Interview with Dave Rothenberg, ESPN Radio Host and Podcast Host

By Zac Cornell

Many people think being a sports reporter is the ultimate career – you get to watch and talk about sports for a living! Well according to long time radio sports reporter Dave Rothenberg, it is a dream job – but not for everyone. 

Dave, who grew up on Long Island, New York, has worked in a number of markets before landing back in New York where he has enjoyed an extraordinary career. He got his start in sports radio at WGCH AM 1490 in Greenwich, Connecticut. He then worked in Providence, Rhode Island and later moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, where he co-hosted The Fanatics during morning drive on 99.9 FM The Fan. After Dave joined The Fanatics, the show became the #1 sports radio show in the Triangle.   

In 2010, Dave returned to New York and debuted “The Dave Rothenberg Show,” a 3-hour weekday evening radio program on ESPN-NY.

In 2014, he co-hosted Fantasy Focus on ESPN Radio, a six-hour weekly radio broadcast focusing on fantasy football and simulcast on ESPN3.

Then in January 2015, Dave began a weekly three-hour Saturday afternoon talk program, “The Dave Rothenberg Show,” which was broadcast nationally by ESPN Radio.

In September 2017, he began co-hosting the midday show Humpty and Canty, with Rick DiPietro and Chris Canty weekdays from 10AM to 1PM. The show moved to the morning drive slot in January 2021. “DiPietro, Canty and Rothenberg” or “DCR” can be heard weekdays 5:00-8:00am on 98.7 ESPN New York. In September 2021, the show became “Dipietro & Rothenberg”. 

Dave now also does two podcasts: 

He currently hosts “DiPietro, Canty & Rothenberg” or “DCR” weekdays during morning drive 5-8am and “The Dave Rothenberg Show” 9am-noon on Saturdays on ESPN-NY 98.7 FM.

He can be followed on Twitter at @RothenbergESPN

Zac: You’ve been a radio talk show since 1999 and have now branched into podcasts. How has the media landscape changed and do you think podcasts are impacting traditional radio?

Dave: Yeah, I’ve been in radio for a long time now, and to be honest with you, I like podcasting. It is new for me. I don’t understand the ins and outs of it. I just know that it is seemingly the way of the future and it’s something that I think you’d be silly not to get involved with. You know, it’s kind of like social media from like 10-12 years ago, where you’re not exactly sure where it’s going but it seems like this is something you should certainly be involved with, I feel similarly with podcasting. And, you know, I think it’s very important. I understand the concept of it, but I don’t understand the magnitude of it. I don’t understand the ins and outs of it. And truthfully, I don’t even love podcasts because I like my sports to be fresh. You know, I guess I could see it for a non sports show but I don’t want to listen to a podcast that’s a couple days old and has lost some of the importance of what’s going on in the moment. For sports you know there’s a lot to cover, and there’s a lot of quick moving stuff and I think it can get stale quickly so I think you have to kind of refresh or keep it generic. But yeah, it seems like podcasting is absolutely the wave of, not even the future, it seems like it’s the wave of the present right? Every big person has a podcast now, and I think if you do radio and don’t dabble into the world of podcasting, you’re probably doing yourself a disservice.

Zac: And are podcasts like the easiest way to talk to your viewers and communicate?

Dave: No I think my show is still easier because it’s live right? So if I say the Giants think… I can have someone reacting to that immediately. They can call, they can tweet, there’s a million ways to get in touch. If I say it on a podcast, it still has to be recorded, it has to be uploaded, it has to be consumed, and then you can I guess reach out on top of that. So no, I would say definitely not as far as interactions. I think the number one thing for interaction is something live, so it doesn’t even have to be radio right? Like I know Twitch is becoming popular. So just something that’s live that can get an immediate reaction. I would not say with podcasting I’m seeing that reaction.

Zac: Got it. You have an established following from your many years in your career. How did you build your brand and achieve success? And then there’s a part two to that question.

Dave: Okay, so like you mentioned, you did your homework, I’ve been doing this for a long time. You have to advocate for yourself, I think that is very important. And you have to kind of know that fine line, you’ll learn this as you get older, that fine line of being aggressive and really kind of marketing yourself and being annoying where people go ‘oh my gosh, yeah this guy is so annoying,’ and they don’t want to help people. So I think there’s a fine line and I think you have to find it. I think social media is important, you know, listen, I mean I’ve done every show, I’ve literally done every hour of the day on ESPN in New York now. I’ve been here for eleven years in November. I do mornings now, I’ve done evenings, I’ve done the afternoon drive show, I’ve done middays, I’ve done overnights, I’ve done seven to midnight was a show that I did for an extended period of time, like I literally have every hour on the station. And I would say about eight years ago, or in that range, I don’t know exactly, I was doing a show, and my producers are like ‘you gotta get on social media’, and I was like, ‘Eh, I really don’t have a desire to Twitter. It’s not my thing. I just come on, do my show, and be done.’ And he was like, ‘you really need to do it,’ so I was like, ‘Nah, I don’t want to.’ And he’s like, ‘I’ll set it up for you and I’ll kind of manage it for a little while.’ So he did. And I think it’s, you know, it helps with what we talked about earlier, like the immediate reaction, right? I mean social media is huge, so I see a play, you know I’m not on the air Sundays. I see a play during the Giants game, do you have to wait for Rothenburg Monday morning at 5:15? No! He’s going to probably tweet about it at this moment and I’m gonna have an interaction with him. So you know, it’s the way I interact with fans. Now it’s kind of a cesspool, it’s horrendous people and comments and all that kind of stuff, but I think that’s kind of par for the course for what I do, But I think that, um, I think you have to be your own best advocate, you know, and I’m at the point now where there’s like PR and there’s articles and all that stuff, but up until you get to that point, it’s important to really kind of fight yourself. And I think social media is a good way and I think for young people certainly podcasting to get reps, and to build their brand, and to just get better, I think it’s a really good way.

Zac: What would you recommend for someone that wants to go into sports reporting? What would you recommend they study and where they intern?

Dave: Let’s make it broader than sports reporting just anything in the sports realm, right? Whether it’s talk shows, or play-by-play, or marketing, or being an agent or, you know, producing, or television, or any of those things. The most important thing is to get experience.  So how do you do that? I mean you don’t have experience, how do you get experience? And we’ve all been there at one point or another, you’re there now, and I was there a long time ago, and we all have to go through this. You have to make connections. You have to be aggressive and you have to be willing to work for nothing, and you have to be willing to, you know, work hours that maybe are not enticing to you. You have to be willing to work holidays. You know I remember getting into this business and my first boss was like, ‘Listen, forget about Thanksgiving at 5:30 watching the football games. If this is what you want to do, this is what you have to commit to.’ And it’s what I wanted to do but there are a lot of people who don’t want to do it. They think they want to do it, but then they don’t. But the most important thing… I mean there are a lot of different routes to get there. But I think going to a school that has a communications program and kind of, you know, majoring in that and kind of finding your path is a great avenue and I think, interning is probably bigger than even where you go to school. You meet people, you get hands-on experience, and then those are the people that when a job opens up, and if they like you after you’ve interned for them, or if they know someone who has a job opening, after you’ve interned for them, they’re gonna put in a word for you. So, that’s my big suggestion to every young person I talk to, is that you have to intern, you have to get your hands dirty. And I also suggest if you want to do one specific thing, that’s great, but don’t limit yourself to one specific thing, try everything. And then, maybe there’s something you fall in love with, and even if you don’t, you know if you want to be sports talk show host, but you know how to cut tape, you know how to produce, you know how to screen calls, do you think that’s gonna look bad on a resume? That you know how to do four or five things, six things or a lot of things? No, it makes you more attractive! So my advice is always to do a lot, and to get hands-on experience and interning is vitally important.

Zac: So, the sports industry over the last few years has evolved. Recently there’s been a lot of changes, especially with social media around athletes having larger platforms, there’s increased participation in social movements, in politics, and also business opportunities, like Kyrie Irving, there have been articles about him and other athletes, Jimmy Butler started a coffee business when they were in the bubble… What are your observations as a front row observer?

Dave: I mean I think it’s good, and I think it’s bad. I think that some guys represent themselves well and I think that they go about it in a professional manner that builds their brand like we talked about, and then there are guys who do not handle themselves well. I think that Kyrie, at times, doesn’t handle himself well. I think LeBron James, for the most part, handles himself well. You know it’s like Twitter with anyone, I mean if you tweet something, and it’s not received well, or you tweet it and 15 years from now, you become the star celebrity and people notice and all of a sudden now it’s, you know it follows you forever. So I think with anybody you have to be careful. I think that given a bigger platform and the athletes, you know, everyone wants to be a professional athlete, people want to like the athletes, so they have an advantage there. But then there’s also some people that are jealous and envious and want to bring the athlete down, ‘Look, I brought down this guy.’ So I think there’s a lot of positive to it, a lot. I think that you have to ask because, like I pointed out with me, like with anybody, it’s like you have a platform that you can constantly get your message out, but I think with that you have to be careful because if the message is something that doesn’t land well, then all of a sudden you’re up against it. So I think that there are tremendous positives, and I think, like everything else, there’s some negatives, and I think athletes have to be careful with that. But overall I mean they have a brand and they have a platform and they can get their message across pretty quickly to a lot of different entities.

Zac: What do you think about college athletes now being allowed to make money through endorsements of their name and likeness? Do you have any thoughts on the pros and cons, or what will be the impact?

Dave: It’s weird to me because I grew up forever where they couldn’t, right? They got their education paid for, they got their room and board paid for, but it’s been so stupid! It’s like these athletes can’t put cream cheese on a bagel because they can get these extra benefits…it’s a violation, it’s just the NCAA is ridiculous in how they handle stuff. This feels like it’s going so far the other direction, that, you know, now you can be a high school senior and hop out of your high school year, and just make money by doing anything so I don’t know what the right answer is, but I feel like we’re, we’ve now gone from, you know, it’s so restrictive to, everything is open, which I guess is better, but it just feels like it’s almost like the wild west where there’s no rules or regulations or anything, so an athlete can go into a car dealership and say this is a great car company and now they’ll give a car. It’s just strange, it’s unusual, it’s new for everyone, it’s new for me, it’s just the opposite of what has always been. I guess if I had to choose one I would choose this way but I wish that there was something more middle ground. That made everyone happy.

Zac: Well I know people always say, like they like college sports because the athletes, it’s all about winning, there’s no money involved and the athletes genuinely care. Now in the NBA today, once players get their money, they stop really caring, they don’t really want to win. Do you think this can change that?

Dave: No, because I think that people were naive if they thought it was only about winning. It was about building your brand, it was about, you know, how are you going to make the money after you get out of college right? I mean, the guys go to college and are forced into college basketball, they have to go for one year, and they go for one year but what do they do? Do they go to classes, do they do anything? You know, Zion Williamson made himself 10s upon 10s of billions of dollars just by going to Duke. I know that’s an extreme, but, no. And I mean there was so much illegality right? I mean guys we’re getting money under the table and I know I’ve heard the stories firsthand about guys who would get handed checks and big envelopes, you know, cash after games and so I think it’s good probably, to some extent, it eliminates a bit of that. But I think that anyone who thinks that college sports were pure before this is just  being naive.

Zac: So now onto sports gambling, which is one of your topics. What are your thoughts about sports gambling becoming legalized and do you see any new business opportunities overall?

Dave: Yeah, I think there’s a ton! I think that people, I mean it’s become mainstream right? I mean, ten years ago, if you look at Cohen’s from two, three years ago it was like ‘we will never be involved’ now if it’s in Vegas, you have gambling, it’s just the norm. I mean watch any pregame show, you know, what are the lines? You probably never heard of this but there’s a guy on CBS forever ago, his name was Jimmy the Greek and he was a professional gambler and he did a segment the NFL Today on CBS, and they would go to him and he would kind of give you some insight into the gambling and that was like late 70s, early 80s. That was just like the one quick segment, but now, I mean there’s gambling shows, like ESPN has gambling shows, I have friends that have gambling shows, I’m launching into a gambling podcast it is the norm, you watch sports, it’s like ‘this is brought to you by DraftKings’. I’ll do the Yankees pregame show, or for under strikeouts for Gary Cole at six and a half, you think he’ll go over goes under. It is now pervasive, it is the norm and yes it does create more opportunities, of course! I mean there’s a lot more opportunities in sports now than there was when I was a kid, that’s for sure. And that’s another tremendous outlet. Now I think you have to be careful, it’s gambling and, you know, for some people it’s a vice and it’s dangerous. But yes, it opens up a lot more doors for a lot more people.

Zac: OK so this is a personal question for you. What is the best part about your job and are there any potential drawbacks that people may not realize before going down the path of pursuing a career like yours?

Dave: So I’ll give you the positive first. I mean I love my job. People say to me all the time, which annoys me, you don’t have a job you have the dream career, and it’s true, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t have to wake up early and get tired, it doesn’t mean that I don’t ever not feel well, it doesn’t mean I don’t have things going on with my kids and my wife, but you know I’m in essence sometimes an actor, where I go on the radio and nobody wants to hear that I’m upset because, you know, my son broke his arm, they just want to hear me break down sports. So, you know, I mean there are portions of it that become difficult, but it’s the dream job. It’s what I’ve wanted to do since I’m a little kid. I’m fortunate to be able to do it. I absolutely love it. I love that I am someone that people turn to to get their sports information because you can consume that anywhere, but just that people want to hear what I have to say about sports, and that’s for me, exactly what I’ve always wanted. You know, it’s great, think about that, I’m one of the voices in New York that people turn to when a big story happens. And all the time, I get people who call and say I wanted to hear what you were gonna say about this. I can’t wait – I can’t wait until five o’clock Monday morning when you’re going to be on, when I can hear what you’re going to say about the Giants or Joe Judge or Jason Garrett, or anything like that. So yeah I mean it’s exactly what I’ve always wanted to do, I love doing it, I love connecting with the audience, and I love the fact that people turn to me for my opinion. What’s the negatives? Like I told you earlier in the career I’ve done well and I’m pleased with that but, you know, it’s a grind man, I mean you’re not going to get out of college and make $60,000 like your friend who goes into banking or into real estate. I mean you’re gonna be working 50 hours a week making $12 an hour and you’re working on Thanksgiving and Labor Day and overnights. It’s a grind. And you might have to move to a small market and things are not easy but, you know, this industry weeds those people out quickly, because I’ve talked to a million kids and they say ‘I want to do it. I want to do it so badly.’ So I say OK, are you willing to move to Gainesville, Florida? And you hear, ‘No, no, I don’t want to do that.’ So, you know, it will find those who want to do it, and those who don’t want to do it, they probably are not involved in this field anymore. It’s a job and don’t think it’s not a job. It’s great. I love it but, you know, I mean, that my dog wakes up at 4:30 in the morning and I have to walk the dog and I try to go back to sleep but I can’t go back to sleep and then I have to do a show on Saturday at nine o’clock and I’ve been up since 4:30am, I mean, that’s real life, that’s not fun, but overall it’s, it’s great. It really is a lot of fun.

Zac: That’s good. And one final question. Many team employees in sports today were former sports agents. What are your thoughts about starting a career as an agent and then parlaying that background into other opportunities?

Dave: So this is not really my specialty, at all, so I feel kind of ill-qualified to answer this. You know I have an agent, I don’t know much about the agent world. So I probably am not the best person to give you an answer on this. You know I think with anything, if you just jump into something, say you become an agent, that would make me kind of nervous, I don’t think that would be the best agent, I think you have to kind of train going up the ranks, but I guess it’s fine. I would be leery of someone who just went from being a professional athlete or just jumped in with both feet, who all of a sudden was an agent that wanted to represent me, or wanted to be my agent in whatever thing I was doing… I would do my due diligence and make sure it was someone that was competent and capable and their background and had spent years doing, but I mean, I guess it’s OK. But I would want to work with someone who is more of a veteran in the industry.

Zac: Yeah, so what I’m really asking is, is it really difficult to switch careers at this point, like switching from agent to a podcaster or marketer?

Dave: Um, I mean you can always be a podcaster. Podcasting, if it’s something you want to do, I would say start it now, right. There’s nothing that stands in your way from doing it now, as you’re in high school or in college. Like I told you, I think people have to do something, be aggressive and get stuff done. I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t be a podcaster and an agent at the same time, to go into marketing, I mean, again this is not my specialty, I don’t know the ins and outs of how it works, but I mean people switch careers all the time, right? Or they switch like the general thing that they’re doing, in anything. So I guess it’s fine, but again it’s not my specialty, so I don’t know. 

Zac: Ok I understand. Well that’s it! Thank you so much for answering all of my questions!

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