Dino Costa on his problems with Russo; wants SiriusXM to give him larger platform

Part 2

“Why did you call Chris Russo a ‘Has been’ on his own show?” I said to Dino Costa. “Most people wouldn’t do that.”

“Well, you’re right,” Costa replied. “I’m not most people.”

You won’t get much argument on that point, especially from Russo. He is a regular target on the Dino Costa Show, which airs evenings from 7-11 p.m. on SiriusXM’s Mad Dog Radio.

Yes, it is Russo’s station, making Costa’s diatribes against him seem even more bizarre. It came to a peak of sorts a few weeks ago. Costa was irate that Russo didn’t defend him when a caller on Russo’s show labeled Costa as “a racist.”

The following day, Costa appeared on Russo’s show to air things out, but the conversation didn’t last long. Costa started by calling Russo a “has been,” and it deteriorated from there.

Costa’s volley insulted Russo’s fans, who called to demand that he get rid of him. Russo, though, replied with his standard stance. Despite what Costa might say about him, Russo thinks he is a talented host.

“He’s compelling,” said Russo many times on the air. By the way, Russo did not take me up on my invitation to discuss Costa and Mad Dog Radio.

There’s no denying Costa has been good for Russo’s and Mad Dog Radio’s business, attracting considerable attention for a non-prime time radio slot. Costa thinks he deserves a bigger and better platform. Perhaps even a The Dino Channel. Not surprisingly, he isn’t shy about talking about it.

“I’m not content to be under the Mad Dog umbrella for a much longer period of time,” Costa said. “I want to do my own thing.”

In part 2 of our interview, Costa discusses Russo and his future on SiriusXM.

How would you describe your relationship with Russo?

It’s a professional relationship. We do two different styles of radio. Chris does his show the way that is effective for him. I do a show that is effective for what I do. That’s where it begins and that’s where it ends. I don’t want to talk too much about Chris.

But you talk about Russo all the time.

I will say that Chris’ transition from local radio icon to a national sports host has not been as smooth as it could have been. Often times, I question his passion and commitment to do the show, considering the major investment SiriusXM made in him. All you have to do is listen to his show. So often, he’ll say he didn’t see this or that he didn’t know that.

A lot of times I’ll try to tweak him to try to light a fire underneath him. To try to get him to dig deeper to provide a show that is more compelling than it is.

He’s taken shots at me. Each one of us believes we bring certain value to the channel.

Do you want Russo to be more like you?

You can’t make somebody they’re not. I wouldn’t expect Chris to do my kind of show the same way he can’t expect me to do his kind of show.

Chris’ personality is not like my personality. Chris has an insatiable need to be liked. If you ask Chris that, he will agree that is a representative statement. I don’t care if I’m liked. I don’t care if you loathe me. I’m doing the show for my audience, but I’m not going to allow my audience to program my show. This is my show. These are my comments. I back it up and I’ll tell you why.

Do you ever regret what you say about Russo? Was calling him a “has been” a little harsh?

Mmm. I think it was appropriate at the time I said it. You’re right, I was upset.

He does not comprehend me. He doesn’t listen to my show. He only hears snippets. The one thing I can’t stand is that when Russo hears a 15-20 second(clip) and comes to the conclusion that this is what defines me. That this is all that I’m about. He has no concept of the range and depth that I have. Quite often, he takes the word of people who are whispering in his ear about me.

If you’ve got a question, call me. Or at least take the time to listen to the damn thing before you make a comment about it.

Where do you see your show going?

The time has come to feature me in a much larger role. I’m providing a product that needs to be exploited more. I need to be vaulted to the top of the SiriusXM food chain. Frankly, there’s not another sports talk personality on the channel that can reach the  listeners with the passion I have. I am big money waiting to be made by SiriusXM Radio.

Do you want an earlier time slot? More promotion. Your own channel?

Well, yes, all of those things.

(The evening hours) are not going to fit my lifestyle much longer. I have a family with two young children.

I had a SiriusXM executive tell me that I took a vast wasteland (with the evening hours) and created something that they never had before. I was happy to do it and prove myself. Clearly, I want to get to an earlier part of the day.

I would love the challenge of being sent to the worst performing channel we have. I said, ‘Give me five hours and watch what I can do there.’ If it means my own channel, fine, put my name on it. And if it doesn’t have my name on it, but it gives me the ability to create something earlier in the day, fine. I’m willing to do all of that.

I don’t think we as a company take advantage of the enormous freedom that we have. I find this incredible. Beyond my show, the most risk-taking programs aren’t the three other shows we have during the day (on Mad Dog). The most risk-taking shows are the back-ups and guys who work on the weekend. They’re more prone to push the envelope and speak their mind and not worry about somebody getting angry at them.

Do you want to leave Mad Dog Radio?

They’ve been great to me here. I couldn’t be Dino Costa with their support, and it’s been overwhelming.

There is a Mad Dog brand, and I am not emblematic of the Mad Dog brand. Quite honestly, it might be better off for them to move me to another station. Chris has had to put up with entire shows where the theme of the show is me. He’s taking complaints. ‘How do you put up with this guy?’ I feel bad for him in a certain way.

I make it clear how hungry I am to do my own thing. My commentary is often tinged with a mindset that would tell anyone, including those at SiriusXM management, I’m not content to be under the Mad Dog umbrella for a much longer period of time. I want to do my thing.

So where do you see it all going for you in the future?

I’d love to do a TV show on a network like HBO. Do something like Bill Maher does from the sports angle. I think there’s a TV show out there for me.

I’m so bullish about what’s going on at SiriusXM. There is ceiling here so high that I don’t think we can see it yet. So I’d love to be there for the next 20 years. SiriusXM would be foolish not to look at my hunger, passion and drive and not give me a more prominent role.

I love SiriusXM. I want SiriusXM to love me a little bit more.

















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

First of two parts:

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.

Part 2: Costa discusses his relationship and criticism of Chris Russo and his desire for a dramatically increased role at SiriusXM. Perhaps even a Dino station.







Chris Russo Q/A: Looking back on Mike and the Mad Dog

They are separate now. It’s Mike. It’s Mad Dog.

The “and the” disappeared in 2008 when Chris Russo decided to end his famous pairing with Mike Francesa and start his own Mad Dog network on SiriusXM.

Yet they will be forever linked. For 19 years at WFAN 660, they were sports talk radio’s most powerful duo. They owned New York and beyond, while helping to define the new genre.

Last week, Russo was reunited with Francesa during the station’s 25th anniversary show. It was a fun segment, reliving old times.

Given all the attention on the big birthday, here’s an interview I did with Russo a while back in which he discusses his famous pairing with Francesa.

How did it start?

I got there in ’88. During that seven-month period, I worked for Imus. Imus said, ‘Listen to this guy. He’s nuts, put him on.’ (Afternoon host Peter) Franklin was having issues. He and Imus hated each other.

So they put me and Mike on.

How well did you know Mike?

It was, ‘hello, how are you?’ We saw each other around. I wanted to do it solo. I thought I could do it by myself. I had a job in Orlando.  But I was 29. It was a job I had to do take.

The show took off quickly. Why?

If we had started in ’87 when (WFAN) just began, who knows? We were able to come on the station two years after it got its feet wet. That helped a lot.

I think there was the fact that Mike and me, we’re both Long Islanders. I think it was the dymanic of both personalities. There was a lot of anti-Franklin. We got to the station at the right time. Imus was situated. We had the Mets. We had the Giants. The station was beginning to find its footing.

Talk about your on-air chemistry with Mike.

It took a while for us to develop a friendship, a kinship. Mike and me.

Mike is a lot funnier than people think. Very funny. Very quick mind. I’m more the radio guy. I knew how to do the mechanics of the show. Move the show along. That combination seemed to work.

People identify with radio show hosts much more than TV guys. TV guys are polished. The hair is combed properly. Radio is out there. A little more naked. You’re doing a show for five hours every day. There is a kinship that develops with your audience.

What about your relationship with Mike?

I had a good relationship with Mike. There were some ups and downs. Absolutely. We’re both dynamic personalities. You have to know each other’s whims. If Mike in a bad mood, I have to handle it. If I’m cranky about something, he’s going to handle it.

There was some tension. We had about four periods in the relationship where we didn’t talk at all for about a three-month period.

From the standpoint of our relationship, it probably wasn’t a bad time to leave. We had been together for so long. We had a lot of fights in the spring.

Listen, you put two guys together for 20 years, you’re going to have some issues. There’s no way around it.

When did you realize you guys were big?

To me, it was early. In the Buffalo-Giant Super Bowl in ’91, I picked Buffalo 49-13. There’s no way the Giants win that game. Buffalo scored 51 against Oakland. Bill Parcells was all pissed off at me. He told Mike, ‘How does your ham and egg partner think our team will give up 49 points at the Super Bowl.’

You began to sense you could have an impact with what you said.

Throw in (Jets coach) Bruce Coslett. We both said if he doesn’t win his last game, he will get fired. He got fired two days later. We had a good relationship with him, but he didn’t do anything. We influenced the Jets to do something in that situation. So many people were screaming their heads off.

We got (Mike) Piazza here. The Mets were not going to trade for Piazza. We screamed and yelled. (Mets owner Nelson) Doubleday heard it, and got Piazza traded to the Mets.

These guys listen. GMs listen. Players listen. They put on FAN.

Why did you decide to leave in 2008?

When a man of (Mel Karmazin’s) stature  said, ‘I’m going to give you a channel’…Well, I don’t know when that opportunity will come again. If I ever was going to leave, this was my parachute to leave.

You’ve mention that you were surprised by the intense reaction to the break-up. Why?

When I left, it was a much bigger story than thought it would be. Fans were hurt that I left. They felt I was part of their family, part of their routines for nearly 20 years. I broke up the routine. That bothered a lot of fans. But it was a move I had to make.


And here’s an interesting aside. Russo, in an interview with the New York Daily News’ Bob Raissman Sunday, didn’t rule out a more permanent reunion. From Raissman’s story:

Now, with one year left on his Sirius/XM contract  and the radio business changing quickly, would Russo consider going back to WFAN  to team with Francesa if the pontiff blessed the move?

We asked the question over the telephone. For once, Dog didn’t have a quick  response for this longtime listener. There was silence, then an “uhh.” Then  Russo said he “can’t” answer the question. Then he did.

“You never want to say never. You know how the radio business is. So, you  never say never, but I haven’t thought about it in my crystal ball, let’s put it  that way,” Russo said. “But I’ll tell you right now, if Mike and I did shows  together we would have no trouble picking right up where we left off.”

Let’s just say that’s a story for another day. Perhaps Russo posturing a little bit as he goes into a free agent year.










Don Imus saved sports talk radio; Mike and Mad Dog help WFAN explode

Part 2:

In the first part of my interview with Jeff Smulyan, founder of WFAN, he discusses how people thought his idea for a 24/7 sports talk station was “stupid.” A rough first year seemed to confirm that notion.

However, Smulyan’s vision eventually was rewarded when Don Imus became the morning host. He helped saved the station, and likely the sports talk format.

WFAN then hit it big in the afternoon with the pairing of Mike Francesa and Chris Russo, who soon would be known as “Mike and the Mad Dog.”

To commemorate the 25th anniversary of WFAN, here’s part two of my interview with Smulyan. He talks about Imus, Mike and the Mad Dog and the impact of WFAN on changing the face of radio.

Why was Imus so important to sports talk radio?

In 1988, we moved to 660 by acquiring the signal of the former WNBC. The station now had a much stronger reach throughout New York. The move also gave us Imus.

We started (WFAN) with Greg Gumbel in the mornings. He was struggling to generate an audience. I always knew sports would be tough in the morning.

So we inserted Imus in the morning slot. The idea was for listeners to tune into the station in the morning and then hopefully stay with it for the rest of the day.

How did Imus react to working for a sports talk station?

When Imus was on WNBC, he talked a lot about sports. When he got to the Fan, he said ‘I’m not talking about sports.’

At the end of his shift, he said, ‘It’s 10. This ends the entertainment part of today’s programming. For the next 20 hours, you will hear mindless drivel by idiots talking about sports.’

What was his impact on the station?

He was perfect. Most of the decision makers loved sports and they loved Imus. Imus gave us listeners and credibility. I can’t minimize his impact.

Would there be sports talk radio if not for Don Imus?

Good question. (Long pause). I don’t know. Not as much.

You had an afternoon host named Pete Franklin. He and Imus didn’t like each other. Franklin called Imus ‘Minus,’ and Imus labeled Franklin as a ‘dinosaur.’ Franklin, though, didn’t work on WFAN. Why?

Pete was Mr. Cleveland when we brought him to New York. I thought he would be great. And he wasn’t.

You had to make a change. Eventually, you paired Francesa with Russo. How did that come about?

Francesa was a producer who knew everything. Mike’s persistence got him that job.

Imus had Russo on his show. Imus said, ‘This guy sounds like Donald Duck on steroids.’

Imus then said, ‘This guy is a talent. You’ve got to put him on.’

Somebody had the idea to put him together with Francesa and they meshed.

What made their pairing so successful?

There was a good chemistry. Chris was every man, and Mike was this incredibly knowledgeable sports guy.

At its heart (for a sports talk radio host) is the ability to connect with people. Everyone has an opinion about sports. People who love sports love to give their opinions and hear the opinions of other people. They can spot a guy who doesn’t know. The worst thing you can do is put somebody on the air who has no idea.

What did Imus in the morning and Mike and the Mad Dog mean for the station?

The ratings got better. I said, ‘Oh my gosh, this thing is going to make it.’ By that time, I was as surprised as anybody.

In 1992, you sold WFAN to Mel Karmazin of Infinity Broadcasting. Why did you sell?

Selling WFAN was the hardest thing I ever did. Mel made an offer we couldn’t refuse ($75 million).

Mel was the master of understanding Wall Street. Mel realized if he could go public with FAN and reach all the people who traded stocks on Wall Street, it would be a good launching pad for Infinity. He was exactly right.

There’s no question it was tough to sell. But when you run a business long enough, you do what you’ve got to do.

What has been the impact of sports talk radio?

What sports radio did is open up the 24-hour talk portals. Before, a guy got ripped in the paper. Now he walks out of the ballpark, turns on the radio and he gets ripped.

Sports radio heightens everything. When fans say (a coach) has got to go, an owner would be deaf not to listen to it.

You were an owner of the Seattle Mariners during the 1990s. How did it feel to be on the receiving end when it came to sports talk radio?

There was a guy in Seattle who hated me. I was getting ripped.

I was with an owner who shall remain nameless who said, ‘I’ve always wondered if there’s a God. Now knowing the guy who invented this horseshit format is getting ripped, I know there’s a God.’

How do you see the future of sports talk radio?

As long as people love sports, I think it will do very well.

It’s 25 years and there are more than 600 sports talk stations. Looking back, did you ever imagine it would get this big?

I had trouble imagining our station making it. I’m proud with the way it finally turned out. The line between moron and genius is very fine. I’ve been on both sides many times. So when I crossed over the line from moron to genius, I was very proud.