I’ve gotten to know Travis Rodgers a little bit over the last few months through brief conversations. A true professional and someone who is always easy to approach. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise if you’re a listener of Travis & Sliwa on 710 ESPN in Los Angeles. Rodgers’ experience is boundless and his ability to be malleable has made him a valuable asset to any company he’s been a part of.
We sat down to talk about his career, what was instilled in him during his time with The Jim Rome Show, working with various personalities, and more.
Rodgers never quite envisioned himself as a sports talk radio guy. “When I first got started when I wanted to do is play-by-play. I wanted to kind of be Vin Scully or Chick Hearn, or one of those ideas and call games.” The allure of calling games is most young sportscaster’s dream, so he’s not alone in that sentiment.
Like many trying to break into the extremely competitive field, it all started with an internship. “I had an internship when I was in college, I worked at a local ABC affiliate up in Santa Barbara, KEYT. It was a TV internship but I always wanted to do sports media. Once I was done as an athlete, I didn’t want to do real work,” Rodgers said with a chuckle. “I wanted to continue to talk about sports and whatnot.”
Upon completion of his degree at UC Santa Barbara, things didn’t move as quickly as he anticipated. The initial sending out of resumés was not fruitful. “I thought I just, you know, graduate from college and go be Dan Patrick on SportsCenter.” He got out of college selling office equipment for Canon, a bit a ways away from his eventual career path.
Then came along fellow UCSB Gaucho, Jim Rome.
“[I] was a huge fan of sports radio. I’d listen to it when I’d drive around on sales calls. I was a huge consumer of it. And I listened to Jim Rome every single day. It was can’t miss for me.” Rome took to the airwaves to announce someone working on the show was leaving and asked for listeners to send their resumés in. “I called in every favor that I could think of. People that I’d never even met I was calling and saying, ‘Hey, would you mind calling on my behalf?’”
Rodgers got his moment to speak with Rome and landed the internship. 23-years-old and T-Rodge, as he became known on The Jim Rome Show, was off and running. And, frankly, it’s a heck of a place to have the radio-know-how instilled in you.
“Jim is the hardest working person I’ve ever known in this business. I’ve never before or since seen anybody grind it out like he does. He insisted on a similar level of commitment from the people on his staff, and if you didn’t, you didn’t last very long. So, that’s how I learned it.”
His start in sports talk radio saw him doing what many current listeners of the show are familiar with, providing Rome with paper copies, faxes in the 90s rather than the current printed emails and tweets, of fan commentary. As more responsibilities came his way, the culmination of trust between Rodgers and Rome resulted in him getting the opportunity to produce the show when it went into syndication.
“I was as green as a person could be when I started and by the time I was done, I had a pretty good idea of what it meant to produce a network radio show.” His progression from intern to the producer of a nationally syndicated program was a lot of trial and error. “I had never done that before. It was more trial by fire and learning how to do it. It went well. We had a great deal of success together.”
When 2009 rolled around Rodgers and the show parted ways after his 13 years of service. As the show moved in a new direction, he did too. Here he found himself making “the move to the other side of the room.”
“It was born out of necessity more than anything else,” Rodgers said about taking the leap into being the talent.
He got his first on-air job at KGOW 1560 in Houston, leaving Southern California for Texas. “It took me a long time. Took me a long time to find somebody that was willing to give me a shot with no experience on that side and I finally did in David Gow (owner of KGOW) in Houston.” Eventually, Rodgers found himself syndicated across the country as part of Gow Media’s Yahoo Sports Radio.
Although he only spent 15 months in Houston, Rodgers found himself back in LA but was able to keep doing syndicated work for three and a half years.
In that homecoming, Rodgers began working mornings with KLAA as the host of The Travis Rodgers Morning Show. He eventually made his move to ESPN LA in 2015 where both he and Kelvin Washington launched the ESPNLA Morning Show in March of that year.
“It was like pre-mornings, if that’s a time slot. I don’t know what you call 5 am to 7 am but that’s when I was on.” He’d do his work with ESPN LA in those early mornings and do his other show on Yahoo Sports Radio just hours later.
Even after all these years, Rodgers still finds one thing to be the most difficult: finding something good to say. “We all have our opinions on these games and sometimes they’re the same as everybody else’s, sometimes they’re a little different. It’s finding a way to present that in a compelling, entertaining, thoughtful, thought-provoking way. That was the challenge on day one and it’s the challenge 27 years into my career.”
The dreaded blank page is something all involved in production deal with and Rodgers’ time with Jim Rome can be felt here.
“I still think about how he would go about it almost every day. It’s not just ‘Oh, this is what happened last night, and this guy scored this many points or this guy hit a home run.’ That’s not good radio.”
Among the everyday struggles of finding ways to present content, the life of someone in media does have its set of big changes. As well as his work in the mid-morning slot, Rodgers does pre and post-game for Los Angeles Rams games. From new co-hosts to new management, Rodgers has seen it all. In nearly seven years he’s had the opportunity to work with the likes of Washington, Marcellus Wiley, Keyshawn Johnson, Kirk Morrison, Mychal Thompson, and Allen Sliwa, among others. For many this would be a challenge. Chemistry changes when the room does. Rodgers has welcomed this. The ability to compromise and work with others has kept him excited about his work.
“It’s interesting. My experience in radio was really kind of backward, the way that I started it. You know, not exactly on a network level but shortly after I got started, I was working on a network show with one other person and we were together for almost 15 years. So I just thought that this is what happens. You get a job in radio, it works out, and you stay with the same guy forever and ever and ever and, okay, cool.
“You learn what works with different people. You learn that what may work with one co-host, the other guy may not get it or find it interesting or might not find you interesting.”
If you haven’t gotten the point, Rodgers is a hard worker. No doubt about it. But if you’re someone from the outside looking in, you miss one of the most important traits that makes Rodgers so admirable.
“I still talk to all of the guys that I’ve worked with. It’s not like I’ve never spoken to that guy ever again. I stay in touch with every last one of those guys I mentioned. I consider every last one of those guys a friend of mine.”
His ability to create long-lasting rapports with people is lost among many. Not with Rodgers. Like I said from the start, he’s easy to approach. “It would be weird if you had a professional relationship with somebody and then when it’s over you don’t really think about it.”
There’s an authenticity that comes with him, which is easy to grasp when you listen to him in the mornings. When I asked him about his take about being authentic on air? “It’s funny. I really don’t know how to answer that. I just try to do what I think is the right thing to do on whatever the topic is. I’m going to tell you what I actually think. I’m not trying to search for what I think will sounds the best on the radio.”
You can catch Travis Rodgers on Travis & Sliwa on weekdays from 10am-1pm PST on 710 ESPN.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.