Dave Rothenberg of ESPN New York’s DiPietro and Rothenberg is pro-listener phone calls and generally anti-guest.
He also supplies Mel Kiper Jr. with whipped cream (we’ll get there), and his show is now the go-to for couples on their way to the hospital awaiting the birth of a child.
“I think we must’ve received maybe 5-10 calls of people on their way to the hospital saying, ‘listen, we’re on our way to the hospital. My wife is in labor. I just wanted to call you to let you know that this is going on now’. That would be the last thing I would ever consider doing on my way to the hospital, with the birth of a child, but yesterday we actually had a woman call and say she’s in the hospital, between contractions, her husband loves the show, she also loves the show and she wanted to call in,” Rothenberg told BSM.
The show that delivers, even as you’re about to deliver. That sounds like a bumper sticker and a t-shirt waiting to happen.
Rothenberg has spent the last 15 years in radio between Raleigh, N.C. and New York. He’s also hosted national shows on ESPN Radio, multiple podcasts and done play-by-play for Campbell University football.
Here’s part of our conversation from this week about his career journey.
BSM: You’ve done radio locally and nationally as well as in different parts of the country. What about radio do you love?
DR: Immediate opinion, right? Instant reaction to what you’ve just seen. My show currently, we’re on at five o’clock in the morning. So we are the first word in New York sports. Nobody comes before us. We are the first word. Something’s happened late at night, I’m working on like three, four, five hours of sleep and then we start our show. So I love that.
I love the long form. I love the opinion-based. I love the fact that it’s never rushed. Like when you do television, it’s so finite. You have three minutes to do all these things. In radio, it’s just extended to the point where if you want to spend 15 minutes, 20 minutes, three hours, whatever, the floor is yours to do as you see fit.
So I love that. I love the storytelling aspect. I love making it personal with people. I love bringing people behind the curtain and allowing them to kind of feel what we feel.
BSM: What makes you and Rick DiPietro such a great tandem?
DR: It takes a while to be honest with you. I’ve always liked him and always thought he was talented. But when you’re with, not only Rick, but when you’re with that other person, you don’t just start doing a show with them and all of a sudden there’s instant chemistry, it takes time. We’ve been doing the show for probably four or five years. So we’ve been at it for a long time.
We’ve been in every time slot, right? We started from 10-1 and then we went from 9-11. Then we had Chris Canty and then we moved from 5-8 AM. Then Canty left to do some national work, so now it’s just me and Rick. And we like each other. We bust each other’s chops a ton, but we genuinely like each other and we’re interested in what’s going on in each other’s lives. So that’s always a bonus when you like the person you’re working with.
His work ethic is tremendous. He’s very funny and entertaining. He has the dynamic, which I don’t bring to the table, which is a locker room dynamic. He can bring you inside the locker room of what that’s like, and we just feed off each other. It’s great. I’m the superfan and he’s kind of a superfan who was also a player. It’s a dynamic that took a long time to build. Not that it was ever bad, but I think it certainly developed over the years and now we’ve got where we’re really in our groove. Now things are going really well.
BSM: How do you evolve? Different time slots, different day parts, different partners, different cities in your career. How do you kind of just stay on top of an ever-changing business and your ever changing career?
DR: It’s a lot. I’ve done every single hour at ESPN New York. I’m not kidding. I filled in for Mike and Mike. I’ve filled in on Stephen A. Smith’s show. I did overnights. So I have done every single hour of every single day part on this station. And 10-1 is different than 5-8. Five to eight is a lot looser, it’s more relaxed. It’s a morning show and you want people to kind of commute and have fun.
I think every show ideally wants to have fun, but I think there’s more of an expectation with that in the morning. And that’s what we really provide. We want you to feel like you’re stepping into a bar, you’re sitting down at the corner stool and you’re hanging out with buddies.
We’re going to break down the sports. We’re going to make fun of you. We’re going to have fun. It’s going to be high jinks, it’s going to be silly. It’s going to be serious. It’s going to have everything you could possibly want. And you’re going to do it with two guys who I think are very respected in the industry that don’t let much go by without knowing it.
BSM: What’s your opinion on phone calls? Because I think a lot of hosts don’t really love them, but in New York and Boston, we think that that is what drives a show. Does it have an impact on your show that early in the morning?
DR: I love phone calls. To your point, a bad phone call can kill a show. It can drive it off the cliff and it makes it bland and boring, and you don’t want a guy just to reiterate or regurgitate the point you’re already making. But if you have a caller that either has a tremendous personality, and in New York, a lot of them do, or has the opposing view, or is antagonistic or is there’s something about them that you can draw out? I think you take full advantage of that.
We have such a dynamic with our listeners and our callers. Now that they’ve formed this, I don’t even know how to explain it…They call themselves The Company and they are like a loyal fan base of ours. And there’s like a Captain of The Company and there’s a fan base of The Company.
And there’s actually like a written test to join The Company…If you have callers that are entertaining, have a dynamic, go in a different direction, are argumentative… Like if it’s different, if it’s fun, if it’s fresh, if it’s engaging, I think it adds a ton to the program.
BSM: Reaching New York radio is one of the pinnacles of the business, and as cool as it is to reach the top of the mountain, it’s also fun building something from the ground up. What was your experience like at 99.9 The Fan in Raleigh where you helped launch the station?
DR: It was great. I loved it. Those are some of the best people I’ve ever worked with. We came together and had like a group meeting and I was like, ‘these are really good people.’ Within the first six months we blew the other stations out of the water. We were dominating in the ratings.
So I started doing evenings. I did updates on the afternoon drive and evenings. And then one of the morning guys left and they moved me to mornings and we just took off. It was just phenomenal. I can think of seven or eight people that I started with at that station who are all really, really close friends in the industry. And we built that from the ground up.
And then it was bad because a lot of us got laid off and it flipped from a Sporting News affiliate to an ESPN affiliate. So I’m doing the morning drive show and we’re doing amazingly well in the ratings, and then they said, ‘listen, we just acquired ESPN as an affiliate, so we have to pick up Mike and Mike, so you guys are out.’ And then one of the afternoon guys got pushed out. So it took over a real rebranding, but we really launched something special.
BSM: Who are some of your favorite guests to talk to?
DR: So, this is funny. We are very-anti interview on our show because we just find them to be bland and boring, for the most part. I don’t want to say exclusively. We used to have a great relationship with former Rangers coach David Quinn. He came on and he was tremendous with us. He was fun, he was entertaining, he let loose…We’ve really gone out of our way to avoid having guests on, but I will say that there are two and they’re more national, but they do have a local impact as well…
We’ve developed a phenomenal relationship with Mel Kiper Jr. where he comes on our show all the time. And we break down everything draft-wise with him. So much so that he, apparently, has an obsession with pumpkin pie. He eats it every morning and he loves a low-fat whipped cream. Well, apparently where he lives, he can’t find low-fat whipped cream. So we have begun to send him from our location to where he is, low-fat whipped cream, boxed and freeze dried every couple of weeks. So he said, ‘whenever you guys ever need ever need me to come on your show, I’m there.’
So the day of the draft, he’s with us, day after the draft, he’s with us, breaking down what the Jets and the Giants did. So he’s a really fun guest. And the other guy that we love is Buster Olney. He’s a tremendous person in the baseball industry. Insight, he’s funny, he’s got contacts… So again, we don’t want to have guests solely to have guests. We want to have guests because there they’re informational, they’re informative, they’re entertaining and we’re not just going to force a guest down your throat.
Rothenberg and DiPietro airs weekdays from 5-8 AM on ESPN NY, 98.7
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.