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Why Craig Carton And Second Chances Are Worthwhile

“If his gambling problems are behind him, Craig Carton, the New York radio host has paid his debt to society and should be allowed to resume his WFAN career — as should others in a selectively punitive industry.”

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The fine print at the bottom of a casino house ad? The rambling voice at the end of a public service announcement? Craig Carton was too far gone to heed the warnings, or the concerns of family members and close friends wondering why he was helicoptering directly from Atlantic City to his morning radio shift at WFAN, a sideways commute of the worst kind.
A disease had swallowed him. And before he could come up for air, a man in his early 50s who had everything in life but hair — a wife and kids, big-city success, riches, a Tribeca palace — was headed to a prison cell in central Pennsylvania.

Gambling made him do bad things.

But that doesn’t mean Craig Carton is a bad human being for life.

I am comfortable in expressing that because, unlike knee-jerk media executives who can’t blacklist an “unhireable rogue’’ quickly enough, I contacted him days before he left for Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary. Hooked on documentaries and involved in creating them, I saw Carton as a compelling subject and wanted to know why prosperity and fame weren’t enough for him, why he needed to gamble like a fiend and pay off debts by duping victims in a $7 million ticket-brokering scam. Having been in sports radio myself, I knew how gambling could ravage certain colleagues, once lecturing a car full of young producers — two have become leaders in the industry — about the personal wreckage awaiting them if they kept calling bookies every day. I waited years for my one-time program director to pay back a $3,000 loan.

Popular New York sports radio personality Craig Carton arrested by ...

When we spoke by phone, Carton was resigned to his fate — a 3 1/2-year sentence — but also inferred he was a media victim of sorts. This was understandable, given his treatment in a Manhattan courtroom by U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon, who mocked how a caller might greet him on the air: “Good afternoon, Mr. Carton, Colleen from New York. First time, long time.’’ Really? Did he even have a chance after that stunt? Once a high-profile public figure is caught in the hooks of a sensational tabloid story, all innocent-until-proven-guilty expectations are gone, regardless of the facts. I would know, having been through a lower-level media circus myself, and it was important for me to hear Carton’s side, knowing how news sites never completed a story that ended favorably for me, with my triumph in a civil case and a complete expungement of all charges.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting in the slightest that Carton didn’t deserve his sentence. But when he was released from prison this week after serving barely a year of his term, I did not yelp in protest. He has paid $5 million in restitution to his victims and will keep paying. He lost his family, his livelihood, and he’ll be branded a Ponzi scheme embezzler for life. With good behavior, he completed all requirements and programs demanded of him inside the prison walls. And he isn’t finished yet, with his next step a halfway house or home confinement, according to the New York Post. A year in prison — and three years of hell since his arrest — does constitute a firm measure of punishment for a non-violent crime.

“He paid his debt to society,’’ said Boomer Esiason, his former co-host, who received a call from Carton within hours of his release. “What I heard was a happy and relieved Craig Carton. He did everything he possibly could in jail to mitigate his sentence and try to get out as early as he possibly could.’’

So lash out if you must. Call Carton a privileged white male getting a break in a summer of racial unrest, sprung early — surely by his pal, Chris Christie — so he can resume radio stardom. Accuse me of conveniently forgetting his victims and his mountain of gambling losses. Sorry, I will not join close-minded, holier-than-thou wall builders who think Carton should be banished to a homeless encampment and never work again in a media industry that, candidly, has character issues on every level.

Media Confidential: NYC Radio: Craig Carton Judge Is A WFAN Listener

Yes, we must determine if he has still has a gambling sickness, which must be purged from his life for a corporation such as Entercom to grant him a second chance. But if he’s clean, Carton deserves the same shot that other media people receive upon overcoming illness — such as John Skipper, who was summoned to run the DAZN streaming service after a cocaine-extortion case (or so he said) ended his ESPN reign. Why not give Carton an afternoon slot and a new slate? He’s talented. He has generated monster ratings. He is raw, unabashed New York. And WFAN needs him, as Mike Francesa fades away and ESPN’s Michael Kay commands the afternoon-drive sports lead in the nation’s top radio market.

“I do believe he deserves a second chance, whether it be here at our station or another station,’’ said Esiason, who has settled in comfortably with Carton’s morning-drive successor, Gregg Giannotti. “He’s too talented not to be on the air somewhere.’’

If anything, I cast aspersions on media executives who have no equilibrium in handling such cases and have shown no such mercy toward equally talented media people. Networks are cowardly in not caring when athletes who carry substantial legal baggage — Ray Lewis, for one — are routinely hired as analysts. Yet they are quick to make examples of those who haven’t played professional sports, the very definition of a corporate double standard that strains the legal definition of tortious interference. As for Carton, let’s be honest: He and others in his situation need a sugar daddy to push them through the politics.

In which alternative universe would someone grant redemption to a host convicted in a Ponzi scheme? Don’t be shocked if it’s the universe of Carton’s former producer, Chris Oliviero, who runs the show at WFAN and has made no secret of reunion possibilities. I think we already know how this will go. Oliviero will place Carton in afternoons opposite Kay. HBO will move forward with the Carton documentary, timed with his return to radio, and it likely will involve his good friend, “Entourage’’ star Kevin Connolly. He will apologize, resume his extensive charity work and record his own PSAs about gambling’s evils. Christie will give him a bro hug — I doubt Chris Christie socially distances — and New York will embrace Carton’s second act as only New York can.

I cringe when thinking about young people getting into the business. Imagine being 21 and an independent thinker and dreaming of covering sports for a living, only to realize quickly how internal politics overwhelm idealism. Stuff happens. People screw up. Short of a heinous crime, you should not lose your career over it.

So I’m down with Carton returning to the air.

Ryen Russillo and Bill Simmons (Kind of) Preview the 2019-20 NBA ...

Whereas I’m just down on Bill Simmons, another sports media star in the news this week. I’ve always enjoyed Boston, from long river walks to pastry aromas in the North End, but one contradiction always has baffled me. How can a bastion of higher education also produce people who’ve trashed, if not completely ruined, the once-distinguished craft of sports media? The city produced Dave Portnoy, a piece of work who parlayed a proud moment in his life — publishing a naked penis shot of Tom Brady’s son, then age 2 — into a drunken-frat-boy empire called Barstool Sports. And it produced Simmons, a former bartender who decided to disrupt a town of estimable sportswriters by becoming the original Voice Of The Obnoxious Local Fan, which launched a reckless, overreaching career that finds him in a national firestorm over the scarcity of black employees at his digital site, The Ringer.

Simmons has talent and sports passion. And he helped create ESPN’s seminal documentary series, “30 For 30.’’ His problem: He shouldn’t be in charge of anything but turning on the coffee machine. When success as the “Boston Sports Guy’’ character landed him a column at then-fledgling ESPN.com, his bosses should have thanked the heavens for his large readership and let him flourish in that role. Instead, they created a multi-platform monster — and allowed that monster to devour Bristol. If his pieces were unique, his TV appearances passable and his literary work (“The Book Of Basketball’’) a masterpiece, it was Simmons’ lack of professional savvy that repeatedly sabotaged him.

He referred to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell as “a liar,’’ a red flag in any law shop. As founder of ESPN’s Grantland site, he published a story that outed a transgender woman who committed suicide as the piece was bring prepared, requiring him to write a lengthy, awkward apology. Now, five years since his ouster at ESPN, Simmons is being attacked for his hiring practices amid a powerful racial reckoning in America. And again, it’s a controversy he could have avoided — and kept out of the New York Times, which detailed staff turmoil at The Ringer — by thinking with his brain and not his ass. But then, he used to write for Jimmy Kimmel, who is embroiled in his own racial issues — a blackface controversy and his past imitations of black voices, including a Snoop Dogg bit in which he used the N-word several times.

It’s unfathomable that two white Ringer podcasters, Simmons and Ryen Russillo, would broadcast a June 1 episode on racism and police violence without inviting a few black voices as fellow hosts. They called it, “A Truly Sad Week in America,’’ and they only made it sadder with ignorant commentary. Russillo’s mistake was to applaud Simmons, saying, “Look at you, Bill, look at the people you’ve hired, look at the company that you’ve started, look at the jobs and opportunities that you’ve given a diverse group, which I know you’re always looking to do. I’m not bulls—ting, I’m not kissing up to you here. These are facts.’’

Actually, to use the L-word, these are lies. The podcast angered Ringer staffers, with writer John Gonzalez tweeting, “If you’ve heard someone say The Ringer is a super diverse place, sadly that person does not know what he’s talking about. We have a long way to go, and I hope we get there.” Then the union representing Ringer workers weighed in with numbers: “In 2019, 86 percent of speakers on The Ringer Podcast Network were white. We have zero black editors. We have zero black writers assigned full time to the NBA or NFL beats.’’

Which makes the Man of The People, Bill Simmons, just another Malibu media mogul who doesn’t pay appropriate attention to racial inequality. At Grantland, he cultivated an us-against-the-world mentality among his staff and usually had the support of the bosses who enabled him, Skipper and John Walsh. But all three exited ESPN in a curious span, and suddenly, Simmons has no one to bail him out. He sold The Ringer site and podcast network to Spotify for almost $200 million, and now, he’s pretty lonely by the beach, dragging down the investors who showered him with riches.

I don’t doubt Simmons when he says he has sought diversity, as he did successfully at Grantland. But the union says The Ringer, which employs about 90 people, has only six black editorial staff members. Evidently, he isn’t trying hard enough to outbid competing sites — including ESPN’s “The Undefeated’’ — for the best talent. Wrote the union: “Diversity in the newsroom is essential to covering police brutality and systemic racism, including in the worlds of sports and pop culture. The Ringer has a lot of work to do.’’

By this point in their careers, Simmons and Russillo should know how to approach sensitive subjects with care. Same goes for their former ESPN colleague, Scott Van Pelt, who might want to eliminate this from his self-description at the top of his Twitter feed: “Mr. Whitefolks.’’ It’s a takeoff from a documentary on the lives of pimps and prostitutes, and if Van Pelt isn’t aware, “Mr. Whitefolks’’ is the only white pimp in the show. At one point, the character discusses a “Million Mack March’’ on Washington.

I’m guessing it will be removed from Van Pelt’s feed before you read this. Because, like so much else in our country, it’s just thoughtless and wrong. The least sports media can do, now more than ever, is think and make things right. Admit your mistakes and move on, as Carton has.

“I made mistakes,’’ he said. “Mistakes in my judgments, decisions and how I was living my life. I was wrong. I have, will and should continue to pay a dear price for those mistakes.’’

He deserves no applause when he returns to the air. But he deserves our ears — specifically, 12 million sets of them, or the number of problem gamblers in America.

BSM Writers

Now Is The Time To Build Your Bench

“There’s a good chance you have a producer, production person, or even a salesperson who has a big enough personality that they can hold your attention.”

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As we crawl towards the Thanksgiving holiday week, many content managers are likely in the middle of figuring out what they’re going to put on the air.

The Power Of Dead Air
Courtesy: Jacobs Media

Since most marquee talent take the entire week off, this can present scheduling headaches.

Some stations (who can) will pick up more syndicated programming. Hey, why not? It’s a cheap, easy solution that’s justified by the fact that business is slow in Q4, and your GM doesn’t want you spending any more money than what you have to.

Other stations will hand the microphones over to whoever happens to be available. This usually ends up being the same array of C and D listers who aren’t that great, but they can cover when needed and usually tend to be affordable.

Both of these decisions, while usually made out of convenience, are terrible mistakes. Quite frankly, it’s one of the many frustrations I have with spoken word media. 

Content Directors should be using the holidays as an excellent opportunity for them to answer a particularly important question: DO I HAVE A BENCH???

One of the most common refrains I hear from other content managers is that they have no talent depth. Everyone constantly is searching for the “next great thing,” yet I find that very few people in management that take the time or the effort to seriously explore that question.

My response to them is always, “Well, how do you know? Have you given anyone in your building a chance yet?”

Often, the answer is sitting in their own backyard, and they don’t even know it.

Years ago, Gregg Giannotti was a producer at WFAN. Then Head of Programming Mark Chernoff gave him a chance to host a show because of how Giannotti sparred off-air with other hosts and producers in the building. Chernoff liked what he heard and gave his producer a shot. Now, he’s hosting mornings on WFAN with Boomer Esiason in what is considered one of the best local sports-talk shows in the country. 

Carrington Harrison was an intern for us at 610 Sports Radio in Kansas City. He worked behind the scenes on Nick Wright’s afternoon show and had a fairly quiet demeanor. It was rare that we ever spoke to each other. On one of his off-days, Nick was talking about Kansas State Football and Carrington called in to talk to him about it. I couldn’t believe what I heard. Not only was his take on the Wildcats enlightening, but he was funny as hell. Soon after, we started working Carrington’s voice into Nick’s show more and eventually made C-Dot a full-time host. He’s been doing afternoons on the station for several years now with different co-hosts and (in my opinion) is one of the best young voices in the format. 

There’s a good chance you have a producer, production person, or even a salesperson who has a big enough personality that they can hold your attention. Why not give them the opportunity to see what they can do? Honestly, what’s the risk of giving someone you think might have potential, a few at-bats to show you what they can do? If your instincts are proven wrong and they aren’t as good as you thought they’d be, all you did is put a bad show on the air during a time when radio listening tends to be down, anyways.

If you go this route, make sure you set them up for success. Take the time to be involved in planning their shows. Don’t leave them out on an island. Give them a producer/sidekick that can keep them from drowning. Be sure to listen and give constructive feedback. Make sure that these people know that you’re not just doing them a favor. Show them that you are just as invested in this opportunity as they are.

Drowning

I understand that most Content Directors are overseeing multiple brands (and in some cases, multiple brands in multiple markets). Honestly though, using the holidays to make a potential investment in your brand’s future is worth the extra time and effort. 

Treat holidays for what they are; a chance to explore your brand’s future. Don’t waste it.

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BSM Writers

Digital Platforms Should Signal The End Of Niche Linear Networks

“Whether it is niche sports or exclusive shows, the streaming platforms have proven to be valuable catch-alls. They haved turned hard-to-sell programming into part of what you get when you are motivated to subscribe by Premier League Soccer or UFC.”

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CBS Sports Network just isn’t built to last. It seems obvious, but it was really hammered home for me on Friday when Jim Rome went off on the network for preempting the simulcast of his radio show for coverage of swimming.

“You idiots are going to preempt this show for swimming?” Rome said. “Stupid.”

You don’t even have to watch the video, right? You can just read the quote and his voice is immediately what you hear in your head.

John Skipper went off on a number of topics during Sports Business Journal’s Media Innovators Conference last week. Some dismissed it as sour grapes. Others said his comments were those of a man that is completely unencumbered by rights deals and corporate interests.

One thing the Meadowlark Media leader said that was dead on was that there are only a few properties in sports television that truly matter.

“Until you can get the NFL, or the SEC, or the NBA on a streaming service, it’s going to be marginal in this country,” Skipper said in a conversation with John Ourand.

He was answering a question about the relevance of streaming services, but the fact is, he could have been talking about any outlet in the world of sports television.

With that being said, it isn’t just CBS Sports Network that isn’t built to last. Comcast got this message last year. That is why NBCSN is about to go dark. Sure, every niche sport has its fan base, but can you build a profitable and powerful brand on swimming, lacrosse and 3-on-3 basketball? You probably can’t.

BSM’s Jeremy Evans recently wrote about life in the metaverse and what it means to sports media. So much happens digitally now. Think about the last time you felt like you HAD to have a physical copy of a movie or album. It always made sense that television networks would get to this place.

Peacock, ESPN+, CBS Sports HQ and Paramount+ all have plenty to offer. Whether it is niche sports or exclusive shows, the streaming platforms have proven to be valuable catch-alls. They haved turned hard-to-sell programming into part of what you get when you are motivated to subscribe by Premier League Soccer or UFC.

CBS Sports Network isn’t the only cable sports network whose existence may be on borrowed time. You know about FS1. Did you know there is an FS2? Did you know beIN Sports still exists? Don’t worry. It seems most major cable operators don’t know it either. The same can be said for networks with names like Eleven Sports, Maverick, and Pursuit.

In fact, when you look at that group of channels, CBS Sports Network is probably in the best shape. It may carry the low end of college football and basketball, but it at least has sports with large, national followings.

Radio simulcasts have always been cheap programming. Once the production costs are recouped, there is a straight-line path to profit. Sports networks on this level will always be interested in carrying radio simulcasts, and that is a good thing. It means better studios and more exposure for the hosts involved. When the suits can have a legitimate debate whether the live sports their network carries will draw as many viewers as the simulcast of a radio show, it may be time to rethink the path forward.

Streaming platforms weren’t built exclusively for niche sports. ESPN+ launched with college football and college basketball at its core. Now that streaming platforms are here to stay though, it should start a conversation and migration.

The cable sports network was never anything more than a prestige play. It was a way to show that a broadcast network was so serious about sports that the few hours it could devote to games would never do. The problem is that ESPN got that memo decades earlier and established a juggernaut.

Even FS1, which has major talent and rights to major college football and basketball and Major League Baseball, is behind the eight ball compared to ESPN. They got a 34 year head start in Bristol! CBS Sports Network is behind FS1 and it has college football, basketball and hockey. It also has the WNBA and the NWSL. Still, it seems like it is on borrowed time. What does that mean for networks that can’t get a league comissioners to take their call?

I like some of the programming on CBS Sports HQ. I think Paramount+ has been a valuable tool this college football season. There would be nothing wrong with CBS shuttering CBS Sports Network. It is just the reality of where we are headed.

CBS aims to grow Sports HQ within its network of streaming channels -  Digiday
Courtesy: CBS

CBS is run by smart people. I have faith they will see the forest thru the trees in sports media and find the right solution before they start losing money. Streaming means consolidation and unfortunately, that means there may not be room for the FS2s, Mavericks, Pursuits, and Eleven Sports of the world. That doesn’t mean the sports those networks carry cannot find a new home. They may even find a home that makes more sense for them and their fans.

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BSM Writers

Can Your Station Create Its Own Holiday?

“Did you see social media on Friday? Did you see any media at all leading up to Friday? Disney created a 24-hour commercial you could not escape.”

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A belated happy Disney+ Day to us all!

Disney+ Day: Kareem Daniel Says “Momentum Building” At Streamer After 2  Years – Deadline

Did you see social media on Friday? Did you see any media at all leading up to Friday? Disney created a 24-hour commercial you could not escape. The best part, from a marketing standpoint, is fans were captivated by it. They either didn’t realize it was a commercial or they just didn’t care.

The execution was masterful. Granted, we Star Wars fans were left wanting a bit, but Disney dropped teasers for series and movies we didn’t know were coming and showed the first footage from one we have been anticipating for more than a year now.

I started thinking how a radio station could do this. How could it go out and create its own holiday? How for one day, can we make our fanbase excited and glued to social media eagerly anticipating announcements about what is coming next?

This is going to take some creativity. Disney+ is a platform full of multiple brands with multiple fanbases buying in. A sports talk station is one brand. It has varying levels of fanbases, but largely, your dedicated audience are the people that not only love sports, but also like your programming enough to be called P1s. Is that enough people to build an event like this around?

Who cares if it is or not! Go for it.

One thing that Disney did masterfully on November 12 is it brought partners into the fold and made them a key part of Disney+ Day. Fortnite announced that Boba Fett was coming to its game. TikTok announced Disney character voice changers would be available on the platform. Disney found the kind of partnerships that could spread its holiday to even the Disney+ Day equivalent of Ebenezer Scrooge.

You can do the same. Surely you have a local brewery as a partner. Can they brew a one day only beer for you? Partner with a restaurant. Can they put your station’s name on the day’s special? Would other partners offer discounts and promotions for celebrating the day? There are a lot of options here.

Now, what are YOU doing on your holiday? Disney has a deep well of franchises. It could squeeze Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, its own studio and more for content and announcements. Again, you are just one brand, but there is still a lot you can do.

Build the day around announcing your special contributors for the football season. Drop new podcasts and play an extended clip on air. Announce new podcasts, the kind of things that will only be available digitally.

Look at 99.9 The Fan in Raleigh. Joe Ovies and Joe Giglio have created great, multi-episode series that are events for their audience. Like any narrative podcasts, those don’t come together overnight. As long as you have enough audio to build a solid 90 second to 2 minute long preview, you have something worth bringing to the air as part of the celebration.

Do you have a contract you are waiting to expire to make a change in a prime day part? Make your station’s holiday the day that the new talent or show hits the air for the first time. You can do the same for new weekend programs. Whether it is someone new coming to the station or just a new pairing, put them on air for your prime time audience to meet and have your weekday hosts help create some buzz for them.

As for the shows that are on every weekday, you have to make them special that day. Give away a big cash prize. Make the guest list epic – I mean everyone that is on air that day has to be a home run.

The other thing that Disney did so well was work to get all of its divisions involved. Check out this tweet from the Disney Parks account. Every single park around the world lit their iconic building up blue in celebration of the streaming platform’s holiday.

Can you work with other stations in your building? Maybe they won’t give you full on promotion, but between songs, if a DJ brings up a sports topic, would the PD be willing to have them mention that their sister station is celebrating all day? Would a news/talk PD let your talent pop on air to talk sports with their hosts and promote what is happening on your airwaves today?

The answer to these questions could be no. You don’t know if you don’t ask though. Also, if the answer is no, there is nothing wrong with asking for a little backup from your market manager. A station holiday is a major sales initiative after all.

The final piece of this puzzle to take away from Disney is you have to be everywhere. Any local show you air from 6 am until midnight needs to be on location. Fans should have easy access to them. How can they celebrate you if they are not allowed to be where you are?

Use the broadcasts however the sales department sees fit. Take them first to long-established clients to celebrate their loyalty on the station’s holiday. Use them to draw in new clients. Show off what your station can create with its fanbase.

Money has a way of motivating everyone. So, even if your hosts don’t like leaving the studio, these would be remote broadcasts priced at a premium and should have larger-than-usual talent fees attached.

Finally, let’s do something Disney didn’t. I was shocked that a company with this many iconic characters at its disposal and with a CEO that came from the consumer products division, didn’t have a line of merchandise ready to go. Don’t make that same mistake.

Create cool station shirts (not the cheap giveaway crap). Throw the logo on unexpected things like water bottles, bottle openers, facemasks, whatever! Have a merch tent wherever you go. Maybe set up a site to sell it for the day. Make the people come to you to get this stuff.

Twitter is a huge part of promoting what you do. Constantly show off what you are offering and what you have created. That is how Disney sold their event to its most dedicated fans as something not to be missed.

What were we celebrating with Disney+ Day? Nothing. Disney wasn’t even really celebrating anything. It was just a series of commercials wrapped up in fun packaging. Actually, there are a lot of holidays that are just a series of commercials wrapped up in fun packaging.

Valentine Day Digital Ads on Behance

Not every holiday has to celebrate something once in a lifetime. Not every holiday has to even be real. Building your own will take a long lead time, but it is doable. Get sales, promotions and programming in a room and build a plan together. If Disney+ Day taught us anything, it is a valuable way to motivate your fans to spread your message too.

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