Working as a sports talk-radio host requires a degree of showmanship. It’s more entertainment than information, more bravado than sports.
Steve Duemig got it. A former golfer, he thrived as an on-air host and fixture for more than 25 years in this market, first partnering with former Bucs and Gators linebacker Scot Brantley and later rising in popularity as the afternoon drive host on WDAE-AM 620, the market’s top sports talk station.
But I’ll always remember a different performance Duemig delivered, one he gave not in a studio but on an altar.
When Duemig’s friend and colleague Chris Thomas died in February 2004, Duemig stood before a crowd at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in downtown Tampa and gave one of the most heartfelt eulogies I’ve ever witnessed. He laced it with humor, made people laugh but made sure to communicate the love he had for Thomas. He even did a little shuffle.
In that moment, I saw a side of Duemig he seldom revealed on air, but it was no less genuine. Underneath all the on-air bluster, Duemig was very much a man who cared about his family, his friends and his listeners. Well, most of them.
Duemig died Thursday at the age of 64, succumbing to the same disease that took the life of Thomas: cancer.
Known as " Big Dog," Duemig never spared a caller who offered an opinion he deemed unworthy. Everyone who went on the radio with him risked being called “stupid," or an “idiot.” Or something worse.
He challenged listeners to abandon their past allegiances and embrace the home team. But he never played the role of homer, often chastising those who failed to honestly criticize the Bucs, Rays or Lightning. He also took on coaches and players with tough questions.
But in February 2017, doctors diagnosed Duemig with a brain tumor. He returned on-air briefly while undergoing treatment but did his last broadcast in February 2018.
The WDAE website noted that Duemig broke in as a sportscaster on WFNS from 1991-1996, then joined WDAE in 1996, working there through his final show. Steve also served time as the Lightning’s color analyst for two seasons, hosted a weekly call-in program on nationally syndicated Fox Sports Radio, and o-hosted a program on the Golf Channel.
Before his time in radio, Duemig spent 13 years as a professional golfer with the PGA of America. He was born in Pensacola but grew up in Philadelphia and developed a passion for the Flyers, 76ers and Eagles. He also played soccer and brought an ardent interest in the sport to his shows.
He is survived by his wife, Jennifer, and a daughter, Jill, whom he often spoke with great pride and admiration.
WDAE made the announcement about his death at the start of its Thursday 3 p.m. drive show. On-air tributes poured in, with co-host Ian Beckles and producer Jay Recher fielding calls from sports personalities as well as listeners. Recher said the courage Duemig displayed in his final days, “will live with me for the rest of my life.”
Salutes also came in from Hall of Fame linebacker and Bucs great Derrick Brooks and Cubs and former Rays manager Joe Maddon. Bucs co-owner Bryan Glazer also issued a statement, calling Duemig an “iconic figure in the Tampa Bay sports-radio landscape.”
One of Duemig’s former producers, Jerry Petuck, described him as a mentor, brother and father figure.
“I wish people had gotten to know him as Steve and not just as the Big Dog," Petuck said. “They were one in the same, but there was a different side.”
Anyone who regularly listened to Duemig could find themselves nodding in agreement at one moment and infuriated the next. Yet he never failed to provoke thought. He commanded a radio audience in this market like few ever have or perhaps ever will. He brought a lot of bark to his on-air persona, but he brought a lot of heart to his off-air relationships.
That’s all I’m saying.