It doesn’t happen much anymore, but occasionally a listener will call into KFAN’s “The Dan Barreiro Show” to grouse that it isn’t focused more on sports. Everyone else has gotten with the program.
Barreiro has maintained his status as one of the Twin Cities’ most powerful media personalities — he’s been No. 1 among men ages 25-54 in afternoon drive time for two decades — by jabbering just as much about pop culture and politics as he does about who should be lining up as the Vikings quarterback.
Not that the 65-year-old host doesn’t know his x’s and o’s. Before committing to radio full time, Barreiro was a sports columnist at the Dallas Morning News and then the Star Tribune, where he worked until 2004. But radio is where he truly found his voice.
“You don’t have this much success for so long without constantly challenging your audience and Dan never rests,” says Gregg Swedberg, the Twin Cities’ vice president of programming for iHeart Radio, which operates KFAN. “He’s such a fixture that he is often just taken for granted.”
Despite being on the air for more than 20 hours every week, Barreiro can be closely guarded about his personal life. He rarely opens up about his family, which includes 9-year-old daughter, Giovanna. You won’t see him much on the social circuit or even at games. The last concert he remembers seeing is Paul McCartney at Target Field in 2014. At one point, snagging interview time with him seemed about as unlikely as the Timberwolves winning an NBA championship.
After much prodding, he agreed to two long chats, one over lunch long before the coronavirus hit and another by phone in July. The following are excerpts from both conversations.
What’s it like having a young daughter at this time in your life?
I was 56 when she was born. I didn’t think it was going to happen for me. Now it’s hard to imagine life without her. It’s harder to just plop down on the couch now. About once a month when I’m at the grocery story with Gia, someone at the checkout counter will say, “Oh, is that your grandkid?” Which, at my age, she could be.
What does the family watch on TV these days?
If the TV is on, it’s usually sports or cartoons. My daughter likes Disney. I had her watching portions of “Jurassic Park” when she was 3, much to the delight of her mother. She likes to push the envelope. She’s been wanting to see all the “Batman” movies, but they’re a little intense. I keep longing for the day when she’s older so I can see if we have the same sensibilities and the same appetite for edgier, dramatic stuff.
What’s a typical evening like at home?
I’m a massive reader. That’s relaxing to me. I particularly like historical fiction. Alan Furst’s World War II spy novels are some of my favorites. I like Philip Kerr’s stuff. Maurizio de Giovanni’s mystery novels are great. I definitely like reading authors who are not from here if the translation into English is good.
Do you have any ideas for a book of your own?
Everyone has a hidden book idea. I’ve got one for a piece of detective fiction, but I haven’t written a word of it. I don’t know if I have it in me.
Where do you get your news?
I read the Strib and the Wall Street Journal a lot. The New York Times sometimes. A lot of links off Twitter. I used to watch a lot of news, especially CNN. I’m having a harder time doing that. I don’t feel like I’m getting any knowledge. I come away going, “I knew that was coming.” I’d rather watch a basketball game or read with my kid.
How about late-night shows?
I used to be a religious Letterman watcher. Now I don’t watch any of them. Part of it is that my sleep pattern has changed. But the other part is that I don’t trust any of them politically. I can live with political satire as long as whoever needs to get skewered is getting skewered and I don’t believe that’s the case. At least Bill Maher will occasionally push back at the fashionable lefty position.
What went into your decision to leave the newspaper world and commit full time to radio?
It’s not something I’m interested in going into too much detail about. Let’s just say it was a good time to do it and leave it at that. I dug both, but after a while the travel and staying in hotel rooms gets to you. At some point, you’ve got to ask yourself which do you like better and, sadly, which pays more. It was hard to the extent that I did feel like I was losing a little part of myself. There’s something more permanent about writing than doing a radio show. But it would have been a lot harder if I saw radio as something less satisfying, and I don’t.
What do you think about the current state of sports journalism?
The biggest change is that national sports outlets have become huge. Athletes have less willingness or even interest in talking to local papers. Back when I was in Dallas, I could go to Los Angeles before a Spurs-Lakers game, set up lunch with George Gervin and get an hour and a half with him. Now, you’re lucky if you get five minutes at the shootaround. It’s much harder to break through the barriers and really write something that adds to the discussion, which is part of the reason I don’t miss it.
Have you ever become close friends with anyone you’ve covered?
I was closer to Flip Saunders than I ever allowed myself to be with anyone else I’ve covered. He sort of wore me down after a while. I wasn’t writing about him at the time, so we were in a different place.
Who is the best guest you’ve ever had?
Bill Walton is different from anyone else. I don’t even pretend to try to conduct an interview the way I usually do. You could start off asking him about basketball and by the end, he could be on something about Muhammad Ali, the Grateful Dead or the 1968 Democratic convention. In some way, the hardest thing to get him to talk about is basketball. I think he’s bored with it. Even his e-mails are revelatory, a series of mantras and book recommendations.
What was the greatest sporting event you ever covered?
It’s trite to say it, but Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. There are a lot of great Olympics moments, too, like when Ben Johnson destroyed Carl Lewis at the 1988 games in Seoul. Of course, they later found out Johnson had taken drugs. But being in that stadium was the most memorable for me, knowing there were millions of people watching all over the world, and that you were lucky enough to be in that arena.
What sporting event would you have most liked to have covered?
To be a boxing writer at the time of the Ali-Foreman fight in Zaire would have been something. That’s when heavyweight fighting really mattered. The story lines were so rich. I would have loved to have been there, not only for the outcome but to be there days before and attempt some other stories.
What athlete have you found the most fascinating?
I’ll broaden out the question a bit and say Coach Bob Knight. At one point, I was editor of the student paper at the University of Indiana. I had a pretty good working relationship with him, but we had our ups and downs. What always fascinated me is how he was a series of contradictions. He could be an extremely intelligent guy. When he was in the mood, he would give me some of the most thoughtful, candid answers I could possibly receive. On the other hand, he could be a 5-year-old.
Have you started thinking about life after radio?
People often ask me, are you going to be like Sid? There’s no chance of that, not even close. But the whole retirement thing is interesting. I know people who have a problem figuring out what the hell to do afterward. That concerns me. I’m not really a golfer. I do like to travel. I love the idea of just sitting on a beach in Hawaii, but I’m not necessarily clamoring for that. I’m in the middle of a five-year contract right now. At the end of that, I’ll have to ask myself, “Can I make it to the next Ryder Cup at Hazeltine?”