The Reckoning of Carmichael Dave
Did the controversial KHTK radio host save the Sacramento Kings, nearly build a new downtown arena—and then get fired for it?
It’s not the most blazing-hot summer afternoon ever, yet it might just be hell for Carmichael Dave: suburban parking lot, triple-digit heat, Roseville, the third day in a row running errands at Fry’s Electronics, unemployed guy spending thousands of dollars on equipment, two (surely cranky) preschoolers in tow. He paces back and forth just outside his SUV in this ground zero of summer scorch, the black asphalt toasting as he does what he does best—talk—on his iPhone, while chain-smoking cigarettes. This goes on for 45 minutes. His two kids, Avery and Mason, are inside relishing the car’s air conditioning and DVD player (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, if you must).
“I keep checking on them,” Dave assures, “because I have this nervousness that the AC will go out.”
And he confesses: “I feel like the shittiest dad in America.”
This, of course, is not true. And, in his defense, the 36-year-old, born Dave Weiglein, had a shockingly nightmarish kickoff to his summer when CBS Radio unexpectedly—and without explanation—fired him on May 9.
Dave is a local boy made good. He started at KHTK as a caller and ended up with his own morning show. He was also the main man in the grassroots effort to keep the Kings in Sacramento with the Here We Stay campaign and major new-arena booster. This earned him his enemies, sure, but also a legion of fanatics.
So, his dismissal from CBS Radio set off outrage—and speculation—among Sacramento Kings fans, family, friends. Many blame the Kings owners, the Maloofs, an easy target, for Dave’s sacking because of how he criticized them when the arena deal went south. Others argue KHTK morning-show host Don Geronimo, what with his purportedly insatiable ego, pulled the trigger.
Whatever the reason, Dave himself is finally ready to talk. “Peel back the layers,” as he puts it.
At the same time, he’s also just trying to move forward. He and his wife, Melissa, for instance, have agreed to no longer discuss his firing.
Most of Dave’s time now is spent on new radio shows, one with former ESPN personality Sean Salisbury, called Sean and Dave Unfiltered; and another with former late-night KHTK co-host Sean Thomas, called Dave and Sean Uncensored. These broadcast live from The CD Networks headquarters, a.k.a. Dave’s garage, a.k.a. the “man cave.” It’s kind of a ramshackle operation—what with his kids often interrupting for diaper changes and lunch—but that didn’t stop The CD Networks’ podcasts from shooting straight to No. 1 on iTunes during its first week.
Yes, this online-radio thing just might pay off. But Dave says his goal isn’t payback against his old employer. And he’s not about revenge, either.
No, he wants a reckoning.
‘You’re not Mike Wallace’
It’s 48 hours after CBS fired Carmichael Dave, and he’s all alone. The wife, the kids—they’re at the gym. The house is silent. So, Dave does what any former radio host would do: Turn his smartphone into a Ustream broadcast, give away his home phone number on Twitter, fire up a makeshift radio program, start chatting.
“I’m not going Charlie Sheen, man, I swear to God,” Dave announces to the world, live from his man cave. Dozens of listeners tune in in a matter of minutes. “I’m just bored. I want to say, ‘Hi.’”
The phone rings. “Not The Carmichael Dave Show, how can I help you?” he answers. There’s an awkward chat with a perfect stranger. Soon, things get metaphysical. “Do I even own my own name?”
“The lawyers are figuring that out,” he jokes, answering his own question.
If you heard Dave’s shows during his KHTK 1140 AM days, you know then that he’s kind of a Kings die-hard. Maybe even a blowhard. Some might say a testosterone-fueled, mixed-martial-arts loving, gruff Republican bro. Or an unapologetic Mayor Kevin Johnson sycophant. Some of this is true (if you didn’t support the proposed arena, you’re probably dead to him), some of it is nonsense (he voted for President Barack Obama, actually).
The real story of how Dave Weiglein became Carmichael Dave goes all the way back to when Rush Limbaugh broadcasted here in Sacramento. This is when a 12-year-old Dave made his first call into a radio program in 1985.
“Oh, God, I don’t even remember what I asked him,” he says now.
But his heart was racing.
“I was hooked, man, I was hooked.”
He was a nerd for radio. “I had a little boom box and box full of blank cassette tapes,” he remembers. “And as soon as a [Kings] game was over, I’d lock myself in the bathroom and call in the post-game show.”
He also recorded every show and turned those calls into homework, obsessively replaying them.
“Basically, I’d be my own program director. I’d grade myself. I had bullet points, notes. I took myself real seriously.”
And so did KHTK’s Jason Ross, who one day told Dave that if he called in to the station after every game, they’d put him on-air first thing right after it was over. His big break.
“And that’s when I switched from ‘Dave in Carmichael’ to ‘Carmichael Dave.’”
This eventually lead to a KHTK internship. Which led to a $10-an-hour sports-update job. Which led to his own time slot, the late show from 10 p.m. to midnight, with current podcast partner Sean Thomas.
And, as it turns out, Carmichael Dave was a ratings boon. So he was promoted to the 7 p.m. gig, then, in 2010, the holy grail: a morning-drive sidekick position with his talk-radio “idol” on The Don Geronimo Show.
And some icing on that cake: He also got his own spot, and a contract, the noon to 3 p.m. gig called The Carmichael Dave Show.
Dave figured he’d bomb. But the Arbitron ratings—which measure listener data for radio stations—revealed mad love: The Don Geronimo Show jumped from 22nd to second place among 20- and 30-year-olds. Meanwhile, Dave’s own The Carmichael Dave Show at 10 a.m. shot from 18th to eighth place.
It was gravy: Carmichael Dave, darling of the Sacramento sports-talk world, earning $75,000 a year and the adulation of sports fans. He teamed up with the mayor and founded Think Big Sacramento—formerly called Here We Build. They nearly erected a temple to the Kings—this on the heels of preventing those rascally Maloofs from U-Hauling their asses to Disneyland.
The kid from Carmichael was now a marble-mouthed, shit-stirring, fun-loving Sacto sports savior.
But then, after more than two decades as a caller, Dave’s relationship with KHTK fell apart in a matter of weeks.
This past April, after the Maloofs bailed on the arena deal, Dave turned on the brothers, trashing the Kings’ owners on his show and on Twitter.
And then, after 14 loyal years, the brass at CBS Radio, without giving reason, turned on Carmichael Dave.
CBS general manager Steve Cottingim called Dave into his office. “I was told by my boss that there were some out there who saw me as a shill for the mayor,” he remembers of this particular meeting weeks before his actual firing. “It was reiterated for me that KHTK is the home of the Kings, and that the Maloofs value us, and that KHTK values the Maloofs as partners.”
The boss took Dave off his 10 a.m. show and replaced it with the syndicated The Dan Patrick Show, a crushing blow. But not as bruising as what came next: an order to “back off the arena situation.”
“But it wasn’t really, ‘It’s just best if I back off,’” Dave explains. “It was, ‘Drop the arena situation. You’re not Mike Wallace.’”
In response, Dave pulled out his cellphone and showed his boss a text message. From the night before. From George Maloof. “Dave, you’re a class act,” it read. “There’s a reason why you’re one of the guys we talk to.” Even more, Maloof also gave him three different cell numbers on which to call him.
“That’s the owner of the Kings,” Dave told his boss. “That’s the one everybody hates.”
To this day, Dave’s still unconvinced about the Maloofs’ role in his firing—even though it sure seems like the brothers must have complained to CBS Radio, perhaps at some higher-up, New York City-based level of the corporate food chain.
As Dave says, “A lot of people ask me, ‘Did the Kings have anything to do with you getting fired?’ And the answer to that is no. … Not really.”
The Anthony Robbins of pessimism
The coffee-brown-colored bags under Dave’s eyes seep into his cheek bones, and his beard is a bit scraggly. Of all the places he should be right now, he’s way out in Woodland, a down-home spot in old town called Mojo’s Lounge & Bar. The plan was to be the evening’s celebrity bartender—but instead, he’s out front smoking. Every so often, someone asks to use his iPhone app to find a drink recipe—“Look up how to make a flaming gorilla tit!”—to which he obliges.
You can’t say it on air, “but tit should absolutely be allowed on radio,” Dave adds.
He pulls the phone from his baggy jean pocket and finds a message from his wife. She’s not happy: Perhaps the house is a mess, and surely the kids need some TLC. All this, and Dave hasn’t even told her yet that his car was rear-ended on the drive out to Yolo County. Bummer time.
A fan walks up to Dave, shakes his hand. “Now I get to put a face to a name,” he proclaims.
“And it’s a massive disappointment,” Dave deadpans.
There’s not a huge amount of bombast to Dave’s radio-show temperament, and even less in real life. He towers over most crowds at 6-feet-4-inches, but often hides on the fringes of the action. He seldom drinks and never smokes pot. At Kings games, he watches from the tunnels on the side, just like the team’s general manager Geoff Petrie.
Dave’s go-to punchlines are also typically self-effacing downers.
“I want to be the Anthony Robbins of pessimism,” he whispers, sipping an iced tea back inside the bar.
Dave’s online-radio co-host Sean Thomas—with whom he does the new Dave and Sean Uncensored every weeknight at 7 p.m.—is also at the bar. They used to hang out at KHTK until midnight doing the late show, and Thomas says 14 years of radio spotlight hasn’t changed Dave.
“And that’s one of the beautiful things about him,” he explains. “He has an ability to rally people—which is strange, because he is a recluse who can’t help find himself in the spotlight.”
Last year, the reluctant Dave found himself at the forefront of the movement to keep the Kings in Sacramento. This earned him new fans. And enemies—including this evening’s host, Yolo County supervisor Matt Rexroad.
Dave and Rexroad, in fact, once faced-off in a Twitter war over the arena: Dave, as with all things Kings, was gung ho that new regional taxes help pay for the digs. Rexroad rolled his eyes at this and Tweeted that Dave was “chasing unicorns”—a mantra quickly adopted by Dave as a rebuff to arena naysayers.
Tonight, however, the two are friends; Rexroad has even advised Dave on his possible next career move: political candidacy.
“The universe he talks to isn’t voters, and that’s a problem,” Rexroad concedes of Dave’s electability. “But he already knows what he believes in. A lot of candidates don’t even know what they believe in yet.”
“Vote Carmichael Dave” is no joke. Dave even went so far as to ask KHTK this spring if he could run for Sacramento County supervisor. The station shot him down.
Some say he could he have been a worthy adversary to incumbent Supervisor Roberta MacGlashan, who narrowly avoided a runoff this past month. Meanwhile, Dave has his eyes on 2016.
His wife Melissa says anything is possible.
“I never doubt him,” she says. “If he says he’s going to do something, he does it.”
Sure, such as transforming the garage into an online-radio station—how does she feel about that?
“Ask me in two months.”
It’s a Thursday night back at Casa Dave, and Melissa has just arrived home from her new job at a lending company. She cracks open an orange can of Rockstar, then leans against the washing machine. Dave removes his trademark pink Hello Kitty headphones—no joke—and tells his wife that he and Thomas spent their entire radio show talking about who has the largest penis in the NBA.
“That’s because you’re gay,” she shoots back.
Dick and fart jokes eventually give way to real talk: Health benefits and, specifically, what they’re going to do when Dave’s coverage runs out next month, which just so happens to also coincide with the couple’s fifth wedding anniversary.
Dave exits to the side yard and lights up a smoke, but soon grows nervous—feet shuffling side to side in the gravel—when Melissa starts talking about why she thinks he was canned. He wants her to be mindful of what she says, at least in front of this reporter.
“They knew that before they fired him, I didn’t have a job,” she vents. “And that we were going to close on a house. They knew our financial situation.”
It’s true: CBS Radio general manager Cottingim, the very guy who fired Dave, was allegedly helping the couple pick out new homes in Roseville. They ended up staying in Antelope: Dave was sacked a week before they were supposed to close on the new place.
“You’d think they’d have some kind of loyalty,” Melissa sighs.
“She wanted to egg the station the day after I was fucking fired,” Dave says. This didn’t happen—but a fan did post a “Dave Lives” sign at 5248 Madison Avenue, KHTK’s headquarters.
Thin and petite with black-rimmed glasses, Melissa grows explosive when talking about the firing. They don’t argue, but it’s the first time the husband and wife have brought the subject up in more than two weeks—surely because it’s stressful, painful. Possibly because they don’t see eye to eye on why he was fired.
“I’d like to have this conversation five years from now,” Dave says, which sort of puts the lid on the chat. Melissa agrees that it does no good to dwell on it.
Then they move closer to each other.
Melissa sighs, “I get all pissed.”
Dave says softly, “And I get a little emotional.”
Who fired Dave?
Dave’s daughter, Avery, peeks around the door into the man cave. “I want apple juice,” she whimpers.
“I’m about to take a commercial break,” daddy Dave hollers, still on the air. He invites Avery over to the microphone.
She pauses, then speaks into the mic: “Daddy, why are you so smelly?”
The man cave is definitely sauna-esque. But also classic: a tan, tumbledown sectional, mismatched with a turquoise-green three-seater, faces a 4-foot-tall Toshiba TV. There are golf clubs, a bar with copious vodka bottles, a fridge full of Pepsi and energy drinks, a Don Geronimo fantasy-football-league trophy, and more neon than most sports bars. There’s also amazing memorabilia, including a complete set of San Francisco Giants Will Clark cards, a Mickey Mantle poster, signed mixed-martial arts posters and Dave’s prize possession: a 2001-02 Kings lithograph with each player’s autograph. Right now, it’s nearly triple digits outside, the garage door is ajar in a vain attempt to circulate air, and, because Dave started up again after his firing, cigarette smoke lingers.
The show ends. Dave removes his pink Hello Kitty earphones and then realizes he forgot something: the apple juice.
As he puts it, “Is there any other host in the world who has to change diapers during a commercial break?”
Indeed, a lot has changed since Wednesday, May 9, when Dave was summoned to sit down for a meeting at KHTK headquarters with CBS brass Cottingim and program director Geronimo. It happened fast: Cottingim informed Dave that CBS Radio wanted to “go in a different direction.” He wasn’t being fired for cause, Cottingim said, but a decision already had been made: He was no longer family at KHTK.
Geronimo “was tearing up” during the meeting, Dave says, as he told his former partner that there was “nothing he could do.”
“I was told that this decision came from above Sacramento,” Dave says.
Which raises the question: Why would anyone at CBS New York give a damn about Carmichael Dave?
Two words—Maloof money.
Consider: If CBS corporate was in fact riled by Carmichael Dave, some obervers say it’s very likely because of the Maloofs. Dave’s firing wasn’t a budget issue; they hired his replacement three weeks later.
As former Bee sports reporter and current Sports Illustrated writer Sam Amick wrote people need to “connect the dots” when it comes to Dave’s exit. He speculated that because Dave’s campaign to keep the Kings directly contradicted the wishes of KHTK’s premiere advertiser, it’s pretty obvious why he was sacked.
“Their radio home is now without mirrors. All windows,” Amick tweeted.
The Maloofs have denied that they had Dave fired. But maybe the Kings owners simply complained to CBS corporate? Maybe that was enough for the media behemoth to fear losing its No. 1 Sacramento advertiser?
Dave doesn’t buy it. He says, if anything, that he was “too soft” on the Kings.
Tom Ziller, editor of local Kings blog Sactown Royalty, says he has “no conspiracy theories” about why Dave was fired. “If he doesn’t think the Maloofs pulled strings, I believe him,” Ziller says.
But he added: “The Maloofs have proven to be completely untrustworthy in Sacramento, and Dave is clearly an effective grassroots voice whose insight rarely painted the brothers in good light. Nothing would surprise me when it came to them.”
So, what about Don Geronimo?
Dave admits that no one has a larger ego than his idol. And people close to Dave are convinced that—because of his rising-star status due to the publicity surrounding the arena issue—Geronimo fired Dave to keep the spotlight on himself.
Despite multiple emails and phone calls, both Geronimo and Cottingim refused to speak to SN&R for this story. Cottingim did finally reply via email: “We wish [Dave] all the best with his new venture.”
Dave considers Geronimo a “dear friend,” the guy he even drove to the ER once when Geronimo bloodied his head. “If I ever found out [Geronimo] had anything to do with it,” Dave says of his radio hero, “it would crush me.”
But what Dave says in public and what Dave believes is not entirely simpatico. There’s a severance agreement with CBS that legally binds Dave to keep his mouth shut about certain matters, for instance. It’s still a business.
Or, as Geronimo told his listeners the day after Dave was let go, “Radio is a cutthroat business.”
And, sometimes, it’s a stab-you-in-the-gut-and-let-it-bleed business.
“KHTK was my life, man,” Dave says, choking up, his voice cracking. “I’m actually getting emotional, because I’ve never talked about it. Everything I am. I grew up listening to them. I went a different road to get there. I was always a company man. I never asked for raises. … They wanted me to do this shift, that shift—whatever, fine. I never had a producer. I never had a budget. I had to do my own show, top to bottom. I never got the benefits of other stars at that station. I always felt like the adult at the kids table on Thanksgiving.
“But I was ecstatic about it,” he adds. “I’m on my dream radio station in my hometown, talking to my friends—are you fucking kidding me?”
Then, like the turn of the dial, the show was over.
So who fired Dave? Does Occam’s razor win? Is the simplest explanation the best?
How about this: The Maloofs made overtures to CBS about Dave. CBS higher-ups—in an era of contracting revenue—got shaky knees about losing Kings money. Cottingim got sick of hearing about Dave from his overlords. But as the arena deal crumbled, Dave persisted. And fans loved him for it. But then, finally, tough love for Dave.
Yet tough love cuts both ways.
“They fired me. I love ’em,” Dave says of CBS. “But now they can go fuck themselves.”
We protect our own
Dave’s Toyota Scion—he calls it a “toaster”—veers through the two-lane back roads of Antelope toward west Roseville, wheat-brown fields giving way to suburbia’s outskirts. The volume’s off, but the radio is set at KHTK 1140 AM.
The toaster stops at Woodcreek Golf Club, where course manager and head pro Rob Frederick greets Dave. Frederick was one of the first three to call him after he was fired—Mayor Johnson was the first, and also Urijah Faber and DeMarcus Cousins, among other notables. Even a text from George Maloof.
Mark Twain said that “Golf is a good walk spoiled,” which best describes this twilight round of nine holes. Dave looks the part in his white collared shirt, tucked in with shorts and white spikes. But the final score is ugly.
Still, Carmichael Dave’s second act hopes to be more birdie than bogey. There won’t be the proverbial Hollywood ending, such as in Mr. Mom, when Michael Keaton got his job back. And it will take months—years?—for Dave to make a living off The CD Networks. But there’s a silver lining. A hole in one, even.
When Dave was fired, people called him for days, offering help and money. “At first, I felt ashamed, almost. Here’s these people pitying me and offering their charity.” But then, it clicked. “These people didn’t pity me, they loved me.”
Dave argues that Sacramento, famous for its inferiority complex, also has a “we-protect-our-own complex.” It’s the same obsession that drove Dave and fans during the Here We Stay campaign.
Sure, critics give Dave flak for telling National Public Radio last year that “Sacramento sucks.” And for calling downtown “the hole.” He says this is just the sentiment of a man venting. “For once,” he explains, “I just want one thing to go Sacramento’s way.”
Dusk settles in on the ninth hole, sprinklers pop out of the grass and soak the rolling greens. “You’ve seen Tombstone?” Dave asks. He explains a scene near the end, when Doc Holliday argues that Wyatt Earp isn’t out for vengeance against the gang who killed his brothers; Earp just wants justice for Tombstone.
Dave does his best outlaw impersonation and quotes Holliday:
“It’s not about revenge,” he drawls, “it’s about the reckoning.”