As a kid at Salesianum School in the 1980s, the award-winning broadcaster David Glenn never imagined himself as a media personality. But his love of sports and a particular passion for and encyclopedic knowledge of all things ACC has made the UNC-trained lawyer the top-rated sports talk show host in North Carolina. TSD loves to stay in touch with refugees from the Delaware Valley who have gone on to great things and we were delighted to reconnect with Dave Glenn (@davidglennshow) recently to talk media, the future of college sports, and who looks hot going into March Madness.
TSD: Tell us about the path that led to a career in sports broadcasting.
Dave Glenn: I entered the working world in 1994 as a sports journalist (writer/editor) and an attorney, and I absolutely loved doing both. Sports radio wasn’t even on my radar then — not even a dream or goal, really — and yet here we are 20-plus years later and it’s my primary source of income. That’s just how life works sometimes.
Through the 1990s, while I was running the ACC Sports Journal and ACCSports.com, plus my own small private law practice, I would get requests from radio and TV stations to be a studio or phone guest on various sports topics that were within my area of expertise: NCAA issues, college football, college basketball, the various ACC teams, analyzing a recent game, discussing an upcoming game, etc.
Eventually, one of the largest sports radio stations here in North Carolina told me they loved me as a guest and asked me if I ever had thought about hosting my own sports radio show. My honest answer was no, and that’s what I told them. I had been extremely well trained in journalism and law, and I was confident and happy in those roles, but I had basically zero education or training in radio. Being a radio guest was easy and natural for me; being a radio host was a big leap. We ultimately agreed that I would give hosting my own show a try on a weekly basis, just a little Saturday morning show. I tried that and liked it, they liked me, and the audience responded well. As that Saturday show grew and grew, the same station had an opening for an every-day show. Again, they asked me if I wanted it, I said yes, and that’s when my radio career took off.
Over time, my Raleigh-based show became so successful that within the past decade we were able to syndicate it across the entire state of North Carolina. We’re now heard on more than 20 AM/FM signals, in more than 100 cities and towns, including the 10 largest cities in the state. As my sports radio career blossomed, I had to give up other things, because my plate was getting too full. In 2011, I took inactive status as an attorney and essentially dropped my law practice. In 2013, after 20 years of running the ACC Sports Journal and ACCSports.com, I stepped aside as editor, although I still contribute as a writer to both the magazine and the website.
There are days I wake up and still can’t believe I have the largest sports radio show in the history of North Carolina. It’s not what I studied to be. It’s not what I was trained to be. It wasn’t my goal. It wasn’t my dream. Yet here I am, and I love what I do for a living. It’s like the dream came true, yet it wasn’t really my dream at all originally.
TSD: You were actually trained as a lawyer – did that help prepare you in any way for what you are doing today?
DG: My legal training, and 17 years of law practice, still help me almost every single day in life. That background helps me as a consumer, helps me as a homeowner, helps me as a small business owner, and definitely helps me as a sports radio host. One of the fundamental things everyone learns in law school is how to build a solid argument and then defend that argument, and that’s a fundamental part of sports radio, too. Obviously, the subject matter is usually very different in the legal field and the sports world, but the mechanics of building and defending a coherent point of view have far more similarities than differences.
All of us have our strengths and weaknesses, in all walks of life, and I’m certainly no different. But in the sports radio context, I definitely don’t get an A-plus as a host in every single category, but when it comes to building and successfully defending an argument or point of view, I’ve been told by ESPN Radio officials that my legal background, educational background and show preparation combine to put me in the top one percent of my field nationally in that regard.
My legal background also helps a lot whenever a big issue in the sports world includes legal angles. Maybe there’s a high-profile trial involving an athlete, or a lawsuit against the NCAA, or collective bargaining agreement issues in the NFL, NBA, MLB or NHL, etc. Many of those topics make most sports radio hosts have their eyes roll up into the back of their heads in confusion. I understand criminal law, antitrust law, contract law, legal precedents, collective bargaining, etc. So any time a sports radio audience needs legal expertise explained in layman’s terms, it’s right in my wheelhouse as a broadcaster.
TSD: You are a graduate of Salesianum School, which is known for its athletics program. Did you participate in sports in high school?
DG: There was one, and only one, negative to my otherwise wonderful four years at Salesianum: distance. I don’t know how these things work today, but before I was old enough to drive, I had to get on a bus at 6 am — at some times of year, it was still dark outside!! — for a two-hour commute in each direction, from West Chester, Pa., down to Wilmington. We even had to stop at the Delaware/Pennsylvania state line for various students to switch buses. I could write a book about those bus rides, which could be fun in some ways but were often draining as well.
At Salesianum, I actually tried out for the baseball (my best sport by far) and tennis teams. In both cases, the coaches told me I was well positioned to make the team, and during tryouts I was feeling great about everything. Pretty quickly, though, I realized that I would be getting back to West Chester so late on practice/game days that it would wreak havoc on everything from my academic and work schedules down to sharing cars with other members of my family. I wish it could have worked out differently, but I ended up playing on Babe Ruth League baseball teams near our home in West Chester instead, and I think it worked out for the best.
One thing I remember from my Sallies days is that so many of the Philadelphia teams were often in the national championship spotlight, and there’s no doubt in my mind that impacted me as a young person, certainly in a way that nourished my love for sports, and probably in a way that contributed to what I’ve done for a living ever since. When I was 13 years old, in 1980, I was there personally with my father at Veterans Stadium in Philly when the Phillies won their World Series-clinching game against Kansas City. Around the same time, the Flyers played in the Stanley Cup finals, the Sixers played in the NBA finals and the Eagles played the Raiders in the Super Bowl. That was an amazing stretch where all of those teams were among the best in their sports, and it was a great time to be a fan. By the time I was completing my time at Sallies, in 1985, Villanova won the NCAA championship in basketball. That was an unforgettable run, too. We were right in the middle of a passionate sports culture, and I absolutely loved it.
TSD: College sports have become such a huge business – really, a social and cultural and marketing phenomenon – and ACC basketball has been a big part of that, perhaps as much as SEC football. But your own alma mater of UNC has had some challenges keeping a balance between athletics and academics. Where do you see all this going – will really high level athletics at these major programs become semi-professional at some point?
DG: That’s a great, multi-billion-dollar question, and even though I’ve covered college sports very closely for almost 30 years, I honestly can’t give you an answer to it with anything even close to certainty. The NCAA has refused to budge on the concept of amateurism, even as on-going lawsuits against the NCAA attack that same principle. I’ll say this: If there comes a time when the NCAA model looks more like professional sports, it will be because of an act of Congress, or judge’s verdicts in lawsuits, because the NCAA — while willing to tweak and improve the model so that more “student-athletes” get a fairer deal — absolutely will not volunteer or agree to blow up their model entirely. They genuinely believe it’s a viable structure, and they will fight to the end to protect it, even if they continue to be open about ways to make the current system better.
One thing to remember about the big picture of college sports is this: If your campus sponsors 30 varsity sports, in most cases 28 of them do nothing but lose money, every single year. So when the NCAA’s critics incessantly argue about the athletes getting the short end of the economic stick, they tend to leave out the fact that a huge majority of college athletes play sports that do nothing but lose money. Economically, at least, the schools are the ones getting the bad end of the deal 28 times out of 30! Obviously, the two sports that do make money, men’s basketball and especially football, tend to make a LOT of money. But, in part because of gender-equity/Title IX laws, the solution is not as simple as: “Pay the football and men’s basketball players, because they’re in the sports that make all the money.” It’s just not that simple.
TSD: Who do you like in the ACC tourney, and the Final Four?
Historically speaking, Duke (19 times) and UNC (17 times) have combined to win almost 60 percent of all ACC Tournaments ever played, which is incredible. There are 15 schools in the ACC now, and those two have dominated to an unbelievable degree. Over the last four years, though, four different schools broke through for either their first ACC title ever or their first ACC title in a very long time: Florida State, Miami, Virginia and Notre Dame.
In my eyes, the favorites this year are UNC, UVa, Duke and Notre Dame. The Tar Heels actually have won an NCAA championship (2009) more recently than they won their last ACC title (2008), and they really want to send their star seniors Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige out in style, so I’ll take Carolina this year. But I wouldn’t bet a nickel on this stuff either way. There is probably not a person alive who correctly predicted FSU, Miami, UVa and Notre Dame to win the last four.
Nationally, obviously, we’ll all have to see the NCAA Tournament brackets in mid-March before we make our picks. But among the teams I like most are Michigan State and Maryland from the Big Ten, Oklahoma and Iowa State from the Big 12, UNC and UVa from the ACC, Arizona from the Pac-12, and Kentucky from the SEC.
TSD: Are you ever back in these parts? What do you like to do when you are in the area?
DG: Our family makes it back north three or four times a year. It’s about a seven-hour drive from our part of North Carolina to Philly. My wife Maria is from near New York City, and my mother and father still live in West Chester, so we have plenty of reasons to come home on both sides of the family.
I think the four places we’ve been to the most are West Chester, Wilmington, Philadelphia and Avalon, N.J. West Chester remains “home,” of course — not only with mom and dad, but brother, sisters, in-laws, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, old friends and all the rest nearby. I have made separate stops in Wilmington, specifically to see Salesianum, with my wife, son and daughter. Most often, we’re driving up I-95 in the summer, so we’re able to walk the school’s hallways and check out the facilities on very quiet days. It’s always a very positive, sentimental trip for me, because I believe Sallies helped mold me, in very real and positive ways, as a student and person. Every summer, I offer to take my entire extended family to a Phillies game. In some years, I’ve had to buy tickets for 20 people! In other years, it’s been a party of four. One of my sisters owns a house in Avalon, and every summer we spend a week or two there. That’s one of my favorite items on the calendar every year, because I get to see my extended family and some old friends, relax at a beautiful beach, and enjoy some tasty food and beverages, like an infinitely more mature version of Senior Week.