Q+A: Dari Nowkhah
by Eldon Khorshidi | @eldonadam
If you’ve watched ESPN anytime over the past nine years, there’s a good chance you’ve seen Dari Nowkhah at work, hosting various shows on the station’s flagship channel, as well as ESPNEWS and ESPNU. A talented broadcaster and an equally impressive (if not more) member of the community, Nowkhah currently serves as the lead anchor for ESPNU, is a play-by-play announcer for the network’s coverage of all college sports, and hosts the Dari and Mel show every Saturday morning on ESPN Radio.
Today, we caught up with Dari to discuss his versatile skill set, passion for college sports, his broadcasting journey and much more.
You covered ACC media day earlier this week. How’d it go?
Dari Nowkhah: It was an awesome time. Media day was held at our ESPNU building down here in Charlotte, and the building underwent a total makeover. We put up a bunch of pictures and banners, and we totally made everything ACC’ed out. Media days are tiring, but they’re an incredible experience. You get here early and it’s still dark outside. There are 15 mascots running around the building, pushing you, pulling at you, stealing your pens and just messing around with you. It’s like a circus at times.
There are 30 or 40 players present representing their school, and of course all 15 head coaches come. So you’re walking around the building and saying hello to all the folks, and then we go into the studio and conduct interviews.
Any memorable stories from this year?
DN: One of the really cool things was sitting with Jim Boeheim, Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams, and speaking with them for 20 minutes, both on- and off- the air. Sitting with Boeheim, Krzyzewski and Roy, just discussing the intricacies of the 2-3 zone, was kind of surreal. A long time ago, I stopped being in awe of who I worked with or who I did a show with or who I had lunch with, but sitting around those three guys—two of which have won 900-plus games, and with seven national championships between all three of them—you know, I’m sitting there and I’m thinking about those things, and it was really amazing.
I don’t think you could come up with three more recognizable names over the last 30 years in college basketball. Maybe Coach Rick Pitino and John Calipari, but you can’t do much better than Roy, Coach K and Boeheim.
Tell us a little about your broadcasting journey up to this point.
DN: I graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 1998, where I majored in broadcast journalism. After college, I sent out my résumé and broadcast tapes to stations across the country, and eventually three months after I graduated I got the opportunity to work at a station in Kalispell, Montana. It was an extremely small market, but it was a great place to get my feet wet—I learned on the fly, and the location was beautiful. We were about 45 minutes south of the Canadian border, and right near Glacier National Park, so it was just a beautiful part of the country.
After about 20 months, I moved on to the ABC affiliate in Lincoln, Nebraska. The cool thing about working in Lincoln was they gave me a chance to cover big-time college athletics, which is my passion. I covered the Nebraska football team, which was a lot of fun because they had a very successful team back then. They played in the national championship game my second year there.
And then after two years in Lincoln, I worked at KOTV, a station in my hometown of Tulsa, and a station that I grew up watching. I was there for a little over two years when, in 2004, I got an opportunity to interview at ESPN, which obviously ended up working out.
Throughout the process of your career, and going from city to city, did you face any struggles along the way? Change, some would say, is usually accompanied by uncertainty.
DN: It’s been a relatively smooth ride, but at one point I definitely hit a crossroad in my career. The biggest bump in the road, actually, was when I was back home in Tulsa. I loved my hometown, but my wife and I were ready to get out. There was a lot of family pressure, I had just gotten married, and we really wanted to go somewhere and do our own thing.
It actually got to the point that I almost got out of the business entirely. I mean, we made a mutual decision that if no new opportunities emerged for me within a matter of weeks, we were going to move to Charleston, South Carolina, which is my wife’s favorite city and is where we got married, and we were both going to get teaching degrees.
But my interview with ESPN came up right then, and it was almost like divine intervention. We literally had a deposit laid down on an apartment in Charleston, and if ESPN didn’t offer, I would’ve been out of the business a decade ago.
Wow. Safe to say it worked out though, huh?
DN: [Laughs] Yeah, it has definitely worked out. I spent seven years in Bristol, which was great, and then we moved to Charlotte a few years back. We couldn’t be happier.
You are mostly a studio host, but have also done play-by-play across various mediums. Which do you enjoy more?
DN: To be honest with you, I enjoy play-by-play every bit as much as I do hosting in the studio, but I don’t want to travel 300 days a year, and that’s what those guys do. I think right now I have a perfect balance—I primarily work in the studio, but I also get to do some live games from time to time, so the travel isn’t too much.
Is there a particular sport you enjoy covering the most?
DN: My favorite has always been college football. I think just growing up in Oklahoma, you know, that’s what we have there. I love college football, which is a big part of why I enjoy ESPNU. I like college basketball and baseball, but my first love is college football.
As a studio host, how do you prepare for your job on a daily basis? Is it as simple as, like, you come into the office, have staff meetings, do some research on your own and then you’re ready to go? Or is preparing a constant, around-the-clock mindset?
DN: Once we get into a season, the preparation just comes from being around the sport every day. When I’m at work, I’m working on college football, and researching stuff there. On Saturdays, I’m here all day covering college football. There are eight TVs in front of me at all times.
I’m really immersed in my work, which I guess you could say is an around-the-clock approach, but when I’m home with my wife and kids, I don’t watch a lot of sports. I’ll watch some—like I’m a huge L.A. Dodgers and Oklahoma City Thunder fan, and my wife will sit down with me on Saturday nights and watch college football, because she understands it’s my job—but I don’t usually just go home and turn on sports. I try to keep as much of a balance as I can.
Is that out of respect to your family, or do you intentionally take a break to recharge yourself?
DN: It’s a little bit of both, but honestly, it’s mostly out of respect for the family. Like if I was single, I’d probably go home and watch sports in the evenings. I like to go out with my family and spend time with my kids, so any time off is refreshing because my schedule is so crazy.
As a studio host, you’re kind of like the conductor and director of the program, and in a lot of ways, the show is a reflection of you. What are some of the challenges of hosting?
DN: As a host, I have to make sure my knowledge is where it needs to be. Not every show I do is a college football or college basketball show. There are times I’m covering a softball selection show, or lacrosse—which is a game I don’t even fully understand—or hockey, and I love hockey, but I don’t get a chance to follow all of these sports consistently. So one challenge is to be knowledgeable enough to be able to direct a conversation on a sport that may not come naturally to me.
Also, energy is huge. Energy is the fuel to a studio show, so I have to always make sure I’m ready. I’m a coffee drinker, but covering sports in general gives me a thrill. There are challenges, sure, but at the end of the day we’re talking about sports, and there aren’t many things better than that.