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Q/A with Dino Costa: Mad Dog host says his show offers alternative to ‘homogenized garbage’ of sports talk radio

Note: I’m going to be out for a couple of weeks. However, I’m leaving behind some gifts for the holidays: The best of my Q/As. I’ll feature a new one each day through Jan. 2. Please check in. Happy Holidays to all.

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Posted on Nov. 26

At one point during our interview, Dino Costa said, “I don’t want to sound braggadocious.”

I’m thinking, he doesn’t want to sound braggadocious? This is a guy who has been telling me for the better part of an hour that he is the best thing going on sports talk radio. And the vast of bulk of programming in the format, he says, is a bunch of “homogenized garbage.”

Then again, listeners of The Dino Costa Radio Show wouldn’t be surprised.

His evening show on the Mad Dog Radio channel on SiriusXM (7-11 p.m. ET) is the sports talk version of UFC: Anything goes. Supremely confident and “fearless,” Costa has a strong opinion about everything and anything, and that includes slamming the guy whose nickname is the title of the station, Chris Russo.

Recently, Costa called Russo “a has been.” And that was on Russo’s show.

Costa, 48, has had a curious life and career. He didn’t even break into the business until he was 33. It is all well-documented in a piece by Michael Hastings in Men’s Journal. Hastings has a great description of Costa’s style:

Costa makes Colin Cowherd or Skip Bayless, two of ESPN’S best-known Angry Male alphas, seem mild and  reasonable. Compared with them, Costa is more like a militia leader broadcasting direct from Ruby Ridge under siege, an army of liberals blasting away from the other side of the barbed wire.

The fact that Men’s Journal did a story on an evening sports talk host on satellite radio shows the impact Costa is having in the market since he joined Mad Dog in 2009. And since it hasn’t come easy for him, and since he wants a much bigger slice of the pie, if not the whole thing, he feels compelled to blow his horn as if it were an air raid siren.

Drawing the inevitable sports radio comparsions to Rush Limbaugh (“a huge compliment”), Costa can be extremely polarizing and hardly is for everyone. But despite all of Costa’s personal slams, even Russo concedes ”he’s a helluva host.”

Here’s Part 1 of my Q/A with Costa in which he takes apart the sports talk radio industry.

How would you explain your show to people who haven’t heard it before?

I can answer in a way that talks about the industry of sports talk radio. On balance, all sports talk radio sounds exactly the same. There is a status quo that underwhelms me. It’s homogenized garbage that deals with the lowest common denominator. The predictability is frightening. The same subject, same comments every day. It stays in the same lane and drones on and on.

I’m amazed at people who think this is good sports talk radio. I find most people involved in the format are completely bankrupt from a creative point of view.

You look at the people they are bringing in for (the new CBS and NBC Sports Radio Networks). There isn’t a compelling 3-4 hour block in there. It’s all the same. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think there is some kind of conspiracy out there.

I heard you once devote the bulk of your show ripping Jim Rome. He’s wildly successful in sports talk radio. Why would you have issues with him?

Jim got in on the ground floor when sports talk radio was starting to flourish. His show is highly overproduced. There is a significant amount of authenticity that is lacking. I find his show to be scripted and then he turns it over to a bunch of callers he calls “clones.” How is this compelling radio? It’s the same stuff every day.

What about Mike and Mike at ESPN Radio? They do big numbers.

I have great respect for them, but that is an incredibly over produced show. It’s broken up into segments, and they have 10-11 guests, most of them the same people from ESPN. It’s the same stuff over and over again. They never say anything controversial. They stay within the politically correct line.

There’s just a lack of courage in this business. Everything is a carbon copy. What I do is distinctly different from the status quo.

OK what do you do? Let’s gets back to the original question of how would you describe your show?

I present a completely different look and feel to sports talk radio that is absent anywhere else. The show is unique in that it attracts more than the hardcore sports fan. I’ve had people tell me, ‘I don’t listen to sports radio, but I listen to your show.’ That’s the biggest compliment I can get.

My show transcends the craft of sports talk radio. I resonate with people. It doesn’t matter if you love or hate what I say, the bottom line, people listen to me. The show is impossible to ignore.

SiriusXM provides a forum for the most liberated kind of sports talk. There’s no calibrator. Nothing is taboo. As a talk show host, I find it incredibly liberating.

It’s about two hours before your show. What is on the agenda for tonight?

I don’t know. It’s completely organic. I have some thoughts that I want to discuss in my mind, but it is a stream of conscious kind of show. This is a national show. In order to do it properly, I read up to 100 newspapers per day. I’m constantly taking notes.

I could go an hour without taking calls. I don’t have many guests. I get emails from people saying, ‘Stop with the guests. We want to hear what you have to say.’ I’m a different beast. I’m way outside the box.

If your show and presentation is so unique, why has it taken you this long to get on this stage? You’ve had several stops along the way.

Good question. In terms of style and format, there’s been a great reluctance by upper management to embrace somebody as opinionated and irreverent as I can be. I’ve talked to many people in the industry about this question. One person, who I respect, told me, ‘With your show, you put people at risk in upper management.’

Programmers aren’t intelligent. Oh, they’re intelligent in selecting people who won’t have people complaining about them. They make the same predictable hires, and it’s all so vanilla.

You take a wildcard like me, you’ve got to be willing to let the phone ring or field the complaints.

You had to try out for your show on Mad Dog and weren’t even hired initially. Again if you’re so good, why didn’t you get hired right away?

That was a big mistake on their part. I give (program director Steve Torre) a lot of credit. He recognized that I could be something big. I’m going to be the best hire SiriusXM ever made.

You did meet with NBC. How did that go?

I (also) met with ESPN three times. The fit at NBC wasn’t a good one. It would have been a truncated relationship.

When I met with NBC, I asked, ‘What are you going to do that is different to distinguish yourself from ESPN and CBS? Is adding Dan Patrick going to be your big move?’

They said they needed people who are representative of their brand. What does that mean? Does that I mean I can’t criticize the commissioner of the NFL? They told me I would have to reposition my commentary within the guidelines of acceptable criticism. I couldn’t do that. I refuse to let some kingmaker try to define me. I’d have to castrate my show to provide them with the same corporate radio I often complain about.

How do you envision your future?

I do want a bigger platform that allows me to become the dominant voice in sports talk radio in America from a national standpoint. I think it’s possible.

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