It was a wild Thursday for New York’s fifth major sport — local talk radio.
Craig Carton is leaving WFAN’s afternoon drive program to go full-time with his Fox Sports 1 morning show. And, according to several reports, former Giants star and midday host Tiki Barber will be moving up to join Evan Roberts on the big show. Which means WFAN program director Spike Eskin now has to replace Barber. And ESPN Radio New York’s Michael Kay has a renewed hope for ratings relevancy in afternoons.
So what now? Here are some thoughts on a day of upheaval.
Carton had to go, and WFAN had to know it. This move was not a surprise. Carton could not continue to work the hours he was working. And the money is too good on television. We are skeptical Carton’s FS1 program will ever take off — not because of him, but because nothing except Skip Bayless ever resonates on that channel. That said, millions of guaranteed dollars is a good thing to have. And it seems pretty clear Carton exits WFAN on good terms and they would probably jump at the chance to bring him back down the road if that becomes a possibility.
It’s a hell of a comeback for Carton. It was never a surprise that Carton found his way back to WFAN after being released from federal prison. There were already whispers about an eventual return when he was convicted and sentenced on fraud charges. But it is quite impressive how he appears to have gotten his life back on track and has rebuilt relationships and trust to the point that he can achieve the success he enjoyed with Roberts at WFAN and with his FS1 program.
Barber makes the most sense as a replacement. Mike Francesa is not coming back. There are no slam-dunk external free agents. And Audacy, WFAN’s financially imperiled parent company, likely would not have the cash to sign them if they existed. So you call up the next guy in line. Barber is easy going, experienced and he gives WFAN the ex-athlete/everyman mash-up they have often chased in past roster construction. Bottom line: Barber and Roberts are professionals who will put on a decent show five days a week. That is all WFAN could really ask for given the cards it was dealt with this situation.
What now for middays? You have to feel for Brandon Tierney; he and Barber have been together over a decade, first on CBS Sports Radio and now at WFAN. And now Barber gets a promotion while Tierney is left in need of a new partner. Overnight host Sal Licata comes to mind first. But does WFAN want to keep addressing one hole in the lineup while replacing another? This may be a spot to rotate in a bunch of folks and see what sticks. And if that Jerry Ferrara speculation has any legs, we have to say: “Tierney and Turtle” has a good ring to it.
Will this bring Michael Kay in from the cold? On one hand, Kay has been getting demolished in the ratings for almost two years now and most of the world has made it clear they think his show stinks. On the other: WFAN has not beaten Kay in the ratings without Carton or Francesa in five years. And that includes Kay victories over Roberts when he was with Joe Benigno in afternoons. This could make Kay competitive again. And it could make ESPN look very good for giving him his big-money extension.
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