WFAN rides ‘Carton & Roberts’ back to the top in ESPN battle

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WFAN's 'Carton & Roberts' positioned to claim victory in Michael Kay radio war

In the grand tradition of WFAN afternoons, Craig Carton can be inaccurate, obnoxious and a bit much to take. But his catchy screed that now leads the intro to his WFAN show about “Winners and losers” is correct and could end up next to Mike Francesa’s references to being “Numbah One” in New York sports radio lore. 

There are winners and losers.

For the winter ratings book, Carton and his partner, Evan Roberts, won.  

“Carton & Roberts” defeated ESPN New York’s “The Michael Kay Show” among the metric both stations deem most important for advertising, males 25-54, according to Nielsen Audio. 

“Carton & Roberts” was third in the market overall with a 5.3 share of the listening audience, while Kay was fourth with a 4.8. It was the first full book between the two shows.

After three years away, including one in a federal prison for fraud, Carton restored WFAN to having the top-rated afternoon sports radio show. After consulting with neutral observers, we are including both streams in the final numbers, which has long been a disagreement between the two stations because of how they sell advertising. 

More importantly than our thinking, ESPN New York’s actions speak even louder than numbers. It has now moved Kay to 2 p.m. to more fairly compete in the spring book. 

Going forward, the Kay show will not have to start from behind as the first hour of “Carton & Roberts” crushed “The Max Kellerman Show” (2nd, 9.0 share to 18th, 2.1) from 2-3 p.m. It gives the Kay Show a legitimate excuse, but an excuse nonetheless.

Besides both shows now starting at the same time, adding to the intrigue, Carton and Roberts will soon be viewed on SNY for two hours a day to bring the TV theater into the competition.

Carton is graded on engagement, not accuracy.  He falsely reported that ESPN+ already had a deal for NFL Sunday Ticket and can be loose with facts.

He has the ability to use his skills for good as when he takes up the cause of high school sports in the city being delayed as others around them got going amidst the pandemic.

When he does his gambling addiction prevention show on Saturdays, we hear a more empathetic person. To borrow a phrase, Weekend Carton is better than Weekday Carton. 

Meanwhile, Roberts has become a bit more assertive, but does not have enough expertise or zaniness. He is stuck in the middle.

At times, he can sound like Veruca Salt. When the Jets are too slow in free agency (I want a signing now!) or that Peacock is limiting old prejudice WWE content (I want my stereotypes now!), he goes into full whine mode. Carton ends up being the voice of reason.

It is a misnomer to say that Carton and Roberts don’t talk sports, it is to say they don’t really talk games. 

They will not thoroughly break down Knicks-Heat like “Mike & the Mad Dog,” but they will talk Garden popcorn, as hard as they can. 

“The Michael Kay Show” is more polished, with the trio having been together much longer. That does not mean they can’t liven it up. We would consider expanding Peter Rosenberg’s ENN segment that airs at 6 p.m., allowing Kay and Don La Greca to riff. 

The format has the dual advantage of being both structured and looser. Maybe there is something to add at the bottom of some hours. It would create more tent poles each day.

The ESPN New York company line on Kay moving an hour earlier was because of the earlier start times for some Yankee games. This was a contributing factor.

But ESPN New York moved Kay to 2 p.m. when Carton returned and made inroads. You don’t do that if you are winning. 

Around the dial

While Alan Hahn sounded good filling for Zubin Mehenti on the national radio show over the last month and Rick DiPietro, Chris Canty and Dave Rothenberg do some entertaining stuff locally, “Boomer & Gio” (1st) still rules the mornings, beating ESPN, 7.6-2.6 in share. ESPN NY was 17th.

“Moose & Maggie” were second (5.9) from 10-2 going against Mike Greenberg (2.4, 16th) and Bart Scott and Hahn (2.9, 12th).

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