Born and raised in Sacramento, late-night sports-radio host Carmichael Dave heads a strange on-air family
Local late-night radio host Carmichael Dave wears an Ultimate Fighting Championship cap and Affliction T-shirt, and World Extreme Cagefighting star and close friend Urijah Faber is live on the show. Dave stares with purpose into the microphone; Faber discusses the everyday ins and outs of mixed martial arts. With the economy in bad shape and low morale abundant, it’s not totally surprising that a sport where people beat the pulp out of each other is one of the nation’s most popular.
Dave’s intensity is contagious, even for those who aren’t interested in fighting in cages or sports altogether. It’s exciting just listen to his cadenced, calculated, feverish arguments. His deep, booming voice grabs, but is comforting, maybe in part because of a hint of a NorCal drawl. Yaaahhh.
Dave is like papa bear to a legion of young 9 p.m.-to-midnight sports-radio listeners on KHTK 1140 AM. His show, The Carmichael Dave Show, just celebrated a three-year anniversary and is in the most popular time slot for the coveted under-30 demographic. Such is the future of sports-talk radio.
Dave’s show is like hearing a sports-themed Internet message board read aloud. Passionate callers—or obsessive, depending on your point of view—launch into takes on various topics, often digressing from sports into random territory, usually anecdotes on women.
On the night I visit Dave’s KHTK studio, for example, one of the evening’s first callers, Dean, posits that nerds only exist so that “ugly chicks” can date. Typical misogyny. Dave counters saying ugly women exist so that nerds can get laid. Counterargument doesn’t win any feminist awards, either.
Dave is bombastic, in your face and a jock; this comes with the sports-radio turf. But off the air, he’s shy, a hermit, a dad, a husband. He’s uncomfortable when strangers approach him, already knowing too much about his life from listening to him jabber endlessly on the air.
And while most people know that Dave began his career on the other side of the line, as a caller, not many people know the entire Carmichael Dave rise-to-radio-fame story.
Born three months premature and technically dead at Carmichael’s American River Hospital, Dave was flown to Oakland Children’s Hospital. It was a fight for survival, but after several blood transfusions, Dave lived.
At 6 feet 5 inches, he now towers over most Sacramentans.
Sports were always a huge part of his life. Dave played baseball and basketball growing up and dreamed of becoming a professional athlete. He also admired sports broadcasters, the voices who announced the soundtrack of his youth. He’d watch baseball games with a list of statistics and do his best play-by-play, emulating the likes of great San Francisco Giants radio personality Hank Greenwald.
At age 15, Dave started calling up the radio shows he’d loyally tuned in to for years. The hosts at first referred to him as Dave in Carmichael, but eventually, after numerous chats, they coined him Carmichael Dave.
Once he realized he would never play sports professionally, Dave asked KHTK for a job. They offered him an internship—which eventually led to a job at KWOD 106.5 FM, the local alternative-rock station.
Dave says life at KWOD was “about as close to college radio as you could get.” It was a media culture that no longer exists: privately owned, everyone partying together under the leadership of one crazy owner. “I mean, literally, someone will make a sitcom about that place someday,” recalls Dave, who slaved away working 16-hour days, including overnight shifts, for a paltry six bucks an hour.
Dave ended up returning to KHTK, however, as a back-up sports anchor. “The first day he did a sports update, I think he was nervous because I was in the studio while he was doing it, and he was very quiet,” Sacramento Kings color commentator Grant Napear remembers. “It was hard to hear him, and he did it a couple times, and he was very timid, very quiet, very low-key.” Napear pulled Dave aside and told him that he needed more energy. Dave spent the next three years doing fill-in sports updates.
Opportunity knocked when the late-night host bailed and KHTK’s station manager called Dave, who at the time was sick with strep throat. Dave still jumped at the chance to fill in—especially since that evening’s show was to be broadcasted live from Hooters. Needless to say, it went well.
There’s little glamour to being one of the most popular sports-radio personalities in town. Dave sells ads for KHTK, too, and the extra cash and benefits became necessary when Dave went on to marry and have two kids in two years: a boy, Mason, and little girl, Avery, which Dave largely attributes to a switch from briefs to boxers.
“Every time I get frustrated about not spending enough time with my family or not making a ton of money, I go back to the same thing. I have a job. I have a wonderful family. I work with people that I love, and I work in some cases with heroes of mine. And I do it in my hometown,” Dave says. “And I get paid to talk sports.”
KHTK employees, friends, family and listeners united during a live broadcast celebrating the show’s third anniversary at Players Pub in Fair Oaks. Drinks, Rock Band and even a Carmichael Dave roast. It was a riotous evening.
The Carmichael Dave Show is more interactive than most radio programs. Dave’s local callers, as well as his celebrity guests, like former Sacramento King Ron Artest, feel like they are a part of the show, part of something bigger. The Kings are the worst team in the NBA, and Dave’s show is kind of like a fan support group, Dave being the moderator. He gives the hopeless hope and pats the faithful on their proverbial backs, saying it will be OK. The Boston Celtics turned their team around in just one season, right?
But back in the studio, the tables have turned: After nearly three hours of talking sports and interviewing Dave, Dave’s interviewing me.
He doesn’t like to do a quick back-and-forth. “I like to interview people that I become friends with, and by giving them a relaxed atmosphere, we get out of them stuff that they won’t say anywhere else, because they feel like they’re just talking to a buddy and it just happens to be on the radio,” Dave explains of his technique.
I wouldn’t say I’m relaxed during the interview, but it’s relatively painless. I very briefly mention I spent a semester in Italy, and Dave asks what exactly studying “a broad” means. I don’t get the joke until about five seconds later, just in time for a commercial break. Luckily, I don’t embarrass too easily. It would have been impossible for me to sit in the studio for three hours otherwise. I have no idea how he does it more than 250 nights a year.