in January. When Roberts asked if he still could back out of the job, Carton cracked, "I’ll see if Bart’s number still works."
After announcing Carton’s return, Esiason said, "He’s back where he belongs; he’s coming home again."
Said Carton, "I was in prison. Walking the street is awesome. Coming back and doing the radio is quadruple-y awesome."