A Q&A with Steve Duemig
His name is Steve Duemig, but most in Tampa Bay know him as the "Big Dawg.'' The nickname fits because when it comes to local sports-talk radio, Duemig is the big dog in town. The weekday afternoon drive time host on 620-AM is, by far, the dominant sports talk-show host in town on the most listened-to sports station in town -- a station that draws 300,000 cumulative listeners a week. The thousands listening to Duemig's show at any given moment have a definite opinion -- either good or bad -- of the occasionally loud, often controversial, usually provocative, but never dull Duemig. For the local sports fan, Duemig's afternoon show is required listening. Born in Pensacola, and raised in Philadelphia, Duemig became a golf professional before he made the switch sports-talk radio in 1990. In December, Duemig, 55, will celebrate his 20th anniversary as a Tampa Bay sports talk-show host. Duemig sat down with Two Cents to give his thoughts on what makes a good radio show, what makes Joe Maddon a bad manager and what a caller has to do to get cut off.
What makes a good sports-talk show?
If you get 50 percent of the audience that likes you and 50 percent that dislikes you then you have a chance. If you have 100 percent of the audience that likes you, it's not entertaining. If they all hate you, no one is going to listen. So you have to have that mix. And I think you have to be open to having your mind changed. I think a lot of hosts cut you off and talk over you.
And that's not good?
It's like sitting in a bar and you're talking with a friend about sports. To me, sports-talk radio is exactly that. I get your opinion, you get my opinion and then you agree or disagree. That's what good talk radio is and you need an informed host to have a good intelligent conversation.
So it needs to be a conversation, not just you opining the whole time?
I tell my audience all the time, "If you have a point that's valid, I'll let you talk all day long.''
You didn't used to be like that.
I used to be one of those guys who cut you off and talked over you. Now I'm more prepared and more confident in my opinions. So I'm not afraid to let the callers talk because I know I'm prepared. I have about three seconds to think of what I'm going to say, but you have a guy in a car who has been on hold, stewing for a half-hour thinking of exactly what he's going to stay and he's Googled his information. I need to have it here in my head. So I'm definitely prepared and that means I'm more confident in my opinions.
Was there ever a moment when you realized that you were talking too much over callers and you had to change your style a bit?
Well, it sometimes still happens. Driving home after a show, I still second-guess myself and ask myself if I should've let a particular caller talk a little more. You react to a caller and you try to keep your cool, and I think I've gotten better at that over time.
Do you know right away whether a call is going to be good or bad?
In the first three seconds, you know whether a caller is friend or foe. If a caller starts off with, "I love your show,'' you know a big "but'' is coming. Or if they say, "I hope you don't hang up on me,'' you know the person is about to disagree with you and I know that I have to be on guard.
What will get you hung up on?
Not having anything to back up your point. If you're just going to call me a name and not have anything else, then goodbye. Because you're not entertaining my audience. You're not giving anyone the other side of the coin. Now I'll look good because I'll be the only one arguing a valid point, but that's not really entertaining to the audience.
Do you really believe everything you're saying or do you ever have an opinion that you don't necessarily believe, but you know it will rile up listeners?
If I'm considered successful, and I've been around a long time, I think it's because I totally believe what I'm saying. I don't push a button like some sports-talk show hosts. They push buttons just to get a reaction. I don't do that.
So you never say, "Okay, everyone likes this guy, so I'm going to come out against him so I'll get callers.''
I would never do that because I think you make yourself look foolish.
One of the criticisms of you is if you like a certain guy -- and former Buc Mike Alstott comes to mind -- then you will always take his side in any discussion. How do you react that?
Hey, when Mike was having trouble fumbling, he would come to do his radio show with me and I once brought a football and tied a Bungee cord with the handles to it and a can of (glue) and put them right in front of Alstott. And if you look at Michael Clayton. I'm friends with Michael Clayton, but I can't defend him not catching the football. He's not doing the job. Loyalty stops at a certain point. You lose credibility if you defend a guy when he can't be defended. The thing with Mike is Mike was a good football player. Why wouldn't I say good things about him like I would any athlete that I thought was doing a good job? I did a show with Derrick Brooks. It's hard to argue that I should've ever criticized him as a player, he's one of the best linebackers of all-time. But if a guy has a bad game, I'm going to say so.
So personal feelings don't get involved?
Hey, I like Joe Maddon, but I think he's a terrible manager.
Yeah, I do. I'm old school. He's new school. And I told him that to his face. We had a three-hour meeting.
How did Maddon react to that?
Just like you think Joe Maddon would react. He was great about it. Somebody from one of his fan clubs told him how I was ripping him on the radio and he called me and we sat in his office. I brought a couple of Philly cheesesteaks and I told him what my beefs were and he told me why he does things the way he does them and it was a great conversation. I still don't think he's a good manager, but he's a good guy.
You went after Jon Gruden a lot, too
Well, people thought I hated Gruden. I actually thought he was a good X's and O's coach. Like everyone, I loved him the first year. But then I heard stories about how he treats players and so forth and then I didn't like him so much.
Another criticism is you, like many talk-show hosts, don't go to a lot of games or go into the locker rooms.
I don't think I have to go into the locker room to get my information, but I'm not afraid to go into a locker room. I pick up the phone and talk to my sources. When I feel the need to go into the locker room, I will go into the locker room. But I don't think talk-show hosts need to. It's not a news show. It's an opinion show. I've seen what I need to see. I've read what the newspapers have written. I don't need quotes. My opinion is what counts. But if anybody needs to talk to me, I'll meet them anywhere, including the locker room. I'll talk to anyone face-to-face.
Is it better for your show when local teams are doing well or doing poorly?
Poorly. There's more gripers when the teams are bad. If the Bucs went 16-0, no one would call.
Which local team generates the most conversation?
Bucs. By a mile. Surprisingly enough, the Rays have surpassed the Lightning, which I never thought would happen on my show because I've always talked hockey. The Lightning have become a non-factor in this town as far as conversation. People say we're not a baseball town, but you can't prove that from the conversation in this town.
You don't have a lot of guests on your show. Why?
I don't like having guests because I want to interact with my callers. Personally, I think having lots of guests are a crutch. That means you don't have anything to talk about. Any host that brags that they have a ton of guests doesn't know how to be a good talk-show host. You get these guests and then people stop calling. I want callers. I want to have conversations with the fans out there. That's the whole point of the show and I hope to do it for another 10 years. It's a great market and I have the best job in the world.