Enter Dino Costa, who was living in Denver and had recently been fired from Radio Colorado, KRCN 1060. Management at the station decided to replace his show with a shopping program. (Costa, with typical diplomacy, tells me that his former employer is a "scumbag," another in a long line of "fuckhead" bosses.)
Costa had, in those Denver years, developed his distinctive brand of sports radio, combining pro-Broncos rants, critiques of the Denver Nuggets, and biblical verse into a unique style. In 2006, he'd also gotten his first taste of national exposure, by picking a fight with Nuggets power forward Kenyon Martin in the locker room after a game. Costa crowded Martin during an interview. Martin told Costa to "back the fuck up," and Costa, who still calls Martin "a piece of shit, no class, despicable human being," responded by telling the very large and heavily muscled professional athlete to go fuck himself.
Roger Cridlebaugh, Costa's producer at KRCN, says, "Costa goes way over the line, it doesn't matter to him," the discernible tones of working-with-Dino PTSD still evident in his voice. "He trashed everybody, really personally. He's an ass. He's a bully." But Cridlebaugh, a radio lifer, also calls Costa "one of the greatest radio-talk-show hosts that has ever lived." Those kinds of comments – impossible but talented – seem to follow Costa around. Howard Monroe, Costa's boss at SportsTalk 1370, a station in Wheeling, West Virginia, who fired him in 2000, describes him as "arrogant, brash, cocky, and hard to control," but also "confident, competent, and fun to listen to?.?.?.?a small tornado that blew through our town." People want that kind of charisma, even if they don't want it for very long.
After leaving KRCN in August, Costa struggled to find another radio position. He fell into what's a familiar pattern for him: an opportunity for success, or at least stable pay, undermined by his behavior, and back to doing odd jobs. Through the years, he'd worked in a deli, on a cattle ranch, started a lawncare business, and for six weeks between jobs in the late 1990s, was homeless. He had burned through a couple of marriages, and worse yet, in 2009, his 24-year-old son, whom he didn't raise, was shot and killed in a Seattle nightclub.
Costa had a difficult upbringing. "I was terrified of my father," he says. "There was a lot of fighting. I saw my mom cry many times." These discordant notes help explain some of Costa's irate radio persona. But they don't really account for his getting fired from an ESPN affiliate in Trenton, New Jersey, after just one week (he trashed one of the station's sponsors and refused to apologize); or the sexual harassment accusation (which he denies); or how in Jacksonville, Florida, he was booted after he asked, on-air, why the local NFL franchise owner had brought his grandmother to a game (she was his wife).
Then one day that summer, he got a call from an agent named Alan Sanders. Sanders told him about Mad Dog Russo's new channel on SiriusXM. Was he interested in trying out? He was so confident that he would get a job, Costa packed up his home and drove east with his third wife and their two-year-old son. "No promises, no nothing," he says. "I was thinking, they have to hire me."
At the studio he met with Russo and the channel's program director, Steve Torre. He did a test show, went home, and waited for a call. A few days later, he got it, from Russo.
"Did you say anything about Obama during your audition?" Russo asked him. "There are a lot of Obama fans in the building!"
Over the next few weeks, Costa waited, doing man-with-a-van odd jobs and posting ads for work on Craigslist while Mad Dog Radio filled up its time slots. He didn't get one. "I was enraged," Costa recalls. "What the fuck could they be thinking by not hiring me?" He sent an email to Torre, berating him. "One email?" Torre groans when I ask him about it. "More like multiple, lengthy emails. I would see a Dino Costa email and think 'not again.' But I read every single word."
Nine months later, Mad Dog Radio was struggling for ratings, and Torre offered Costa a job. His show has since built a rabid following, and he regularly gets more phone calls than any other sports-talk host on SiriusXM. Of course, he has also pissed off more people than anyone else, too. "Everyone hates Dino," says Andrew Caplan, his producer and on-air partner. When I asked Steve Cohen, senior VP of sports programming at SiriusXM, about complaints against Costa, he said he hadn't "received any phone calls today."