Sports talk radio can be just as intense as the athletic action on the field, ice or court. Callers can wait for hours before they are summoned to spout their opinion and if they are lucky, they’ll get most of their thoughts out before the host hangs up on them.
But a pair of commentators look to change the game of sports talk radio in New York, offering a place where fans can hang out and talk sports in an atmosphere reminiscent of a bar. The Hahn & Humpty midday show on ESPN 98.7, hosted by former sportswriter Alan Hahn and former New York Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro, combines Hahn’s analytic angle with the player perspective of former pro DiPietro.
“Rick has something to say about everything,” Hahn said of DiPietro, who he first met when the goalie was drafted by the Islanders first overall at the NHL Draft in Calgary in 2000. “Rick does his homework. He doesn’t just show up and start talking. He knows the stats; people don’t realize that this pro-athlete is a nerd deep down.”
DiPietro, whose nickname “Humpty” stems from his injury-shortened career in the NHL (as in “Humpty Dumpty had a great fall”), said he was hesitant at first to make the jump from on ice to on air.
“The biggest hurdle I faced was that I still miss playing,” he said. “But what I enjoyed most about playing was interacting with the fans and that is the best part of sports radio. I get calls from Rangers fans who tell me they hated me as a player, but love me on the radio. That’s the ultimate compliment.”
Praise from the fans of his former team’s rival aside, DiPietro said he and Hahn welcome the callers’ perspective on the entire sports lineup, from hockey and baseball to basketball and football and everything in between. DiPietro said what separates Hahn & Humpty from talk shows on other stations is that “this isn’t some arrogant host talking at you.”
“Some of the best shows start with topics that we didn’t plan out, but were brought up by a caller,” he said. “We’re not going to argue with you or insult you for having an opinion. We realize this is entertainment and if the hosts are having a good time, then the listeners are having a good time.”
Hahn said the best compliment he’s gotten from listeners is that it feels like hanging out with friends, talking sports with no pressure. This stands in contrast to their show’s competition, Mike Francesa on WFAN, who has a reputation of being gruff and short with listeners he deems uninformed.
“I grew up listening to Mike and I have no personal issues with him, but I was a listener who was afraid to call in because I didn’t want to get screamed at or hung up on,” said Hahn, who alluded to a media back-and-forth between DiPietro and Francesa earlier this year.
After the pair’s first encounter at the draft in 2000, they had many post game run-ins as athlete-reporter counterparts with Hahn’s position as Islanders beat writer with Newsday. It was during their working relationship that DiPietro learned to react tactfully on the air, as opposed to lashing out at a reporter’s needling.
“There was one time after a rough game that he didn’t like a question and he became combative,” Hahn recalled. “He reacted poorly and I felt badly about it. The next day I said, ‘Listen, if you don’t like a question from us, say, that’s an interesting way to put it.’”
This advice helped lay the groundwork for DiPietro’s transition from stopping pucks on the ice to starting conversations on the radio.
“I bring the locker room perspective—how athletes approach games and how athletes deal with the media,” said DiPietro. “And Alan brings the reporter’s take, which can be interesting.”
Listen to all things New York sports on Hahn & Humpty on ESPN 98.7 FM, 12 to 3 p.m. MSG Network also broadcasts a “best of” compilation of the show Mondays through Thursdays from 7 to 8 p.m. through Sept. 22.