When the Boomer and Carton morning show on WFAN launched on September 4th, 2007, there was some uncertainty if the show was going to be a success.
In fact, co-host Boomer Esiason wasn’t quite sure if it was going to be a long-term gig.
“Initially, I’d be lying if I said yes,” said the former NFL Most Valuable Player. “I really didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know if I was going to enjoy it as much as I do. I watched Imus all those years and I really felt like he enjoyed what he did. I never knew that I would get as hooked on it as I had become about six months into it.”
And there were others at WFAN who had their doubts about whether the new morning show was going to work because there was a feeling that it wasn’t going to be a good fit for Boomer.
“I think that’s probably why there were many around (WFAN) including Mike (Francesa) and Chris (Russo) that felt like I’d be done with this after about six months and that there would be no reason for me to do something like this,” said Esiason. “It took me a while to get acclimated but what also helped was working with the maniac Craig (Carton) who kept everyday a complete surprise. I never knew what was coming out of his bag of tricks as we got started.”
To say it worked would be an understatement.
Almost 15 years later, Esiason is still holding down mornings at WFAN. He now co-hosts Boomer and Gio alongside Gregg Giannotti, which is also simulcast on television on the CBS Sports Network.
Esiason’s goal was to bring an athlete’s credibility to the show, but he realized early on that a morning talk show, even on an all-sports radio station, had to sound different than any other show. It wasn’t just about Joe from Saddle River calling in to talk about the Jets. The show had to be a mix of what was going on in the sports world along with fun and entertainment.
And in Craig Carton, Boomer had with him a co-host that introduced him to the world of morning radio.
“Once I realized what Craig was doing, I then kind of had to rethink the way I was going about things and not be taking myself or the athlete all that seriously,” said Esiason.
“I felt like I was the straight guy and Craig was the loose cannon but in a funny way. The longer we worked together, the easier it was for us to become intertwined with improvisation. If there was a dead day with not much sports to talk about, that meant we had other avenues to go down and some of those were uncomfortable for me to go down.”
For Esiason, the most uncomfortable moment for him had to be on September 6th, 2017 when Carton was arrested by the FBI on charges of securities and wire fraud as a result of a Ponzi scheme. Boomer broke the news to his audience that morning and Carton subsequently stepped down from WFAN creating a vacancy in the chair next to him.
It didn’t take long for Esiason to realize who his new co-host might be. On the day that Carton was arrested, long-time WFAN employee Vicky Biello told Boomer it would be Gregg Giannotti, who was already working down the hall hosting the morning show on CBS Sports Radio.
“She said Gio was going to be my next partner,” said Esiason. “She knew because she had seen Gio around here for a long time. I knew Gio. I had taken him to Monday Night games and different things. It was just a matter of whether or not he would ever get comfortable doing it the way I got used to doing it. It took him a few months to really get comfortable and once he did, I felt like we had the same kind of magic that I had with Craig.”
WFAN announced Giannotti as Boomer’s new partner on November 15th, 2017 and the Boomer and Gio morning show debuted on January 2nd, 2018.
The show remains a smash hit.
“I’m not surprised at all,” said Esiason. “I would have never let the show get lost or lose. I was too far into it. We had to find somebody who had the nuts and bolts of radio but also could be extremely funny and knowledgeable about where we’re from because it’s still local radio even though it’s on a national television network.”
In addition to WFAN, Boomer remains busy with his other broadcasting gigs including The NFL Today on CBS and his syndicated Gametime with Boomer Esiason program. His itch to get into broadcasting started as a huge sports fan growing up on Long Island and continued during his college days at the University of Maryland.
Drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2nd round of the 1984 NFL Draft, Boomer experienced his first taste of broadcasting while he was still playing. Esiason served as an analyst for World League of American Football Monday night telecasts on the USA Network during the 1990 and 1991 season.
It was easy to see that Esiason would have a future in broadcasting and that the best was yet to come…or so he thought.
After his playing career was over, Esiason signed a four-year deal in 1998 to join Al Michaels in the booth for ABC’s Monday Night Football. It’s been well documented that Esiason and Michaels didn’t have the greatest relationship and Esiason left the booth after just two seasons.
Boomer wondered if broadcasting was still going to be part of his life.
“You have to remember…I’m surrounded by all sorts of allies and guys that I got along with immensely,” said Esiason. “I had this notion of how great broadcasting can be. What I didn’t realize was how insecure this industry can be. I go to ABC and unfortunately it doesn’t go well with me and Al Michaels and I have to re-evaluate what I thought broadcasting was.”
Boomer was quickly hired by Westwood One to do the national NFL radio broadcasts, which put him back in a booth for Monday Night Football, playoff games and a record run of 19 straight national radio broadcasts of the Super Bowl.
Boomer was feeling better about broadcasting.
“Thankfully, I got to work with Howard David, Marv Albert and Kevin Harlan in the radio booth,” said Esiason. “All three of those guys, along with the occasional Dave Sims and a few other play-by-players, made broadcasting fun again.”
Esiason joined The NFL Today studio show on CBS in 2002. Between that, the national radio broadcasts and his WFAN morning show, Boomer was juggling three huge jobs from 2007 until he stepped away from the Westwood One broadcasts in 2018.
It was time for Boomer to cut his schedule a bit.
“Doing all of that was exhausting,” added Esiason. “Finally, I came to the realization that I couldn’t do it anymore and try to remain a normal human being.”
There was never a question of the passion that Boomer had for the game of football during his playing career or the passion that he currently has for his broadcasting jobs. There is however one thing that has kept him more focused and determined over the last 25 years than anything else; the work he does to raise money for the fight against Cystic Fibrosis.
For him, it’s personal.
In 1993, Esiason was traded by the Bengals to his hometown New York Jets. It was during training camp that summer when Esiason was told that his two-year-old son Gunnar had difficulty breathing and was taken to a hospital where he was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. Esiason launched the Boomer Esiason Foundation to raise money and awareness for the fight against CF. All of his broadcasting duties over the years supported him giving him a platform to get the word out.
“I had to try and save my son’s life,” said Esiason. “I think Gunnar, at the age of 31 and having his own child and now starting a whole new life because of new drug development due to the money we’ve raised along with the National Cystic Fibrosis Foundation was kind of my calling,” said Esiason.
“I had so much on my plate that every time I tried to do something, I always had in mind if it was another platform that I can promote what I was doing in real life for real people. It’s one of the things that has kept me going. To be able to say that I’ve raised over $170 million in the fight against CF over the last 25 years, is nothing short of a miracle but it’s due in large part to the companies I’ve worked for.”
Between the foundation, WFAN, The NFL Today and his other broadcasting duties, Boomer still has a pretty full plate these days. In 2020, he made an unexpected trip back to a broadcast booth during the pandemic when Tony Romo came down with COVID-19 and CBS asked him to fly to Los Angeles and work with Jim Nantz on a Cardinals/Rams telecast.
And that begs the question…would Esiason ever consider even as much as a part-time return to broadcasting NFL games?
“I’ve always told (Westwood One Executive Vice-President) Howard Deneroff if he needed me in New York for a Monday Night, I’d be more than happy to show up and do it,” said Esiason. “I think that ship has probably sailed. Certainly, CBS knows that they have me. I could do it in my sleep, but if I go and try and do that again, I’ll probably be asleep for a long time and never get up.”
Boomer Esiason continues to get up every morning to co-host one of the most popular shows on New York radio. With everything else that he’s busy with, he still manages to carve out time to spend with his family and watch his beloved New York Rangers and New York Mets. He lived the good life as an NFL quarterback and has certainly enjoyed a stellar broadcast career to go along with his philanthropic work.
Now as far as a return to the broadcast booth, I could also use an experienced analyst for Long Island high school football telecasts!
Just kidding Boomer…but seriously let me know!
Peter Schwartz has been involved in New York sports media for over three decades. Along the way he has worked for notable brands such as WFAN, CBS Sports Radio, WCBS 880, ESPN New York, and FOX News Radio. He has also worked as a play by play announcer for the New Yok Riptide, New York Dragons, New York Hitmen, Varsity Media and the Long Island Sports Network. You can find him on Twitter @SchwartzSports or email him at DragonsRadio@aol.com.
Your Football Conversation Has To Be Different
I don’t know why any host would go with B- or C-material just for the sake of providing variety. That’s silly to me.
Rejoice! Ball is back, baby. Life is just better when football season is included; am I right? (That was a rhetorical question because I know I’m right in this case.) Like many people in this country, I’m all about the pigskin. Outside of my family and friends, there aren’t many things in life that I love more than BALL.
With all of that being established, a simple question still exists: is there such a thing as talking too much football on a sports radio show?
I think it isn’t as much what you’re talking about; it’s how you’re talking about it. For instance, it isn’t good enough to lazily say, “Ehh, we’ll start off by talking about the game last night.” Well, how are you going to talk about it? Do you have anything original, interesting or entertaining to say? Or are you just gonna start riffing like you’re in a jam band hoping to accidentally stumble onto something cool after six minutes of nothing?
Talking about football is like opening a new burger joint. Hang with me on this one. There are so many options — Burger King, McDonald’s, Five Guys, Wendy’s, In-N-Out, etc. — that you can’t expect to have great success if you open a run-of-the-mill burger joint of your own. Having an inferior product is going to produce an inferior result.
It comes down to whether a topic or angle will cause the show to stand out or blend in. Going knee-deep on a national show about the competition at left guard between two Buffalo Bills offensive lineman doesn’t stand out. You’ll get lost in the shuffle that way.
A show needs to constantly be entertaining and engaging. One way to check that box is with unique viewpoints. Don’t say what other shows are saying. Your burger joint (aka football conversation) needs to be different than the competition. Otherwise, why are you special?
Another way to stand out is with personality. It’s impossible to have unique angles with every single topic that’s presented. A lot of hosts recently pointed out that the Dallas Cowboys committed 17 penalties in their first preseason game against the Denver Broncos. But Stephen A. Smith said it differently than everybody else. That’s what it comes down to; either say things that other shows aren’t saying, or say them differently.
New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh made a comment recently that too much of anything is a bad thing. So back to the original question, is there such a thing as too much football talk on a sports radio show?
Variety is the spice of life, but quality is the spice of sports radio. If a show provides quality, listeners will keep coming back. It’s really that simple. Sure, hosts will hear “talk more this, talk more that” from time to time, but you know what’s funny about that? It means the listeners haven’t left. The show is providing enough quality for them to stick around. If the quality goes away, so will the audience.
It’s smart for hosts and programmers to think, “What’s our strongest stuff?” If that happens to be a bunch of football topics, great, roll with it. I don’t know why any host would go with B- or C-material just for the sake of providing variety. That’s silly to me.
Former NFL quarterback Michael Vick said something interesting last week while visiting Atlanta’s training camp. Vick was asked which team’s offense he’d like to run if he was still playing today. “The offense Tom Brady is running in Tampa,” Vick said. “Pass first.”
The answer stood out to me because throwing the ball isn’t what made Vick special with the Falcons. He was a decent passer and a dynamic runner. The run/pass blend made Vick a problem. I totally understand wanting to prove doubters wrong, but there are a lot of athletes that get away from what they do best while relying on something else that isn’t their specialty.
Los Angeles Lakers guard Russell Westbrook is not an outside shooter. He’s brutal in that area. Yet Russ will keep firing threes at a 30% clip. Why? Attacking the rim and working the midrange is his game. You don’t see Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul bombing threes if they aren’t going in. He kills opponents with his midrange skills all day.
It’ll be interesting to see how Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa approaches this season. He’s received a steady diet of “can’t throw the deep ball.” Will he try to a fault to prove doubters wrong, or will he rely on what he does best? Beating defenders with timing and accuracy on shorter throws is where he finds the most success.
Working to improve your weaknesses makes sense, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of going away from your strengths. How is it any different in sports radio? If a host isn’t strong when it comes to talking basketball or baseball, it definitely makes sense to improve in those areas. But if that same host stands out by talking football, at some point it becomes like Westbrook jacking up threes if the host gets too far away from a bread-and-butter strength.
Former New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is the only player in the Baseball Hall of Fame that was unanimously elected. He relied on his cutter — a fastball that moved, a lot — about 85% of the time. Mo didn’t say, “Man, my four-seam fastball and changeup aren’t getting enough respect.” He rode that cutter all the way to Cooperstown and legendary status.
Rivera is a great example of how playing to your strengths is the best approach. He also shows that quality trumps variety every time. Let’s put it this way: if 85% of a sports radio show is football content, and the quality of that show is anywhere near Mo caliber, it’s destined to be a hit.
One of my buddies, Mike Zanchelli, has always been a hit with the ladies. I think he came out of the womb with at least 10 girls in the nursery showing interest in him. He had a simple dating philosophy: “Always. Leave them. Wanting. More.” That might work in dating, but I think it’s the opposite in sports radio. Most listeners don’t hear the entire show. If they’re in and out, wouldn’t you want them to hear your best stuff when they are tuned in?
That’s why I say screw variety. That’s why I wouldn’t worry about overserving your audience an all-you-can-eat BALL buffet. I think it’s much wiser to focus on producing a quality product regardless if it’s well rounded or not.
Brian Noe is a columnist for BSM and an on-air host heard nationwide each weekend on FOX Sports Radio. Previous roles include stops in Portland, OR, Albany, NY and Fresno, CA. You can follow him on Twitter @TheNoeShow or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ESPN Has Gone From Playing Checkers to Chess In Two Years
Those decisions make the future ones with the Pac-12, the Big 12, NBA and UFC fascinating to watch but what’s clear is that this ESPN strategy is different.
In the days after the Big Ten news leaked regarding some of the details of their upcoming media deals, I was hankering for more information. I wanted more insight as to the “why”. Why did the Big Ten leave such a long-lasting and prosperous relationship with ESPN. I just couldn’t imagine it and it’s why I wrote about it last week.
It was in that pursuit of knowledge that I tuned into a podcast favorite of mine, The Marchand and Ourand Sports Media Podcast. The show’s hosts are deep into the weeds of sports media with John Ourand at the Sports Business Journal and Andrew Marchand at the New York Post. It was Ourand who was dropping dimes of news on the Big Ten deal last week. I wanted to hear him dive deeper, and he did on the podcast. But it was a throwaway line that got my wheels churning.
“This is about the third or fourth deal in a row that ESPN, the free-spending ESPN, to me has shown some financial discipline” Ourand said. “They are showing a bit of financial discipline that I hadn’t seen certainly when John Skipper was there and pre-dating John Skipper.”
I had to keep digging and folks, it’s true. ESPN is essentially Jimmy Pitaro in the above quote, the Chairman of ESPN. Since taking the role in 2018, he was put into an interesting position of being in the middle of a lot of big money media rights deals that would be coming due for renegotiation soon. The rights fees for EVERYTHING were going to balloon wildly. But in the last two years, he has comfortably kept the astronomical rates somewhat within shouting distance.
The big one, the NFL media rights deal agreed to last March, saw ESPN pay a very strong 30% increase for the rights. However, other networks involved had to pay “double” as Ourand so succinctly put it. He also personally negotiated with FOX to bring in Troy Aikman and Joe Buck to make their Monday Night Football booth easily more recognizable and the best in the sport. ESPN in that deal, that did NOT include doubled rates, got more games, better games, and more schedule flexibility. ABC gets two Super Bowls in the deal too. Simply put, Jimmy Pitaro set up ESPN to get a Super Bowl itself, but for now his network will take full advantage of the ABC network broadcast when the time comes (2026, 2030).
The recent Big Ten deal was massive because the conference spent forty years with ESPN and decided to reward that loyalty with a massively overpriced mid-tier package. ESPN balked at the idea. In their back pocket lies a lot of college football media rights deals with a lot of conferences including one that will be a massively profitable venture, the SEC package. ESPN takes over the CBS package of the “top” conference game. Yes, it paid $3 billion for it, but it’s a scant $300 million annually. Sure, that’s over 5X what CBS was paying annually but CBS signed that deal in 1996! I need not tell you all of the advancements in our world since Bob Dole was a presidential nominee. ESPN now gets to cherry-pick the best game from the best conference and put the game anywhere they damn well please to maximize exposure.
The F1 media rights extension is massive because of two things: one, they got it cheap before the sport littered your timeline on weekend mornings and two, when they re-signed with F1 this summer they paid way less than other streaming networks were reportedly willing to pay. The brand, the savvy worked again. ESPN takes a small risk for a potentially exploding sport and much like CBS did with the SEC for 25 years, can make massive margins.
I can keep going, and I will with one more. Sports betting. The niche is growing like my lawn minutes after the summer rainstorm. Pitaro has said publicly that sports betting “has become a must-have” and he’s full-frontal correct. ESPN is in an odd spot with their clear lineage to Disney, but it’s obvious something massive is going to come soon with ESPN reportedly looking for a deal in the $3 billion neighborhood.
Pitaro has been positioning this company from a position of strength. He pays big money for big properties, but knows when he’s getting taken advantage of and most importantly, isn’t afraid to pull his brand’s name out of the deep end.
ESPN may have an issue with dwindling subscribers, but that’s an everyone problem. The difference is ESPN is constantly trying to get you from one network ship you think is sinking into another network life raft. If you want to leave cable or satellite and go streaming, you can. ESPN+ is there to pick up the pieces. Or Sling (with an ESPN bundle). Or YouTube TV (ESPN is there too). Or a myriad of other ways. They are positioned so well right now to be where you think you want to go. Jimmy Pitaro and ESPN have been amazing at doing whatever they can to keep you paying them monthly.
The network has been aggressive with media rights deals but these newer ones have been diligently maneuvered by Pitaro. It was a choice to essentially back the SEC for the next decade, and to put more money into the potential of F1. The effort was a conscious one to keep a tight-lipped mission to bolster Monday Night Football’s booth. It was an understated strategy to reinvest in the NHL. Those decisions make the future ones with the Pac-12, the Big 12, NBA and UFC fascinating to watch but what’s clear is that this ESPN strategy is different. The old adage of “pigs get fed, hogs get slaughtered” may have applied to the network under different leadership, but these aren’t eating pigs. These are boars.
Arky Shea serves as BSM’s evening editor, a daily news writer, and a weekly media columnist. He has previously worked for Outkick, 97.7 The Zone, 740 Sports Radio, and 730 The Ump where he held roles as the station’s program director, afternoon host, and producer. To connect, find Arky on Twitter @ArkyShea.
The Producers Podcast – Big Baby Dave, Jomboy Media
Big Baby Dave has his hands in everything for Jomboy Media. He joins Brady Farkas to talk about how he brings a unique sound to each show he works with.
Brady Farkas is a sports radio professional with 5+ years of experience as a Program Director, On-Air Personality, Assistant Program Director and Producer in Burlington, VT and Albany, NY. He’s well versed in content creation, developing ideas to generate ratings and revenue, working in a team environment, and improving and growing digital content thru the use of social media, audio/video, and station websites. His primary goal is to host a daily sports talk program for a company/station that is dedicated to serving sports fans. You can find him on Twitter @WDEVRadioBrady and reach him by email at email@example.com.