92.9/The Game’s Carl Dukes: The sports talk survivor

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

He is the only original host from the original 2012 lineup.

Carl Dukes had a well-established career in Houston in 2012 as a sports radio host, doing college basketball and football play-by-play and helping out for ESPN. After 14 years, he was kind of a big deal in that city.

Then his Atlanta-based agent Norm Schrutt ― who once repped a raft of Atlanta radio personalities like Ryan Cameron and Mark Arum before dying at age 87 in 2020 ― recommended Dukes apply for a job at Atlanta’s first FM sports talk station at 92.9 called The Game, which had yet to launch.

Dukes was skeptical but he heeded Schrutt’s advice and decided to fly in and meet the CBS Radio execs. His discomfort washed away as he saw the potential in the Game. “If done right, you can own the city,” he said. “That’s what I wanted to do. It felt right.”

His instincts were ultimately spot on, but the Game wasn’t a championship product early on. Personalities didn’t stick. Sales managers came and went. Management had to shell out big bucks to air the Atlanta Hawks and the Atlanta Falcons.

But amid all the turmoil, Dukes was a steady hand in the late afternoons. He himself had a couple of different co-hosts including former NFL player Kordell Stewart before landing on former 790/The Zone host Mike Bell in 2015.

That combo has stuck and the Game found its footing, recently celebrating 10 years on the air. Dukes himself is a true survivor, the only host left from the original line up. His show with Bell usually has the best ratings on the station.

“He does a good job listening to the audience, being out and about and listening to the fans,” said Mike Conti, brand manager at the Game who has worked with the station since its launch. “He gets what people in this market are passionate about. He’ll tell fans what they need to hear, even if it’s not what they want to hear. It’s like a sixth sense. I don’t know how he does it.”



Dukes, for instance, has been occasionally hard on Hawks star Trae Young, who has been inconsistent on a team that is under .500. He recently wondered if Young was truly a superstar, a topic he had brought up at a barbershop. Some of his supporters, he said, pointed out Young’s strong offensive stats.

“But it’s got to be more about winning and leadership than numbers,” Dukes argued on air. “It just does, guys!”

Gabbing about sports seems easy to sports nuts who may do it all the time at the bar with friends. But Dukes and Bell run a five-hour show, longer than any other sports talk show in town.

“I feel bad for them,” Conti said. “It’s exhausting. But we’ve done the research. It’s what the audience wants.”

Dukes doesn’t deny the fatigue factor but takes nothing for granted: “Would we prefer fours hours? Sure. But it works. It’s a privilege.”

There is nothing fancy about Dukes’ appeal. He’s a high-energy anchor, possessing expertise, connections and command without being arrogant. He can express strong opinions without being abrasive. He plays well off the more unpredictable, sometimes goofy Bell. He preps several hours a day to ensure he has more material than he needs when he’s on air.

Fans at a 10th anniversary party at New Realm Brewing Co. off the Beltline in October took selfies with Dukes and exchanged opinions about the Dawgs and Falcons.

“Carl is a guy’s guy,” said Shady Morales, a 47-year-old senior sales manager in Woodstock and longtime fan. “He is not fake or doesn’t play ‘radio.’ He is very relatable.”

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

The show features plenty of interviews. Last Friday, Dukes and Bell spoke with Atlanta Falcons radio analyst Dave Archer, UGA radio analyst Eric Zeier, college football analyst Danny Kanell, former Falcon Chuck Smith and Steve Koonin, CEO of the Atlanta Hawks and former Turner and Coke executive.

Koonin, in fact, has been a regular weekly Friday presence for Dukes and Bell for virtually the show’s entire run. He’ll talk Hawks but other sports teams as well. During his most recent appearance, Koonin traded laments with Dukes about the University of Georgia bulldog mascot not going to the national championship game in Los Angeles but still (correctly) predicted an easy win for Georgia.

“Carl’s a combination of a great sports fan, a pop culture savant and somebody that you just want to have a beer with,” said Koonin said. “I have so much fun on the show. I get more comments from people listening and laughing than I do about almost anything I’ve ever done before.”

Credit: CONTRIBUTED from Carl

Credit: CONTRIBUTED from Carl

Dukes, a 50-year-old married man with an 18-year-old daughter, grew up in a military family, a self-described Army brat who spent extensive time as a child in Germany before moving to San Antonio, Texas, at age 13 once his father Carl Dukes Sr. retired from the military.

He played football in high school but injured his knee at Texas State University and decided to go into radio. After being a third wheel on a top 40 morning show in San Antonio, he joined a news/talk station in the mid-1990s. He wrangled a nighttime sports talk show at a time when 24/7 sports talk was not yet prevalent. This helped him get a comparable gig in Houston in 1998.

While there, he solidified his broadcast skills, learning how to express himself as a radio personality and build a loyal audience.

Once in Atlanta, he said the magic really only happened when he and Bell became a team. They had first met at a Super Bowl in New Orleans in 2001 and hit it off immediately. “We laughed at the same jokes,” Dukes said. They shared the same talent agent. And in 2015, the Game’s boss Rick Caffey made sure the pairing happened when he had a shot to hire Bell.

“Carl is Mike’s compass,” Conti said. “Mike is so passionate. Carl regulates that in a positive way.”

“We have legitimate sports arguments,” Bell said. “We do see the world in the same way.”

“Even if we have a fight, it lasts one commercial break,” Dukes said.

“He’s the only guy who can put up with me,” Bell added.

Dukes, a Texas man for much of his life, is now fully ensconced as an Atlanta guy now, happily rubbing shoulders with the likes of Chris Tucker, Shaquille O’Neal and T.I.



“My dad was from Griffin and my grandmother lived down the street,” he said. “I’ve come full circle being here. I remember going to Fulton County Stadium for my first Braves game as a kid. To work here as an adult and do what I do and have an impact on the community, it’s unreal. This is a great city. Atlanta has been a gold mine for me.”


“Dukes and Bell”

2-7 p.m. weekdays on 92.9/The Game and available via podcast on the Audacy app and other podcast sites