David ‘Mad Dog’ DeMarco bids farewell to Lansing radio after 26 years of racing
David DeMarco estimates he has done more than 2,500 live sports radio broadcasts in 26 years on Lansing. Many of them solo, many of them three hours at a time. It’s a five-day-a-week grind that takes a knack for chatter, personality in spades, fearlessness behind a microphone, and discipline. More discipline than many people who log on probably realize.
From Mark, better known to many by his radio name“Mad Dog,” concludes after Friday’s show, from 3-6 p.m. on WVFN 730-AM.
“I’m not saying I’ll never be on the radio again or do a podcast,” DeMarco said. “It was just time to get away from the ‘Mad Dog Show.’ ”
DeMarco, 62, and his wife, Carole, are building a house next to his brother and sister-in-law in Cedar Bluff, Alabama.
It’s been a hell of a ride for a guy whose pre-April 1, 1996 radio experience was a regular caller on other shows, including “Papa Joe” Knight’s national show in Las Vegas.
It was that April Fool’s Day in 1996 when “The Sports Guys” – DeMarco, Jeff Hager and Randy Plaunt – made their WVFN debut in Lansing.
“He was just this flamboyant character,” Hager said of DeMarco’s call persona. “He just really tried to get you going… just trying to be outrageous. And so Randy asked me, ‘Do you know anything about Dave DeMarco?’ ”
Plaunt left shortly after the show began, replaced briefly by sportscaster Larry Lage. But for most of their 3½ year run, it was DeMarco and Hager, who is now the principal of Cavanaugh Elementary School in Lansing.
“I was a good foil for him,” Hager said. “Just kind of a more stable voice that kept all the bells and whistles and dials and everything under control. We ran it for a long time and just had fun doing it. I never thought he would stick with it for as long as he did.
After Hager left the show in 1999, it became “Mad Dog and Co.”, which featured Sam Vincent, Kelly Miller, Bob Every and others as regular co-hosts.
“Jemele Hill, the first time she was on radio was with me (as a co-host),” DeMarco said. “John Cooper, he was the coach of Capital City Pride (co-host) and he ends up (coaching the Tampa Bay Lightning). That’s a crazy story in itself.
From 2002 to 2006, Mad Dog aired on WQTX-FM in Lansing, before DeMarco’s show returned to WVFN after a six-month hiatus, moving from afternoon to 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. for nearly of a decade. It returned to afternoons, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., in 2016.
“Mad Dog in the Mornings” meant getting up at 4:20 a.m. every day to prepare for three hours of solo radio and then a day of selling. For the past 12 years, DeMarco has also been full-time at the station in sales, beyond selling his own show.
“I had to be like Clark Kent and then go into sales mode and hit the streets as a salesman,” DeMarco said. “That’s what a lot of people don’t understand. They just think I did the show for three hours and I go home and smoke cigarettes and get high and everything. I had to really buckle down and be disciplined that I was going to do this. And I did.
“It’s not even ratings anymore. This is how much money you can bring back. It’s like the mafia – you’re a breadwinner, that’s what you are. And if you can’t win, you won’t be there.
He’s managed to be there for over a quarter of a century in a volatile business that throws out on-air personalities on a whim. It had more than 20 producers, including well-known names: Mike Valenti, Jason Colthorp, Jason Knick, etc.
” He works hard. He’s open to ideas, which I appreciate,” said Colin Jackson, DeMarco’s producer for several years beginning in 2017. “I brought in some things he wasn’t used to doing. And he kissed them. He’s an intense type of person. Not in a bad way. He is definitely passionate about what he does. He is very interested in sports. He has a lot of stories and he loves telling those stories and sharing them with people.
DeMarco has interviewed Magic Johnson, John Wooden, Sparky Anderson, Donald Trump, and seemingly everyone in between. He shared a tuna sandwich with Muhammad Ali and was able to lean on Tom Izzo to keep his mother’s spirits up as she battled cancer.
DeMarco is really a son of Lansing – Mount Hope Elementary through third grade, then St. Gerard and Lansing Catholic. He spent five years at Central Michigan University and most of his 20s and 30s in the family restaurant. He loves this city as much as he loves being Italian.
“He’s wild and tame all rolled into one,” said his current and final producer, Nathan Vandenburg. “He’s one of those guys who can go from 100 to zero in seconds. He knows how to work the crowd. He knows how to activate his professional persona, but he also knows how to sit back, relax, and crack a few jokes.
“For all that he appears to be, he’s loyal,” Hager said. “He’s a pal. He’s someone who cares deeply about people and cares deeply about his loved ones. He’s the David I know. To me, he’s not Mad Dog. I don’t never called that, except on the air.
He will be Mad Dog one last time on Friday.
“To stay, you have to be entertaining, you have to be adaptable, and you have to be responsible,” said DeMarco, who was inducted into the Greater Lansing Sports Hall of Fame Last year. “You have to be respectful of the people who are your employers and you have to have a brand. My brand was really about getting better and working hard at it and that’s what I did.
“I wanted to do this. I knew I could do sports radio. I didn’t know how I was going to do it. But I just knew I was going to do it. And then I was given a chance. And here we are 26 years later talking to you.
Contact Graham Couch at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Graham_Couch.