Two months after being let go by Beasley Media and Philadelphia’s 97.5 The Fanatic due to COVID-19-caused cutbacks, former morning host Tra Thomas launched a YouTube channel and is back to creating content.
In the Trenches with Tra Thomas gives fans a chance to learn from a three-time pro bowl offensive tackle, who played the position at a high level for a decade. Fans are more intelligent now than ever thanks to the wealth of stats and information available at their fingertips. But offensive line play from inside the trenches is rarely detailed.
Most of his 11-year NFL career was spent protecting Donovan McNabb’s blindside. For two seasons, Thomas was also an assistant coach with the Eagles under Andy Reid. Away from the field, his media credits feature TV and radio work including co-hosting Farzetta and Tra in the Morning on 97.5 The Fanatic up until March 31, 2020.
Thomas’ knowledge of the game and his experiences as both an NFL coach and a broadcaster are on full display in the YouTube series. He’s an entertaining personality with a great ability to explain the intricate details of football. If Thomas wants to get back into broadcasting, networks should be knocking on his door, if he’d rather return to coaching, teams should get on the phone.
Thomas spoke about his time with The Fanatic, his desire to coach, Drew Brees and much more in our conversation.
Brandon Contes: In the Trenches, was this a new idea you had, or something someone brought to you?
Tra Thomas: It’s something I’ve been tossing around for a while, to teach people what really happens on the offensive line. When you watch a game, you see the jumble and then the running back gets through. You see a big pass and great catch, but you don’t get a chance to see how the play develops. What happened once the center came up and made the right call, why did the hole open? I’ve always wanted to get into teaching and showing the game from an offensive lineman’s perspective.
BC: Sometimes the game gets dumbed down to reach a larger audience and for offensive lineman, you pretty much only hear their name on a broadcast if they do something wrong. But sports fans have such a hunger for information, do you see a niche for this type of show?
TT: I think so. I don’t want to just show a play and have you say, ‘look at what he did, that’s awesome!’ I want to show you it was a slide protection, so he took this particular stance and shot his hands at this particular time. Like you said, for offensive linemen, if you don’t hear their name, then they’re doing a good job. Offensive lineman get pointed out for messing up.
This might not be for casual viewers. If you want to be somebody that just goes ahead and has a couple drinks and watches the game, then do that. But if you really want to learn the game, I can teach you something.
BC: Do you have a medium preference, radio or TV?
TT: I like radio because you can show more of your personality with less restrictions. But when it comes to football, I also like to show the visual part. For me to just talk about it, you don’t really understand it. Being able to show the film is the aspect I prefer about TV and that’s where In The Trenches aligns.
BC: Would you like to return to broadcasting full-time? Did you enjoy the daily grind of morning radio?
TT: Oh yeah, it was a lot of fun. Radio was cool because I could relax and really enjoy being around and listening to the fans.
I enjoyed the daily process of it. Building the show, building the fan base, bringing energy and different stories. I could also branch out and experience other sports. Even though I don’t know much about hockey, I was able to learn the game, and the fans helped me gain a better appreciation for it.
BC: And the bottom line is, you were a professional athlete, you can relate to other athletes and what they’re thinking no matter what sport they’re playing.
TT: That was always my angle because I can’t sit up there and give you a bunch of stats. My memory is a little jacked up from football, so I won’t know everybody’s name and history. But I can give the perspective of athletes, their mindset and what they should be thinking at the time.
BC: Did you find that radio filled a competitive void as a retired pro athlete? Especially being an underdog in Philly, going up against Angelo Cataldi and WIP.
TT: Of course, you never want to get into something and suck at it. You want to build a show and do your part. I wanted to come in with energy, but I also wanted to get a lot of reps. Just like getting ready for a game, you need reps in radio to get better and I enjoyed getting better with each show and learning something new every day.
BC: Obviously a global pandemic is hard to predict or anticipate and the financial impacts were felt all over sports radio, but were you blindsided by being let go from The Fanatic?
TT: I was. I didn’t expect it. I get it, I understand it, I don’t hold any hurt feelings about it. But my name was on that morning show, so I was a little shocked. A lot of people lost their jobs, you just take it in stride and keep moving.
BC: I know you were in mornings and he’s on afternoons, but did you have any interaction with Mike Missanelli? I don’t know if you saw, but he just recently made a lot of headlines with his headphones.
TT: Any time I saw Mike in the studio he was always a cool cat, we never had any issues. At the station’s anniversary I did a few segments with him and it was a great experience. I always enjoyed getting to sit down and talk to him every now and then because he’s been in the game for so long.
BC: I saw your ‘I just got fired painting’ that you posted on Twitter, it was really impressive! How long have you been painting?
TT: [Laughs] I’ve been painting for about three years. I own a business called Pinot’s Palette in Cherry Hill, and earlier this month was our three-year anniversary. But painting is something I like to do. It’s relaxing and takes my mind off whatever is going on.
BC: How is that, being a small business owner right now with everything having been shut down for a few months?
TT: Yea it’s like everything else. Everybody’s feeling the crunch right now. This isn’t ‘woe is me’ because a lot of people can’t open their doors. One thing my wife’s great at is coming up with different ways to bring in business. We do paint kits for people to do at home and we deliver them. We also did a virtual class with Zach Ertz and his wife for the Ertz Foundation. So we’ve been keeping busy, but like anything, if you can’t get people in your door, you’re going to feel it.
BC: Do you wish you still had that bigger radio platform right now with everything going on in the world and especially in our country. The pandemic, the president, the social unrest and social injustices, do you wish your voice was louder and still had a daily platform?
TT: [Deep Sigh] Right now – with the way things are for me – I think it’s best that I’m not out there in front of a microphone. I know how I get about this stuff. There’s a lot of pain, a lot of anger, a lot of frustration. And I’m not one that can voice it well without it being a problem. Everything happens for a reason. Right now, I’m good where I am and then we just take it from there.
BC: Years ago, when Chip Kelly was with the Eagles, you commented on some players feeling a hint of racism and the lack of Black coaches on his staff, which is really an inherent problem throughout the NFL. What did you think of the NFL’s recent idea of incentivizing teams for hiring Black coaches?
TT: Should you have to do that? That’s the sad part about it. You feel like that’s what you have to do to get ownership or other coaches to go and hire Black coaches. I get why you would want to do it, it’s just frustrating knowing that’s what you have to do.
You have so many coaches out there who are extremely good at what they do, but it’s hard to break in. I’m not that familiar with how the NBA does it, but to me, from the outside looking in, it looks like they’re more accepting of giving their own players the opportunity to gain experience and get a job. I understand there’s a process to it, but you see sometimes coaches are what they’re perceived to be, and you wonder why you aren’t getting that opportunity.
I think everything going on right now will open a lot of people’s eyes and hopefully those opportunities will also open up. Personally, I love coaching. I would much rather get back into coaching before doing more broadcasting if presented both opportunities. My wife always said I’m a coach doing radio. I love being in the trenches, I love teaching people and one of the biggest things I really appreciated during my time coaching was watching what you teach actually work. There’s no better feeling to be able to say, ‘I helped mold this, helped create this and look at it work.’ I love the process.
BC: How about similarly, the lack of minorities in broadcasting. It’s a white male dominated industry.
TT: Yea, and it’s important to have different people who can see things from different perspectives. And that goes for anybody in broadcasting, you need to be able to offer different perspectives and make it relatable. Especially as an athlete, you’re going to see the game differently. To be able to explain it to people so fans can understand it, and they walk away from the game having learned, that’s great, that’s something you can carry with you.
BC: Did you experience racism at all as a player and in the locker room? As a 32-year old white fan, I’ve learned that I was naïve to a lot, but I’ve always been made to feel that sports is unifying.
TT: Once you get in the locker room and by the time I got to the professional level, I didn’t really experience any of that. That’s not to say we were all sitting around singing Kumbaya, going to each other’s house for sleepovers. But you have a mutual respect for each other, especially everyone I played with. You might have someone who said something slick, but it never created a huge issue in the locker room. I was extremely fortunate as a player that I really didn’t have to go through a situation where I felt like I was being mistreated because of my race.
BC: What does Drew Brees’s comments do to the Saints’ locker room? Will players accept his multiple apologies as genuine or will it have a lasting negative impact this season?
TT: I think they’re going to accept his apology and move forward. Sometimes within a team, an incident like this can even make them a tighter group. You never know how it’s going to be perceived.
Drew just said how he felt, he went out and apologized for it and I think the team will receive that. As time moves on and guys get to the locker room and around each other, it can start to heal a lot of things. Being around each other more and being able to voice whatever is going on, will help the locker room move forward.
BC: What about the league flipping on the anthem, Goodell admitting they were wrong for not encouraging peaceful protests and essentially saying it’s OK to kneel during the anthem.
TT: It was much needed. Especially with everything going on, it’s right there in your face. It was extremely needed, and he made the right call. So now, what’s the next step? Yes, you apologized, you said ‘hey man, I’m sorry we weren’t looking at it that way. Now it’s right here in our face and we see what it’s really all about.’ But what’s the next step? Who’s going to give Kaep an opportunity?
BC: Was Emmanuel Acho on the Eagles while you were coaching?
TT: Yes he was.
BC: Did you have interaction with him? Did he show the entertainment qualities and even the leadership qualities that we’re seeing?
TT: That was my first year of coaching with the offensive line, so I didn’t have that interaction with him to really get to know this side of him. But I could tell he was very well-spoken and it seemed like he was extremely aware of himself.
BC: Was there a player or coach during your career that you looked at as potentially being a good sportscaster?
TT: You know what? John Harbaugh. I would sit in his meetings and he would give the best pre-game speeches with a story or something to get you inspired and motivated. And he explains things well, I think he could get into broadcasting.
BC: Are you surprised the NFL hasn’t been stunted much by the COVID-19 pandemic? Pretty much every other sport was hit hard, but the NFL moved right along with free agency, the draft, it looks like they’ll do the same with training camp and the regular season.
TT: Not at all. Let’s just keep pushing, let’s go. That’s what football players are – you put your head down and go. We don’t really think about it. A lot of people always ask, ‘did you ever question what was going on with a play call?’ And the answer is no.
Whatever play you call, my job is to go out there and try to execute it. If I don’t agree with it, who cares, we don’t have time for that. Call the play, let’s go to work. In football you have guys that are programmed – these are our days to work? OK cool, let’s go. I’m not surprised by that at all.
Sam Mayes Got A Raw Deal But Tyler Media Made The Right Call
“You are being naive if you think a company should stand behind an employee that has put themselves in this situation.”
I do not envy whoever at Tyler Media had to make a decision about Sam Mayes’s future with the company after audio of a private conversation in 2016 was leaked to the media. Mayes and now-former co-worker Cara Rice made a few racist jokes at the expense of Native Americans.
The recording, according to Mayes, was made without his knowledge and leaked illegally. He says in a recorded statement that he should have been given the opportunity to address the recording on air and make amends.
Maybe that is true, maybe it isn’t. I hate for Sam to lose his job as the result of an illegal recording of a private conversation, but the fact is, that conversation isn’t private anymore. Tyler Media didn’t really have an option here. Sam Mayes had to go.
Someone had an illegal recording of the conversation and created an anonymous email account to send it to people in the Oklahoma City media. I was shown a copy of the email. The author states clearly that their goal is to see Mayes and Rice out of a job. There is nothing fair or just about that person getting exactly what they want. It feels slimy. I can’t say that it feels like it wasn’t the right call though.
We have debated whether or not someone should lose their job over comments made in a private conversation many times before. It happens in every field. It wasn’t long ago at all that we were having this same debate about Jon Gruden. His emails to Bruce Allen and others were sent in private. Is it fair he had to go when they were made public? No matter what horrible things were in there, they were said with the understanding that it would stay between friends.
I am going to say the same thing about Sam Mayes that I did about Gruden when that story first broke. You are being naive if you think a company should stand behind an employee that has put themselves in this situation.
You read that right. The circumstances of how the conversations in these examples came to light are absolutely unfair, but the conversations came to light. How it happened is irrelevant. Any sponsor or boss that stands behind Sam Mayes or Jon Gruden would be endorsing the language they used, either inadvertently or very much on purpose. Try explaining that to a sponsor.
People at Tyler Media may know Sam Mayes’s heart. He doesn’t seem like a bad guy. The fact of the matter is, once the audio became public, their hands were tied. There is no mistaking what was said or who said it.
How can any seller or manager take Mayes to advertisers now? How can they put him in front of the Lucky Star Casino, one of the station’s biggest advertisers? They can ask for an audience to let Sam explain himself and try to make amends. The Cheyenne and Arapahoe Tribes, who own the casino, are under no obligation to forgive or even listen.
Maybe the day will come where Sam Mayes bounces back. I hope it does. I hope he gets the chance to address his comments with members of Oklahoma’s Native American community and listen to what they have to say in response. I do think it sucks that this is how his time at The Franchise comes to an end, but I get it.
If I have to explain to you why not to say dumb, racist shit, then I don’t think we have much to talk about. But, it is worth noting that the recording of Mayes and Rice’s conversation is proof that privacy is always an assumption, not always a fact.
In his audio statement, Mayes admits it is his voice on the recording. He also says that he was uncomfortable with Rice’s comments and he tried to end their conversation. I’ll take him at his word, but I will also point out that before he tried to end the conversation, he joined in on the jokes. Maybe when someone says that Native Americans are “too drunk to organize” it isn’t a great idea to respond. All it leads to is proof of you saying something dumb and racist.
Again, I’ll reiterate that how these comments came to light is unfair, but they did come to light. That is Sam Mayes’s voice on the recording. He is joining in on the jokes about Native Americans being drunks and addicts. At the end of the day, the only thing that was done to him was the audio being released. He fully and willingly committed the firable offense.
What is the response to a client or potential client when they bring that up? All Tyler Media can do is try to recover and move forward. The company cannot do that with Mayes on the payroll.
Stop Prospecting, Start Strategizing!
“You cannot put a price tag on authenticity. It’s very rare and hard to find these days.”
Struggling to get new business appointments? Dreading making prospecting calls? Having trouble writing creative emails that seemingly never get a response?
Generating responses to new business outreach is easier than you think. Just make sure you do your homework first and keep it “Simple Stupid”.
To do that, start with asking yourself these (3) simple questions:
#1: Did I do my home work on the business itself, their competition and those I plan on reaching out to?
#2: If I were on the other end of the phone and/or email with myself would I want to engage in conversation and/or reply to that email?
#3: Am I prepared to make a one call close given the opportunity to?
If the answer to any of these is “No”… do NOT pick up the phone and by all means do NOT hit the send button on that initial outreach email! Doing so will all but ensure you fall flat on your face. On the off chance you do happen to get the decision maker on the phone you won’t make that great first impression that sometimes can be so crucial. First impressions are always important… ALWAYS!
Skipping over these critical steps is a sure-fire way to ensure your email is completely ignored and will not generate the engagement from the prospect you’d hope for. Successful prospecting is all about the front end digging and research. Do your homework first then strategize a plan of attack for your call and/or email. Taking these extra measures on the front end is absolutely “Mission Critical” and will set you up for much more success with your prospecting endeavors.
Now once you’ve answered “Yes” to all of the above, you’re ready to attack with the knowledge and confidence that should set you a part from your competition. It’s all about the Game Plan, and if you don’t have one, you’re destined for failure time and time again. Incorporate these (5) things into your prospecting Game Plan for your next call/email and watch your results dramatically improve:
#1: MAKE IT PERSONAL & CASUAL – Be informal, find out something interesting about them.
#2: MAKE IT SHORT & CONCISE – Be straight forward and to the point, people are busy.
#3: MAKE IT TIMELY & RELEVANT TO THEM AND/OR THEIR BUSINESS – Give them a good Valid Business Reason.
#4: MAKE IT INTERESTING, COMPELLING & INFORMATIVE – Be the expert they’re missing.
#5: MAKE IT FUN – Fun people are easy to do business with and make it less like “work”.
Lastly, and most importantly, Be Yourself! You cannot put a price tag on authenticity. It’s very rare and hard to find these days. When clients do find it trust me, they value it and appreciate it way more than you’ll ever know!
Good Producers Can Teach The World A Lot About Christmas
“A lot has to be accomplished in the lead-up to Christmas. So much of it happens in the background without much recognition.”
Who is Carl Christmas in your house? Who is the one that makes sure everyone that needs to get a card does? Who comes up with the plan for the lights? Who takes the reins on the shopping?
Every home needs one and in my house, that’s me. December (including the last week of November) is my time to shine, baby!
One thing I have tried to impress upon my mom and wife this year is that shipping and supply chain delays are real. So, if you are planning on procrastinating on your online shopping this year (you know, like usual) someone (me) is going to have no presents under the tree.
Veteran producers are used to operate this way. Young producers, listen up. Your job involves the most delicate balance of any in sports radio. You have to help bring your host’s and PD’s visions to life. That means you have to be able to take their direction. But you also have to keep the host on target. That means you cannot be afraid to be forceful and lead when the moment demands it.
There’s no value to being an unrepentant asshole to people, but you do have to hold them accountable. Look at that Christmas shopping example again. If you want to get what you want, you need to keep on task the people you know aren’t paying attention to the potential roadblocks. It isn’t selfish. It is making sure everyone gets the holiday W they are expecting. Sure, you would be disappointed if your gift doesn’t arrive on time, but so will the gift giver.
Being a stickler for the clock or moving a host off of a topic that has no value is the same thing. Of course there is something in it for you, but you are also helping the host do his or her job better. They may get annoyed with you now, but if you save them from an ass-chewing from the bosses or slipping ratings, then they have reaped the benefits.
I guess the unfortunate difference here is that there may be no acknowledgment of what you did or helped them to avoid. Oh well. Every producer has to expect a certain level of thanklessness.
Producers have to take on that Carl Christmas role in dealing with sales too. Remember, just because the producer’s name isn’t on the show doesn’t mean that isn’t every bit his or her show that it is the hosts’.
It’s like decorating your house for the holidays. You may have a certain design in mind. Maybe you have a traditional look you stick to every year. If your spouse or your kid comes home with a giant, inflatable Santa Claus in a military helicopter that they want on the lawn, you have a decision to make. Are you going to say no and suggest an alternative that aligns more with your goal or are you going to let your plan get run over?
Sales has a job to do. It is to make sure their clients’ messages are heard and to make money for the station. Both can be accomplished without sacrificing your show’s quality.
If a seller comes to you and says he wants his client to come in for five minutes and talk about now being the time to book an appointment to have your garage floors redone, you have to speak up. You have an obligation to make sure that the seller knows that even five minutes of that will hurt the show and have listeners diving for the preset buttons on their car stereo. That isn’t good for the station or his client.
Instead, offer to work with the seller and the client to come up with a piece of content that the client can put his name on and a 20-second ad read behind. Will the audience stick around to listen to some dude named Jerry talk about garage floors or will more people listen to you talk about the NFL playoff picture in a creative way and then still be there to hear Jerry’s message about garage floors? The answer seems obvious.
A lot has to be accomplished in the lead-up to Christmas. So much of it happens in the background without much recognition. If the background work wasn’t done though, the problems would be right out on the front lawn for everyone to see.
“Gatekeeper” is a term I really hate. It implies that someone is telling others what they are and are not allowed to enjoy. It is a necessary term though to properly describe what it is that a great producer and a great Carl Christmas do.
We don’t shut people out from being able to enjoy or be a part of what it is we are creating. We set or are handed down expectations and we block anything that can get in the way of achieving them. Sometimes, that is more thankless work than it should be. It is necessary though.
As my home’s self-appointed Carl Christmas and a former producer, let me give my countrymen the thanks others forget. We are the ones that make it possible for everyone else to be mindless. Wear it as a badge of honor. We may not get the kind of recognition we deserve everyday, but when plans go off without a hitch, we are usually the first to be recognized for making it happen.
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