Jen Lada and Dario Melendez: From Rivals to Romance

Jen & Dario’s relationship did not get off to the smoothest start… After Dario shot his shot (and came up empty) the networks serendipitously put them in the same booth during a Packers 2010 Super Bowl run.

Jen Lada and Dario Melendez: From Rivals to Romance

Jen & Dario’s relationship did not get off to the smoothest start… After Dario shot his shot (and came up empty) the networks serendipitously put them in the same booth during a Packers 2010 Super Bowl run.

Jen & Dario’s relationship did not get off to the smoothest start…..
After Dario shot his shot (and came up empty) the networks serendipitously put them in the same booth during a Packers 2010 Super Bowl run.
They now are married with three kids.
How did this all happen?
What is it like having a family and very demanding jobs in media?
Tune into this episode to find out the backstory of Jen and Dario.

This podcast is produced by Story Mark Studios
In partnership with OnMilwaukee
Presented by Nicolet Law & Central Standard Distillery


Dario Melendez: Everything is Jen, Jen, Jen. So like, I knew exactly who she was. So I was like, yeah, I can’t wait to meet her. And then I met her and like, Oh my God, what did I just say? And we have to sit next to each other. This is after she totally ignored me.

Jen Lada: It would be called ghosting now, but it was so long ago then that we didn’t know that term existed.

Richie Burke: Hey everyone, welcome back to Milwaukee Uncut. This is the first episode of two with ESPN college game days. Jen Lada and WISN sports director, Dario Melendez, both Emmy winners. They are a power couple in the media industry here in Milwaukee. This is a fun one where we cover the hilarious story of how they met and how their relationship started How it’s evolved how they maintain a healthy marriage with three kids and two very demanding jobs in media And we go into their family life And we’ve also got another one coming where we go into the evolving sports media landscape What it’s like to work for ESPN and we talk some Wisconsin sports.

So make sure to subscribe if you have not already Speaking of, if you do subscribe and write a review and leave your Instagram handle or email at the end of that review on Apple or Spotify, you will be entered into our weekly giveaway. Also, just a reminder that this podcast is produced at Story Mark Studios, right in the heart of Walker’s Point in partnership with On Milwaukee and brought to you by Nicolet Law, the Midwest law firm.

Insurance companies fear the beard. And central standard distillery, home of my favorite vodka, their door County cherry vodka, and plenty of other great spirits. Also, if you’re listening to this in March, I believe their new candle fashions that they collaborated on with the line and Google’s are in stores.

So make sure to check those out on that note, let’s dive in to today’s episode with Jen and Dario. Jen ladder reporter for ESPN, including college game day, two times sports. I’m your award winner. Co host of Jen, Gabe, and Chewy on ESPN Radio, Milwaukee, 7 to 9 a. m. every morning, Monday through Friday. Former Marquette cheerleader has completed six marathons, according to the internet.

Is it more than that?

Jen Lada: No, I think it’s maybe it’s seven when we did the at home one.

Dario Melendez: Oh yeah, the New York City. Virtual marathon,

Richie Burke: six marathons and one virtual. And I’ve heard is the best driver in the city of Milwaukee.

Jen Lada: Have you seen the Lada school of driving? Somebody thinks I’m good at driving.

Richie Burke: We’ll get a plug in for that later.

Dario Melendez: No, thinks you’re good at driving.

Richie Burke: Also, we’ve got Dario Melendez, her significant other WISN 12 sports director. I mean, Winning journalist, formerly head ESPN, had some time on SportsCenter. He is a Guinness World Record holder, a two time celebrity cream puff eating champion, and a former elite athlete, who once hauled in 12 receptions for 107 yards, including a 16 yard bomb.

for Sacred Heart University Pioneers 2007. Dario Melendez, welcome both of you to the show. Why are you laughing? Was

Dario Melendez: that for a game or a season? That was, I think, my senior year. Because I had broken my ankle the previous year against Army. So, I didn’t play much after that. Triple digits, triple digits. Man, I remember that, that 16 yard bomb too.

That was against Central Connecticut. That was against Central Connecticut State. To be fair. Did you move the chains? Oh yeah, for sure. Did you give one of these? I juked out so many people. My coach was like, where was this? And so, I had like all my yards in that one game. And then the following week was our homecoming, and I had three massive catches downfield, including a touchdown, that were all called back because of offensive holding.

To be

Jen Lada: fair, that was the COVID year, so they only played six games.

Dario Melendez: I wish it was

Richie Burke: the

Dario Melendez: COVID year. I don’t know about that, those numbers aren’t really adding up. How many Division I receptions did you guys have? Exactly. That’s May 3rd flag football. Yeah, exactly. Which is pretty much the

Richie Burke: same

Dario Melendez: level. So what was the world record for?

Most donuts stack blindfolded in one minute. And it was eight. So,

Richie Burke: There’s a world record. Is that why you fell in love with him? Oh, obviously. Was it the Sacred Heart stat line? Was it the donut eating record? I mean, this is a, this is a talent we have right here.

Jen Lada: I fell in love with Dario because he’s very handsome.

You see

Dario Melendez: the, you

Richie Burke: see, you see the role reversal

Dario Melendez: she’s trying to do because it’s usually like, Oh, you’re so pretty. Oh, you’re so handsome. You’re a big dummy. To

Jen Lada: be honest I, I loved that we had very similar interests, right? We were both into sports. I met him at Lambeau field. He was new to Milwaukee, like, I guess, like 15, 14 years ago now, I was at Fox six and he was at W.

I. S. N. 12. And when we met, admittedly, he was like very overwhelmed with the day. It was his first game at Lambeau field. It was covering the Packers. I’d been doing it for, I think, like five years at that point. And, and, I just said hello, you know, like, I actually remember telling one of the other women’s sports reporters in the press box, the new guy at channel 12 might be good looking like, I don’t know, it’s just a picture, but he might be cute, you know, like kind of like new blood type of type of thing on the scene.

And then we met in the Lambeau field press room and kind of Exchanged hellos. There

Dario Melendez: was no exchange of hellos. It was my jaw hit the floor and I didn’t know what to say.

Jen Lada: He said, I know who you are.

Dario Melendez: Like I’m walking, so it was the Packers 49ers game 2009, 2010 I should say, when they wore those weird jerseys, throwbacks, and Donald Driver had that crazy catch down the sideline.

My first ever Packer game, they sent me up there with like no one, so I had no idea what I was doing. I just had found out where the press room was. So I’m walking in, she’s walking out, we almost run into each other, she goes, Oh, hi, you’re the new guy, I’m Jen Latta. She goes, and I’m like, oh, I know who you are.

Like, crickets. And she goes, cool. I just walked out, I’m like, I know who you are! Me so stupid! Who says that? Like, cause again, so as soon as I got into town, Everywhere I went, I went to Joey Bono’s when it was around. And Oh, Jen used to work here. I go to the Knickerbocker. Oh, Jen used to work here. Like everything is Jen, Jen, Jen.

So like, I knew exactly who she was and obviously she was a bombshell, a smoke show. So I was like, yeah, I can’t wait to meet her. And then I met her and like, Oh my God, what did I just say? That was the worst. So how did he recover from that was just as

Richie Burke: good looks over there He sent me an email

Jen Lada: and we joke about it now, but he like cranked out this email and was like Thanks so much.

And and I All I could notice was that it was full of typos. I

Dario Melendez: can’t spell. Just like

Jen Lada: word, I was like, what is this word? Like, I don’t even know what this dude’s trying to say. So I wrote back an email, I was like, hey, no sweat. Like you know, overwhelming first day. I get it. You know, I’m, people make first impression opinions about me all the time.

And, you know, you can’t worry about it. So. You know, we’ll see you around, was basically it. And then he shot his shot.

Dario Melendez: And it was an air ball. He

Jen Lada: shot his shot and was like, yeah, we should get coffee or something sometime. You know, give me

Dario Melendez: the lay of the land.

Jen Lada: Yeah, and I was going through a,

Dario Melendez: I was

Jen Lada: going through a divorce, so I was not in the space where I was interested in dating.

It was like, you know, happy to make your acquaintance type of thing, but not really interested in getting into a relationship. So I didn’t respond to that, you know, I just didn’t want to like get things, you know, just mess things up. And like, I was very conscious of that people knew that I was separated from my ex husband at the time.

And you know, we had a young son, our son now is 15. So I was just very conscious of like, Don’t be that person that like publicly jumps into a relationship or is out there on the scene dating. I just felt like tongues would wag and it would be fodder for gossip and just didn’t want to really be in that space.

Dario Melendez: So then the football gods put us right next to each other for the entire Packers playoff run. So she doesn’t respond to me. Is this the Superbowl run? Yeah. So this is 2010, 2011. They go to Philly, they go to Atlanta, they go to Chicago. And we have to sit next to each other. This is after she totally ignored me, totally blew me off.

It would

Jen Lada: be called ghosting now, but it was so long ago then that we didn’t know that term existed.

Dario Melendez: Yeah. So we’re in Atlanta and I’m just minding my own business having a pizza. I was still hungry. I want another pizza. She leans over. I was like, how many of those are you going to eat? It’s like, excuse me.

Now you want to talk to me. Now you want to talk. Miss judgey over here. I was

Jen Lada: very impressed with the appetite and the ability to house these pizzas.

Dario Melendez: So then we get to Chicago and they have all these candy bars just sitting there. I’m like, I like candy bars, so I have a couple of candy bars. So

Jen Lada: this is the impression I’m getting of Dario, right?

Loves football and food, which is not that far off from like,

Dario Melendez: if he

Jen Lada: had a Tinder profile, it should say loves football and food.

Richie Burke: Yeah. Nothing would be spelled correctly. And nothing would be spelled. Yeah.

Dario Melendez: Food would be like F U D, but yeah, then we ran into each other again at a a friend’s party. And we kind of started talking again, and then I said, Hey, why don’t you give me your number so we could actually, you know, communicate to each other?

And she goes, No, you give me your number and I’ll text you. So then two weeks goes by and still nothing. And so I send her another email, I’m like, Ah, glad I didn’t hold my breath. And then she’s like, Fine, we’ll go on a date. We went to Rustico, which is now Honey Ginger, I want to say?

Jen Lada: Ginger something.

Dario Melendez: It’s a place in the third ward. Oh, yeah, I know what you’re talking about. Yeah, so it used to be an Italian restaurant and then from there. Because I knew

Jen Lada: he loved pizza.

Dario Melendez: Yeah. Let’s just say I swept her off her feet and from there. Snickers for dessert there at Rooster Cove. He was literally

Jen Lada: a half hour late.

I wasn’t a

Dario Melendez: half hour late. She forgot that at channel 12 we went from a half hour 10 to an hour long 10. That week so I’m like, hey, I’ll meet you after my show. You can’t

Jen Lada: forget information. You don’t know. Okay, that’s what I would argue Like I didn’t forget I never I didn’t know that you guys had a longer show than us I’m not paying attention to what you’re doing.

Richie Burke: We can let the audience know that Dario actually showed up at Like 40 minutes early to this recording today, which has a reputation for being late. I mean, you got the time wrong, but still,

Dario Melendez: she scared me so bad that I’m early for everything. She thought I was 45 minutes late. So now I show up 45 minutes early.


Jen Lada: This is from our very first date. These are residuals.

Dario Melendez: I was in sweatpants. No one was here. The studio wasn’t set up. I was just like, oh, fuck it. This is not really happening right now. We’re, we’re taping at 10. Which by the way, it’s on our calendar

Jen Lada: twice. It literally is, it’s on it two

Dario Melendez: times,

Jen Lada: 10 and 10.

Dario Melendez: He calls

Jen Lada: me, he’s like, Hey, are you on your way? I look at the clock. I’m like, it’s 9 15. No.

Richie Burke: Then I’m texting all my employees. Can you guys get this? Early. Anyway, sorry to interrupt. Sorry to interject. So you went on a first date with RoostCook at RoostCook cause Dario loves pizza. And it must have went, went well.

It went well,

Dario Melendez: because now, 12 years later?

Jen Lada: I think like 14, right? I mean, you said 2011, so.

Dario Melendez: Oh, so 14 years later? I don’t know, would it be 13 years? I don’t know, I can’t, I was told there’d be no math. And you got

Richie Burke: two kids together? Yes. Yes.

Dario Melendez: I mean, look, I always got the other son. I consider chase my son. I mean, I’ve been in his life since he was one, like just over one he’s, I mean, it’s cool to see how he’s developed in such a, a great kid.

And then we got our two little munchkins who are just, they’re six and four going on 26 and 24 and they just couldn’t be any, in my opinion, any more different personality wise. I mean, one is very adventurous and outgoing and the other one’s extremely funny and artsy. Dramatic is the word I like to use.

But also extremely dramatic.

Jen Lada: She’s very dramatic. And she gets that from her mother. Is a big deal. Here’s what I will say like we’ve been together for 13 years but it has not always been easy Like and I think that anybody who’s married and who’s been in a long term committed relationship would tell you it takes work and you have to be committed to keep coming back together when life and schedules and Conflict wants to pull you apart and i’m really proud of us for Continuing to put in that work and continuing to find new ways to reconnect.

You know, I don’t want to sit here and act like it’s a Disney fairy tale. One of the things I know about Dario, maybe would go on that Tinder profile, is football, food, and Disney World. He loves Disney. But I think you came into our relationship kind of hoping that it would be You know like all of the disney movies and and it just wasn’t you know There was complications from a lot of different things so I you know, I always want to be super authentic about like what we’ve been through and and we did long distance for a while Right.

He was in connecticut and I was in chicago And then he was in milwaukee when he was working with the brewers and I was back in connecticut with the kids and he would Come back like Every 10 days and I mean that puts a strain on a relationship and a marriage and a family And so I’m just really proud of how we continue to work at being committed to one another and being committed to our family

Richie Burke: Recording this on Valentine’s do you have any advice for other couples?

Because I know you get you both have been through a lot doing my homework and

Dario Melendez: Always be willing, always be willing to come back to the table. That’s one of the things that, and again, I go to a therapist. I know Jen does as well. We call them our mental coaches because if we’re going to work out your body, you should work out your mind as well.

You’re not always going to be 100 percent engaged, focused in a right frame of mind when you’re in an argument, when you guys, when Or just in life. So if you’re not at 100%, let’s say, you know, I got 60 percent today. You’re significant other myself or Jen, like we just look at, I’ll help you fill the other 40%.

Like I will step my game up today because I understand that when I’m down, you’re going to step up for me. And I think that’s kind of one of the things that we try to live our lives by. Does it work all the time? No. I mean, do I get under her skin without a doubt? Does she get under my skin? Absolutely.

But at the end of the day, we also know that. We love each other very much. And we have a really good family dynamic. And it’s just really about meeting each other when you’re at. You’re not 100%.

Jen Lada: And look, we both exist in very competitive fields, right? Like you could argue it’s the same field, even though we’re in different places in our career.

But so you’re kind of trained to exist in this space as a hard nose competitor and want to always come out on top, right? It’s a big reason why I’ve had a lot of success in my career. Cause nobody’s going to outwork me. Nobody’s going to be better than me. Nobody’s going to, you know, win at whatever we’re doing.

But in a relationship, if I’m trying to win versus Dario, then we both lose. So it’s having the mindset of we’re on the same team. We may be seeing things differently right now, but how can we work together to achieve the goal, which is the resolution or to solve the problem or whatever’s in front of us.

And I think we’ve gotten a lot better at that as our relationship has gone on. But the first step was realizing, It’s not Dario versus Jen and I need my viewpoint to win. It’s no, how can we come to some sort of compromise or maybe sometimes not a compromise. Maybe he literally has the best solution for the conflict that we are currently in.

And then I need to swallow my pride and say, you’re right. That’s how we need to handle it and go with that because we’re on the same team. And that’s a really important mindset for anybody who’s in a committed relationship.

Dario Melendez: And that’s hard, right? I mean, cause we’re all raised certain ways. I know she came from a very, I came from a very competitive household.

And if I win, which is what I always want to do, right? You always want to win. That means she loses. And if she loses, then we both lose. Like we both have to win in this relationship. And that was a really, I, I think the biggest step for us to kind of overcome as our relationship evolved because we both just want to win all the time.

Jen Lada: I mean, look at what we, where I said we started. He was at Channel 12. I was at Fox 6. We were literal rivals. We were literal competitors, ratings.

Dario Melendez: I mean, the ratings kind of spoke on themselves.

Jen Lada: Or, to be perfectly Not in the paycheck either. Homie was making twice what I was making, which is another conversation for another podcast.

Let’s not

Richie Burke: open that can of worms. Please. Hopefully you’re doing all right now. Oh yeah. Hopefully you’re doing okay now. I think she’s okay. I out on top at the end.

Dario Melendez: I’m like, what’s the character, Oliver? Like, more please, honey. For

Richie Burke: that college game day, money’s okay.

Jen Lada: That’s exactly, yeah, it’s working out just fine now.

Richie Burke: Biggest pet peeve of one another? Other than the general out of school of driving. Potentially.

Dario Melendez: I’m not. My wife is amazing. She’s perfect. And this is a trap. So I’m not answering that question. Jen, anything on Dario you’d like to air out right now? So, I

Jen Lada: think my biggest pet peeve is probably that when given an opportunity to talk about how amazing his wife is, he goes into robot mode where he’s like, I’m a battered husband.

I can’t say anything nice about her without acting like she’s making me. That would probably be it.

Dario Melendez: So what happened today? This will be

Richie Burke: an interesting next question.

Dario Melendez: My wife, haven’t I told you how amazing she is? Like she’s a strong, independent woman. She’s a great mother of, of three beautiful kids. Four,

Jen Lada: four.

Dario Melendez: Max is, I understand you love Max.

She’s successful. She’s smart. It’s a little less,

Jen Lada: a little less significant when it’s prompted, but sure.

Dario Melendez: I’m kidding. I’m in trouble. Jen, what do you, I was gonna say the

Richie Burke: final question on Valentine’s Day. I was gonna ask both of you what you admire most about one another and Dario just rattled off about four very, very kind things right there.

Dario Melendez: What I, all joking aside, what I love most about Jen is her willingness and want to adapt to life. Where she’s not She doesn’t want to settle on the version she is today. She wants to continue getting better and better. And that’s at being a mother, being a wife, being a college game day reporter. Like I love that she wants to continue getting better and better every day at her craft at her just being a person.

And that’s inspiring because it makes me want to be better. So I mean, that’s really, you know, it’s really all you could ask for, for your partner.

Jen Lada: Thanks. That, I mean, he’s right. That’s basically how I operate. I, how can tomorrow be better than today? And I also give myself grace and I give Dario grace.

Like I try to recognize one of the things I’ve done as I’ve gotten older is give people the benefit of the doubt, right? When I was younger, it was always like, Oh, that person did this and they must mean this. And it was like, Or, here’s a thought, d d d d d d, all these other possibilities to why someone behaved or acted the way they did, so that’s been really freeing for me, to not internalize everything, to not take everything personally, to not assume that someone’s behavior has anything to do with me or how I’ve been perceived by them.

What I admire most about Dario is he is, is consistently seeking growth and he’s getting better at every, all of the things. You know, being a dad did not come naturally to Dario. You know, without telling too much of your background, I didn’t grow

Dario Melendez: up with a father. He didn’t

Jen Lada: have a dad. So, like, you know, for a lot of people, they, they, emulate what they saw from their own father, but he was going into it blind.

And so again, giving him the grace and the patience of this is like anything else. You wanted to learn about Robin Young. You read a book. You wanted to learn about the Islanders. You read a book. You want to learn about being a parent. You read a book, you talk to people who are parents, you gather that information and you figure out how to do something.

And that’s probably been the thing in our life life together. I’ve been most proud of is his willingness to say. I don’t know how to do this, but I’m going to go find out. And I think that everybody could take a lesson from that. Like not knowing something is not an indictment of you as a person. Not finding out or not going and seeking the answers that is being content to just sit in the unknown and sit in the I don’t know because that means you don’t care.

And Dario cares tremendously about his family, about his job, about all of those things. And that’s why you know, I’ve chosen to have a life with him.

Richie Burke: Thank you to Jen and Dario for coming on and to you for tuning in. Make sure you are subscribed. To this podcast, we’ve got another episode with Jen and Dario coming.

And if you do subscribe, make sure to write a review on Apple or Spotify and leave your email or Instagram handle at the end of that review so we can get in touch, you’ll be entered into our weekly giveaway. Also, this podcast is produced in the heart of Walker’s point by Story Mark studios in partnership with On Milwaukee and presented by Nicolet Law and Central Standard Distillery.