Tue. Dec 1st, 2020

Craig Carton Is Right – This One’s On You, Not Him!

“Radio is a results driven business. Executives have a ton of pressure on them to win, and they’re not going to pass on adding an elite talent to their roster, regardless of red flags, especially if they have a good prior relationship.”

Robert Kraft once said “Envy and jealousy are incurable diseases.” Though I’m sure he was thinking about a situation that related to the New England Patriots or National Football League, he may as well have been referring to the sports media industry.

If there’s one thing that this business struggles with it’s rooting for others to succeed. Media people are competitive and seek positions occupied by others, which makes it common for folks to tear others down rather than extend a sincere congratulations when good things happen to them. They’ll scrutinize an individual’s track record, on-air comments, social media posts, how they connect with co-workers, the way they interact with listeners and advertisers, and seek any advantage possible, convincing themselves that the reason they didn’t earn a shot and someone else did is because the system worked against them.

But landing big jobs in this business isn’t just about talent. It’s assumed that you’re going to have skill otherwise you wouldn’t even be considered for an opportunity. The true X factor is relationships. Many people think that their skills should be enough to warrant a look for the top jobs in the industry. That sounds good in theory but if you don’t have any connection to a local market, and the only time you talk to an executive and appear on their radar is when they have an opening at their station, you’re likely not getting the job.

The question you should be asking and prepared to answer is ‘why exactly would a hiring manager choose you over every other option?’ If it’s because you ‘think’ you’re more talented, get to work on a better answer. What have you done prior to the opening to build a connection with the people you hope to work with? Did you seek feedback on how to get better? Did you interact on social media? Did you congratulate them with a text or email when they had something positive happen to them or their brand? Did you show up and say hello at an industry event or station function?

It takes time, effort, and consistency to build relationships. Without them, the road to glory is full of obstacles. I’ve seen a lot of people bitch and moan on social media, the airwaves or to industry friends when jobs get filled in this industry, and in some cases, they may have a legitimate gripe. More times than not though, people look solely at situations from their own point of view rather than the other side.

Case in point, when Craig Carton was named the new afternoon drive host at WFAN, I saw everything from ‘Why would they hire a convicted felon?’, ‘The fix is in’, ‘Ridiculous’, ‘Chernoff and Oliviero never gave anyone else a fair shot’, ‘There were more talented hosts out there’, etc.. That sounds like a whole lot of sour grapes. Carton addressed the issue last Thursday telling his critics “I haven’t been on the radio in three years. I think Boomer said, 1,150 days. You had plenty of time to get better at what you do. You didn’t. That’s on you. That’s not on me. Got it? Good.”

His critics will lose their mind over those comments suggesting that they may have improved at their craft but didn’t earn strong consideration from Chris Oliviero and Mark Chernoff, the two men responsible for bringing Carton back to WFAN. It’s always more convenient for industry people to distribute blame and seek sympathy rather than give credit and understand why moves makes sense. Let’s look at Carton’s rehiring and I’ll explain why this was a no-brainer decision for WFAN.

Did you see how the majority of WFAN employees responded publicly when it was revealed that Carton was coming back? Most were ecstatic to have him back at the station. Positive additions equal an improved workplace culture, something every manager hopes to create. Secondly, people can take shots at Craig for his mistakes, and Carton knows that comes with the territory, but let’s not forget that this guy took over morning drive in the nation’s largest market on the sports format’s most iconic station, stepped in after Imus left a huge stain on the brand, built one of the most successful shows in the country from scratch with Boomer Esiason, and elevated WFAN to an even higher level. To ignore his massive prior success is foolish. In a business judged heavily by performance, Carton has won plenty.

Next, ‘The Michael Kay Show’ has been rolling, and winning the afternoon drive ratings battle. WFAN knew it had to make a bold move to try and energize the audience to reclaim the top spot in afternoons. Whether you like Craig or not, he’s a unique talent who makes people talk and listen, and he gives the station a stronger chance to regain NY radio ears and dollars than any other talent who’d have been available. You might be crushing it in another city or be the next big thing to lead the format forward, but this is market #1 where the stakes are high, and WFAN isn’t going to bet on potential when a proven commodity is there to be hired.

An underrated aspect of Carton’s game is that he’s also very good at getting the most out of his partners. Chris and Mark will be counting on him to do that with Evan Roberts. I admit I was surprised that Chernoff and Oliviero chose this pairing because Roberts felt like a strange fit, but if there’s one thing these executives do well, it’s put together winning combinations. When you combine Craig’s track record of success with his personal and professional history with Mark and Chris, you can see why the station rolled the dice to bring him back. I’d have done the same exact thing if I were in their shoes.

If you disagree with WFAN’s decision, that’s fine. This isn’t Chris and Mark’s first rodeo. They can handle the heat. But don’t forget, 97.5 The Fanatic was interested in Craig too. Had Carton been interested in relocating, I’m sure other stations would have entered the mix as well. That’s a reflection on how he’s viewed as an on-air performer.

When it comes to making decisions, programming executives will always face an army of critics firing bullets in their direction, and others praising their choices when they make a hire. These are high profile jobs sought after by hundreds if not thousands of people, and though there may be 50-100 truly worthy of the opportunity, there’s only one job to give. Results ultimately determine if a station got it right or not, and if a show succeeds, the executive in charge usually earns more trust and pay. If they fail, they risk being replaced.

Why Carton’s addition has anyone angry though is surprising to me. We talk about sports on the air every single day, examining players, coaches and executives and whether or not they deserve 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th chances while others with talent get pushed aside. Many times we even side with the franchise, crediting them for betting on the best talent and being willing to look past individual issues. Case in point, Antonio Brown, Kareem Hunt, Alex Cora, AJ Hinch, Tony La Russa, Carmelo Anthony, Ron Artest, Dennis Rodman, Darryl Strawberry, Jose Canseco, the list goes on and on.

Go look at some of those names and look at the franchises they’ve been connected to and who was in charge. Why did Tony La Russa land the White Sox job over other candidates? Because Jerry Reinsdorf had a relationship with him. Why did Antonio Brown go to Tampa? Tom Brady and Bruce Arians. Who lured Kareem Hunt to the Browns? John Dorsey, the former Browns GM who previously drafted Hunt in Kansas City.

It’s not much different in radio. Just like the world of sports, radio is a results driven business. Executives have a ton of pressure on them to win, and they’re not going to pass on adding an elite talent to their roster, regardless of red flags, especially if they have a good prior relationship. Many brand managers also have certain philosophies and priorities that influence how they build their station lineups, and nothing you say is going to change that. It’d be like a football player telling Bill Walsh during the glory days of the 49ers to move away from running the West Coast offense. That player may continue playing in the league but he’ll be wearing another team’s jersey before Walsh abandoned his coaching philosophy.

For example, maybe a program director doesn’t believe in hiring out of town talent. Maybe they place a premium value on feedback from other execs and when checking into your background they learn of a number of bad experiences others had working with you. Maybe they think the person being considered for the job has the wrong sound, attitude or financial expectations to fit inside their building. Or maybe they just don’t think much of your talent level and believe someone else is better.

Decisions will continue to be scrutinized and celebrated, but complaining doesn’t get you anywhere. In fact I can argue that doing it in public circles will only make other managers more hesitant to call you in the future should they have needs to fill.

The real issue you should be thinking about is what Craig said on the air last week – ‘You had 3 years to take the seat he now holds, so why didn’t you?’ Better yet, why were Evan Roberts and Bart Scott mentioned as the two leading candidates to work with Craig, and your name not included? Is Craig supposed to not take a job just because you don’t think he deserves it? Give me a break.

Before you tell me WFAN didn’t have a need or that it was impossible to get their attention, let me remind you that there have now been 5 different afternoon shows on the station during the past 3-4 years (Francesa, CMB, Francesa part 2, Joe & Evan, and now Carton & Roberts). If Carlin, Maggie, Bart, Joe and Evan could earn a shot, why couldn’t you? If you have elite talent, and a connection to New York, and let 1,150 days pass without building a professional relationship with Chris Oliviero and Mark Chernoff, you already know the answer why you were never in the mix. As Craig Carton said last week, ‘that’s on you’.