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Dan, Tamara, Cole, and Cameron Bickley. Photo by Michelle Cherrington

Featured Article

Dan Bickley

The Veteran Award-Winning Arizona Sports Journalist and Radio Show Host Talks About Taking Career Risks, the Smell of Cold Newsprint, and What Society Can Learn From a Phoenix Suns Crowd

Travel the globe. Hobnob with among the biggest names in professional athletics. Share those experiences with an attentive audience, equally eager to enthusiastically agree or vehemently disagree. 

And get paid to do all of it.

There are arguably fewer gigs sweeter than the one radio host Dan Bickley has helming the popular morning sports talk show Bickley & Marotta on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. 

On a Monday afternoon after a brutal Phoenix Suns playoff loss to the New Orleans Pelicans the night before, however, Bickley paints a less flashy picture of the job as he prepares for the flight from the Big Easy to Phoenix. 

After covering the game, Bickley finally arrived at his hotel room at 2 a.m. He was up at 6 a.m. to head over to a local radio station that agreed to host him so that he could broadcast from the road and be ready to go live at his normal start time in Arizona.

The person in charge of opening the studio was late, resulting in Bickley dashing into the studio with just 18 minutes to spare. 

“But you can’t complain, right?” Bickley says with a hint of the trademark wholehearted chuckle his listeners know well. “In this business, you’ve gotta sleep fast and gotta roll with it.” 

The longtime newspaper sports columnist-turned-radio sports host’s career demonstrates his ability to do this. And do it well. His nearly four-decade career also reflects an unflinching willingness to take risks, all of which have been beneficial, from his early years as a reporter for his hometown Chicago Sun-Times to his award-winning columnist years at The Arizona Republic and to his current position as one of Arizona Sports’ top voices. 

He once turned down a job offer from The New York Times, an act that most print journalists would deem sacrilege. He left his coveted position with the Chicago Sun-Times to join the former Copley News Service so he could get on-the-job experience as a columnist—his ultimate newspaper dream job.

His most recent big chance was walking away from The Arizona Republic, where he had been one of the paper’s faces, brands, and reader favorites. The decision to jump from print to radio was far from easy.

“It was so much a part of my identity. I had never been resistant to change but I’m a newspaper man … but it was hard, I’m not going to lie,” Bickley says of his 2018 move. “But the way the print product was dying, the way companies were pulling back resources, something in me said, ‘This is the time to do it.’” 

These risks allowed him to thrive into perhaps the state’s most influential sports media professional. 

Seven Olympic Games, dozens of Super Bowls, and countless playoff runs—one of which culminated with the Arizona Diamondbacks’ 2001 World Series victory—are on Bickley’s resume.

But there were also trials he covered in 1992, and the bombing at Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta—both of which required Bickley to become a hard news reporter on the fly.

“You learn how to get the job done,” he says. “I’ve been blessed to have been able to do a lot of different things.” 

And it all started thanks to tourists and the famous Chicago weather. 

Merging Two Passions

Growing up, Bickley’s father was a bartender at swank steakhouse in Downtown Chicago. At the end of every shift, he’d go around the tables and gather all of the out-of-town newspapers that visitors left behind. 

He brought them on the train ride to the family’s home on the South Side and gave them to Bickley, who was about 13 at the time. A love for print journalism was sparked.

“My dad would get off the train and the papers would be cold. I could smell the newsprint coming off the broadsheets and the tabloids,” Bickley says, savoring every descriptive word as he relives those moments. “The smell of cold newsprint is still embedded in my brain … that’s how meaningful it is to me.”

His admiration for the craft grew, fostered by icons like legendary Chicago columnist Mike Royko. The teen was smitten by the idea of fighting the good fight for the little people with the power of the written word. 

He was also a sports fan and athlete who was usually found on a basketball court or baseball diamond. Destiney was clear.

Bickley set his sights on a sports journalism career. After graduating with honors from Harper College, about 30 minutes outside of Chicago, he got his pro start at the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago in 1987. He would go on to the Chicago Sun-Times and Copley, where he was a syndicated columnist. 

In 1998, with the formation of the Arizona Diamondbacks, The Arizona Republic sought another sports columnist. The newspaper hired him, and like many Chicagoans, Bickley made the move to the desert. 

Since then, Bickley has penned two books: “Return of the Gold: The Journey of Jerry Colangelo and the Redeem Team” and “No Bull: The Unauthorized Biography of Dennis Rodman.” 

“I folded that level of infatuation (with newspapers) with my love of sports. I had a natural gift for writing and I kind of put the pieces together and made a career of it,” Bickley says. 

More Than a Game

Alongside his on-air partner Vince Marotta, Bickley has carved a space in sports fans’ mornings as they drive to work, get ready for the day, and are catching up on how the local sports teams did the night before. 

Bickley enjoys bringing that humor and energy to listeners, at the barely sunrise hour of 6 a.m. Many catch up at their convenience with the show’s podcast, as well. 

Even with his veteran status that includes covering Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships, Bickley exudes the enthusiasm of a rookie soaking in every second of a dazzling world. 

It’s about more than traveling with the teams. It’s about the buzz a winner brings to a town. This is when sports becomes, even if for a few weeks or months, part of the culture and daily life of a community. 

“Being able to travel with a sports team that carries with it the heart of the city—there’s nothing like it. I’m part of this ride but privileged to provide content and tell stories within this kind of ride,” he says. “Every time a sports team galvanizes a city, whether it’s the D-backs, Suns, or Cardinals, these stories transcend sports and they become important to everybody.”

In the midst of the 2022 playoff run, the Suns occupied a top spot on Bickley’s radar. At home games, he’s reminded of how sports can be a great unifier, regardless of the climate outside the arena’s doors.

"You look out into a Suns crowd over the past two years, and it's a really young, diverse mix of Latinos, African-Americans, and whites. And it works. And it's a beautiful example to society that if we get by our differences in the political circle, there are great benefits and a great energy that comes with embracing our differences under one common purpose. It's easy for everyone to get behind a great NBA team in Phoenix, and these moments and playoff runs can teach us so much about each other. It's another reason why sports can be so important in the community and in society,” Bickley says.

All About Loyalty

When he’s not doing his day job, Bickley enjoys spending quality time with his wife of 25 years, Tamara, who is a professional makeup artist, and their three children: Skylar, 20; Cameron,19; and Cole, 12. 

He also indulges his inner rock star as a guitarist for Whiskey’s Quicker, the rock cover band he founded in 2011. The five-man band has played many events, including Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers’ Circus Mexicus and the 2015 Super Bowl in Glendale, when the band took the stage following NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who always draws resounding boos.

“We were in a perfect spot. There were 5,000 people who would’ve gone nuts for anyone who wasn’t Roger,” Bickley says. 

But at the end of the day, it’s the feeling of writing a column, hitting send, and shutting his laptop knowing he’s written something that is truly solid and will provide enjoyment and perhaps insight for those who read what he wrote—even when it means not making everyone sing his praises. 

“You’re around athletes and they are celebrities here. But you write pieces that are positive and critical. It can be a combative profession. You’re not making long relationships and sometimes you're not going to be the most popular person in the organizations you cover,” Bickley says. “I write from a fan’s perspective. I’m loyal to the story and loyal to the reader, not the people I cover.” 

  • Dan, Tamara, Cole, and Cameron Bickley. Photo by Michelle Cherrington
  • Photo by Tamara Bickely
  • Photo by Tamara Bickley