Craig Carton, co-host of WFAN’s Boomer & Carton in the Morning, is one of radio’s highest-rated personalities. His debut book, Loudmouth, is a bold and hilarious memoir of sports, manhood and what it is to be a fan, and is now available for purchase.
Carton sat down with CBS Local Sports to talk about his life and radio career and his debut book.
Aside from a brief 20-minute phone call that served as an introduction, Craig Carton had never met Boomer Esiason. But now the seasoned radio veteran was being asked to co-host a test show for CBS Radio executives with the former NFL quarterback. The now-WFAN morning show duo were basically strangers to one another on the morning of their test show when they met outside a Manhattan diner for just a few minutes before their audition. It was there that Boomer gave Carton words of encouragement that ultimately led them to becoming the new morning show hosts.
Five months to the day after the personalities on Imus in the Morning shared controversial remarks about the Rutgers women’s basketball team, WFAN debuted its new morning show: Boomer and Carton in the Morning. The April 4, 2007 show of Imus led to Craig Carton becoming co-host of the morning show on WFAN, but without his courageous words for WGR program director Chuck Finney in Buffalo, following his graduation from Syracuse University in 1991, Carton might have never been in radio.
“The biggest moment ever was me telling Chuck Finney that my car wasn’t going to make it back to where I came from because if I don’t get the job in Buffalo there’s a good chance I’m not in radio at any point in my life,” Carton said. “There are some others (big moments) along the way and even though to do this day I despise him, if I never worked for Tom Bigby in Philadelphia I never really would have learned how to radio the right way. He’s one of those guys that’s like a Bill Parcells to a lot of guys in football where total bad guys don’t like him and if I never saw him again it would be great, but without him I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
But really, Carton might not be where he is today not because of his mini-motivational speech to Finney or because of Don Imus, but because of a former Parcells pupil, who tried to recruit him to leave the radio business for football. During Carton’s time in Cleveland at WWWE, then-Browns head coach Bill Belichick tried to lure Carton away from the microphone and to the sidelines, offering to take him under his wing and serve as his tutor.
“Well if you ask Bill [Belichick] now, he never heard of me. Boomer called him on it and he said, ‘I never heard of Craig,’ but we have had the story verified. I guess in a weird way I could have been the head coach of the Jets.”
Carton had only been in a radio for a year and half before Belichick tried to pull him from the world of sports talk and he thinks it might have had to do with both of their New York ties, or possibly because Carton wasn’t like everyone else in the media back then and even today who consistently take shots at the three-time Super Bowl winning head coach.
“I didn’t go after Bill like everyone else in the media in Cleveland because they were longtime Cleveland sports fans and writers, who didn’t like Bill because he benched Bernie Kosar. I had no real passion to the Cleveland Browns other than having season tickets in the Dawg Pound. Bill and I did become friends … arguably he was my best friend in Cleveland. But he went to New England. I ended up going to Philadelphia. I don’t think we’ve talked since.”
It was in Philadelphia at WIP where Carton worked under the aforementioned program director Tom Bigby. And after his time in Philly, he decided to move to Florida to work for a startup Internet sports radio program, Sportsline. But like anyone trying to make their way in entertainment, sometimes you have to take chances and with those chances come risky decisions if you want to make it big or make it as a morning-drive host in New York City.
“There were doubts along the way because people tell you the entire way that you can’t do it, you won’t do it, you won’t be successful. Ultimately you have to be in the right position and I got lucky enough times in my career to be in those positions.”
Those doubters haven’t gone away despite Carton’s success. They’ve actually increased exponentially with the more success he’s achieved and with a growing number of detractors in the digital and print world, it only makes Carton more appreciative of the road he took to being the first voice many New Yorkers hear each weekday morning.
“I try not to pay attention to it. I certainly don’t let it dictate my life or how we do a show and I never will.”
Getting home to New York wasn’t easy for Carton, but following Sportsline and stops in Denver at KKFN and KBPI, he got his chance at WNEW in the city. However, his time on the Sports Guys was short-lived and after a year on WNEW he found himself at New Jersey 101.5 as part of The Jersey Guys.
“When we had failed at WNEW I started thinking about ever getting back to New York and being successful at the New York level. I always thought I could do it and I was good enough to do a successful radio show, but the goal was to always get back to New York and prove that I could do it there.”
The Jerseys Guys’ rise to prominence caught the attention of radio executives and following five successful years in New Jersey Carton finally got his chance to return to New York in a much larger capacity than he had at WNEW. WFAN needed a new morning show following the Imus in the Morning fallout and after months of rotating potential hosts in and out of the coveted four-hour morning slot on Sports Radio 66, Carton’s New Jersey success got him a shot at his dream.
“I was real fortunate enough that when I went to New Jersey, I had the ability to do the type of show I really wanted to do and be successful at it and then make people in the radio industry aware again of who I was and what I was capable of doing.”
Carton and Boomer, rather than Boomer and Carton, met outside the diner that had been a staple of Carton’s time in New York City to go over how they would do the most important radio show of their lives, which coincidentally was the first show they had ever done together. And if it went poorly, it would be the only show they would ever do together.
“The only fear of not knowing Boomer at the time and he probably had the same fear was that we were both going into it knowing what was at stake in getting the morning job and we know what that meant to both of us.”
But the future No. 1-rated tandem wasn’t going to do an actual show broadcast over the powerful WFAN-AM signal the way the other candidates had gotten to do their auditions. Instead Carton and Boomer would host a show for a room of executives without taking calls in the most unusual of settings.
“When you’re doing a fake show and you’re not getting reaction from callers or listeners and you’ve got four guys sitting in the studio and you have half an eye on them to see if they react to what you’re doing, you’re not doing a real show. You’re doing a show for four guys.”
But the setup of the “fake show” didn’t take away from the instant chemistry between the radio pro and the four-time Pro Bowler. The duo refrained from stepping over and talking over each other during the test run and the audition went off like every Boomer & Carton in the Morning show has since Sept. 4, 2007.
“When we finished doing that tryout show, Mark Chernoff said to the both of us in the lobby, ‘That’s the best show we’ve heard of all the tryouts shows we’ve actually done on the air at the FAN.’ Chernoff asked, ‘Who do we talk to?’ So I felt really good coming out of that show and that if nothing else, they’d make an offer and assuming we can get a deal done, we get a deal done.”
Boomer & Carton in the Morning is now in its sixth year on WFAN and the hosts’ rapport and connection with the show’s fan base has led to immense popularity in the Tri-state area. Most of Carton’s own popularity stems from his frequent impressions, which have included former Mike and the Mad Dog host Chris Russo, New York Yankees radio commentator Suzyn Waldman, former New York Mets manager Jerry Manuel and CBS play-by-play man Jim Nantz.
“For a long time doing [Chris] Russo was my favorite, I guess [Suzyn] Waldman is now and I would say I get more requests to do the Suzyn Waldman thing nowadays than Russo because he’s so irrelevant whereas she does Yankee games.
“The funny thing about Suzyn is I firmly believe Suzyn Waldman should be in the Hall of Fame for Major League Baseball. She’s a trailblazer for women as a broadcaster. She hates that I do it (the impression) with a passion. I’m never going to stop doing it because the audience loves it, but even though I make fun of how she sounds, she is in my mind a baseball Hall of Fame broadcaster and if she’s not in there one day it’s an injustice to her.”
It took Carton a year and a half to write his book, which includes over 44 years of life and more than 21 years in radio. He refers to his success in all of his stops as “marginal,” but anyone who has ever listened to one his shows or seen Arbitron ratings knows there’s been nothing “marginal” about his radio career. The same goes for his first book, Loudmouth, which is perfectly written for the growing detractors who continuously want to bring down the radio host, who’s continuously on the rise.
“People don’t follow what you do, and why would they because it’s your life and your career. They have no idea the stories of being in Buffalo or being in Cleveland and Philly and the type of guys you work for and things like that.
“I didn’t just wake up and wind up doing the show with Boomer. I paid my dues as much as anyone in the history of the business. I’ve been doing it for more than 20 years and was lucky enough, fortunate enough to get to New York.”
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