Former NBA player Stephen Jackson once said on Howard Beck’s podcast that experience is the best teacher. Amen to that. The next best thing to gaining experience on your own is to pick the brain of someone else who’s experienced. Enter Steve Czaban — a sports radio veteran that has accumulated a few terabytes of knowledge throughout his career.
Czabe has been featured on Milwaukee radio for nearly 25 years, and has hosted in Washington D.C. for over two decades. His resume also includes stops in Charlotte and Chicago as well as national experience at FOX Sports Radio and SB Nation Radio. The man knows what he’s talking about when he offers opinions on the sports radio industry. Thankfully he doesn’t share his knowledge with the feel of someone who is being fanned while fed grapes. He offers his insight like a guy drinking a beer while watching a ball game at the bar.
Like most great hosts, Steve has the ability to shift gears. He can have you cracking up one minute while describing his water polo broadcasting background; the next minute he can offer a thoughtful view about doing radio during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. His mantra for anyone who wants to get in the business is outstanding. The advice is so excellent that seasoned hosts can all benefit from it as well. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: How difficult is it right now to do a show without actual sports being played due to the pandemic?
Steve Czaban: At first I thought it was going to be about fun months of just going off the grid sports topic wise and just doing guy talk, movies, hanging out and beers to occupy us while this was dealt with. But as the severity ramps up, personally I have a hard time striking the right tone. Even though our job is to provide a diversion, we are real people with families and concerns and we live in the real world. It’s tough to just be there breaking balls, backslapping, doing what is the normal course of sports radio when the whole world has gone sideways.
BN: So how do you find that middle ground?
SC: I don’t know. It’s a day-by-day, hour-by-hour thing. I don’t have a replacement content problem. I have a tone problem because I’m trying to figure out what is the appropriate tone.
BN: Does the tone that you try to strike differ at all between your shows in Milwaukee and D.C.?
SC: No, I think the tone is the same in both places. It’s more blue collar in Milwaukee and more white collar, professional, government in D.C. But people are people and the tone I don’t think changes because of it.
BN: This isn’t an easy time to be a radio host. With that in mind what has been your toughest, most challenging gig?
SC: I think the one thing that frustrated me was when I was on nationally with FOX Sports Radio. It didn’t matter if I was doing well in the kind of mid-markets that you want to thrive in like Richmond or Indianapolis. We were losing affiliates even though I was doing great numbers in those markets because they would change their syndicator affiliation. Then they would be required to carry the other company’s product so to speak.
I would get calls from PDs going, man, I am so mad about this. I tried to argue saying but this show works for us, it’s a national show but we get numbers, we can actually sell off of it, and they just tell me sorry the company line is you’ve got to carry this instead. That happened a lot. When you’re up every morning putting everything you’ve got into a show and that’s the case you’re like damn.
BN: Remember those old Army-Navy games where the broadcast would highlight a kid and just go through his daily — at 0700 he wakes up, at 0800 he does this — if you did that based on your radio schedule, what does your day-to-day routine look like?
SC: I get up at 6 Eastern; 7am start time for the Milwaukee show. I do it from my home studio so I don’t have to go anywhere. I do the show from 7 to 10, which is 6 to 9 Milwaukee time. Then there is usually an hour of mopping up and other coordination work, emails, and blah blah blah until about 11 ET. Then if the weather is nice I go out and play nine holes or chip and putt. Get some lunch. Come back home and get back in the cockpit about 3 o’clock in the afternoon to get ready for the show on 980 from 4 to 7pm. Then once that’s over from 7 to 8pm is when I record my podcast, which is a supplemental, additional 35 to 45 minutes called The CzabeCast. I call somebody up and shoot the shit with them and post it. By that time it’s about 9 o’clock and I’m ready to go to bed.
BN: Are you a good golfer?
SC: [Laughs] Depends on who I’m playing. I only negotiate strokes on the first tee. I’m an avid golfer let’s put it that way. I’m a weak 8 handicap, which some people go, oh you’re really good. I’m like yeah not as good as I want to be and not compared to the players I like to play with.
BN: How many years have you been at 980?
SC: Shoot, 20 years now. I came back in the late fall of ‘99. It’s been 20 years in D.C.
BN: How many years in Milwaukee?
SC: Well I was on a morning show on another station from ‘94 until a year and a half ago. So that was 24 years. Then this new station started up and they wanted me to be the centerpiece and to be the morning show. It was too good of an opportunity to pass up and so I said okay let’s do this.
BN: It’s really unique, man. When they first approached you to do two shows in two different markets what were your thoughts about it?
SC: I was all about it. Milwaukee has lagged behind the rest of the country when it comes to sports radio. They didn’t really have a full-time sports radio station I don’t think in town until like maybe 2000. So now obviously they’ve caught up and there are three stations, which I think is a bit excessive, but we’re really not trying to be a sports station. We’re trying to be a station for men who know sports, like sports, but they’re not going to get in knock-down, drag-out arguments with you about reliever numbers unless it’s something appropriate. We want it to be a lifestyle, guy station as much as it is a sports station.
BN: Sometimes bands forget which city they’re performing in. Have you ever forgotten which audience you’re doing a show for?
SC: [Laughs] That hasn’t happened yet. As I get older I forget more and more things but that is one that I’ve yet to encounter. My biggest check swing nowadays is — because I’ll use occasional profanity on my podcast I have to sometimes really check swing when I’m on the air because I’m talking into the same microphone for both the podcast and my shows.
BN: [Laughs] Oh, man. You haven’t slipped up yet?
SC: Nothing really bad has happened yet. It’s probably just a matter of time.
BN: Is it liberating to cuss compared to being buttoned up on terrestrial radio?
SC: It’s liberating but I’m always mindful of being gratuitous about it. It’s like the kid whose parents are gone and he can eat ice cream for breakfast. You don’t want to go hog-wild with it because it doesn’t add to the content. The content still has to be interesting and something people are going to want to come back for. You can’t just get on there and cuss.
BN: If you could choose the Packers or the Redskins to win a Super Bowl, who would you pick?
SC: Oh, the Redskins. It’s easy because my people have suffered the longest. My people have suffered greatly. The whole thing with fandom is interesting. When I started this new show I said for years when I was on this other FM morning show I was a friend of the Packers. I rooted for you guys on the side but I never considered myself a true fan. But now that I am doing a show every day that’s my own show, I feel like I have earned the right to apply for “probationary dual citizenship” I call it. I am not going to have to renounce my fandom of the Redskins while also being a Packer fan because it’s special circumstances.
People’s opinions on this vary greatly. Some say that’s impossible, you can’t do that. Others are like of course you can and that it’s okay to have two different teams depending on your circumstance. Maybe you grew up and your dad was a Cowboy fan and he raised you as a Cowboy fan. But now you live in Denver and so you go to Broncos games and you’re a huge Broncos fan. I don’t think that’s in conflict. I only think that you can’t be a fan of two teams that are traditional bitter rivals, and you certainly can’t be a fan of two teams that are in the same division.
BN: What is it about being a sports radio host that gets you up in the morning and fires you up to do more shows?
SC: Well it beats working for a living that’s for sure.
SC: No, the world of sports is fascinating and interesting. There are more great, dumb, hilarious, fascinating stories all the time. When they started sports radio in ‘87 at WFAN, the common reply was, ‘Sports all day? What are they going to talk about?’ Now look at the landscape and you say to yourself I don’t have enough hours in the day for the stories that are coming across my desk.
BN: Going back to the very beginning of your sports radio career, how did it start for you?
SC: I went to UC Santa Barbara, the Harvard of the West as I like to call it. I just started going to the student radio station. They had a little set of equipment where you could take two headsets, a mixer and literally a handheld radio antenna — sort of like you broke it off somebody’s roof. Then you would set it up at the baseball diamond, you’d point it back at the tower in the middle of campus, you’d get the connection, and then you would call a baseball game that absolutely nobody listened to. We did that for just about any sport. Me and the guys in college — we called water polo games. Do you know how hard it is to call water polo where all you see are their heads? Do you know how little anyone cares about water polo? But we did it. We did it because why not?
BN: Sports radio hosts are sometimes urged to appeal to a younger audience. Are you mindful of that, or is it like here’s my show, take it or leave it?
SC: I don’t think like ooh, what do the kids want today? It’s like OK, boomer. My one mantra always for anyone who wants to get in the business is simple; to be interesting — and that’s the goal — you have to be interested. You have to always keep an open mind. If you turn your nose up at certain sports whether it’s MMA or hockey or baseball or boxing, you’re not opening yourself up to the possibility of oh hey, this is really interesting. You know? You can’t be a picky eater. Some guys are. You get to a certain stage in your career and a lot of guys are like I just don’t talk hockey. I don’t know it. I don’t care about it. But I always try to stay interested in as many things as I can. I try to skew young even though I know I’m not young because in my mind I feel like I am.
Even if I don’t know anything about Instagram, I will still look at it and be curious about it and ask questions about it to people that might know whatever it is. It took me awhile to get my head around “Okay, Instagram. Why is this different than Twitter?” Then someone put it to me very succinctly; they said millennials don’t like to read. I said holy shit, that’s perfect. 280 characters is too long for them. Just give me a picture.
BN: [Laughs] Oh man, that’s funny. What would you say is your biggest weakness as a sports radio host?
SC: What is this a job interview? I have no weaknesses. I’m impervious. I’m a 24/7 content machine. I’m indestructible. I’ll be doing this until I’m 90.
BN: Just cranking out the hits. I like it.
SC: The biggest weakness, I don’t know. The more laps you take around the sports radio track so to speak, the easier it is to get jaded and cynical — if not jaded, just to be sort of bored. The sports world has a routine and I like that routine. It helps guide me and other sports fans through the seasons. But it’s easy at some point to be like okay here we go again. I’ve watched 41 NFL seasons that I can remember or whatever the number is. I have to constantly remind myself hey for someone who’s 22 years old, they’re in the prime up their sports fanatic life. They are like so into this. They love this shit. I think that’s something that I constantly have to guard against.
BN: I love what you said about being interested. That’s awesome advice. When you break it down to what is most important to you to be a good sports radio host, what else would you have at the top of the list?
SC: When you tell a story, have a point. It makes it so much more interesting to the listener. Everything you say has to have some kind of a point no matter what that is. It can be a big, small point, you always have to think okay so what is the reason for me talking about this? What’s my endpoint of the segment? Whatever you’re talking about, think about it critically and understand okay here’s the point I would like to make about it.
My personal philosophy is I don’t try to force a point if I don’t believe it. I can’t fake it. I’m not a take artist. I know people will say that’s not true, everyone likes to criticize all of us as take artists, but I believe what I say. Unless I’m saying something while doing it with a wink of my eye, like you know I’m kidding you on this.
BN: When you compare the very beginning of your career to later once you gained experience, what was something important you learned about doing good radio?
SC: Preparation is key. Learning how to write even if you’re not going to read your scripts. I don’t read scripts but I do write. I’ll write notes. I’ll write outlines. I’ll write certain riffs maybe. I’ll write bullet points to help guide me through what I’m going to talk about. Writing for your own blog is another good way to sort of focus your content. If you write a well-written blog about something, you’ve really sharpened the points that you want to make and the phrases that you’re using. By the time you go to “read” your own take on your own radio show, you’re not reading it, it’s just coming out of you naturally because you’ve already spent some time writing it.
BN: How important do you think it is to do a podcast in this day and age?
SC: I don’t know why everyone doesn’t do one. The cost to do it is virtually nothing. Especially for people that want to get into the business it’s something that I would do because then you can go show somebody — look at my product. I have product. I think it frees you up to do other things and it gives you another area to sort of hone your craft. It’s another boutique product that you as the host can own entirely. That’s valuable. It may be a little gift shop in terms of whatever revenue or free stuff you can get out of it compared to your regular employer, but you own the gift shop, which I think is a nice thing.
BN: When you look at your future over the next 5-10 years, how do you think it’ll look and what do you want it to look like?
SC: [Laughs] Glorious, employed, healthy, all those things. I can’t predict the future. I love what I’m doing right now. I’d like to keep doing it. I’d like to grow the Milwaukee show and give the Milwaukee market a really good, interesting, compelling show to come to every day. That’s the way I’ve been here in D.C. as well for the last 20 years too. Keep going, keep going until it becomes unbearable or I’ve got enough money and nobody ever has enough money. I guess you go until they take your guitar away.
5 Sports TV Minds Explain Why We Love The Manningcast
“Yes, it’s an in-motion experiment but it’s working because the production team at ESPN is being allowed to create a live studio show, something ESPN does very very well.”
Here at Barrett Sports Media, we clearly have Manningcast fever. And look, we aren’t the only news outlet covering the media industry that has mined Peyton and Eli Manning for all the content we can. We have looked at the show from a broadcaster’s perspective. We have looked at it from a fan’s perspective. We have gawked at the ratings growth. We have asked how fair this whole endeavor is to Steve Levy, Brian Griese, and Louis Riddick.
One thing we have not done yet is ask accomplished television professionals for their thoughts. Why has this broadcast, which can be hard to follow at times, captured the imagination of football fans? How has it gone from something we were unsure about to truly must-see TV for the sports audience?
I asked five TV pro’s what it is that they see when they watch Peyton, Eli and their cavalcade of guests. Is the Manningcast connecting with hardcore football fans that crave the Xs and Os or is it connecting with more casual fans that enjoy the comedy of Peyton wearing a helmet three sizes too small and Eli shooting the camera the double bird? This is wildly different from a traditional TV booth.
Allan Flowers is a coordinating producer for NFL Network. He’s spent three decades in the industry, and works for a network that lives and breathes football 24/7. Perhaps even more importantly, Allan has the benefit of working on one of the most well received shows in recent memory, one that football fans can’t get enough of, NFL Redzone.
I wanted to pick his brain on traditional TV booths. When the Manningcast first premiered, so many people wanted to tie it to a traditional broadcast and figure out what it means for the future. It raised questions about ESPN’s longterm plans for Peyton Manning, Monday Night Football, and the pros and cons connected to offering two versions of the same game on different channels.
“I can definitely see Peyton in a traditional booth. He is the one constantly talking football on the ‘Manningcast’. Eli mixes football with jabs at his older brother,” Flowers told me when I asked if what he has seen through the first three weeks makes him think that the brothers could be a future fit in a more traditional broadcast booth. “I think the traditional broadcast needs to change anyway. It’s the same formulaic booth that we have seen for decades. That’s why there is an appetite for something like this. As opportunities continue to open for more diverse people (e.g. younger analysts, female analysts, female and black play by play announcers), I think you will see tone of the traditional broadcast booth change regardless. ABC tried comedian Dennis Miller in the booth decades ago. I would not be surprised to see something like that happen again in the future, only if that person is relatable and appears to know football. As for what Eli & Peyton are doing, I think it’s great. They have a connection which is paramount to a great booth. There is a rawness to it that appears fresh (for now). I think their broadcast is still evolving. I’ve noticed some small changes each week. The guests have been great. Nothing but A list people. Why they are taking a break until Week 7 seems odd, but it’s an interesting watch.”
I spoke with a TV executive with experience at multiple networks that wished to remain anonymous. He told me that the Manningcast is the “perfect combination of personality and authority.”
He also said that there is no sense in thinking about Peyton and Eli’s futures as broadcasters. The deal between ESPN and Peyton Manning’s Omaha Productions, which produces the broadcast, isn’t about securing Peyton Manning to be the future analyst on the traditional Monday Night Football broadcast.
Disney isn’t looking at Peyton Manning as part of ESPN. They are looking at him as Mickey Mouse or Iron Man or Baby Yoda. He is another of Disney’s mega-brands that is talked about on investor calls and upfront presentations. To that end, ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro is smart enough to stay out of the way. He invested in Omaha Productions and is going to let the content it provides grow the way Peyton Manning wants it to.
Patrick Crakes is a former Vice President at FOX Sports and InVivo Media Group. He now runs Crakes Media Consulting. He isn’t sure that ESPN is entirely hands off. Peyton and Eli Manning are important enough that the network wants to keep them happy, but they are also smart enough to know the goal is to put on the best show possible.
“I think it’s pretty obvious that both Peyton and Eli are allowing ESPN to produce them at a very high level. This show clearly has a run-down, producers and directors are speaking live to both of them and the show evolves on-air every week in real time. Yes, it’s an in-motion experiment but it’s working because the production team at ESPN is being allowed to create a live studio show, something ESPN does very very well.”
Flowers agrees. He can’t see ESPN letting the Mannings fly blind. In fact, he had some thoughts on what kind of coaching he would give the brothers to improve on what we have already seen.
“Neither of them know when a commercial timeout is coming, which seems odd since they played the game for so long. It’s very awkward when they have a guest and they ask them to tell a story right before a punt. Then they have to cut the guest off and get to the break. I would also engage the guests in more of their football talk. If it’s a player, see if they all see the same thing. What defense would you call here. If it’s not a player, teach the guest what Peyton/Eli is seeing. There are times when the guest doesn’t know what to do, which seems uncomfortable. It was great when they had LeBron James guess the next play and he was right. More of that will make the booth connectivity better. I think they have the ability to telestrate their own plays. If not, they should. I’m also curious if the button-down collared shirt are the only shirts they own.”
Logan Swaim is the Head of Content for Colin Cowherd’s The Volume podcast network. Prior to diving into the world of audio and social video, Swaim spent decades in TV including serving as an Executive Producer for Good Morning Football on the NFL Network, and also with DAZN, and NBC Sports. Swaim told me that at it’s core, the Manningcast isn’t an original idea. It’s the next evolution in megacasts and second screens. It just happens to be considerably better than anything that has come before it in that realm.
“They have the cheat code with Peyton and Eli – two likable, entertaining, and authentic personalities. But they’ve smartly created a show where all the bells and whistles are made only to accentuate what makes the talent interesting. The pre-planned segments are all intended to make fun of the hosts, like Peyton reading a list of all the stuff they messed up last week. It feels partly like watching a game at a bar and partly like Inside the NBA.”
Eric Weinberger is a former sports media executive and executive producer at the NFL Network now running his own company. He described the Manningcast to me as “part Ted Lasso, part Beavis & Butthead“. I love a good Beavis and Butthead reference, so I asked him to explain a little more. He said “the broadcast comes with some rough edges that make it more charming,” although he did have additional suggestions of what he might add.
“You want it to feel ‘clunky,’ seem less polished. That is what is appealing about this production.” Weinberger told me. “Maybe I would try a little local radio game play-by-play every once in a while to break up the Mannings ever present voices and give them a breather.”
We have to wait three weeks for another Manningcast. The brothers will not return until Week 7, when the Saints play in Seattle. That has to be a bummer for ESPN executives, who have watched the audience for Peyton and Eli grow each of the three weeks it has been on air, even when games seem irrelevant. I asked that TV executive that didn’t want to be identified what he would do to keep the momentum going both on TV and on social media.
He said nothing was off the table. You have Peyton and Eli film vignettes that can be used to lead into the traditional ESPN broadcast, you have them breakdown a series or play for SportsCenter, and anything else you can think of. Right now, you put as much of the Mannings as you can on TV.
“Pay them more money and have them do more games,” he said was the lesson for the next contract.
Any good idea will have its imitators. Like every major pro sport, television is a copycat league. Allan Flowers had a series of suggestions for what he could see this spawning in terms of alternate broadcasts. He suggested tight end Zach Ertz and his wife Julie, a member of the US Women’s National Soccer Team, Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, even Charles Barkley and Phil Mickelson.
Weinberger also expects to see copycats. He just doesn’t expect them to be as good as the Manningcast.
“Secondary screen viewing can work for all sports. Football really lends itself to multiple opportunities, as there are so many complexities with specialty positions and moving parts. The dynamic the two brothers have though is unique and special, always has been.”
Swaim says at the end of the day, what makes the Manningcast special is the broad appeal. There is no right answer to “who is the target audience?” and that means everyone can find something to like about it.
“It seems like it’s found a way to appeal to two different audiences – hardcore football fans and the social media audience. There is plenty of ‘ball’ talk where they nerd out and talk about Football Film Room terms. And then there are hilarious conversations where Gronk is talking about his dog and McAfee is telling amazing stories about roulette. They have pulled off the delicate balance of serving two distinct audiences.”
Remember the 2000 Presidential Election? There were polls leading up to November that asked people that planned to vote for George W. Bush how they arrived at their decision. A significant number of those that responded said that Al Gore seemed more qualified to be President of the United States, but Bush was more relatable – the kind of guy you want to have a beer with.
Crakes says the same logic can be used to explain the mass appeal of the Manningcast. Sure Peyton and Eli are smart, but it is their appeal as people, as characters, that draw audiences looking for different things out of an NFL broadcast.
“They don’t take themselves seriously and their genuine competitive love for the sport of football comes through via the dynamic of two brothers who respect and like each other. It’s for pretty much the entire audience. Everyone would like to have a beer and watch the game with them. That’s the key ingredinent.”
Chris Carlin Doesn’t Want Any Caller To Be That Guy
” There are some calls that you get that don’t enrich the show and sometimes, it’s more fun to kind of make fun of it a little bit and try to entertain that way. It’s not a knock on the people personally.”
We all know those sports radio callers – someone with a hot take that makes you want to flip the dial even for a split second. However, they do have the tendency to make us laugh every once-in-a-while. In his new series on Tik Tok called Sports Radio Callers: Don’t Be That Guy, ESPN Radio New York host and Rutgers football play-by-play broadcaster, Chris Carlin, tends to make light of some of the calls he receives on a daily basis.
He wants you to know that he isn’t making fun of anyone in particular. He has been in the business long enough to have plenty of inspiration to draw from.
It is very clear that Carlin values his listeners and while he may have a little fun with some calls, he is never afraid to make fun of himself and that is what makes any show he does an entertaining listen. Of course, we could also all probably relate to maybe being one of those callers when we started out calling into shows too, which he wasn’t shy about reliving when we spoke last week.
Ricky Keeler: Where did you come up with the idea to do these Tik Tok videos? Was there a particular call on your show that led to this?
Chris Carlin: I wouldn’t say there was a particular call. There have been plenty over the years. There is a genre of calls. It’s not just about the host, but it’s about the listener as well. There are some calls that you get that don’t enrich the show and sometimes, it’s more fun to kind of make fun of it a little bit and try to entertain that way. It’s not a knock on the people personally.
The way I look at it is nobody makes more fun of themselves than me. It’s just some types of calls are ones that I just think are entertaining in a not so informative way.
I got the idea from watching a guy on Tik Tok named Scott Seiss, who is a stand-up comedian. He apparently used to work at IKEA and he talked about all the complaints of people at IKEA in that same way. He’d say what the complaint of the person is and then say his response in a very straightforward funny way and using that same kind of music. It just kind of struck me when I heard that, yeah, I can do that for sports radio callers, there’s no doubt.
RK: Is there a particular call or caller that the minute you hear them, you just know that’s a perfect Tik Tok video?
CC: I wouldn’t say that. For instance, I did one where the caller is going to call up and say, it’s the same old Jets. You know, it’s lazy and it’s kind of like really? Where it came to I get it, you’ve been through all the pain in the world. We all understand. But, it is silly to come out and say something like that, but you know it’s going to come.
I started jotting down ideas a few weeks ago, putting them on Tik Tok about a month ago. I just completely made up names, so there’s not a direct one. So, it’d be like “Is it the same old Jets or is it the same old Tony from Freehold? It feels like you called and said the same thing before because you did last week. Here’s an idea for your next phone call. Have a point.”
Callers know, listeners know when they hear a call or make a point like that, we’re all rolling our eyes and it’s okay, listen, it’s part of the gig. It’s what you sign up for when you dial the phone that if you don’t bring a good, informed take or you don’t want to go after something I said, you could be fodder for the show. This was just something that I did separately to have some fun.
I actually had a caller bring it up to me like should you really be doing that? It is not a knock on our listeners at all. What it is is just kind of a parody and at the same time, nobody makes more fun of themselves than me.
RK: How would you describe to someone not from New York, what New York sports radio callers are like?
CC: I think New York sports radio callers are very similar to callers all over the country. In every town, sports radio callers kind of have a knock against them and I think it’s unfair. As much as we are seen, not just callers, but hosts, like you just take the laziest take and you just do all that stuff. I think the majority of callers and the majority of hosts that are really bringing up good points and trying to illuminate in addition to bringing some heat to it. I think every market has their funny callers, their guys that you know what you’re going to get when they call.
RK: What has the reaction to this series been like from other people in the business? Are people able to enjoy it or do you hear feedback that you’re being too mean?
CC: It’s been pretty positive because everybody knows who I am. People kind of know my personality and my personality is yeah, I’m going to deliver you some good takes and stuff like that, but I’m also not going to act like we’re splitting the atom here. It’s not a personal attack in any way. It’s just kind of a generic piece of advice. That’s why I titled it Don’t Be That Guy.
There are better ways to spend your time waiting on hold. When I would produce for Mike [Francesa] and Chris [“Mad Dog” Russo], I’d get callers who would call up and say “I want to talk about the Mets.” Okay, what do you want to say? “I think they’re pretty good.” Yeah, let me get you right on. It’s that kind of thing. The reaction I’ve gotten, it hasn’t been executives or anything, it’s mostly been colleagues and it’s all very much, they’re entertained by it. Some sports radio hosts are like thank god, somebody’s doing this, but more than anything, it’s just a tongue in cheek thing.
RK: The Yankees, Mets, Giants, and Jets are all struggling. In these situations, are the more ridiculous calls likely to happen or do these people always exist?
CC: They always exist. There are some weeks like this week if you’re calling up and saying Zach Wilson is not the answer, I’m going to hang up on you pretty quickly. That’s what this week has got the potential for. I’m pretty open-minded to a lot of takes, but it’s the takes that callers call up with that are not well-reasoned. Just too much of an emotional reaction right out of the gate that has actually nothing behind it.
RK: Do you prefer to do these types of shows when all the teams are winning or does it give you more content when all the teams are not playing well?
CC: It’s always better for business in general when teams are good. As far as this kind of content, I could do this year round. I just frankly haven’t had enough time. I’ve been working a lot of late hours recently and I just haven’t had enough time to do more of them. I’m going to try, but I also am very cognizant of I don’t want callers to think that I’m not evaluating their inputs to the show because there couldn’t be anything further from the truth. It’s just more of let’s not take ourselves too seriously here.
RK: If you could go back to a younger version of yourself, were you one of those callers?
CC: I’ve been one of those callers. When I was in college, I called Steve Somers once. I was so nervous and I called up and said Hi, Chris, this is Steve and I made some inane points shortly thereafter. Steve had fun with me and I completely understood it because I was the guy that was on the other end of this. Frankly, if Steve was doing Tik Tok videos in the 90’s, I would have fully expected to make an appearance on one.
RK: Would you rather be a Tik Tok video or a drop on a radio show?
CC: I think I’d rather be a Tik Tok video because there’s more opportunity for viral spreading now. I know I’m doing a lot of New York guys, but it’s callers in total. As I do more national stuff as I have been for the last couple of years really, I’ll start to expand it a little bit. I don’t see this going on and on because you don’t want to beat a bit to death. It’s just been something that has been fun to do and something that’s different and something that’s made me think differently. Everybody’s trying to make their own impressions in every kind of space and I am just trying to do my own version of that, but also not beat a joke to death, so to speak.
RK: We’ve seen Twitter and Instagram used to help people in this industry. How do you feel Tik Tok can be a tool that hosts can use to work out content that maybe wouldn’t make the best sense for live radio?
CC: I think it’s interesting. I think things that you don’t get to, you certainly could. We all want to think that we’re funny. I want to think that I’m funny. I don’t believe I am all that funny. I think it is an area where you can expand a little bit more into. Admittedly, I am not a guy who sits here and studies it and understands exactly what all the machinations of it are that different people are doing. This was just something that I was taking a whack at. Absolutely, it’s a genre or an app that people should be more involved in if they’re not. I think every bit now helps.
RK: For someone who is reading this piece and worrying about being one of those callers and they are a first-time caller, what advice would you give them?
CC: I would think out your point in advance. If you’re nervous, I would even jot a couple of things down. Not read it, but I’d jot a couple of things down. If you’re going to try to tell me that the Jets should give up on Zach Wilson already, you better come with plenty of facts to back it up. That’s probably the quickest way to become one right now.
I would say just make sure that what you want to say is adding to the show. For you, that’s giving me your well-thought out take. I don’t think it’s anything too crazy. Chances are I’m not going to call you out personally because this is never going to be a personal thing or anything that’s mean in any way. At least, I hope it doesn’t come across that way. I don’t think it does.”
The Craig Carton/FanDuel Deal Is Undeniably A Good Thing
“Since returning to WFAN, Carton has been very upfront about who he is, what he has done and how he is trying to do better.”
Craig Carton is destined to forever be a polarizing figure in the world of sports media. Long before he was arrested, he had plenty of detractors that considered him less of a talk show host and more of a shock jock. Add to it a conviction for his role in a Ponzi scheme that defrauded investors in order to pay back gambling debts, and it is clear that the guy’s approval rating will never hit 100.
There are understandable reasons not to like a guy and then there are grudges. Grudges don’t have to be personal. They don’t have to spring from some sort of affront. They can easily be born out of feeling like someone has figured out a way to live a life above the rules and free of consequence for their awful actions.
Grudges can (and often do) blind us to reality. I think that is a big part of what is happening when people point to Craig Carton’s new deal with FanDuel and say that there is something wrong with it.
If you missed the announcement last week, Carton is joining FanDuel as the company’s first “responsible gaming ambassador.” He will create content about gambling responsibly and also work with FanDuel engineers to create AI to spot problem gambling patterns. The deal gives Craig Carton a seat at the table with one of the biggest mobile sportsbooks in shaping their responsible gaming policy. Isn’t that a good thing?
I probably cannot convince you to view the guy in any particular light. When it comes to former inmates being rehabilitated and getting a second chance, we tend to be very dug in with our opinions, whatever may influence them.
Undeniably, Carton did a bad thing. Swindling people out of huge chunks of money is always bad. In America, it somehow seems worse. As costs of living increase and wages remain flat, every dollar is accounted for and allotted to something for most of us. The guy should be ashamed of himself. And here’s the thing: he clearly is.
Since returning to WFAN, Carton has been very upfront about who he is, what he has done and how he is trying to do better. Hell, what other station in America dedicates any time at all, even just a half hour on the weekend, to issues of addiction and recognizing problem habits? This deal with FanDuel seems perfectly in line with his previous attempts to atone.
You don’t have to like Craig Carton, but you do need to acknowledge that everything he has done in terms of highlighting his problem with gambling and offering help to those that he sees a little bit of his own struggles in has been sincere. There is no reason to believe it isn’t.
Under the terms of the deal, not only will Carton advise and create content for FanDuel, but the company will also make sure Hello, My Name is Craig finds a bigger platform. You can be cynical and say that this is just part of a bigger deal between FanDuel and WFAN parent company Audacy, but FanDuel’s Chief Marketing Officer, Mike Raffensperger explained that it is good for the gaming industry to promote betting responsibly.
“I think what we recognize we needed is to add some humanity as to how we get this message across,” he said when explaining why Carton was the perfect face for this campaign.
We see it every time we post a story about sports betting. Someone will comment that it is an evil practice and that the advertising has made sports radio disgusting. The reality is that it is no different from alcohol. For most people, it is harmless. Plenty though, cannot handle it. Still, you tell me the first time you hear an ad break on sports radio or see a commercial break during a game without a beer commercial.
If you really believe sports gambling is evil and want people to stay away from mobile or physical sportsbooks, who do you think the ideal person to be delivering that message is?
You can go with the puritan approach of tisk-tisking strangers and telling them they are flawed people that are going to Hell or you can have a guy that has literally lost it all because of his addiction out front telling you “I know I cannot place a bet and here is why. If that sounds familiar, maybe it is time for you to seek help.” It seems pretty obvious to me that the latter approach is exactly what Raffensperger is talking about – using humanity to reach the people they need to.
Craig Carton committed a crime. A court of law said he had to pay for that both with restitution to his victims and with jail time. He served his time. Deals like this one with FanDuel make it possible for him to stay on schedule with the restitution payments. Even if you think he is unforgivable, that should make you happy, right?
It is admittedly strange to see a mobile sportsbook hire a “responsible gaming ambassador.” I would argue though that it is only strange because it isn’t something we have seen before. Be skeptical if you are the “I’ll believe it when I see it” type, but I don’t see why anyone wouldn’t want to congratulate and celebrate both Craig Carton and FanDuel.
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