Dino's Sore

Although many Denver sports fans have never heard of talk-show host Dino Costa, he's determined to seize their attention -- and once he does, he's convinced that local listeners will recognize his greatness.

"If and when I ever get an opportunity to work on a station like, let's say, KOA, I would be the most shocked person in the world if I didn't generate record numbers," boasts Costa, 42, who helms a show from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the Radio Colorado Network, a mini-chain of five fairly low-profile stations led by KRCN/1080-AM (a Denver-area signal). "My show is so different from anyone else's show. It's uniquely distinctive. Anyone who would dispute that is just deluding themselves."

Whether Costa is under delusions of his own is another matter. Things are on the upswing for him: Aside from his RCN post, he's the star of Raw Sports With Dino Costa, a new, twice-weekly program on Fox Sports Net's Rocky Mountain system that's getting a prime-time tryout this month. Yet despite receiving more acceptance from the local broadcasting community than ever before, Costa exhibits characteristics associated with classic paranoiacs.

During a rambling January 18 interview, he fulminated against all manner of perceived enemies, including people who supposedly doubt he's paid his dues: He invited such folks to "kiss my ass." Then, later that day, he posted a 5,600-word screed on attacking this column, which hadn't been written. In his jeremiad, he labeled Westword as a "radical, liberal newspaper" and yours truly as "a man who has an agenda and a purpose to try and hurt me." The apparent rationale for this baseless assertion? I asked Costa about a sexual-harassment allegation that preceded his departure from KLZ-AM in 2003 (no charges were filed) and said that while I could quote him denying his guilt and talking about the pain he suffered as the result of what he sees as vicious fabrications, I wouldn't be comfortable using the slanderous, obscenity-laced outbursts he aimed at his anonymous accuser.

Being the target of a Costa tirade hardly makes me a member of an exclusive club. After stating that he and KOA's Mike Rosen are the only worthy gabbers in the city (he supports the Constitution Party and considers President George W. Bush to be too left-wing), he heaps invective on the likes of KOA staple Dave Logan. "It's a huge insult to people who have actual talk-radio skills that this guy is being paid a pretty penny to not only do a show on KOA, but to do a Broncos broadcast," he brays. Costa employs similar imagery when denigrating Scott Hastings, Logan's former partner, who was just handed a slot at AM-950/The Fan. "It's a slap in the face to other people who have actual talent and who would want that position," he says before insisting, "I was never even a little bit interested in that position."

If that's true, Hasting's gig may be the first Costa hasn't coveted in a career that's peripatetic even by broadcasting-industry standards. According to Costa, a native of New York state, he always loved radio, but he initially thought he'd get into sports, as a professional baseball player. After a failed audition for the New York Mets disabused him of that notion, he worked in his family's delicatessen business before launching a landscape-management operation. Finally, at age 31, he says, a family connection helped him get in the door at a White Plains, New York, station, where he read sports updates. From there, Costa continues, he worked as the voice of minor-league baseball teams such as the Yonkers Hoot Owls before getting his own talk show at a West Virginia station circa 1999. On the air, he identified himself as Ryan Patrick, a handle that wound up on the 2003 police report. He offers no enlightenment about how this occurred but swears that Dino Costa is his given moniker.

Counting the aforementioned West Virginia stop, Costa acknowledges toiling at over a half-dozen stations before landing at KRCN -- and his descriptions of why he left so many so quickly are as all-over-the-map as he was. By his telling, he dropped a plum assignment with Fox Sports' Los Angeles radio station because of trauma over being robbed at gunpoint in Las Vegas en route to California. (Costa affirms that thieves swiped a trailer containing all his possessions -- even presents from his wedding, held days earlier.) In addition, he says he was sacked in New Jersey for dissing a World Wrestling Federation event his station group was sponsoring and refusing to apologize; he was canned at a different West Virginia outlet after a spat with a superior; and he walked off a Florida signal rather than being teamed with a co-host.

Do such incidents make Costa a difficult employee? Not in his view. "I have a personality and a confidence with which I carry myself that can make other people who are less confident feel uncomfortable around me," he says. Still, he's not "a hard guy to work with for anyone who shares my passion, my zeal for doing a vision of talk radio that I fervently and passionately believe in."

Regarding his split from KLZ, Costa blames station overseer Don Crawford Jr. , who brought him aboard in 2002 only to abandon him the next year, after the Rocky Mountain News published an account from an offense report about Costa allegedly groping an unnamed woman. Costa, an ardent Christian who says "sexual harassers should get the shit kicked out of them," calls the allegation "totally ridiculous" and declares that "the lack of support from Crawford was beyond comprehension. It hurt my wife; it hurt my family." Crawford didn't respond to interview requests.

With the KLZ job gone, Costa hit the road again, but he kept trying to return to Denver. To him, that's more proof that he was falsely accused. "Would I want to come back here to jump into the fire if, in my conscience, in my heart of hearts, I knew that I'd done something wrong?" he asks.

Last June, Ron Nickel, a onetime producer of live-TV concerts (his partner was singer Kenny Rogers) who's now KRCN's general manager, stamped Costa's return ticket. Nickel says he buys Costa's claims of innocence and isn't interested in diluting his bluster: "If he wants to take off and say Coach So-and-So is a shmuck, I don't care. Controversy creates listenership."

That's the hope, anyway. At present, KRCN is entirely Arbitron-ratings free; its biggest draws are Business for Breakfast, a morning show abandoned by Clear Channel, and broadcasts of NASCAR races. Moreover, Costa's show features little advertising and few phone calls. Nickel explains that the dearth of ads is a purposeful effort to establish Costa in the market. As for the call shortage, Costa portrays it as a stylistic choice: "Nobody is tuning in the Dino Costa show every day, if they do, because they want to hear what Jim from Castle Rock is going to say."

Evidence that Raw Sports has scared up some viewers since its January launch is a bit more persuasive. The show, which consists of Costa spouting off about sports issues to the camera or a sidekick, has primarily run in the wee hours of the morning or afternoon dead spots thus far. However, Tim Griggs, FSN Rocky Mountain's vice president and general manager, says, "He basically produced an audience at one point out of a quarter-hour where we had no ratings at all." Griggs looks upon Costa as a "late-night personality," so he's curious how he'll fare on February 13, when the show screens at 9:30 p.m. Benjie Kaze, Raw Sports' de facto producer, thinks Costa, a relative TV novice, is ready: "He wants to be the best he can, and he's very focused and passionate. And working with somebody who cares that much is a dream."

Costa's dream is to reach the apex of the Denver sports-talk universe, where he's certain he belongs. But he's not going to kowtow to listeners or peers or agenda-driven columnists to get there. "I cross lines. I name names," he crows. "I don't hide behind my microphone. I'm everywhere in Denver. I'm at the Pepsi Center, I'm at Invesco Field, I'm at Coors. I do not hide. Someone wants to confront me, someone wants to take exception to something I said, I'm easy to find."