Given the archaic pace at which radio ratings are reported, it will be some time before a full picture of the new-look early morning race in New York sports talk takes shape.
But after years in which the afternoon drive time wars have taken center stage, people who follow such matters are awaiting the morning data with great interest.
That is because for the first time in the 20 years ESPN has been doing New York sports talk, it has a local show up against WFAN, which has controlled that slot for over two decades with Don Imus, Boomer Esiason, Craig Carton and Gregg Giannotti.
It only is a partial head-to-head battle, with Chris Canty, Rick DiPietro and Dave Rothenberg on from 5 to 8 a.m. Their first hour goes against WFAN’s "Warm Up Show" with Al Dukes and Jerry Recco, then two against Esiason and Giannotti.
At 8 a.m., ESPN New York reverts to national programming until 3 p.m. Esiason and Giannotti go until 10 a.m. But those two hours provide a juicy enough local radio story.
"I love the challenge," said Rothenberg, who grew up in Roslyn. "I love the opportunity. I grew up listening to WFAN, and I never thought there would be another station in New York that would compete. I feel like there’s not only a station in New York that competes, but there’s a station in New York that’s right there with them."
Rothenberg said he felt that way even before the shuffle that took effect on Jan. 5 following Dan Le Batard’s departure from ESPN. As part of the change, Rothenberg and friends moved up from their old 9 to 11 a.m. slot.
"We’re the first word in New York sports," Rothenberg said. "A big event happens the night before, 5 o’clock the next morning, that’s us. These guys are the athletes and they’ve grown up in competitive sports. But I love the fact that we get the challenge of going up against a proven morning show and we get to prove ourselves."
DiPietro was the first overall pick in the 2000 NHL Draft by the Islanders and spent 11 seasons with them. Canty won Super Bowl XLVI as a Giants defensive lineman.
Their take on the competition with WFAN is more out of the coach-and-athlete-speak playbook.
"We love the challenge, obviously," DiPietro said, "but I think our main focus now is just making sure as a group we do the best possible radio show that we’re capable of doing."
DiPietro said the most difficult part for him is that instead of knowing immediately whether he won or lost, he must wait several weeks for his scorecard.
"It has been a challenge, to be completely honest with you," he said. "But it’s something where we’ve gotten to a point now where all we can do is focus on making sure our Tuesday show was better than Monday’s show."
Said Canty: "I think our focus is on just taking care of our own business and trying to put together the most fun, entertaining content that we possibly can."
"DCR" had been heard from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. until last summer, when it lost an hour and moved to an earlier slot as part of an earlier schedule realignment.
Rothenberg said the trio was "not thrilled" with giving up an hour, so getting it back, and in a more visible time slot, was a no-brainer.
"I think all of us pretty universally were like, ‘Yeah, that’s something we’re interested in,’ " he said. "It’s obviously high-profile and we get an hour back."
Said DiPietro: "For us, and probably everyone who works at ESPN New York, we never really thought there would be a possibility for us to do a local morning show. So when it was introduced to us we looked at each other and said, ‘Absolutely, 100%, we’d love to do it.’ "
Canty said, "It’s getting up early, but it was just an opportunity that was too good for us to pass on."
Speaking of getting up early, morning shows are a challenge for most TV and radio people, but sports morning shows even more so, because most games are at night.
Working from home during the pandemic helps because there is no commute to work. DiPietro and Canty said they enjoy the early hours — and the early end of the workday. Rothenberg finds the lifestyle a challenge.
"It’s tough for me," he said. "It’s very difficult. I love doing the show. I really love being the first word in New York sports. But to wake up at 3:30 in the morning, that’s awful for me. I’ve never done that . . . I’m not going to lie to you. It’s not great."
But he said it is worth the effort because he feels good about the show’s quality and its role on the station. And he has not had to change his game-watching priorities despite the work hours. He refuses such an action.
"You could pay me a million dollars to turn off that Eagles-Washington football game, which decided whether the Giants got into the postseason or not," he said, "and I wouldn’t have been able to fall asleep . . . I’m not giving up my sports at night. I won’t do it."
Canty said, "When I was playing ball, I used to love games where we had a 1 o’clock kickoff, or when I was playing for the Cowboys we had that noon kickoff. Because it’s: Wake up and play. So for me just having the opportunity to pop up, put the microphone on and get going, that excites me."
The former jocks on the show make it a point to watch enough games to keep up with current events.
"You have three guys that love sports and look at this as an honor to be doing this for a living," DiPietro said, "and are not cutting any corners as far as the work that we put in for a show."
It was a bonus that they had established their chemistry before the pandemic hit and separated them.
"Obviously, I would rather see these guys every day, and there’s a different energy when you’re all in the studio at the same time," DiPietro said. But he added that the show is a nice break from the mundanity of COVID life.
"There’s not much social interaction that goes along with my life," he said, "so it’s a nice three-hour reprieve to hang with your buddies and talk some sports."