How a radio talk show host worked his way up to the top, from the ground up and how you can too.
ESPN Radio’s Dave Rothenberg shares with us what it takes to become successful in radio. Through working and living in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Carolina, and New York, and through additional work with MLB.com, Air America, Sirius, Cablevision, and NFL Network, Dave built a resume that ESPN could not ignore, but it took years of low-paying, hard work, and one bloody hotel room.
Now he is the host of the Dave Rothenberg show on 98.7 FM ESPN New York on weeknights from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m. and on Saturdays.
Dave was kind enough to share with us his journey and a bit of advice for anyone who wants to succeed in the industry. Have a listen…
Hey everyone. I’m your host Michael Nova and welcome to Rise Up Radio. I’m here with Sports Talk radio host Dave Rothenberg who hosts the Dave Rothenberg show on ESPN Radio New York 98.7 FM and Dave has a great story to tell about how he came through the ranks to get to the great success that he is today. So Dave, when you think about where you are now at ESPN radio, which is pretty much top of the food chain when it comes to radio, and you think [of] where you came from starting off. I believe [you started] in 1999: is that correct?
Yup. Late 90s.
Okay. Do you think this worked out the way you originally envisioned it would or was it a completely different trip than what you had expected back then?
Well, it was a different trip because I always knew this is what I wanted to do and I was a little maybe overconfident of how I would be able to do it. I just thought that I was going to be a star and that I would have a meteoric rise and that would be easy. And those are my thoughts through high school, and those were my thoughts through college, and those where my thoughts through internship. But I just thought I—I was young and naïve—I thought. “I am going to be amazing at this and it’s going to be evident and when I’m 22, I’ll get a job at a big radio station and that will be that.” And it was the furthest thing from that. In many ways, maybe it was a blessing, cause I think you really appreciate things when it can be a struggle.
So yeah, I mean, I couldn’t even get a job in radio right out of college. I took a job as a media buyer, which was closest thing to radio I could get into and I dealt with radio stations and TV stations. And it was pre-internet, really. You know, late ‘90s, yeah, like ’97, ’98, and the internet was there, [but] it was not a big deal. I basically just took my tape, which was a homemade created tape, and send it to every station in the country that had any kind of sports on it. And a station in Greenwich Connecticut, a small station Greenwich, Connecticut, responded and then said, “okay, we’re interested in you. Come up for an interview”. But I remember sitting outside of the station, which is WGC in Connecticut. and it’s a local station in a small wattage and I remember just thinking, “alright, here’s the beginning”. And I guess it was.
I went in and they said, you know, “we want someone to run the board, which is just, you know, not really much on air capacity. Just kind of press the buttons and run the commercials during the high school football games and as kind of a bone for whoever does that, you can do a half time update however you kinda like to do it”. So that was exciting for me, so I took that. And I was, you know young. Twenty-three, twenty-four, whatever it was, and I did well. They liked me and they offered me other opportunities and running the board for the shows, and eventually got to the point where then they offered me you know, I wouldn’t say a full full job, but a, you know, I would say a solid 25-30 hours a week and I was doing morning sports on their local drive show and eventually graduated to doing play-by-play at that station.
Then I went from there and I went up doing some work in Providence. I was all over, I was there at Air America, which didn’t work out well and then I was at SiriusXM when they launched their NFL Network and then I went to Cablevision Long Island to produce sports television and then I went Raleigh, North Carolina, which was a startup FM which is a big signal radio station in the flagship station of the Carolina Hurricanes hockey team. I went there to do evening and that one really, really well. So well, I got promoted to morning drive and that one really really well. I win the number one sports talk show on the market and for my efforts there I got laid off because we acquired ESPN. So they didn’t need morning drive because we have might say that you take Mike and Mike.
So I’ve been the number 1 sports talk show in 43rd Market in the country and I was getting ratings bonuses and doing beautifully and I got laid off. A bunch of other people did as well, it was just big because they acquired ESPN. So now I am in Raleigh and it’s not a ton of opportunity for a sports talk show host, so I visit competing station that I called and they liked me and I went there and I start working there. We’re on the verge of making it full-time, and then my original station purchased that station and basically eliminated a whole bunch of jobs. So now I’m back to the beginning and I really very little. I get a job as the play-by-play voice of Campbell University doing some football, basketball and baseball and this would be probably…and I remember this moment thinking to myself: “if I’m ever on Letterman, this is gonna be the moment that I’ll tell him of the depths of my career”.
So I’m the voice of the Campbell Camels and I enjoyed it. You know, it was a vision one I guess it’s considered one Double A football, right up against Butler, University of Jacksonville, and Drake and, you know, those of kinds of schools. And we have the first game of the season against Birmingham Southern, which wasn’t even a one double A school. NAIA or something like that. We traveled down there, it was a long drive. It was a 12-hour drive, and again this is not, you know, University of Florida, where, you know, its first class and they charter planes and stay at the Ritz-Carlton. It’s the opposite of that. So, I’m on the bus and it’s hot and it’s 12 hours. We get to the hotel and we check into the hotel and I get to my room and the 12-hour shift and I’m exhausted. All I want to do is get to bed. I walk into my room and it’s disgusting. I take the cover off the bed, and the bed is stained with blood all over it and I think to myself “really? What am I doing?” That was kind of the depths of my…and I know I counted and I could go places and I thought “ I got $100 of gain, I’m traveling 12 hours on a bus that is 90 degrees, I have no friends cause I’m, you know I’m not very social with the 22-year-old players and I’m away from my family and I all wanted to do is get it to bed and I can’t even get the covers because blood drenched. What’s happening?” I finished the season and I start working with a guy who was…I guess a quasi-agent in some way. He said; “I am friendly with the program director of ESPN New York”. I’m from New York living in Raleigh. “Is it something you be interested in”. I said, “yeah”.
At this time, by the way, I’d been doing a lot of work with Sirius XM. They launched a fantasy sports channel and they were using me a ton to host shows and I’m doing a lot of shows for them and they wanted me to come up from Raleigh to New York. I guess so some shows in the studio and the guy that I was working with said “hey, if I can set up an interview for you to sit down with the program director of ESPN New York when you’re in New York, if you want to do that”. I said “absolutely”. So I’m in New York and I sit down with him and I tell him my story. I guess I sell him enough that he’s interested and by the time I get back to the hotel, I have an email from him saying, and this is on a, I don’t know, a Tuesday or a Wednesday. “Would you like to “would you like to host on the station on Sunday mornings 7-9am?” and I said “absolutely”.
So I have to go back down to Raleigh and I went, ironically, I have to go to the station that laid me off to do the show from there so it’s kind of full circle now and I show up at 6:30 and I’m anxious and excited and nervous and I do the show from 7 to 9. And the program director send me a text and said “we really like that. Would you like to do next Sunday?” and I said “sure”. Then I did next Sunday. And he said “I’m enjoying your work, would you like to do next Sunday?” And I said “sure”. I know it’s hard to believe, but the Jets are actually good at this point and it’s back 2010. And it’s the second year of the jets going on their run into the playoffs. The first year they lost to the Colts. The Colts were in the Super Bowl. The second year, the Jets went on a run and if you remember, they lost to the Steelers.
I started there in November. I was doing one or two shows a week and maybe the occasional fill-in of an evening show and it was going well. And then they said to me, “would you like to—”, because they didn’t have a local overnight show, they said with the Jets going on a run into the post season, “would you like to do overnights and localized overnights every night and get you on this terrific run?” and I said “of course”. So I did every night from 1am to 5am and I did it over and over and over and the Jets continue to roll through the playoffs and I did it from 1am to 5am. They eventually lost the Steelers, but ESPN bought me back up and I get the shows all that weekend and overnight night and it went really, really well. That was just partly that the general manager really liked me, and the program director really liked me, and “we’d like to give you a locked-in Saturday and Sunday, and that would be yours. Saturday and Sunday and then if there’s fill-in we’d like to offer that to you as well,” and I say “great”.
Things continue to progress and continue to my direction, so much so that another radio station contacted me and said, “we want you full time”. I had a dilemma. So you know, I don’t want to say an embarrassment of riches, but when things go well, when things are progressing down that road, it’s much easier. So I had decision to make. I want to take a full-time job but not, maybe, the ideal job, but full time. Or do I want to continue with ESPN in New York? I spoke to my boss, I would be honest about it, I explained the situation, and he said, “well, here’s what I can do. I can guarantee you Saturday’s and Sunday’s are yours and that you’ll be the first guy off the bench if there’s a show at 7 o’clock, if there’s a show at 9 o’clock…I’ll give it to you”.
So the two days then wound up turning into maybe three on average a week and this summer, four. I just continue to do that over and over and over, and they continue to like me and then my family, we moved up to New York and my wife got a job in New York and so we move back from Raleigh to New York and just you know, being local enjoying my face at the station made it much easier and the station really welcome me and they were kind to me and it continued to progress well and two or three days turn in to three or four, and then it turned in four and five, and then that was frustrating cause I still wasn’t technically full-time and I was getting paid by the show and I wanted my own permanent show and finally in, I guess April of 2012, when we launched FM, we went from 1050AM to 98.7FM, they gave me evenings.
It started out briefly from 6 to 9 and then I guess they decided to give back the day show, so it went 7 to 10. And then I was locked in, full-time employed, doing 7 to 10. And you know, I kinda had the dream. I was doing 7 to 10 and [was] a big part of the station and just continued through that. Then eventually they got rid of whoever was doing 1am or midnight, and I got 7 to midnight. And that was a very long arduous show, but it was great. It helped me hone my craft to become better and 7 to midnight over and over and over and over. And the show became popular and it was terrific. And then I went up switching to days with Ryan Ruocco.
I was doing, kinda localizing from 10 to noon, and then we did our show from noon to 1. And the show did well. Not as well as they woulda hoped, and eventually that got taken away, and I went back to evenings from 7 to 10, which I feel really comfortable with and I enjoy that slot. And I mean I’m on Michael Kay Show all the time and midday’s. I mean, there’s not a show in the station that I haven’t done. So that’s my local aspect. And then I got the call from ESPN National, probably two years ago. Would I like to kinda start doing some national stuff? So I did my first show, I filled in for Mike Lupica on a Sunday morning and they’ve now used me to the point where I don’t have enough hours in the day. I now have a really popular show on Sunday mornings nationally from 9am to 1pm called The Fantasy Focus, which is great, it’s me and Erin Karabell, Tom Waddle joined it. Stephania Bell is on it. And the show’s a huge hit and it’s starting year 3 right now.
So, you know, my sleeping on blood stained sheets in Birmingham Alabama has turned into, “I’m on ESPN New York 6 days a week, really.” And in addition to that, I did a Nicks pre and post-game shows from the garden Monday to Friday. Then on the weekends I do National work and fill in national work during the week. I don’t know if it’s a rags to riches story but it’s been a terrific story and a wonderful climb. And proud of my progress and proud of myself. And in some ways, I don’t know, entirely, I think there’s something more special about it because it wasn’t just handed to me. It was a road where I had to really work. I wife was incredibly supportive and understanding and if we meant have to move, we have to move. And if we have to stay, then we have to stay. And if it means that I have to work thanksgiving, then it means I have to work thanksgiving. And in a long winded nutshell, that’s my rise to where I am right now.
So, what I know from talking to other people in the industry, it seems like, you know when someone’s starting off, as you mention, there’s a lot of travelling from state to state, from station to station which is typical for a talk show host. Am I right?
Very typical. I’ve become someone that people kinda look up to now, and asked for advice a lot. And my big thing that I tell people and never to sway you from doing it, or whoever interested in doing it. Never. Never. Because you can’t crush someone’s dream, but I will always say, “you gotta to make sure this is you want to do”. Because a lot of people think much like I did, although I was very passionate about it. Much like I did, “I’ll get a job at WFAN in New York before ESPN was even in existence, and I’ll come on after the Mike and the Mad Dog and eventually I’ll take their job and I’ll be a star. And I was willing to pay the price in retrospect but I never thought it was gonna be such a difficult climb.
So when people ask me, I always tell them, “do it. Go for it. But make sure you want to do it cause it’s hard”. You know. You might after move to a small city. Raleigh for me wasn’t awful. But you might have to move to Des Moines, Iowa, you might have to pick up and go and you know, make your bones in a one hundred market. I work every weekend, just about. Sports is not 9 to 5 Monday to Friday. Sports is, it never turns off. Weekends are very important. Nights are very important. And yeah. It is very, very important to know that you want to do it. To be willing to sacrifice, to be willing to travel. I told my wife when we first met. I told her what I did and I told her this is what I’m going to do. I wasn’t obnoxious about it, but I pretty much said, “you know, if we were to be together which I hope we are, this is the sacrifice that I need to make for us to be able to live happy”. And she said “I’m on board”.
So yeah. It’s a lot of sacrifice. I mean, I’ve worked a ton of thanksgivings, which is my favorite holiday. I’ve worked New Years’s Eve. I’ve worked Memorial Day and July Forth and Labor Day. You have to be willing, especially in the beginning, to sacrifice a lot. Not only travel, but working off hours, working off days, and working holidays, you know, missing out events, missing out on family time, missing friend’s weddings…yeah, a lot of sacrifice and travel that goes with rising through the ranks of this kind of a career. Absolutely.
So, you mentioned your wife when, I’m assuming that she, you know, was based in another state while you were running around from state to state and station to station. How difficult was that on the relationship?
Well actually, we never had to live apart. We met in November of 2002 when I was locked in New York and I was at Air America at that point. And then we got married and then I get laid off the day we got back from our honeymoon. I got laid off cause I didn’t have the funds to continue to pay everybody. So, two weeks in to marriage is bliss. And the husband is not working. And then I round up doing a lot of freelance for Sirius when they were just in their infancy stages. I helped Sirius start the NFL channel. I did updates and shows on that. Then I got a fulltime job at Island with coalitions [19:50].
And I was there probably four years and then we had a son in New York. Then with our family we went to Raleigh for about five years. And then we were back from New York. Fortunately, I never had to live apart from my wife and, I don’t know. if I have to be able to live like that. That would have been very difficult. I imagined I probably would have gone through with it cause I wasn’t willing to sacrifice, but was I willing to sacrifice that relationship? I’m fortunate that I never had to make that decision.
So it was never had decided but she, has been, from day one, incredibly supportive. She didn’t have a huge passion. Her huge passion is to have a family. And she’s worked throughout, and worked very successfully throughout, but she has always said “I can find a work and a job wherever we go”. So we kinda based our careers around mine and she’s, you know, just have successful jobs wherever we go because she’s a star and she’s successful. So yeah, that answers your question. I never had to move apart from her. So we certainly run together. And I think we lived in eight different houses since we’ve been together. So we travelled and moved heck in it a lot.
So, this moving is very typical obviously for this industry right?
Yeah. We bought a house. We rented primarily. We bought a house in Raleigh. Before we had, the house furnished, I was laid off from my station at my job in Raleigh. So now we’re home owners and locked into a city that we working and staying. So I don’t have a home and I don’t have a job. And we moved all over. And we just recently, you know, moved back to New York and moved back to Westchester and we’ve had one, two, three moves in Westchester. And we are in the process of building a house which is ready in a couple of months so knock on wood, nothing bad happens and we’re here for a very long time. But yes, you have to be prepared to move. If you’re rigid and you’re not been willing to sacrifice then maybe this is not a career for you. But if you are willing to sacrifice and you know not lay down roots to firmly then maybe it is.
You mentioned going from job to job and how you got into Sirius and how you got all these other opportunities. It seems like throughout your career you somehow have been somewhat blessed to kinda know the right people, right? Was it all blind or were people turning you on to other people and helping you get job that ways. Was it who you know rather than what you know or?
That is very important and I will always tell young people I speak to, you know, as important as your education is and I would never, you know, say negative about education. It’s vital, Internships are huge. Maybe as important as, you know, your schoolwork. Internships are so important and you meet people. When you know people and you have contacts and you can go from person to person. Just be aggressive. Thinking back, my first job was pure luck. My second job came from them hearing me on from my first job when I was in Providence. It was a lot of word of mouth, it was a lot of being aggressive to get into Sirius.
My wife’s friend knew someone there and he put me such a team and I met with him. And then I went to Cable Vision. I just saw the job online and applied to it and they responded to me. When I went to Raleigh, my wife worked with Westwood One, which is a radio company and she knew that this new station was launching so she put me in touch with the new program director and I spoke to him and he liked me and we kinda made a deal that way. But yeah. It’s everything. It’s who you know, it’s nothing afraid to make cold calls. You have to sell yourself from the beginning. You’re your own agent. You have to act like your own agent. You must be aggressive like an agent. And it’s a fine line between being annoying and being aggressive.
So you have to kinda pick up on that line as well. You know, a program director doesn’t want to hear from you 10 times a week. They’re gonna be turned off. They’re gonna be annoyed. But maybe if you email them once every two weeks, it stays fresh in their mind. Sending this email and try to meet them for lunch. That must be appropriately aggressive. Yeah. That’s fine line and everything. You have to be aggressive. You have to be willing to knock down walls. You have to be your own best advocate, and there’s a lot to that. But no. This is not a medical school, where jobs are given to you because of your education. This is very different. This is very an uncharted field where you have to make your own path and speak to the people. Be aggressive and knock on walls. Be your applicant. There’s no rhyme or reason with this industry. It is very interesting and unique industry.
How were you able to develop those relationships? Is there any advice that you would give to upcoming respective talk show hosts on developing relationships with people so that you can get to them next level.
I just think you have to be extremely accommodating and hardworking. And I try to do that also, because even still now that I’m somewhat established. You know, I don’t want to get them into a contract where you’re certainly back in your early days or to finish your football season and have them say, “you know, he’s kind of a pain in the ass”. There’s a lot of somewhat talented people out there. So why not go with someone like that? I’m always was accommodating. I’m always made it easy. If I had a surgery or something or if I had a vacation planned or was travelling, then of course I can’t. But it’s just a regular Wednesday night, and I have nothing going on. “Hey Dave can you pick up the extra shift and do this?”. “Yep. You got it”.
Cause I always wanted my employers to think: “he’s talented. He’s good. He’s so easy. He’s so accommodating. So when it comes up to either, you know, a contract time, why would we even think about moving on? No, because he’s good and we want him. He’s easy to work with”. So it’s always important to make yourself accessible. Be easy. Be willing to do extra. I remember when I was starting out at ESPN, they would make it very difficult for me. I will have plans to go with friends at night and then I got a call “Hey can you do the show at 6’oclock tonight?”. “Yeah sure. absolutely, I can do it.” I’d have to call my friends and say “look, I have to do it, I got an opportunity”. Obviously you have to be talented and obviously you have to be skilled. I’d like to think I have some of that. But you have to be…I think you need to be easy to work with. And easy to work for.
I know a lot of people that are very talented and they’re pains in the asses and then it comes down to it, employers don’t always want to employ people like that. There’s a lot of talented people, so why not go with someone who’s talented not a pain, rather than someone that is talented and a tremendous pain? Now there’s are some people who are at such a high level that they can get away with anything that want, but that’s the very very few and I’m not of the ilk. So, I continue to really make it as easy on my employers as I can.
So when we talk about the phrase “fall down seven times rise up eight”, when you look at those times like at Campbell University, when you had somewhat fallen down, you rose up after each set back. How were you able to do that? Is there’s something that you would tell yourself or some kind of plan or ritual you follow to keep yourself to keep going regardless of whatever set backs may happen?
Well, I’ll be honest with you. It’s always tremendous deflation. You know, it’s not a like you get laid off a job which you’ve committed so much time and effort and energy and sacrifice for that you got laid off. You know, I’ve never been fired but it’s fickle industry and I’ve been laid off a bunch of times. Never once does it happen that you say, “alright! Lets get up, let’s go! Next day, here we are!” No. It’s always kind of a mourning period and a “ugh, this sucks and this is difficult and this is painful”. But you know, what choice do you have?
At the end of the day, you’re going to go through this life one time, and I knew that this was something I had to do to feel ultimately successful in my life. So, I would go through that mourning period and I would say “let’s go. Let’s get up and let’s go. Let’s start the process of calling people, emailing people, getting in touch with people, and doing shows for free, doing shows for 50$ or doing three hour shows for 100$ or let’s go”. I mean, you have to be your own advocate and it sucks you know. It’s really, really hard. I mean, you can always say you don’t want to. You can always say “look, I’m ready to be a 9 to 5 office guy selling something or making a comfortable living and that’s what I want”. But I never wanted to do that, so if I never wanted to do that then I got to the point where it was a difficult moment.
Then, “let’s go”. You got to get up and you got to push forward. And my life is always been supportive. Always, you know, giving me the good tough love when I needed it. There’s those times I needed it and it’s hard. It’s humbling. And it’s not even like you’re working with some little job and you lose it and your coworkers know about it. It’s public. So, you know, when I’m doing morning drive in Raleigh, I get laid off. It’s on message boards and everyone wants to talk about it. I see people and [they say] “oh, we thought you were so good. We can’t believe that happened.” It’s public. So you have to deal with that also. But what are your options?
I mean, anything. Your options are either cower and be fearful and not move on, or pick yourself up, dust yourself off off and let’s go kick some ass. And in the beginning it’s always hard. It’s very humbling. It’s difficult and you go through that mourning period. But once you get passed that mourning period, what are your choices? Your choices are to continue for not beneficial to anybody or anything. Let’s go. You know what? Michael Jordan was cut from his high school team. You know, Vince Lombardi was not considered a good coach until he was considered a good coach. People make mistakes and my thought always was “I am too talented and I will get rewarded in the end. I feel vindicated as I sit here talking to you right now, that I find that happens. So do I think there’s a special line, moment, or anything? No. But if this is what you really want to do, you know what you’ll gonna do, there will be sit backs. And you want to think up and you got to move forward. That’s the best advice to anybody.
Dedication persistence right?
So when you look back at this career at one point. What do you say are the keys to succeeding in your industry?
I think hard work is a key and I dedicate so much time to my craft, and to my industry, and I just throw myself into it. Like, it is incredibly important for me to be well prepared for me to know everything going on and I never take it for granted, what I do and that everyone breaking into my industry, wants to do what I do. I’m always prepared. Always. I always prepared getting ready for the show. You know, it’s just a normal day and I go through a website and I look at interesting articles and I think of ideas. My whole life kinda, not dedicated, but is a microcosm of what I do at the end of the day which is my show.
So I spend a lot of time and a lot of effort. A lot of energy and I take notes throughout the day and I jot things onmy phone and I’ll retweet articles that I find and interesting and notes of things that are fun and interesting just to have for later. Get in touch with my producer all day and we go by forth with ideas and creating things to do. This is an industry that’s not an exact science. So, it’s good to try little things and I created a bit on my show a couple years ago. I don’t know how this happened, but I was thinking about it and, everyone loves football. Everyone loves football in May or July or September, January…it’s just, everyone loves it. And I went to work one day in a producer. “I have this idea for just like, rapid fire football questions.” And he says “with what?” and I just said “just, rapid fire football questions.” He looked at me and was like “meh. I don’t like it”. And I said “alright,” and put that on the backburner.
Then I said, “you know? I like it.” And I went to another producer. “What do you think about this?” He was like “I like the idea, lets try to incorporate it”. This was about three years ago ago and it became a hit. We called it Football Frenzy and it’s sponsored and it’s a huge hit so, you know, there’s not a norm. You can be creative. You can try things and be aggressive and that’s what I do on my show. To think outside the box, to be very well prepared, to always be willing to do more, and I think if you can package that then and at least you have the blueprint for some success.
So basically, whether it’s sports or whatever you’re doing as a host, you really need to follow that 24/7 pretty much. Pay attention to your nitch and really know and be extremely knowledgeable about it? I remember that they have that show on ESPN nn TV where it’s like you can be a talk show host on a game show and they put those guys through ridiculously hard trivia questions. That, I mean, you really need to know your stuff right? Do you remember that show?
Yeah. You’re talking about The Shwab is the trivia show, but there was another show that they did where they actually auditioned people. and that what is you’re talking about. I forget the name of it. The top 3 on 4 people of it have actually gone onto successful careers. I mean. Look. I think there’s some jobs where you wake up at 6:45 in the morning and get to work at 8:30. From 8:30 to 5:30. Turn it off. And I think in my industry, and to be ultimately, incredibly successful in your industry, you have to be consumed with it. And I am.
I think it’s very important. There’s no one in my station that does their show and then turns it off. And it’s part of the reason is because you want to succeed at it. You kno, if I wasn’t a sports talkshow host, but I still watch every football game? Of course. Will I still know every football game? Yes. Do I tackle it differently because I am a sports talkshow host? Sure. I think of interesting topics that I wouldn’t think of, I think of ways to express myself that I wouldn’t think of. This is a labour of love. I mean, how things can I say I’ve loved since I’m three? Not a lot. You know? Maybe my parents, maybe my siblings, and maybe sports. And I’m willing to turn it into my life. And maybe too much so at the times.
There’s times when I’m out for dinner and I’m checking for scores. I mean. It can be a lot. It could be a lot from the people who lives with me or who is involved with me on a day-to-day basis. But you know, I’m always been upfront about it. It’s important to immerse yourself in your career, especially if you want to be successful. And that’s what I’ve done.
So do you think it is more important as a host to be yourself or to be different to stand out in some particular way, not necessarily to have this shtick but maybe something unique? Or is it important to be more of yourself?
Well, hopefully, if things work out ideally, that’s one and the same. You’re different because you are yourself. So, I can’t answer for everybody. But I can answer for me. It’s probably 99.9 percent of the talk show host. I am a huge fan. That’s what I portray on air. I’m going to be honest with you. I don’t like the Yankees. I can analyze the Yankees and tell you what I think they’ve done well and how they’re great and how they’ve won and how great Jeter is. But when they kick the field, I will root against the Yankees. I’m passionate about my sports, and I don’t think that…I think if people become kinda desensitized to sports the more they’re in it. I’m not gonna name names, but I’ve talked to high profile sports talkshow hosts who just say they enjoy sports. But their fanaticisms for their teams is taken away because they cover it, because they’re around and they see. And I will never let that happen to me, ever.
I love the Giants and I will always love the giants. I love the Rangers so I’ll always love the Rangers. So I take that passion to the airwaves. I will tell you that there is not one talkshow host into this country that is more passionate about their teams as I am. So I think I’m that fortunate in that question. And I can’t answer for everyone. I need to be myself. I don’t think you can say “I want to be this different person or host”. You need to be yourself. For me, I’m really fortunate because being me and unique me and honesty to myself also makes me a passionate sports talk show host and it makes me different a talk show host.
So I’m honest with myself, and outside the box. And again I think you need to be honest. I think you have to be yourself and hopefully you’ll have that nitch where that’s kind of ordinary. There’s some piece of you and hopefully you can find it. There’s some piece of you that outside the ordinary. And if you can find that, thoses pieces that get wrapped up into one.
So I think that’s great advice. When you’re asked by young people for advice on how to break into the industry which you mentioned before, what do you tell them?
My big thing is: make sure this is what you wanna do. A lot of people look at me like “of course it’s what I wanna do.” No. Make sure that you’re willing to be on a bus at 1am on Thanksgiving night. Make sure that you’re willing to say “hey guys, Merry Christmas but I have to go work a 12 hour a day:. Make sure that it’s what you really wanted to do. Make sure, because I have people that think that they want to do this but they do it for a year and they just can’t do it. So make sure that it’s what you want to do. Press hard for it. Don’t say no. Work harder than you can possibly imagine. Make as many connections as you can. Stay in touch with those connections. Be aggressive. Be aggressive without being obnoxious. Knock down doors, make calls. Be willing to do anything.
With all those things, tt’s not a guarantee that it will work out. I believe if you’re willing to do all those things, then you have a better chance at succeeding than if you’re not willing to do all those things. So it’s the first thing that I tell to everybody. You really want to do this? And they look at me like “well obviously.” Yeah. But everybody wants to be on ESPN at 3pm in the afternoon in New York. There’s no one who doesn’t want to do that. But are you willing to live on $19,000 a year in Fort Meyers, Florida, where you’re working for a single A baseball team? Are you willing to move Laredo, Texas? Are you willing to do to Des Moines, Iowa, and get $23,000 a year to be a sports anchor and the news anchor and the reporter for for floods? Like are you willing to do that? If yeah, then it’s a right field for you. If not, then maybe you need to collect your thoughts and think if it’s the right thing that you want to do.
What you just mentioned is something that I’ve heard as well which is the money is horrible. You have to be pretty much single, you can’t have a family. You can’t support them in that kind of money, plus you’re away from them.
The money is typically terrible when you start. The only thing that I can say that’s not the biggwst negative is, often times if you’re making $23,000 a year, you’re living in New York. You’re living in a place where you can probably scrape by on that kind of money. You know when I rent this $450. So yes. And if you But, if you’re single person that’s 24 years old, 25 years old and you’re willing to move to a small city…you can get by. It’s not easy. You’re not gonna save money. You’re not gonna be pocketing for your 401k. But I think it’s possible to live in, you know, Bakersfield, California, on 27,000 a year? Probably so.
Do you think it’s possible to live in Reno, Nevada on 23,000$ a year? Probably so. Can you live in Fort Meyers, Florida on $23,000 per year? Probably. I think it’s doable. You just have to think creatively. I know a lot of people who work fulltime in radio and have other jobs. Maybe you have to work 40 hours at your radio station and make $12/hours, $550/week and that’s barely enough for you. Then you supplement it by working at a grocery store or at a gas station or as a telemarketer. Something like that. So there is always ways. And is it a small salary? Yes. But, you know, you’re not going to work in New York making 24,000$ a year. So, if you’re willing to pick up and move to a small city, and that means making this small salary. I think you can find your way and make enough to at least get by.
So it’s interesting you know when we talked about how you’re now at ESPN and people think that, “wow this is a star”. They don’t realize that everything you’ve done to got to this point. Like, you know, you’ve told this story about Campbell University and being laid off how many times? How many times you have laid off?
I was laid off from Air America, literally the day we showed up from out honeymoon. I showed up for work and they just said “we don’t have money to continue to pay you”. I was laid off from there. I was laid off my station in Raleigh. With my last regular check I got a bonus check for our ratings, but I was still laid off. So I was laid off twice and I then I was working at the other station in Raleigh. They were purchased by my original station. So I guess in someway I was laid off. So I guess I could say three times in totality. It’s a lot.
You worked at, I would guess, over a dozen stations right?
Yeah, in that range. I’ve worked in a lot of places. Some of them I left my own volition and took the next step in my career. Some of them I was laid off. And it’s probably that 50/50 and yeah it’s a lot of uncertainty in this business. And yes, I wouldn’t say an impossible road because there are people that do things a lot more difficult than I have done, but it certainly is a road that is challenging and I think worthwhile. Like I said earlier, if you can become successful and you’ve paid your dues, I think you really appreciate it a little bit more. I try to look at the positive and I feel good about where I am now.
So, any last words for anyone considering doing this? I know that you said “make sure you love what you’re doing.” That’s number one. We know that. Anything else?
Just be willing to dive in. It’s not a job, it’s a way of life. Don’t make it “it’s 7 o’clock, my show is done. I’m done and I can do out and do my own thing.” Sure you can, sometimes, but ensconce yourself with this, because there are people who will. The guy next to you will work harder than you. You have to be able to really work hard. Really work at your craft and get better and take critique and listen to people who know better than you. Especially when you’re breaking into this industry.
You don’t know everything. I thought I did at the beginning, I realized I didn’t, and I think I’ve become a much better host. To change my philosophy, so listen to people that know more or who are better than me. Just be willing to sacrifice almost anything and make it your way of life. I’d be surprised, if you do those things, if you’re not in some avenue successful in this industry. So that would be my advice. Knock on many walls as you can. Knock down as many doors as you can. Pick as many brains as you can. Speak to as many people as you can. Offer your services as you can. Work really really really hard. That’s my advice to everybodytrying to get their foot into the door of this industry.
That’s great. So I remember when you said that when you go through, you know, when you’re let down, you go through this mourning period and afterwards you come out on it and just you have no choice but to keep going. You know, some people when they’re faced in that kind of adversity, might say, well you know what, this is not for me. You know, “I can’t”. You mentioned that some people, they just can’t take it. They can’t take the road and the constant mov[ing] to another city and, but, you have to be strong enough to withstand those kind of thing. Am I right?
Absolutely. And it’s not for everybody. I mean, let’s be honest. It’s not for everybody. Not everybody wants to sacrifice. It’s easy for things to go great. And to be successful. That’s easy. It’s not easy for things not to be so smooth. I can do this and I’ll fight through this. So yeah. It’s not for everybody and I think people need to understand that as well. You know, this weeds out a lot of the weaker minded people, and that’s okay. You know not everybody makes it to medical school. Not everybody makes it to law school. Lot of people change careers and change jobs and do it later in life. And that’s fine. But if you want to to succeed in this job, I think you have to have a real grit and a real determination. Be willing to sacrifice a lot to get there.
So is it the love of what you do that not give up, or is it something else?
That’s what it was.
Yeah. I wanted to be a professional athlete when I was a little kid. And I was a great athlete at last I was probably by 10 or 11. Then I wasn’t great anymore. Everyone caught up to me. And I said, obviously I’m going to work in sport. That was it. And then at some point, I didn’t remember how but I was doing sports. That’s it. At some point I was like “I will do sports radio”. That’s it. That’s done. So yeah. I loved it. I love talking sports and you know, it’s funny because when I show up at work…I’m a human being. I can be tired or have a headache or have a fight with my wife or anything. But when the microphone gets on, no one to know about those states. I have to be able to turn it on. And, you know there are times when I slept 3 hours. I’m tired. And then it was like “you idiot.
This is what everyone wants to do. You live in the dream”. So yeah. I love it. I love it. You know. I’m at the Nicks games and I do the pre and post game show and I’ll be sitting at center court at Madison Square Garden. I’ll have too much traffic getting in and I’ll be up til midnight. And then I’ve gotta be up at 6am with my kids. And then I look around. The guy sitting next to me is $300 to be able to hear and watch the exact game that I’m watching. And I’m on the radio doing it? Shut up. Shut up and love it. And yeah. I love it. I can’t tell you how much I love it. How much I love connecting with people. How much I love it when people say that they can’t stand me. That means that they listen to me and they know me. I love it when people tell me they love me. I love this job and I can’t imagine doing anything else.
So I think it’s important to know that everyone has doubts. You, at that time, at Campbell University, you had some doubts and you’re asking yourself what are you doing? So there are times when it just gets to be too much and just that love tells you that you keep what you doing? Is that right?
Yes. That’s correct. And yeah. It’s exactly right. I mean, I can’t really sum it up any better than that. I’ve had bumps in the road. Like we discussed, had those moments of mourning and then gotten up and said “let’s go. Let’s do it again”, and you know, we talked about it. I’ve fallen down 7 times and I got up in the 8. And the 8 is pretty darn good. That’s where I am right now.
That’s great. Thank you so much Dave. I appreciate you taking the time to do this interview.
You’re very welcome. I hope there is one person out there hears it and is somewhat inspired by my story.
Absolutely. Thank you. If you know someone that has an inspiring story that we should interview, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org . I’m Michael Nova and thanks for joining us on Rise Up Radio.
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