An Unfiltered Conversation with Craig Carton
Every morning for ten years, Craig Carton lived his dream by entertaining New York on the number one sports radio station in the country.
But on September 6th, 2017, Carton’s WFAN dream turned to a nightmare when the popular radio host was arrested on charges of wire and securities fraud amid accusations of running a multi-million dollar Ponzi-like scheme. No listener could have anticipated the prior day being the last time Carton would tell New Yorkers to “stay classy.”
One week later, when Carton resigned from WFAN due to legal uncertainty, it was hard to envision a scenario where he’d return to the airwaves anytime soon. For the next two months Carton remained silent but then started to make his comeback by launching a weekly podcast in November. Suppressing all of his energy and desire to create a radio show for eleven weeks was like trying to recork a bottle of champagne. Even with his legal situation far from being resolved, Carton wanted to stay relevant with the public.
Now, back on the air daily, Carton’s new show on the FNTSY Sports Network still features his free-flowing, high-energy personality. Listening and talking to Craig, he recognizes the severity of his situation, but also appears improbably comfortable with the looming trial, refusing to let it get in the way of the day at hand.
Joined by Michelle Serpico and Corey Parson, Carton and Friends, broadcasts live on the FNTSY Sports Network weekdays from 9a-1p ET from Studio 34, located inside Rock & Reilly’s on West 35th Street.
BC: We’ll start with Carton and Friends, what do you think of your first month back hosting a daily show?
CC: I like the fact that I’m doing a show again on a regular basis because I missed doing it for sure. I miss the immediate connection with the hometown audience, the local listener, so that’s been a period of adjustment to where I know we have a lot of people listening, but it’s not the same relationship as far as them being able to interact with me in the same manner. So I miss that for sure, but I do love the fact that I get to come in everyday and do what I do, because for a long time I wasn’t able to.
BC: Did you know Corey and Michelle prior to this?
CC: No, I had actually never met them.
BC: How did you get paired up with them?
CC: When they first sought to bring me in, one of my deals with the company was that I have to pick who was in the room with me and I didn’t want to be alone. Too much of me or too much of anyone isn’t a good thing.
I casually met everyone and watched some of the shows they had here and thought it would be great to have Michelle on the show because she isn’t a sports person. I didn’t want to have a woman in that role who felt the need to prove how much sports she knew, I wanted someone that doesn’t care about sports the way we do, because I felt it would be easier to play off of that.
And I loved Corey’s New York sensibility, plus he looks and sounds different than I do. While I wasn’t going to find a Boomer, I needed someone who would be different than me and I thought that dynamic would be pretty good.
BC: Assembling a successful three-person show isn’t exactly easy. You have a big personality, and you’ll take the show in a lot of unplanned directions, not to mention the audience is of course going to tune in to hear you specifically, yet you’re still trying to introduce additional voices to make the show more interesting and entertaining. How do you develop that on-air chemistry with two other hosts? Is there a conscious effort to tone it down and involve them or do you approach it with the mindset that the audience is tuning in for you and it’s up to them to catch up?
CC: I think it’s more that than anything else, which sounds really selfish and egotistical, but I’m the show. What they bring to the table and do very well, considering we’ve never met or worked together, is they know when to pick their spots.
It can be tough for them to find their own voice because I’m nonstop, but for me, I need to give them that opportunity to chime in, so I’ve created a segment for Michelle where she can lead a story or topic and then it will come back to me to respond to it. I wanted her to be able to introduce those topics. Corey is on the other side of the room where he has his own section and he comes to the table with his perspective, but the show is only going to get better with time. I think today it would be the best show on radio anyway and it will get even better.
BC: How about the difference of doing a local show vs. a national show. You’re now developing topics that aren’t necessarily focused on New York sports.
CC: I still do the same show I did with Boomer at FAN. Obviously I have two different people sitting with me, one’s far better looking for sure and that’s Corey, Michelle is a… ::Laughs:: I’m teasing
Look, I still do the same show. When I open, I’m talking New York, I’m talking Yankees, Mets, whatever it is and I will never stop doing that. Once I get through that, I’m more aware of national stories that I otherwise wouldn’t have been aware of from a talk concept. I want to be sure that if there’s a major or interesting national story that I might not have gotten to on the FAN, I always get to it now. So the mentality of doing the show hasn’t changed, I’m just adding more to it than I otherwise would have.
BC: Did you know what the FNTSY Sports Network was a year ago?
CC: Yes, they came to me for the last five years wanting to work with me from a fantasy and gaming standpoint and I’ve known the owner, Lou, for a longtime, but because I was on the FAN the timing was never right. Then all of a sudden I was affordable ::Laughs::
BC: When you were on WFAN, you didn’t talk much about fantasy sports and you still don’t even though you’re on a channel named the FNTSY Sports Network. Do you think the platform fits what you do?
CC: You’re right, I don’t talk about it and I won’t. There’s been an explosion of fantasy sports interest for sure, but the great thing that Lou, the owner of Sports Grid, saw was you need to entertain people. Some people may have heard of the network because of fantasy, but I’ve brought a lot more attention to the network for sure.
At the end of the day as long as I’m entertaining people, those fantasy listeners will stay and listen because I’m entertaining them and the hope for the network is that all of the new people I bring in will stay for everything else so they can monetize the services and expertise they offer. The Sports Grid concept is to get out of the niche of just fantasy and I clearly do that for them.
BC: Let’s spend a minute on terrestrial radio vs. your current platform…many people listen to a host like Mike Francesa because 660 or 101.9 is on the dial and part of their daily routine. When it comes to regular radio there aren’t many options. If someone is looking for a podcast, or to stream something via an app, they have an endless amount of choices. How do you convince listeners to come to you and tune in consistently?
CC: From a podcast standpoint, people come to you because they want you specifically. Then you hope people will also accidentally find you. The people that want you will listen to you longer than the average radio show because they sought you out, whether that’s me or anybody else.
Listen, I desperately miss being on terrestrial radio. I’m happy to say we’ve been approached by a syndication company so the Tuesday after Memorial Day we’ll be on across the country on terrestrial radio, but obviously I miss being on the FAN for sure. The difference is, like you said, the FAN has a built in audience. There are people that wake up with the station on and they don’t turn it off. It doesn’t matter what’s on, they listen to the FAN, just like people will listen to Z100, HOT 97 or something else. There are people that will never turn the dial. My job is to get people to find FNTSY Sports Network and stay there and so far so good with that.
BC: You mentioned adding a syndication deal for the show. Will part of that include your program airing in New York?
CC: We were approached by a New York radio station and I said no to the deal because I didn’t like it. Out of the gate we won’t be, but there is a lot of interest in me being back on a radio station in New York.
BC: Will the show time change?
CC: It might change, that’s possible, but it would only be an hour difference here or there. We’ll have an announcement within a week or so.
BC: You started a podcast in November when you began to get back behind the microphone. Was the goal at that point to just to have your voice heard or own your own platform or use it as a stepping stone to join a ready-made brand?
CC: I didn’t do anything for two months and I was driving myself crazy. I did the podcast, not knowing who would listen or how many people would download it. It was more medicine for my brain. It gave me the ability to express opinions on some topics. Remember, when you’re doing a podcast you’re doing it alone in a room, there’s no audience while you’re talking. The audience comes after you’ve recorded it. So that was new to me. I had never done that before.
It’s interesting being alone with your thoughts and saying those thoughts out loud. Most people, if you’re alone in your apartment talking to yourself, you’re not saying those words out loud. I was now saying words out loud, recording them and hoping that people would want to hear them so it was very weird. I was blessed that it became very popular pretty quickly, but it was never what I wanted to be doing. I also thought, there are tons of people talking about sports, so I started doing other things.
For me, the goal was to be very calculated about how I came back. So I do a podcast and I get through that. The podcast leads to the deal with Twitch.TV so then I’m doing a video show. Do that well and make sure it goes OK, and that leads to this opportunity with FNTSY Sports Network. It’s been step by step to what I hope is an ultimate return back to what I was doing eight months ago.
BC: With the podcast, did you write things down or rehearse them?
CC: Never, can’t do it.
BC: The reason I ask is it sounded very different from the radio show. Part of it is because, as you said, you’re just sitting there talking to yourself, but it came across as if it was something you were reading. You didn’t sound like yourself the first time I listened to it, and I thought maybe you were being held back by legal restraints and someone was telling you everything needed to planned out or approved.
CC: Sure, no, that wasn’t the case. I didn’t love the podcast. People seemed to like it if you base it on downloads.
Listen, ten years on one radio station is a lot of time, so do I have a core audience that loves me and wants to hear what I have to say? Yes. Thankfully they showed up in droves for that podcast, but I would definitely prefer not to do a podcast. ::Laughs::
BC: So for the two months that you weren’t doing anything, I’m sure it had to drive you crazy listening and reading all of the feedback about your legal situation. There had to be a part of you which wanted to preach your innocence, but beyond that, for someone who is creative and been successful and has done a high profile show every day for the past decade in the #1 media market, all of a sudden it’s gone, and you’re being suppressed and not able to entertain the way you were used to. How frustrating was that for you?
CC: It was extraordinarily difficult to not have that creative outlet. I was a pain in everyone’s ass in my inner-circle, my family. I became really good at wood-working. I can build stuff really well now. I’d be happy to show you some stuff. ::Laughs::
I thought for a minute I was going to be like Harrison Ford and become a word class wood shop guy.
BC: That’s true? You actually took up woodworking?
CC: I’ve contemplated building and selling custom wood stuff.
I was going stir-crazy. Yea I wanted to shout out my innocence and I have a lot that I want to show the world. It was extraordinarily frustrating not to be able to do that. Not having that daily outlet was much tougher than I thought it would be and I missed it dearly.
BC: Recently you had a caller bring up Mike Francesa and it transitioned into you talking about your arrest. I would think that whether you’re innocent, or however confident you are that you’re innocent, it’s almost irrelevant because of what you have looming over you. The fact that you’re able to do a daily show, veer off and talk about the arrest, then get right back into the mode of being an entertainer is impressive to say the least and something that I don’t know if a lot of people can do.
CC: You have to compartmentalize a lot mentally. I have to make sure that I don’t go halfcocked and say things that I shouldn’t be talking about, but I’m never going to shy away from the truth. I’m never going to shy away from exalting my innocence. I can’t get into the details of it of course, but I’m never going to stop preaching that and yea, it’s hard, there’s a very fine line of what can you say, what can’t you say and beyond that, what should you say and what shouldn’t you say.
I have a very serious legal matter that’s still there and although I’m doing my brand of radio…which is irreverent, entertaining and in your face…I have not shied away from talking about these silly New York radio wars and all of that stuff. But I’m also very cognizant of the fact that on October 29th I’m going to be wearing a jacket and tie sitting in a court room where 12 men and women are going to hear facts about my life and have to make a determination on what I did and what I didn’t do and that’s very daunting. I’m uber aware of it of course, and I take it very seriously. It’s extraordinary frustrating that for a guy that makes his living communicating and telling it like it is, I’m not able to do that right now.
BC: Do you think you’re different on-air today than you were a year ago?
CC: Not different, but I think I’m better. I think doing this show is making me better.
BC: I don’t think you sound different, which I think is surprising. The show is obviously different, but your approach hasn’t changed much.
CC: I think the show on FAN is more different than the show I do today. I think if you heard both shows today and didn’t know what was going on, you would point to my show as the show you’ve heard for the last ten years as opposed to the show on the FAN today.
BC: Have you listened to Boomer and Gio?
I mean I’m typically taking my kids to school all day everyday ::Laughs::
(referring to Francesa saying he never listened to Boomer and Carton)
I listen, of course, how could I not listen to it. Yes, I listen.
BC: Do you like it?
CC: No! No…
Giannotti was put in a great position for the opportunity and I called him before he started to wish him well. I have no axe to grind with Gregg. He was offered a job, Imus was fired and I was offered a job. It’s a great opportunity and he has the chance now to make the most of it and be the morning guy at the FAN if they’re successful, for a longtime. I don’t root against him, but I think our show was obviously much better.
It’s a very weird, awkward situation for me to listen to it, but I think that show has become two guys talking about sports and that’s not the show I did. That doesn’t mean it’s right or wrong, it’s just not the show I did and it’s not the show I would do. If they’re successful then they don’t have anything to worry about and if they’re not successful then I think like any other person in radio…they have something to worry about…not just with me, but with anybody. They have Yankee and Met baseball, the NFL Draft, Odell…they should be number one.
BC: One of the biggest differences of that show is also the biggest similarity…and that’s Boomer. Once you left he took on a stronger leadership role. He went through a few months working with different hosts where he began to focus more on sports and dominate the conversation, quarterbacking a program in a way that he didn’t have to while you were there. Now that he has Gio, he hasn’t yet reverted back to the co-host that he was while it was Boomer and Carton. Have you noticed that?
CC: I think that’s carried over for sure and that’s the awkward part of starting a new show and new relationships. Boomer had to take over a lot of the type A hosting duties of a show, the mechanics of a show. While Gregg can do that very well, he’s a professional at it, that dynamic of the show is still very different and everyone will compare that to what we did and while it’s not a fair comparison, it’s a real comparison. That doesn’t mean they’re doing a bad show, they’re not, the show is good, it’s fine, it will be okay.
I always viewed what Boomer and I did as something special in radio and I take great pride in that. I know this will be viewed as me being cocky and I don’t mean it to be, but if you look at the great morning shows historically, I think you can go Imus, Howard Stern, Opie and Anthony, and us…as far as dominant morning radio shows. We were not at the level Howard Stern was at and I’m not making that comparison, but we were a dominant morning show and there was something very special about our relationship and how the audience would react and connect with us and you can’t replicate that. Every station is searching for that. Z100 has it with Elvis Duran, he’s probably the biggest morning show guy in NY now and I thought we were it for a decade, but there is no longer a dominant morning show in New York City. We were the last one and god-willing, I will be the next one.
BC: You were getting back into radio and looking for a platform at the same time FAN was looking to replace you, did you ever just talk to them about returning?
CC: I was not actively looking for a job. I never went to FAN and said hey you know my case, I’m available the next year or two or whatever, I wasn’t actively looking. I was content doing what I was doing, staying somewhat relevant by doing something and keeping my name out there. My fear, the insecurity of what I do for a living is that if I disappear for eight months, or until my trial was over and my case was figured out, that people would forget about me. That’s the insecurity of what we do. It was important for me to do something, just so every now and then, whether it’s saying something on Twitter or doing a show, people would remember oh right…there’s Craig.
BC: Are you confident that this relationship with FNTSY Sports Network can last awhile or is this a temporary stop until you get back to a major terrestrial station?
CC: Listen, I want to be back on a major station, but if that’s through the FNTSY Sports Network, I’m cool with it. I’m very loyal and they were very good to me when a lot of people approached me about doing different things, but they put a piece of paper in front of me with a signature on it so I’m loyal to that.
Other people would approach me with deals that didn’t always follow through. FNTSY actually signed the paper. If we can grow this and get it on terrestrial radio in New York City, that’s great…and if we can’t…we can’t, but the future will determine that. The results of my case will determine that, and I’m very comfortable with the fact that when I’m exonerated I will have opportunities and Sports Grid and FNTSY Sports Network will be the first company that has a shot at that opportunity.
BC: How much do you miss the competitive nature of being on terrestrial radio? Not only the radio wars in terms of the fun you had with Francesa’s show, but also competing with Hot 97? If you were on the air in New York right now you’d also be going up against Sid Rosenberg who took over mornings on WABC with Bernard McGuirk.
CC: Well it wouldn’t be a competition…but I loved it.
One of the things that moved me in radio was I wanted to be the most listened to show at the FAN and the most listened to show in the marketplace. Those are two very different things that we were able to achieve. Not competing, battling and getting involved in that back and forth, which I always thought was fun, yea I miss the hell out of that. That’s why I’ve kind of invoked myself into it a little with Mike and Chris and CMB at the FAN and with that troll…Rosenberg with Don and…what’s his name over there? Michael Kay.
To me, radio is much like being an athlete. The magnifying glass is on you, and everyone has ears and it’s either good or it’s not good and of the ones that are good, which is the best one? I think Michael Kay has not done what he should do when he had the opportunity and when I resigned at FAN, there was a huge opening for a lot of people to come take it and nobody took it.
BC: One of the biggest things I expected to be different with your radio show is, regardless of how confident you are that you’re innocent, the public perception from a large percentage of your listeners is that you have a gambling problem. I would have thought you would make gambling a lesser part of your show than you did in the past, but you went the other way and actually make it a focal point. Do you think you need to work to build your credibility or do you view it as, people are interested in it, so we’re talking about it?
CC: People have an interest in it. Sports wagering is about to be legalized by the United States Supreme Court, (it since has been legalized) being that my listeners are going to be doing it, if I shied away from it as a topic I wouldn’t be keeping it real with the audience or a representative voice of how they live their lives.
I’m obviously very sensitive and aware of what people say about me and the accusations that have been made against me. All I can say is…one of the toughest things is when people make accusations about you that aren’t based on anything factual, it’s very hurtful and not being able to respond to those accusations is even worse.
I will do that in the court of law on October 29th and I look forward to that. I wish the case was tomorrow. I would love to have my legitimate tangible story out there for everybody to see and the way I always viewed it is, when I’m able to tell the whole story and you and the public can see everything, make your determination on who I am then.
There’s a great quote that I put on my Twitter account… “Accusations fit on a bumper sticker; the truth takes longer” and I live by that now. I’m accused of stuff every day of the week, on Twitter, on social media I’m called every name in the book. People make assumptions as to what they think I did and what I’m accused of doing, but no one has heard the entire story. You can accuse all you want, attack me all you want from a social media standpoint, but let’s wait until the whole story comes out and when it does comes out…if you, meaning the people that want to attack me, feel like you have the grounds to keep doing so, then go ahead. My feeling is that once my story is told, everyone will feel very different about me.
BC: Have you thought about leaving Twitter altogether?
CC: Yea, and for months I didn’t look at it at all. You can drive yourself crazy looking at it. Every so often there are people that I feel cross the line. I can take a joke, but some people cross the line and I have actually found them and called their places of employment. I’ve called their families and everyone of them backed down as soon as I did it because they can’t handle what I deal with on a daily basis.
BC: I’ve seen you respond to some of them, or retweet with a comment and they come right back with ‘I was just kidding Craigy, I’m a big fan and I’m rooting for you,’ but they clearly never expected you to actually respond.
CC: Right, they’ll say I’m a big fan and hoping for the best. I hate Twitter, I hate social media, I hate every aspect of it because it’s like guys with beer muscles. Everyone knows where I live now, everyone knows where I work, if you hate me that much, why are you following me? If I say good morning, there are five guys telling me to go F myself, they wait for me to say something. That mentality, I never understood it. if I hate you I’m not following you because I don’t care what you have to say.
It will be nice to prove all those people wrong.
BC: With your current situation, are you ever concerned about saying something that could get you into more trouble, or hurt your legal situation?
CC: Listen, I don’t talk about my case, other than the overview of I proclaim my innocence and always will. No one is ever going to trick me into talking about it, so I’m not worried about making the mistake of talking about it. I will not get into the specifics of my case, everything else…I don’t see why I wouldn’t talk about anything else.
BC: What about outside your case, with the current climate, radio hosts are often apologizing, you don’t have much of a filter and you might not be trying to offend someone, but it can still happen. Do you try to be conscious about that?
CC: There are people that are sensitive about everything. During the course of my career I have said things I wished I could take back and I had apologized for, but that was prior to joining the FAN. I’d like to consider myself a mature broadcaster and not once during my FAN career do I think I had to apologize to a group of people. Actually, I think chiropractors once. I think I had a thing with chiropractors where I agreed I wouldn’t call them quacks anymore.
But I’m not worried about it because I don’t do it, that doesn’t mean you won’t be offended by an opinion, but I don’t think I ever cross the line of offending a group of people. I don’t think anyone could accuse me of that today or in the last ten years.
BC: Who is your target audience on FNTSY?
CC: We go after young men. At WFAN it was men 25-54, but even with that, talk radio appeals to an older part of that demo for sure. Doing what I’ve done with Twitch and FNTSY Sports Network has arbitrarily made me younger. I mean I play Fortnite…we’re about to do a marathon where I play Fortnite live on-air until I win…that could take a long time…so doing the Twitch.tv deal and the FNTSY deal has knocked a few years off me. I’m more relatable to an 18 year old than I was a year ago.
BC: Is that something you wanted to do? Does relating to a younger audience fit your personality?
CC: Yea, I’m a kid at the end of the day. As a parent, I always thought the day my kids can beat me at video games will be the day I officially cross whatever that line of getting old is, and they beat me at everything now so I need to practice as much Fortnite as possible. I can still get them in Madden, but they kill me in these new games.
BC: What were your thoughts on Mike Francesa returning to WFAN?
CC: It’s a smart move for the radio station. CMB wasn’t working. I have no idea the financial part of it, I would imagine he will bill more. I got the sense that the station, although they did fine in the ratings, there was no buzz about WFAN anymore. I think Mike and I kind of brought that factor of what’s going to happen today? So it reenergized the listening audience. I’m sure it pissed everybody off inside the building from an on-air perspective, but listen…we’re in show business right? If he’s not getting it done he’ll get replaced. If the midday guys aren’t getting it done, they’ll get replaced. If I wasn’t getting it done I would have been replaced, so I think he’s probably good for the station overall. If Mike Francesa decided he wanted to do sports talk in New York, the only place that should ever be done at is WFAN.
BC: Were you surprised how quickly he came back?
BC: Were you surprised he actually retired, especially after you left?
CC: As the story goes he asked for a lot of money. When you do talk radio for a living, there are not a lot of other things you want to do, or that you’re good at, but if you’re good at talk radio it’s special. I’m not surprised he missed it. I’m not surprised he wanted to comment on the stories of the day, and I’m not surprised he wanted to come back. I’m also not surprised at the lack of interest in hiring him at the financial level he wanted. Mike made a lot of money. I made a lot of money talking on the radio and if I could get back there, of course…why wouldn’t I want to go back? So I get the mentality of wanting to return.
(WFAN listeners know Carton and Francesa did not have the warmest relationship and choosing to view Francesa’s return from a business standpoint might seem surprising. Recently on “Carton and Friends,” Craig stated he appreciated Francesa choosing not to talk about his arrest when he easily could have piled on. Carton even told the audience he left Francesa a hand written note thanking him for not giving an opinion about his arrest.)
BC: Have you listened to Carlin, Maggie and Bart?
CC: I listened to a little bit of it yea. I made the comment when I started my show, that my goal was to prove that a woman, a white guy and a black guy could do an entertaining show ::Laughs:: and I think we’ve already proved that.
It’s a hard mix of people they put in there. You have everyone wanting to be the sports authority, and there isn’t a lot of room for all three voices. I think the biggest mistake they made were the amount of guests they brought on. If you have three people in the room talking sports, you don’t need a Daily News writer. I thought it didn’t allow them to develop and grow, which they have a chance to do now. I would say no guests, you three do a show and figure out your roles and the only way to truly do that is on the radio and maybe they’ll find it. Everyone that’s pissed that they got demoted…they have two hours of prime New York radio real estate, figure it out.
BC: It’s still early, but it sounded at times like they were concerned about giving everyone equal time, whereas with your show everyone recognized you were going to dominate the conversation…and the same thing would happen during an interview, they would take turns asking questions which made it difficult to develop a good back and forth.
CC: Yea it wasn’t natural. It wasn’t like the way you and I would talk at a bar and by the way it’s okay to interrupt one another, just don’t step on each other all the time. It was always you have to get your question in, then I have to get my question in, but with Boomer…if I was in the zone or Boomer was, the other guy would shut up during an interview. I might go five minutes straight if it’s good. That show had a lot of pressure on them, and I don’t know how much of a chance it had to make it.
The other thing I can’t stand are these shows that yell at you all day. I don’t get that part of it, stop yelling at me…I get yelled at at home, I don’t want to be yelled at. That seems to be a popular model today, two people yelling at each other about sports. Maybe that works on TV for a half hour, but I don’t think the radio audience wants to tune into you and me yelling at each other.
BC: Do you still keep in touch with anyone from the Boomer and Carton Show?
CC: I talk to all the guys that I was on the show with. We don’t talk every day, but we stay in touch. Boomer and I played golf together a couple weeks ago. I went to the Mikey Strong charity event which was important to me and I wanted to be at, it was about Mikey and the Reeve Foundation and nobody else, but the fact that it was important to me and they recognized that and extended the invitation to me…it meant the world to me.
So for the people that don’t think I get along with everybody…I do. I get along with the company. I get along with the show. I get along with the radio station and I think they would all say the same thing.
BC: That begs the question, do you see yourself going back to WFAN?
CC: Yea, I dream about it all the time. I don’t know when it will happen, or if…that’s out of my control, but yea, I dream about it every day of the week. I love what I’m doing now. I enjoy working for this company, but I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t think about it every day, because I do. And now that Mike came back who knows? ::Laughs::
Maybe Mike actually, in a very strange way, paved the way for my return one day in the future, who knows…
BC: It is interesting that since you left, FAN has hired five hosts; Gio, Carlin, Maggie, Bart and now Mike, but you weren’t one of those hires and more surprisingly Sid wasn’t one of those hires.
CC: Yea, well I think Sid is doing just fine over at WABC. There is nothing expected of him there…the station has no ratings, you just do a show and go home I guess, but we’ll see, should be interesting.
BC: Before I let you go, I’m not doing my job if I don’t ask you this…what are you benching these days?
CC: Thank you! I’m up to 280! Does it look like it? ::Laughs::
BC: It’s hard to tell with that jacket
CC: I hide it well, all good. ::Laughs::
Brandon Contes is a freelance writer for BSM. He can be found on Twitter @BrandonContes. To reach him by email click here.
Brandon Contes is a former reporter for BSM, now working for Awful Announcing. You can find him on Twitter @BrandonContes or reach him by email at Brandon.Contes@gmail.com.
Amanda Brown Has Embraced The Bright Lights of Hollywood
“My whole goal was that I didn’t need people to like me; I needed people to respect me.”
The tragic passing of Kobe Bryant and eight others aboard a helicopter, including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, sent shockwaves around the world of sports, entertainment, and culture. People traveled to Los Angeles following the devastating news and left flowers outside the then-named STAPLES Center, the arena which Bryant called home for much of his career, demonstrating the magnitude of the loss. Just across the street from the arena, Amanda Brown and the staff at ESPN Los Angeles 710 had embarked in ongoing breaking news coverage, lamentation, and reflection.
It included coverage of a sellout celebration of life for Kobe and his daughter and teams around the NBA opting to take 8-second and 24-second violations to honor Bryant, who wore both numbers throughout his 20-year NBA career. They currently hang in the rafters at Crypto.com Arena, making Bryant the only player in franchise history to have two numbers retired.
During this tumultuous time, Bryant’s philosophy served as a viable guiding force, something that Brown quickly ascertained in her first month as the station’s new program director.
“I had people that were in Northern California hopping on planes to get here,” Brown said. “You didn’t even have to ask people [to] go to the station; people were like, ‘I’m on my way.’ It was the way that everybody really came together to do really great radio, and we did it that day and we did it the next day and we did it for several days.”
The 2023 BSM Summit is quickly approaching, and Brown will be attending the event for the first time since 2020. During her first experience at the BSM Summit in New York, Brown had just become a program director and was trying to assimilate into her role. Because of this, she prioritized networking, building contacts, and expressing her ideas to others in the space. This year, she looks forward to connecting with other program directors and media professionals around the country while also seeking to learn more about the nuances of the industry.
“The Summit is kind of like a meeting of the minds,” Brown said. “It’s people throughout the country and the business…. More than anything, [the first time] wasn’t so much about the panels as it was about the people.”
Growing up in Orange County, Brown had an interest in the Los Angeles Lakers from a young age, being drawn to play-by-play broadcaster Chick Hearn. Brown refers to Hearn as inspiration to explore a career in broadcasting. After studying communications at California State University in Fullerton, she was afforded an opportunity to work as a producer at ESPN Radio Dallas 103.3 FM by program director Scott Masteller, who she still speaks to on a regular basis. It was through Masteller’s confidence in her, in addition to support from operations manager Dave Schorr, that helped make Brown feel more comfortable working in sports media.
“I never felt like I was a woman in a male-dominated industry,” Brown said. “I always just felt like I was a part of the industry. For me, I’ve kind of always made it my goal to be like, ‘I deserve to be here; I deserve a seat at the table.’”
Brown quickly rose up the ranks when she began working on ESPN Radio in Bristol, Conn., working as a producer for a national radio show hosted by Mike Tirico and Scott Van Pelt, along with The Sports Bash with Erik Kuselias. Following five-and-a-half years in Bristol, Brown requested a move back to California and has worked at ESPN Los Angeles 710 ever since. She began her tenure at the station serving as a producer for shows such as Max and Marcellus and Mason and Ireland.
Through her persistence, work ethic and congeniality, Brown was promoted to assistant program director in July 2016. In this role, she helped oversee the station’s content while helping the entity maintain live game broadcast rights and explore new opportunities to augment its foothold, including becoming the flagship radio home of the Los Angeles Rams.
“Don’t sit back and wait for your managers or your bosses to come to you and ask what you want to do,” Brown advised. “Go after what you want, and that’s what I’ve always done. I always went to my managers and was like, ‘Hey, I want to do this. Give me a chance; let me do that.’ For the most part, my managers have been receptive and given me those opportunities.”
When executive producer Dan Zampillo left the station to join Spotify to work as a sports producer, Brown was subsequently promoted to program director where she has helped shape the future direction of the entity. From helping lead the brand amid its sale to Good Karma Brands in the first quarter of 2022; to revamping the daily lineup with compelling local programs, Brown has gained invaluable experience and remains keenly aware of the challenges the industry faces down the road. For sports media outlets in Los Angeles, some of the challenge is merely by virtue of its geography.
“We’re in sunny Southern California where there’s a lot of things happening,” Brown said. “We’re in the middle of Hollywood. People have a lot of opportunities – you can go to the mountains; you can go to the beach. I think [our market] is more about entertainment than it is about actual hard-core sports. Yes, obviously you have hard-core Lakers fans; you have hard-core Dodgers fans, but a majority of the fans are pretty average sports fans.”
Because of favorable weather conditions and an endless supply of distractions, Brown knows that the way to attract people to sports talk radio is through its entertainment value. With this principle in mind, she has advised her hosts not to worry so much about the specific topics they are discussing, but rather to ensure they are entertaining listeners throughout the process.
“People know the four letters E-S-P-N mean sports, but really our focus is more on entertainment more than anything,” Brown said. “I think the [talent] that stick out the most are the ones that are the most entertaining.”
Entertaining listeners, however, comes through determining what they are discussing and thinking about and providing relevant coverage about those topics. Even though it has not yet been legalized in the state of California, sports gambling content has been steadily on the rise since the Supreme Court made a decision that overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act established in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association (2018). Nonetheless, Brown and ESPN Los Angeles 710 have remained proactive, launching a sports gambling show on Thursday nights to try to adjust to the growing niche of the industry.
Even though she has worked in producing and programming for most of her career, Brown is eager to learn about the effect sports gambling has on audio sales departments. At the same time, she hopes to be able to more clearly determine how the station can effectuate its coverage if and when it becomes legal in their locale.
“I know that a lot of other markets have that,” Brown said regarding the legalization of sports gambling. “For me, I’m interested to hear from people who have that in their markets and how they’ve monetized that and the opportunity.”
No matter the content, though, dedicated sports radio listeners are genuinely consuming shows largely to hear certain talent. Brown recalls receiving a compliment on Twitter earlier this quarter where a listener commented that he listens to ESPN Los Angeles 710 specifically for Sedano and Kap. Evidently, it acted as a tangible sign that her philosophy centered around keeping people engrossed in the content is working, and that providing the audience what it wants to hear is conducive to success.
At this year’s BSM Summit, Brown will be participating on The Wheel of Content panel, presented by Core Image Studio, featuring ESPN analyst Mina Kimes and FOX Sports host Joy Taylor. Through their discussion, she intends to showcase a different perspective of what goes into content creation and the interaction that takes place between involved parties.
“A lot of times in the past, all the talent were on one panel; all the programmers were on one panel,” Brown said. “To put talent and a programmer together, I think it’s an opportunity for people to hear both sides on certain issues.”
According to the most recent Nielsen Total Audience Report, AM/FM (terrestrial) radio among persons 18-34 has a greater average audience than television. The statistical anomaly, which was forecast several years earlier, came to fruition most likely due to emerging technologies and concomitant shifts in usage patterns.
Simultaneously, good content is required to captivate consumers, and radio, through quantifiable and qualifiable metrics, has been able to tailor its content to the listening audience and integrate it across multiple platforms of dissemination. The panel will give Brown a chance to speak in front of her peers and other industry professionals about changes in audio consumption, effectuated by emerging technologies and concomitant shifts in usage patterns.
Yet when it comes to radio as a whole, the patterns clearly point towards the proliferation of digital content – whether those be traditional radio programs or modernized podcasts. Moreover, utilizing various elements of presentation provides consumers a greater opportunity of finding and potentially engaging with the content.
“We do YouTube streaming; obviously, we stream on our app,” Brown said. “We’ve even created, at times, stream-only shows whether it’s stream-only video or stream-only on our app. We all know that people want content on-demand when they want it. I think it’s about giving them what they want.”
As a woman in sports media, Brown is cognizant about having to combat misogyny from those inside and outside of the industry, and is grateful to have had the support of many colleagues. In holding a management position in the second-largest media market in the United States, she strives to set a positive example to aspiring broadcasters. Additionally, she aims to be a trusted and accessible voice to help empower and give other women chances to work in the industry – even if she is not universally lauded.
“I’ve kind of always made it my goal to be like, ‘I’m no different than anyone else – yes, I’m a female – but I’m no different than anyone else,’” Brown expressed. “My whole goal was that I didn’t need people to like me; I needed people to respect me.”
Through attending events such as the BSM Summit and remaining immersed in sports media and the conversation at large about the future of sports media, Brown can roughly delineate how she can perform her job at a high level.
Although the genuine future of this business is always subject to change, she and her team at ESPN Los Angeles 710 are trying to come up with new ideas to keep the content timely, accurate, informative, and entertaining. She is content in her role as program director with no aspirations to become a general manager; however, remaining in her current role requires consistent effort and a penchant for learning.
“Relationships are very important overall in this business whether you’re a programmer or not,” Brown said. “Relationships with your talent; relationships with your staff. If you invest in your people, then they’re going to be willing to work hard for you and do what you ask them to do.”
The 2023 BSM Summit is mere days away, and those from Los Angeles and numerous other marketplaces will make the trip to The Founder’s Club at the Galen Center at the University of Southern California (USC).
Aside from Brown, Kimes and Taylor, there will be other voices from across the industry sharing their thoughts on aspects of the industry and how to best shape it going forward, including Colin Cowherd, Rachel Nichols, Al Michaels and Eric Shanks. More details about the industry’s premiere media conference can be found at bsmsummit.com.
“I’m excited to be a female program director amongst male program directors for the first time and get a seat at the table and represent that there can be diversity in this position,” Brown said. “We don’t see a lot of it, but… there is an opportunity, and I hope I can be an example for other people out there [to show] that it’s possible.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, he interns in video production with the New York Islanders and formerly worked as production manager for the team’s radio broadcasts. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Pat McAfee Has Thrown Our Business Into a Tailspin
Yet even with all the accomplishments he’s been able to achieve, McAfee is still anxious and unsatisfied with the state of his show and his career.
When you have one of the hottest talk shows in America, you’re always up to something. That’s the case for the most popular sports talk show host in America – Pat McAfee.
The former Pro Bowl punter was on top of the world on Wednesday. With over 496,000 concurrent viewers watching at one point, McAfee was able to garner an exclusive interview with frequent guest Aaron Rodgers who announced his intention to play for the Jets.
Yet even with all the accomplishments he’s been able to achieve — a new studio, consistent high viewership, a syndication deal with SportsGrid TV, a four-year, $120 million deal with FanDuel — McAfee is still anxious and unsatisfied with the state of his show and his career.
At the end of the day, he is human and he’s admitted that balancing his show, his ESPN gig with “College Gameday,” and his WWE obligations has taken a toll on him.
McAfee and his wife are expecting their first child soon and he recently told The New York Post he might step away from his deal with FanDuel. Operating his own company has come with the responsibility of making sure his studio is up and running, finding people to operate the technology that puts his show on the air, negotiating with huge behemoths like the NFL for game footage rights, booking guests, booking hotels, implementing marketing plans and other tasks that most on-air personalities rarely have to worry about.
McAfee says he’s looking for a network that would be able to take control of those duties while getting more rest and space to spend time with family while focusing strictly on hosting duties. FanDuel has its own network and has the money to fund such endeavors but is just getting started in the content game. McAfee needs a well-known entity to work with who can take his show to the next level while also honoring his wishes of keeping the show free on YouTube.
The question of how he’s going to be able to do it is something everyone in sports media will be watching. As The Post pointed out in their story, McAfee hasn’t frequently stayed with networks he’s been associated with in the past for too long. He’s worked with Westwood One, DAZN, and Barstool but hasn’t stayed for more than a year or two.
There’s an argument to be made that the latter two companies weren’t as experienced as a network when McAfee signed on with them compared to where they are today which could’ve pushed the host to leave. But at the end of the day, networks want to put money into long-term investments and it’s easy to see a network passing on working with McAfee for fear that he’ll leave them astray when he’s bored.
It’ll also be difficult for McAfee to find a network that doesn’t put him behind a paywall. Amazon and Google are rumored to be potential new homes. But both are trying to increase subscribers for their respective streaming services.
It will be difficult to sell Amazon on investing money to build a channel on YouTube – a rival platform. For Google, they may have the tech infrastructure to create television-like programming but they aren’t an experienced producer, they’ve never produced its own live, daily talk show, and investing in McAfee’s show doesn’t necessarily help increase the number of subscribers watching YouTube TV.
Networks like ESPN, CBS, NBC, and Fox might make sense to partner with. But McAfee faces the possibility of being censored due to corporate interests. Each of these networks also operates its networks or streaming channels that air talk programming of their own. Investing in McAfee could cannibalize the programming they already own.
And if McAfee works with a traditional network that isn’t ESPN, it could jeopardize his ability to host game casts for Omaha or analyze games on Gameday. It’s not impossible but would definitely be awkward on days that McAfee does his show remotely from locations of ESPN games with ESPN banners and signage that is visible in the background.
If SportsGrid has the money to invest in McAfee, they might be his best bet. They have all the attributes McAfee needs and they already have a relationship with him. It is probably unlikely that he’ll be censored and he would even be able to maintain a relationship with FanDuel – a company SportsGrid also works alongside.
Roku is another option — they already work with Rich Eisen — but they would move his show away from YouTube, something McAfee should resist since the majority of smart TV users use YT more than any other app.
If the NFL gave McAfee editorial independence, they would make the perfect partner but the likelihood of that happening is slim to none. NFL Media has independence but it was clear during the night of the Damar Hamlin incident that they will do whatever is necessary to stay away from serious topics that make the league look bad until it’s totally unavoidable.
It’s hard to think of a partner that matches up perfectly with McAfee’s aspirations. But once again, at the moment, he’s on top of the world so anything is possible. The talk show host’s next move will be even more interesting to watch than the other fascinating moves he’s already made that have put the sports media industry in a swivel.
Jessie Karangu is a columnist for BSM and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
5 Tips For Networking At the BSM Summit
“Have a plan and don’t leave home without it.”
Bring your game plan if you attend the BSM Summit in LA next Tuesday and Wednesday. No matter your purpose for attending: to learn, get a job, speak, or sell an idea, you must be able to read the room. To do that, it helps to know who will be there and how you can cure their pain.
Have a plan and don’t leave home without it. If you have time, buy How to Work a Room by Susan Roane. If you don’t, just follow these five tips:
- INTRODUCE YOURSELF: Before you arrive at The Summit, figure out what you want, who you want to meet, and what you will say. Once you get there, scout out the room and see if anyone of those people are available. Talk to speakers after they have spoken- don’t worry if you miss what the next speaker says. You are there to meet new people! Most speakers do not stick around for the entire schedule, and you don’t know if they will attend any after-parties, so don’t risk it. Refine your elevator pitch and break the ice with something you have in common. Make sure you introduce yourself to Stephanie, Demetri and Jason from BSM. They know everybody and will help you if they can.
- GET A NAME TAG: Don’t assume that name tags will be provided. Bring your own if you and make your name clear to read. If you are looking to move to LA or want to sell a system to book better guests, put it briefly under your name. Study this to get better at remembering names.
- LOSE THE NOTEBOOK: When you meet folks, ensure your hands are free. Have a business card handy and ask for one of theirs. Remember to look people in the eye and notice what they are doing. If they are scanning the room, pause until they realize they are blowing you off. Do whatever it takes to sound upbeat and open. Don’t let their clothes, hair, or piercings distract from your message. You don’t need to wear a suit and tie but do bring your best business casual wear. A blazer isn’t a bad idea either.
- SHUT UP FIRST! The art of knowing when to end the convo is something you will have to practice. You can tell when the other person’s eye starts darting or they are not using body language that tells you the convo will continue. You end it by telling them you appreciate meeting them and want to connect via email. Ask for a business card. Email is more challenging to ignore than a LinkedIn request, and you can be more detailed in what you want via email.
- WORK THE SCHEDULE: Know who speaks when. That is when you will find the speakers hanging around. Plan your lunch outing to include a few fellow attendees. Be open and conversational with those around you. I am a huge USC fan, so I would walk to McKays– a good spot with plenty of USC football memorabilia on the walls. Sometimes you can find the next day’s speakers at the Day 1 after party. Need a bar? Hit the 901 Club for cheap beer, drinks, and food.
Jeff Caves is a sales columnist for BSM working in radio, digital, hyper-local magazine, and sports sponsorship sales in DFW. He is credited with helping launch, build, and develop SPORTS RADIO The Ticket in Boise, Idaho, into the market’s top sports radio station. During his 26 year stay at KTIK, Caves hosted drive time, programmed the station, and excelled as a top seller. You can reach him by email at email@example.com or find him on Twitter @jeffcaves.
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