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.
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.
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.
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.
OutKick 360 Isn’t Just Talking To The South Anymore
“We came in with an understanding of Nashville, North Alabama, Southern Kentucky, East Tennessee, West Tennessee and then they email us saying, ‘let’s go for everywhere and see how this thing can grow’.”
When Jonathan Hutton, Paul Kuharsky and Chad Withrow announced they were leaving 104.5 The Zone in January of last year, no one doubted where they would end up. The show, formerly known as The Midday 180, was clearly bound for OutKick. After all, the three hosts had been friends with Clay Travis for years.
The only real question was how would it be delivered to the audience? OutKick wouldn’t be the first company to re-launch what was once a radio show on a digital platform. That wasn’t enough for the trio though.
At The Zone, Hutton, Kuharsky, and Withrow had built a loyal following. It showed in the podcast and streaming numbers, something they didn’t think was valued properly, and it showed in the ratings. This show had a future on terrestrial radio. It was just a matter of introducing it to other stations in the geographic footprint that made the most sense.
“The root of the tree for us is Nashville, Tennessee, the southeast, and it kind of spreads from there,” Kuharsky says. “Based on where we did the show for 10 years, where our initial expertise is, where we have the deepest roots and all of that, it just makes sense.”
OutKick isn’t a little mom-and-pop business. Even before FOX bought the site, it had significant backing behind it. It’s not like the crew, now re-branded as OutKick 360, was flying completely solo.
When you are trying to syndicate a sports radio show though, you may as well be on your own if you do not have the backing of ESPN, FOX Sports, or CBS Sports Radio. Hutton said he was going to rely on that regional expertise as the sales pitch. These are guys that know what sports fans in the Southeast want. He was going to make sure Southern programmers knew that.
“On a Monday morning in April, if you wake up, chances are, if you’re listening to the coast to coast radio, they’re leading off with something New York Knicks or Lakers or they’re going to talk Yankees or they’re going to be discussing the New York Giants or whatever it might be,” Hutton pointed out. “But you can talk now, SEC football, coast to coast and people will tune in as well. NFL sells. Ratings prove that. And that’s what we were going to bring. We’re going to play the hits and speak to an audience in the heartland of America that wants to talk football 365!”
Hutton, Kuharsky, and Withrow have adopted a tag line for their show that makes their priority clear: “bringing sports back to sports talk.” Sure, there may be distractions. FOX Sports suits really got a kick out of Kuharsky talking about how much he spends on Christmas decorations for instance. At their hearts though, these three are sports fans.
That is assumed of all sports radio hosts. When you put the OutKick brand on a show though, people make other kinds of assumptions. After all, the site’s founder Clay Travis has made a hard swerve into the political realm and has made it clear that when he sold the site to FOX, his vision was that it could be “a bridge between FOX Sports and FOX News.”
Hutton says he has a simple message for people that approach the show with preconceived notions: just listen first.
“I would hope they would listen to the show and judge us based on the product. We are the sports branch wherever we have been or will go. And, you know, being agenda-free can be what our show is about when it comes to sports. I don’t care what channel you turn on, there is an agenda there. So our goal is to be agenda-free, and to be authentic in what we’re doing instead of laying down a preconceived line of thinking one way or the other.”
It doesn’t mean that the show is nothing but Xs and Os. Withrow admits that sometimes, the conversation may make you uncomfortable, but just because it might go that direction doesn’t mean it is a political statement.
“If we were to come on and say, you know, ‘this race-baiting episode by ESPN is pathetic,’ well, 95% of sports fans feel that way, but 95% of sports media won’t say it. So when we say it, someone’s going to say, ‘Oh, well, they’re just being political, they’re falling in line’ and I don’t see it that way. I see it as no, this is how sports fans who want sports think.”
Withrow continued, “They think it in black and white, not race. They think in wins and losses, and who’s the better quarterback? So stop infesting everything with some political leaning or just whichever way the wind is blowing. To me, that’s what OutKick was founded on, being fearless and saying what you think, regardless, if it’s going to be popular or not. Certainly what Clay has done has gone into the world of politics, but what we’re doing, if you listen to our show, we really don’t get into politics at all.”
When FOX completed its purchase of OutKick, plenty in the industry wondered what it meant for Hutton, Kuharsky and Withrow. Would FOX want to be in the broadcast radio network business?
Not only was the answer yes, but Withrow says one of the first notes the company had for the OutKick 360 hosts was “think bigger”.
“As Hutton said, we started with a very localized plan with radio stations and we told FOX that’s what we’re going to do. They looked at us like, ‘why the hell not Ohio? Why not Joplin, Missouri? Why not everywhere? You guys are thinking too small’. We came in with an understanding of Nashville, North Alabama, Southern Kentucky, East Tennessee, West Tennessee and they’d email us saying, ‘let’s go for everywhere and see how this thing can grow’.”
So there was the growth plan. OutKick 360 was going to live and die with football, the country’s most popular sport, it was going to be agenda-free in how it talked about the storylines on and off the field, and the hosts were going to be authentic in how they presented themselves to the audience.
There was actually one more ingredient that Hutton wanted to stress. The show was going to sound good.
Back when Covid began and radio shows everywhere had to learn to broadcast from home, it stood out to Hutton just how bad everything on his station sounded. The three asked around and got recommendations for what the right microphone to have was. A friend told them it was the Blue Yeti microphone, so they each went out and got one.
Now, OutKick 360 is broadcast from a state of the art studio and the equipment is upgraded from a $75 podcast microphone. In fact, BSM President Jason Barrett paid a visit to the trio’s 6th & Peabody location during a November business trip, and raved about the setup. He said it was private enough to allow the crew to focus on what was needed for the airwaves, yet also accessible for the hosts to interact with fans and host client events on-site.
Withrow says the location has been a hit and the upgraded technology is important, but in a time when even the biggest shows and networks are getting away with terrible audio quality, the real asset is the people dedicated to upholding a particular standard.
“The advantage that we have is David Reed, our producer, who’s great with audio quality and is a stickler for it. Hutton and David Reed came up in the same school with Titans Radio on audio and quality of the broadcast being paramount to everything. He really carries that with this show.”
OutKick 360 is distributed by Skyview Networks. Just because FOX owns their platform doesn’t mean the show can only do business with FOX Sports Radio affiliates. In fact, Hutton says Skyview has helped “take the show to a completely different level and scope.”
“They provide the horsepower for the OutKick 360 engine, and that allows us to bring advertisers and listeners together with our sports brand. We had several partners and stations already on board, and they were thrilled to learn Skyview was handling the daily distribution for us.”
The trio may have a little more muscle behind them now and the bosses may want them thinking bigger, but Kuharsky says they still have the same attitude when it comes to growing their network.
“It’s certainly open to whatever may come our way or wherever we can get our foot in the door.”
Radio stations interested in adding OutKick 360 can learn more by reaching out to Skyview Networks by clicking here.
Is There A Right Answer To The Olympic PR Problem At NBC?
“NBC is in a no win situation right now.”
Some businesses allow you to operate with a moral compass. You can look at people, companies, or situations and do some quick math on what the blowback would be if you are associated with them and steer clear. Sports media, particularly when it comes to live game rights, isn’t one of those businesses.
NBC is in a no win situation right now. They have to get as many eyeballs as possible on the Beijing Olympics. The network is asking advertisers to spend upwards of $600,000 on a thirty second ad and have made promises about the size of the audience that will see those advertisers’ messages.
At the same time, the network is the focus of public scrutiny for even being in China to begin with. That criticism will be amplified if there is no mention of the many human rights violations the Chinese government has been accused of for decades.
What do you do? You don’t want to give people a reason not to watch. At the same time, you don’t want to give critics ammunition to discredit you as a news organization.
This isn’t just an NBC problem by the way. FOX faced similar scrutiny when it carried the 2018 World Cup, which was played in Russia. It will likely face a lot of the same scrutiny this fall when it carries the 2022 World Cup, which is being played in Qatar. That event in particular has been the subject of some truly horrific stories about the way the people building the new stadiums have been treated.
So what is the path forward? Fans always do some moral calculus when it comes to the ugly side of sports. How much are we willing to tolerate the exploitation of unpaid college athletes? At what point can we no longer tolerate the NFL looking the other way on head injuries?
International sports is a conundrum all its own because you are dealing with laws and customs that may not jive with our culture. Add truly deplorable organizations like FIFA and the International Olympic Committee to the mix and NBC, FOX, and other networks don’t have time for moral calculus. They are checking any concept of right and wrong at the door.
NBC dropped $7.75 billion in 2014 on broadcast rights to every Olympics, both summer and winter, until 2032. The financial terms between FOX and FIFA remain a mystery, but the network will carry both the men’s and women’s World Cup through 2026. The price tag may be very similar to what NBC paid the IOC.
Organizations like FIFA and the IOC want that big pay day. That is why long-term deals are negotiated. Between contractual obligations and the need to turn a profit on a huge investment, networks’ hands are tied.
Given all of the backlash, whether it is because the games are in China, skepticism over how necessary it is we do this in a pandemic (remember, NBC isn’t even sending live broadcast teams to the games), or just a general sense of fatigue given this once-every-two-years event just happened eight months go, NBC might like the option to tag out of the 2022 games. And honestly, who could blame the network for feeling that way?
But NBC and the IOC have a deal. FIFA and FOX have a deal. These American networks are pinned in a corner by having to lock in a significant financial commitment to an organization that has no qualms about doing business with international bad actors.
Truthfully, I don’t know what the right answer is for these networks. It is easy to say “Well, China is bad and Russia is bad and Qatar is bad, so don’t do business with FIFA or the IOC as long as they keep going to those places.”
Reality dictates that isn’t going to be the path NBC, FOX, or any other network takes going forward. These multi-week sporting events provide a lot of inventory and bring with them the chance to rack up huge ad buys.
Events like the World Cup and the Olympics also are more than just sporting events to these networks. They are a chance to generate content for news divisions and a free commercial for their upcoming slate of shows. There is a reason networks see the billions of dollars of value in them that they do.
No one wants to take a PR black eye. Right now, for the most part, at least as far as the American public is concerned, those have been reserved for the governing bodies.
How long does that remain true?
NBC is a major partner of the Olympics that brings a lot of attention and revenue to the table. Forget objectionable host countries. What happens in 2028 when the Games are in LA and then suddenly NBC is the face of silencing Americans raising legitimate concerns about what hosting the Olympics can do to a city?
At some point, every company and private citizen has to do moral calculus. The scariest part for these networks is dealing with broadcast partners like the IOC and FIFA requires having to give an answer before all variables can be revealed to you.
Not every big score requires that kind of risk, but not many events offer what the Olympics and World Cup do. Any network that wants to do business with the IOC and FIFA has to decide if it is willing to swim in the swamp with gators. That usually comes with a few bites.
The moral calculus is pretty simple. How many bites can you take from a gator before the ad buys start to take a hit?
Don’t Let Good Content Disappear, Never To Be Heard Again
There were so many times I’d be frustrated that a good piece of content would be allowed to simply vanish into thin air.
Good content comes out of the speaker daily from the many talented hosts that work in our industry. Unfortunately, the life span of this content is far too short. It happens and then disappears into the ether.
When something good happens on a show, you need to do more than turn it into a promo. You need to repurpose it.
If you work on the content side of the building, here are some key things I feel you should keep in mind to help give your material more staying power.
SOMETHING GOOD HAPPENS EVERY DAY, TELL PEOPLE ABOUT IT
When I was working as a content director, there were so many times I’d be frustrated that a good piece of content would be allowed to simply vanish into thin air, never to be heard or referenced ever again.
When a host or guest says something that stands out, blast it to EVERY social media channel that you’re on. Do this consistently, not just on the days following a big story. Get everyone in the habit of believing and understanding that good content is put out there EVERY show and they need to keep their ears open for it.
Don’t use audio clips; remember that social media is a VISUAL experience. If you’re videocasting your shows (and you should), put the video up online. If you’re not, create a cool-looking graphic with the quote (or quotes) of what was said. Create a template for every show, so it’s “plug and play” for producers to upload before they leave for the day.
You’ll be surprised how often you can go viral.
MAKE YOUR CONTENT SNACKABLE
People consume content in small portions. No one has the time or the attention span to listen to an entire show or even an entire segment. Yet we deliver content to them in a primarily longform way.
The solution? Make your content snackable.
Take a page out of what every professional sports league does. They realize that few people actually sit and watch an entire game. So they make a point to run well-produced highlight compilations and even condensed games, and upload them to all of their digital platforms.
Radio stations should do the same.
For on-demand consumption, don’t just load your show audio hour-by-hour. Make sure you’re uploading what you felt were the best parts of the program.
Take it a step further and do the same for ALL of your shows. Create a daily “greatest hits” compilation that consists of the best moments from each show, every day. This can not only be loaded onto apps and digital channels, but can also reside comfortably in the smart speaker space. Imagine a consumer coming home from work after a long day and simply saying “Alexa, play today’s greatest hits from 101 The Fan!” They’d get a highlight real of all the good things that they missed.
Naturally, these can be sponsored, which is certainly another plus and always justifies the extra work that goes into making this happen.
OFFER IT AS MATERIAL FOR OTHER SHOWS
I’ve said this before, some of the best content that I’ve heard was hosts talking about what other hosts said on their shows.
It doesn’t happen often enough, and the biggest reason continues to be one of the biggest stumbling blocks for virtually every industry: lack of communication.
Every show should have a written recap of what was discussed and when it was discussed, and that should be sent out to everyone who has a hand in content. (Hosts, producers, board ops, production staff, marketing, etc.)
Go the extra mile and have the actual audio of the good content sent out to the other shows so they don’t have to hunt for it on their own. This was something, even during my days managing stations, I would do on the regular. If I heard something great on the morning show, I would find the audio and send a clip of it to the midday and afternoon shows. Even if they didn’t use it, it would get hosts and producers in the habit of paying attention to what was said on our other programs.
If you have a sister spoken-word station in your cluster, get in the habit of sharing material with them when and where it fits.
Sometimes, the back-and-forth that can go on between shows ends up being legendary. It’s an opportunity you don’t want to waste.
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