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Dave Tepper Just Keeps Going

” I got my first taste of it and it was exactly what I was looking for. It was spontaneous. It was live. It was fresh every time you’d hit the microphone. Off I went into the radio world, man.”

Brian Noe

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Some career paths are far from a straight line. Dave Tepper’s trail resembles Lombard Street, that crazy road in San Francisco. Although the journey has been unconventional, he prefers it that way. Dave started out as a stand-up comedian in Los Angeles. He was introduced to sports radio by fellow comic Jay Mohr, who used to cruise around in a Suburban with Dave and his Rottweiler Shirley while listening to Jim Rome. Come on, how many introductions to sports radio are as colorful as that?

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To say Dave’s sports radio career started out rocky is an understatement. The Newport Beach native tells an epic story about not exactly receiving the red carpet treatment after moving to Austin, Texas for a gig. It’s seriously an all-time horror story. He stuck with it and after radio stops in Houston and Omaha, Dave is now the program director at Altitude Sports Radio 92.5 FM in Denver as well as the operations manager. From dissed to decision maker; it’s been quite the journey. Dave talks about covering more than just the Broncos in Denver, sticking a new antenna on a transmitter, and what he would say to the guy who inexplicably ghosted him. Enjoy!

BN: How long were you a stand-up comedian?

DT: A couple of years. I was doing the whole open mic thing. I did The Comedy Store, the Laugh Factory where you’d wait all day just trying to get on a list. I ended up getting an opportunity to be managed by the owner of the Laugh Factory, Jamie Masada. I was emceeing Friday and Saturday nights for some really big shows, bringing up big comics. You pretty much name it, there’s a good chance I probably brought them up on stage. I was also around a lot of comics I see right now that are successful. Bill Burr was a guy that I would just hang out with in lobbies. It was a good time.

Part of the reason I got into radio was I liked the idea of doing fresh material every night. I was so naïve. I didn’t realize that a lot of comics are like musicians; they hone their material. You work on a joke night after night after night. The owner had me doing that and I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to do like a monologue on a nightly basis. I just really resisted his direction.

In that time a guy named Frazer Smith, who was a long-time radio veteran, he was emceeing shows with me. He’s a long-time comic, he’s still doing it. He got an opportunity to do a Saturday night show on KLSX, which was the Howard Stern L.A. station. It was a real talk kind of a format. He said hey, I can see you’re a little frustrated with how the comedy stuff is going. He said you wanna come in one Saturday night, just kind of be a sidekick, just be yourself, maybe do some sports poetry. He’s like how about you write a funny sports poem based on that week of sports and we’ll kind of do that. I did it once and I maybe did stand-up a couple more times after that at the most. That was how I got into radio. I got my first taste of it and it was exactly what I was looking for. It was spontaneous. It was live. It was fresh every time you’d hit the microphone. Off I went into the radio world, man.

BN: You’re into the technical aspect of the gig, knowing transmitters and things like that. Why does that interest you?

DT: It can really separate you when it comes to the skills that you have. Where now, here I am in Denver, I didn’t come here to do operations, but there was a need. Our chief engineer, Barry Thomas, who was one of the most respected in the business, when I got here he was on the back end of a fight with cancer. I didn’t know that. I remember when he told me, my stomach dropped. Number one for him of course and his family, but also from my time in Omaha I’m going oh my God, if you don’t have a good engineer this could be something. And it has been.

He passed six months into me being here in the first week of December 2018. Our GM, she hired a chief about six months later. It was a challenge. One of the biggest projects that we had here was putting together basically a new antenna on a new transmitter for our FM sports station. The chief engineer that they hired was struggling with putting that project together. My GM knew I had some background on how to deal with engineers, nothing like this, but I was basically the best thing that they had at the time to give it a shot.

I jumped in basically just because there was such a need for someone to go in and spend some time with the engineer, be a second kind of ear and eye on what that project was. That evolved into me really learning a tremendous amount about it. Even more about engineering, more than I really ever wanted to know, but I knew that someone needed to kind of learn it. We ended up parting ways with that engineer and in between him and the current engineer we have now, I was basically like the interim engineer. My God.

I just knew if I didn’t learn this stuff then we didn’t have anyone else. We have a contract guy who helps out in town, but he wasn’t able to help out all the time. Look, I don’t know the ins and outs of a transmitter site, and I don’t want to know. I don’t want to be an engineer. There were times I’m like man, when the station would be off the air, if we had to switch it to a backup, my stomach dropped every time. There’s so much stuff inside these systems that you just know if you hit the wrong thing, my God. But fortunately, it didn’t happen.

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I took copious notes. The amount of engineering notes that I have now, it looks like Egyptian writing. Half the stuff you don’t even know what it is. But I was able to follow it enough to be able to keep it together until now we have ourselves a really solid chief engineer again.

I say all that because trust me there are times when I am literally responsible for switching over radio stations, and I think back to my days of sitting there on the stage at the Laugh Factory, like oh my God you guys, we’re really at a point where you’ve got some former comic who’s basically just an old sports fan, who spent many years as a talk show host, and is now literally piecing together switching over to a backup to stay on the air. Boy, we must be desperate. But you do what you have to do for your radio station and for your cluster. That’s why I took a lot of this stuff on.

BN: Denver sports talk was all Broncos for so long. Your station is owned by Stan Kroenke, so you’re going to talk about the Nuggets and Avs as well. Were you worried about those expectations when you first got to town, knowing what you did about the market?

DT: I was curious because obviously, you listen to a market before you come into it. You listen to the competition. I know Armen Williams pretty well. He’s become a radio buddy of mine from back when I was in Houston. He was in Albany. He and I stayed in touch when I was in Omaha and he was here. I’ve listened to our competitor. I knew what they were. At the time there was also another outlet, Orange and Blue 760; they were very heavy on the Broncos. If you have radio stations where the majority of their content is focused on the Broncos, in order to compete you need to be able to be in that space.

I asked in this process early on, our general manager as well as the executives at Kroenke Sports Entertainment, are you guys comfortable with that? If this is just meant to be a hardcore Kroenke-owned sports-driven station where you’re just going all-in on the Avs, the Nuggets, and the Rapids, let me know that. It doesn’t mean I wouldn’t still be interested. This is a great city and a great market but the ratings out here are obviously dictating that there is a heavy Broncos interest. That’s why the competitors are doing it. I believe in order to compete out here you do have to serve up a certain amount of that. Because if you completely go away from that, I think you’re seeking a different mission. 

To their credit they said no, we want to be a full-service sports radio station out here. Of course they love our teams and it’s very important that we talk about them. We’re fortunate because all three of those teams are competitive so it makes it even easier. Our competition right now is finding ways to get into that space as much as they can too because there is an interest for it. People do want to talk about good teams.

It wasn’t a concern; it was something that I had to know because, as you know, Nielsen is not cheap. My belief was if we’re paying to play this contest, the strategy is going to need to involve some football and some Broncos talk in there. They agreed. They said we don’t disagree that you have to mix that in too. I had their support with that.

My philosophy behind sports radio was basically look, we’re going to get to everything that’s relevant if you go with the vision that I want to bring you guys. I don’t think if it doesn’t include Broncos and NFL, it’s going to make things all that easy.

People forget too, not you, but we are an NFL group with Kroenke and the LA Rams. He is an NFL owner. We are an NFL company. We may not be an NFL company here in Denver obviously, but this company very much understands the value of the NFL, which I think certainly helps make sure that we get some of that content in there.

BN: Correct me if I’m wrong, it was you or another guy. There was a job I want to say in Austin. The guy drives all the way over there and then he couldn’t get ahold of the dude that said he had the job. Is that you or is that somebody else?

DT: [Laughs] Oh my God, I hope that’s not somebody else because it absolutely happened to me. I pray to God it doesn’t happen to anyone else. Wow, you heard that story?

BN: Yeah, I think you did an interview with Jason Barrett a while ago. I randomly thought of that story and I’m like I think it was Dave, but I’m not positive.

DT: Oh my God. Yes, when I was trying to figure out my next step, I couldn’t get into L.A. sports radio. It just wasn’t meant to be. 1300 The Zone was the flagship for the Longhorns. When the Aggies still played Texas the day after Thanksgiving, I reached out to them and I said hey, I’m coming to Austin. I’m just a young dude. I have a little bit of experience at KLSX; I’m trying to get into sports radio. I’m coming out, can we meet up? The PD said sure. So we did. He was great. He gave me a tour of their old facility. He drove me to the new facility they were building out, a gorgeous layout of a place. The guy says to me yeah, if you want to come out here I’ll get you some hours doing promotions and I’ll get you an opportunity on weekends doing some fill-in stuff.

I remember flying out there and picking out an apartment. I say to the guy hey, I’m coming out to look for an apartment. Is this still happening? Yeah, it’s absolutely happening. Let me know when you get here. Okay. All right man, I found an apartment. I’m going to take it. Are we still good? Yeah, we’re still good. All right, I’m quitting my job out here in L.A. at KABC. I was doing that and I was driving around movie scripts at the time for Jerry Zucker. It was okay. It wasn’t a bad life. He was like yeah, come on out, promotions hours, we’ll get you going on weekends. I said okay. Off we went.

I packed up my U-Haul. My dad helped drive me out. He drove the U-Haul; I had my truck. I get to Austin, Texas and the guy would never return a phone call. He never returned a call. I remember going and sitting up in that lobby and being like hey, is so-and-so here? They’re like who’s asking? I told them and they’d come back up and say yeah, he’s busy. I’d be like okay, can I wait? Ehh, we’d rather not, he’ll reach out.

I remember going to some of their live events. Kevin Dunn and Chad Hastings had an afternoon drive show; they’re still doing it out there. I remember thinking am I crazy? I was losing my mind, man. I’m deep in the heart of Texas knowing nobody but my wife and some of her friends because she went to UT. My family’s like you idiot, I told you. What have you done with your life? I was losing it. I’m like I don’t know, but I’m out here for a reason.

I was like did this even happen? I’m like checking emails and like yeah, he says come on. I went out to one of their events and I said hey, is so-and-so here? They’re like well no, he’s not here, but why are you asking? I was like I’m supposed to be out here for a job with you guys and I cannot get ahold of this PD. They said oh, are you that guy that moved from San Diego? I was like, yeah kind of, Southern California. He goes yeah, we heard about you. We heard that you were somebody from Southern California with some radio experience and might be helping out on the weekends.

I’m like all right, so I’m not insane. Yeah, that’s me. I’m like where is your boss? He’s like he’s not out here at the remote, but we’ll tell him that you’re looking for him. I’m like great. Never ever calls me. Never once. I just kind of accepted, like look I’ve got a year lease here. I love this city. I still love it. I believe I’m here for a reason, I just have faith in that. I guess I just need to figure out my radio resume.

BN: What did you do once it was obvious your initial plan didn’t work?

DT: My wife who was my girlfriend at the time, she found this random hosting for a news talk station that was looking for an unpaid intern for their morning show. I’m like well this is talk so I applied for that. I go in to interview and a guy named Jon Madani is looking at my resume like how in the world did you get here? What’s the deal? I gave him a little bit of the background. He goes well, what if I told you that we were going to be flipping this station to sports in a month? And we’re looking for people to get their foot in the door. There are no sports people in this building for the most part. You could be coming in here at just the right time. If you’re worth a darn, it could be nothing but opportunity here for you.

I said man, I will take whatever you’ve got. I started working with their morning show. I was there when it flipped and I was really one of the closest things to a sports guy that they had. Off I went. The host Paul Pryor broke his hip. I remember getting a call 15 minutes before the show, it’s Jon Madani going hey, you ready? I’m like what do you mean? He goes Paul can’t come in. He had a co-host named the Rug Man who was a sports guy out of Cincinnati. This crazy, long-haired dude. It was Pryor and the Rug Man.

He’s like you need to jump in with the Rug Man and don’t screw up our morning show. I jumped in. I did it once. I did all right. Paul came back and then a couple of weeks later because of his hip injury he like fell in the shower and he was never able to come back. They said in the meantime why don’t you try Tepper and the Rug Man in the morning and see what you can do. Within months man, I’m doing morning drive in Austin, Texas after that. I guess you can’t tell the story without it being a little bit long. I wouldn’t change a thing.

BN: Wow, man. Did you ever run into that guy that didn’t return your calls?

DT: No, never. Never once.

BN: What would you have said back then if you bumped into him, and what you would say to him right now?

DT: What happened? You know? What happened? I always believe that there’s another side to it. I know the guy remembers doing it. In the moment when I was younger, I’m sure I would have had a lot of angst in my voice. If I saw him now — and he’s still around — I’d probably thank him. It was a lesson in perseverance that I would probably not wish upon others, but one that really tested my faith and my instincts and what I was trying to do. It really made me dig deep. It really, really tested how bad do you want it? But I mean it; I’m grateful for it. I wouldn’t change it a bit because it’s helped make me a lot of who I am. I know that I’m in this for a reason and that good things are ahead even when things can be a bit tough and aren’t going your way. I’d ask him hey man, what happened? But I would thank him for it.

I read the Phil Knight book Shoe Dog, the Nike book. He’s got this great thing when he was young and just started coming up with this whole concept, it was just keep going. Don’t stop; just keep going. That’s kind of what it felt like then. This is a mess. This is crazy. But something just told me, just keep going.

Amazon.com: Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike eBook : Knight, Phil:  Books

That’s something where I read that book a couple of years ago, it’s really stuck with me because I remember feeling that way then, and that’s how I feel now in this current adventure that I’m running here in Denver, which I believe is for a reason. It’s tough. It’s tough to start a station out against such a really respectful competitor, but I believe we’re all here for a reason and you just keep going.

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Your Football Conversation Has To Be Different

I don’t know why any host would go with B- or C-material just for the sake of providing variety. That’s silly to me.

Brian Noe

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Radio

Rejoice! Ball is back, baby. Life is just better when football season is included; am I right? (That was a rhetorical question because I know I’m right in this case.) Like many people in this country, I’m all about the pigskin. Outside of my family and friends, there aren’t many things in life that I love more than BALL.

With all of that being established, a simple question still exists: is there such a thing as talking too much football on a sports radio show?

I think it isn’t as much what you’re talking about; it’s how you’re talking about it. For instance, it isn’t good enough to lazily say, “Ehh, we’ll start off by talking about the game last night.” Well, how are you going to talk about it? Do you have anything original, interesting or entertaining to say? Or are you just gonna start riffing like you’re in a jam band hoping to accidentally stumble onto something cool after six minutes of nothing?

Talking about football is like opening a new burger joint. Hang with me on this one. There are so many options — Burger King, McDonald’s, Five Guys, Wendy’s, In-N-Out, etc. — that you can’t expect to have great success if you open a run-of-the-mill burger joint of your own. Having an inferior product is going to produce an inferior result.

It comes down to whether a topic or angle will cause the show to stand out or blend in. Going knee-deep on a national show about the competition at left guard between two Buffalo Bills offensive lineman doesn’t stand out. You’ll get lost in the shuffle that way.

A show needs to constantly be entertaining and engaging. One way to check that box is with unique viewpoints. Don’t say what other shows are saying. Your burger joint (aka football conversation) needs to be different than the competition. Otherwise, why are you special?

Another way to stand out is with personality. It’s impossible to have unique angles with every single topic that’s presented. A lot of hosts recently pointed out that the Dallas Cowboys committed 17 penalties in their first preseason game against the Denver Broncos. But Stephen A. Smith said it differently than everybody else. That’s what it comes down to; either say things that other shows aren’t saying, or say them differently.

New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh made a comment recently that too much of anything is a bad thing. So back to the original question, is there such a thing as too much football talk on a sports radio show?

Variety is the spice of life, but quality is the spice of sports radio. If a show provides quality, listeners will keep coming back. It’s really that simple. Sure, hosts will hear “talk more this, talk more that” from time to time, but you know what’s funny about that? It means the listeners haven’t left. The show is providing enough quality for them to stick around. If the quality goes away, so will the audience.

It’s smart for hosts and programmers to think, “What’s our strongest stuff?” If that happens to be a bunch of football topics, great, roll with it. I don’t know why any host would go with B- or C-material just for the sake of providing variety. That’s silly to me.

Former NFL quarterback Michael Vick said something interesting last week while visiting Atlanta’s training camp. Vick was asked which team’s offense he’d like to run if he was still playing today. “The offense Tom Brady is running in Tampa,” Vick said. “Pass first.”

The answer stood out to me because throwing the ball isn’t what made Vick special with the Falcons. He was a decent passer and a dynamic runner. The run/pass blend made Vick a problem. I totally understand wanting to prove doubters wrong, but there are a lot of athletes that get away from what they do best while relying on something else that isn’t their specialty.

Los Angeles Lakers guard Russell Westbrook is not an outside shooter. He’s brutal in that area. Yet Russ will keep firing threes at a 30% clip. Why? Attacking the rim and working the midrange is his game. You don’t see Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul bombing threes if they aren’t going in. He kills opponents with his midrange skills all day.

It’ll be interesting to see how Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa approaches this season. He’s received a steady diet of “can’t throw the deep ball.” Will he try to a fault to prove doubters wrong, or will he rely on what he does best? Beating defenders with timing and accuracy on shorter throws is where he finds the most success.

Working to improve your weaknesses makes sense, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of going away from your strengths. How is it any different in sports radio? If a host isn’t strong when it comes to talking basketball or baseball, it definitely makes sense to improve in those areas. But if that same host stands out by talking football, at some point it becomes like Westbrook jacking up threes if the host gets too far away from a bread-and-butter strength.

Former New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is the only player in the Baseball Hall of Fame that was unanimously elected. He relied on his cutter — a fastball that moved, a lot — about 85% of the time. Mo didn’t say, “Man, my four-seam fastball and changeup aren’t getting enough respect.” He rode that cutter all the way to Cooperstown and legendary status.

Rivera is a great example of how playing to your strengths is the best approach. He also shows that quality trumps variety every time. Let’s put it this way: if 85% of a sports radio show is football content, and the quality of that show is anywhere near Mo caliber, it’s destined to be a hit.

One of my buddies, Mike Zanchelli, has always been a hit with the ladies. I think he came out of the womb with at least 10 girls in the nursery showing interest in him. He had a simple dating philosophy: “Always. Leave them. Wanting. More.” That might work in dating, but I think it’s the opposite in sports radio. Most listeners don’t hear the entire show. If they’re in and out, wouldn’t you want them to hear your best stuff when they are tuned in?

That’s why I say screw variety. That’s why I wouldn’t worry about overserving your audience an all-you-can-eat BALL buffet. I think it’s much wiser to focus on producing a quality product regardless if it’s well rounded or not.

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ESPN Has Gone From Playing Checkers to Chess In Two Years

Those decisions make the future ones with the Pac-12, the Big 12, NBA and UFC fascinating to watch but what’s clear is that this ESPN strategy is different.

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In the days after the Big Ten news leaked regarding some of the details of their upcoming media deals, I was hankering for more information. I wanted more insight as to the “why”. Why did the Big Ten leave such a long-lasting and prosperous relationship with ESPN. I just couldn’t imagine it and it’s why I wrote about it last week.

It was in that pursuit of knowledge that I tuned into a podcast favorite of mine, The Marchand and Ourand Sports Media Podcast. The show’s hosts are deep into the weeds of sports media with John Ourand at the Sports Business Journal and Andrew Marchand at the New York Post. It was Ourand who was dropping dimes of news on the Big Ten deal last week. I wanted to hear him dive deeper, and he did on the podcast. But it was a throwaway line that got my wheels churning.

“This is about the third or fourth deal in a row that ESPN, the free-spending ESPN, to me has shown some financial discipline” Ourand said. “They are showing a bit of financial discipline that I hadn’t seen certainly when John Skipper was there and pre-dating John Skipper.”

I had to keep digging and folks, it’s true. ESPN is essentially Jimmy Pitaro in the above quote, the Chairman of ESPN. Since taking the role in 2018, he was put into an interesting position of being in the middle of a lot of big money media rights deals that would be coming due for renegotiation soon. The rights fees for EVERYTHING were going to balloon wildly. But in the last two years, he has comfortably kept the astronomical rates somewhat within shouting distance.

The big one, the NFL media rights deal agreed to last March, saw ESPN pay a very strong 30% increase for the rights. However, other networks involved had to pay “double” as Ourand so succinctly put it. He also personally negotiated with FOX to bring in Troy Aikman and Joe Buck to make their Monday Night Football booth easily more recognizable and the best in the sport. ESPN in that deal, that did NOT include doubled rates, got more games, better games, and more schedule flexibility. ABC gets two Super Bowls in the deal too. Simply put, Jimmy Pitaro set up ESPN to get a Super Bowl itself, but for now his network will take full advantage of the ABC network broadcast when the time comes (2026, 2030).

The recent Big Ten deal was massive because the conference spent forty years with ESPN and decided to reward that loyalty with a massively overpriced mid-tier package. ESPN balked at the idea. In their back pocket lies a lot of college football media rights deals with a lot of conferences including one that will be a massively profitable venture, the SEC package. ESPN takes over the CBS package of the “top” conference game. Yes, it paid $3 billion for it, but it’s a scant $300 million annually. Sure, that’s over 5X what CBS was paying annually but CBS signed that deal in 1996! I need not tell you all of the advancements in our world since Bob Dole was a presidential nominee. ESPN now gets to cherry-pick the best game from the best conference and put the game anywhere they damn well please to maximize exposure.

The F1 media rights extension is massive because of two things: one, they got it cheap before the sport littered your timeline on weekend mornings and two, when they re-signed with F1 this summer they paid way less than other streaming networks were reportedly willing to pay. The brand, the savvy worked again. ESPN takes a small risk for a potentially exploding sport and much like CBS did with the SEC for 25 years, can make massive margins.

I can keep going, and I will with one more. Sports betting. The niche is growing like my lawn minutes after the summer rainstorm. Pitaro has said publicly that sports betting “has become a must-have” and he’s full-frontal correct. ESPN is in an odd spot with their clear lineage to Disney, but it’s obvious something massive is going to come soon with ESPN reportedly looking for a deal in the $3 billion neighborhood.

Pitaro has been positioning this company from a position of strength. He pays big money for big properties, but knows when he’s getting taken advantage of and most importantly, isn’t afraid to pull his brand’s name out of the deep end.

ESPN may have an issue with dwindling subscribers, but that’s an everyone problem. The difference is ESPN is constantly trying to get you from one network ship you think is sinking into another network life raft. If you want to leave cable or satellite and go streaming, you can. ESPN+ is there to pick up the pieces. Or Sling (with an ESPN bundle). Or YouTube TV (ESPN is there too). Or a myriad of other ways. They are positioned so well right now to be where you think you want to go. Jimmy Pitaro and ESPN have been amazing at doing whatever they can to keep you paying them monthly.

The network has been aggressive with media rights deals but these newer ones have been diligently maneuvered by Pitaro. It was a choice to essentially back the SEC for the next decade, and to put more money into the potential of F1. The effort was a conscious one to keep a tight-lipped mission to bolster Monday Night Football’s booth. It was an understated strategy to reinvest in the NHL. Those decisions make the future ones with the Pac-12, the Big 12, NBA and UFC fascinating to watch but what’s clear is that this ESPN strategy is different. The old adage of “pigs get fed, hogs get slaughtered” may have applied to the network under different leadership, but these aren’t eating pigs. These are boars.

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The Producers Podcast – Big Baby Dave, Jomboy Media

Brady Farkas

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Big Baby Dave has his hands in everything for Jomboy Media. He joins Brady Farkas to talk about how he brings a unique sound to each show he works with.

iTunes: https://buff.ly/3A7FJ4a

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3bZ7NgG

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3dB4FrO

Google: https://buff.ly/3JVC5NG

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3STupzF

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