Craig Carton calls it "arguably the best thing I’ve done in my radio career," and some of his strictest graders have agreed — from critics in the media to the judge who sent him to prison.
It is called "Hello, My Name is Craig," and since Jan. 9, it has been a half-hour weekend forum for the WFAN host, covering the subject of gambling addiction — his own and others’.
The tone is dramatically different from his freewheeling weekday afternoon program with Evan Roberts.
"Monday to Friday, I’m being paid to entertain an audience — period, stop," Carton said. "Saturday mornings at 9:30, while I hope it’s entertaining, it’s a public service show.
"It’s an opportunity for me to focus specifically on one aspect of my life with one goal in mind: share my story, allow other people to share their stories, so that we can help people that are going through it."
Carton, 52, has said an addiction to gambling — blackjack in particular — contributed to the actions that led to his arrest in 2017, his conviction on federal securities and wire fraud charges, and a year in prison in 2019 and '20.
As a result, he said he feels a responsibility to help others with that problem. He has done so by speaking to experts on the subject as well as providing a forum for callers to talk about their personal experiences.
"The best part of that show is kind of twofold," he said. "One, it’s therapeutic for me to be able to talk about my addiction and share stories and talk to experts about it.
"Then, secondly, and what’s been far more important, is the outpouring of people that have heard the show or in some way been introduced to the show who’ve now also reached out to try and get help. That’s been, for me, the most satisfying part."
He added, "The amount of emails I’ve gotten and calls I’ve gotten and the amount of people that have been able to get in front of licensed therapists and counselors to help them with their problem, has just been amazing."
Carton is aided in the cause by Dan Trolaro, assistant executive director of the Council of Compulsive Gambling for New Jersey — aka 1-800-Gambler — who helps identify guests.
"I can speak to my experience, but by no means am I an expert on the physiology of the brain and all that stuff," Carton said, "so having him be a part of this has been instrumental."
Many have assumed the show is part of Carton’s community service obligation after being released from prison one year into his 3 ½-year sentence. But that is not the case now. During his first year out of prison, he is under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Prisons.
Manhattan-based federal judge Colleen McMahon, who presided at his trial, and the probation department will oversee his case beginning in June.
"Me doing this show, I have not been ordered to do it, I’m not obligated to do it, I don’t get any credit toward community service for doing it," Carton said. "I’m doing it because morally it’s the right thing to do. And that’s the only reason I’m doing it.
"My community service, I believe, will be centered around gambling addiction, but I have not earned a minute toward that yet and I can’t until this summer."
McMahon confirmed that this week in the course of a ruling that until Carton comes under her jurisdiction on June 9, there is nothing she can do about matters such as accelerating restitution payments to one of his victims or his community service schedule.
In a footnote, she added, "I commend Mr. Carton on the new Saturday morning show, and his colloquy last Monday evening with [WFAN’s] John Jastremski on the dangers of gambling evidences real change on his part."
Said Carton: "I was proud, frankly, to see Judge McMahon was aware of it and acknowledged it. It made me feel good to see that, because I do think what I’m saying is important for people to hear."
WFAN relies heavily on gambling advertising, like all sports radio and TV outlets do. Carton does not read such ads, but he said he has not found it awkward to be surrounded by gambling talk.
He credited Entercom, WFAN’s parent company, and the gambling advertisers themselves for understanding.
"To everyone’s credit, everyone has been extraordinarily supportive of the message I’m putting out," he said. "Because, remember: I’m not anti-gambling. I’m a proponent of legalized gambling. I just got to a point in my life where I couldn’t do it responsibly anymore. But that doesn’t mean you’re going to have the same problem.
"So giving me the opportunity to create awareness about the potential for a problem without denigrating their business model I think has been the message I’ve put out there, and I think they’re very sensitive to that message, which has been great, frankly."
Carton and Roberts have not completed a full quarterly ratings book yet, but they lead ESPN New York’s "The Michael Kay Show" after the first two months of the winter book in the key advertising demographic of men ages 25-54.
"I think the show is already light years ahead of where it was when we first started in November," Carton said. "Evan and I have become very comfortable with each other. He’s a great broadcaster, as I said at the launch.
"It’s a lot of fun doing the show. I look forward to it every day, and I think the show will continue to become more popular and more comfortable and I’m looking forward to a long run. It’s exceeded all expectations where we are in regard to the listeners, where we are in regard to every aspect of radio. I couldn’t be any happier with the success we’ve had."