Chris Russo ’82
“Mad Dog” Rules the Radio
By Terry Godbey
It’s hard to believe that animated sportscaster Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, host of his own satellite radio show, is the same man an Orlando radio station once sent for speech therapy. His unusual voice, which has been described as reminiscent of Jerry Lewis, Archie Bunker, Daffy Duck, and Elmer Fudd, certainly has not hurt his career.
Russo, who said the station was only “trying to make me a better talk-show host,” began his national show “Mad Dog Unleashed” on SIRIUS XM in August 2008. Days earlier he had left the “Mike and the Mad Dog Show,” which he had co-hosted with Mike Francesa for 19 years on WFAN in New York. Although SIRIUS offered him a $3-million yearly contract, he said he didn’t take the job for the money. “I left WFAN because SIRIUS gave me a channel: ‘Chris, your channel, your brand, do what you want.’ I just thought it was too good an opportunity to turn down.”
Media reports have made much about friction between Russo and Francesa, but Russo said that wasn’t why he left, either. “I could have left 3,000 times if it was about Mike. It was about the opportunity to run my own channel,” Mad Dog Radio, at SIRIUS channel 123 and XM channel 144.
Russo interviews guests and takes calls during his show, which airs Monday through Friday from 2 to 7 p.m. on the 24-hour station. A national show is “harder because you don’t have that local team to latch onto so you have to find a niche every day with the calls,” he said. And satellite radio presents its own challenges. “It’s a new endeavor—you’ve got to get people to pay to listen to radio. And that’s where the product comes in because if they are going to pay, you’ve got to make sure you give them a good product every day.” SIRIUS XM has 20 million subscribers.
Russo said he loved his time at Rollins, where he studied history and political science although he already planned to be a sportscaster. “Rollins teaches you how to think, and history teaches you how to think, and I think that made me a little bit more thoughtful in the way I looked at sports,” he said. During that time, he covered sports for Rollins’ radio station, WPRK.
From 1984 to 1987, he worked at WKIS in Orlando, where the general manager sent him to the speech therapist. “I’m not going to say it wasn’t a positive experience, but I don’t think it changed my approach any,” said Russo, who has a New York accent. “Back in the early ’80s in Orlando, Florida, they weren’t used to my rapid-fire delivery…it kind of blew a lot of people away.”
In his free time, Russo plays golf and stays busy with his wife, Jeanne, and their four children—three boys and a girl ages 11 and under, all of whom play recreational sports. “Sports and my family are my life,” he said.
And his Mad Dog nickname? It was given to him by Bob Raissman, a sports columnist at the New York Daily News, and Don Imus popularized it. “A mad dog is feisty, a mad dog is explosive, a mad dog is going to bark and bite your heels,” Russo said. “He’s not going to take no for an answer. He’s going to be combative.” The nickname was “the best thing that ever happened to me.”