Rick DiPietro said he gets recognized more now as a radio host than he ever did as a hockey player, even as a No. 1 overall draft pick by the Islanders and a United States Olympian.
“Wherever I go, it’s like, ‘Hey, Humpty!’” he said, referring to his nickname as part of the “Hahn & Humpty” midday show on ESPN 98.7 with partner Alan Hahn.
True, it helps that he no longer wears a goaltender helmet and mask in public. He also now reaches a broader sports audience that goes beyond hockey fans.
But he also has benefitted from promotion by MSG Network for a one-hour best-of show premiering Monday that will be on from 7 to 8 p.m. – and replayed from 10:30 to 11:30 p.m. – Mondays through Thursdays until Sept. 8.
“It’s been amazing so far, what MSG’s done with advertising, promotions, commercials,” DiPietro said after Thursday’s show at ESPN Radio’s studios in Manhattan.
“The last Islanders game [at Barclays Center] at an intermission the commercial came on the Jumbotron.”
Hahn, a former Newsday sportswriter and current Knicks studio analyst, said he, too, has experienced the impact of the promotional push.
“For me, it’s gone from, ‘Hey, you’re the guy who does the Knicks’ to more recently my kids will tell you I go into a supermarket and somebody will stop me and it’s about, ‘Where’s Humpty?’ Or, ‘You guys are funny.’
“It’s all about the promos they ran, and they ran during the playoffs, so a lot of people saw them.”
The idea is to trim the show, which airs live from noon to 3 p.m., into a highlight package that among other things will eliminate dated references to, say, results of events that unfold in early afternoon.
The plan is to have MSG Network staffer Bobby Mills physically deliver recordings from the Upper West Side studio to MSG’s headquarters near Madison Square Garden first after the opening hour, then again after the second, to get a jump on the process.
Producer Andrew Braun then will deliver the final hour and finalize the editing process.
The hosts hope the added exposure will increase awareness of the show, which has failed to make a ratings dent against its competition at WFAN since replacing Mike Lupica in September.
“It takes people time in anything to change patterns of what they watch and listen to,” DiPietro said. “So now to be offered the opportunity to be on TV where maybe it’s people who don’t necessarily listen to the radio and turn on MSG because they’re familiar with MSG and see us on and say, ‘Wow, this is a radio show? Maybe I’ll turn them on because I liked that hour I watched.’ That’s big for us.”
Hahn said that even though the duo still are “in that embryonic stage as a show,” the lagging ratings have been a source of frustration.
In April, WFAN beat ESPN 98.7 in average share among men ages 25-54, 6.3 percent of the radio audience to 2.0, between noon and 3 p.m.
“Yes, absolutely,” he said. “It maddens me because of the many people we run into at Barclays, at MSG, at Yankee Stadium, Citi Field, MetLife, many people that we’ve run into, it’s always the same: ‘You guys are refreshing, I love your show, I listen to it all the time.’
“And yet it doesn’t equate in the ratings, which makes me wonder, why aren’t we seeing that? Why aren’t we seeing the difference? We fight about it, we come up with different ideas. We’re doing all we can to make that change. But we’re still in the toddler stage as a show . . . There’s a lot of work to be done. But for me, it’s extremely frustrating.”
The show got a welcome dose of attention recently when Mike Francesa – whose WFAN show overlaps the last two hours of “Hahn & Humpty” – criticized the Islanders on the air, which in turn led DiPietro to defend them, which in turn led Francesa to lambaste DiPietro, poking fun at his hockey career, his contract and his ratings.
“Tackling me in the radio business, you know, you’re you, and I’m Gordie Howe, so, you know, clam up,” Francesa said on the air.
DiPietro responded on Michael Kay’s ESPN 98.7 show by calling Francesa, “Gordie Chow.”
DiPietro said his comments weren’t aimed at getting Francesa to talk about their show on air, but Hahn and DiPietro loved the attention.
Hahn said of DiPietro’s infamous, 15-year Islanders contract, which was bought out in 2013, “It’s low-hanging fruit. We actually joke about the contract stuff all the time, so people who think he takes that personally completely miss the point.”
When Francesa’s simulcast left Fox last September there was talk of him coming to MSG. That deal never materialized. Hahn and DiPietro hope their summer show could lead to a broader arrangement with MSG.
“We’re hoping by the time we get to winter it will be a full simulcast,” Hahn said. “That’s the goal. That’s our goal. We haven’t agreed on anything, but that’s our goal . . . When they had ‘Boomer and Carton’ [on MSG] they’d run that in the morning and then a best-of after the Knicks or Rangers game, which was great, because it’s right after the postgame. We’d love that, but this is a great start.”
The two will focus primarily on their radio audience but said there could be some visual elements added.
“It will give us a chance to implement some things, like if I want to bring in a paintball gun so if he makes a mistake I can shoot him with a paintball gun,” DiPietro said. “We’ll try to get more visual so when there’s a guest in the studio we can screw around with the guests.”
Said Hahn, “Or we could have a basketball hoop so if someone loses an argument you can dunk on him.”
Hahn added, “But the whole trick of it is it’s only an hour, so we want to make it as difficult on Andrew Braun as possible, like he’d have more [material] than he needs.”