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.
Alex Zatarian writes features for Barrett Sports Media. He currently works for ESPN LA 710, and began his radio career in Palm Springs, CA with Alpha Media. In addition, Alex serves as an Adjunct Professor at The College of the Desert, teaching students advanced radio production. You can find him on Twitter @TheRealZatarian or email him at AlexandroZatarian@gmail.com.
NBC Must Develop a Real No. 2 NFL Crew for Playoffs
Is the network’s only other option Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett?
Several years ago, the NFL objected to NBC wanting to employ Mike Tirico as the lead play-by-play voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts. The league preferred Al Michaels because he was NBC’s No. 1 NFL play-by-play announcer and wanted the TNF telecasts to carry the same prestige as Sunday Night Football.
Following the network’s heavily-criticized broadcast of Saturday’s Wild Card playoff game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars, the NFL may want to impose its authority again and insist that a top-tier broadcast team call the action of an important postseason game.
The consensus among fans and media watching Saturday’s broadcast was that Michaels and analyst Tony Dungy were surprisingly low-energy for an NFL playoff game, let alone one that became so exciting with Jacksonville rallying from a 27-0 deficit for a 31-30 victory on a last-second field goal.
Such a lackluster broadcast led to questions of whether or not Michaels was now past his prime after a season of calling subpar TNF games for Amazon and what initially appeared to be another snoozer when the Jaguars fell behind by 27 points. Pairing him with Dungy, who was a studio analyst all season, certainly didn’t help.
Dungy was as basic as a game analyst could be, typically narrating replays viewers could see for themselves while adding little insight. Worst of all, he demonstrated no enthusiasm for the action, leaving Michaels to fill most of the airtime. The veteran broadcaster showed that he can no longer carry a broadcast by himself. He needs the energy and back-and-forth that Cris Collinsworth or Kirk Herbstreit provide.
So how did NBC get here?
Most football fans know that the network’s top broadcast team is Tirico on play-by-play alongside analyst Cris Collinsworth. But they had their own assignment during Super Wild Card Weekend, calling Sunday night’s Ravens-Bengals match-up. With the postseason field expanding from 12 to 14 teams, resulting in six games being played on Wild Card weekend, NBC was awarded one of the additional playoff broadcasts.
Thus, another broadcast team was needed for that second Wild Card game. Fortunately, NBC had a renowned play-by-play man already in place. Michaels finished out his final season as SNF‘s lead voice by calling Super Bowl LVI, part of a powerful one-two combination for NBC Sports coming toward the end of its 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics coverage.
Ending his legendary career with a Super Bowl broadcast would’ve been a wonderful final note for Michaels. That appeared to be a natural path when Tirico moved from ESPN to NBC in 2016. Network executives admitted that a succession plan was in mind for Tirico to take over SNF eventually. At the time, Michaels also likely thought he would retire by then.
But when confronted with the possibility of retirement, Michaels realized he wasn’t interested. He was still enjoying broadcasting the NFL. His skills were still sharp. And perhaps most importantly, he was in demand. Amazon wanted Michaels as the lead voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts, bringing instant credibility to a streaming venture that drew some skepticism. ESPN considered him as its Monday Night Football play-by-play man.
As it turned out, ESPN made a bold move for MNF, swiping Fox’s No. 1 NFL crew of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. That left Amazon for Michaels, and the streaming giant paid him a commensurate salary with the top broadcasters in the industry as part of his three-year contract.
Yet Michaels wasn’t done with NBC either. After his agreement with Amazon became official, NBC announced that its relationship with Michaels would continue in an “emeritus” role allowing him to broadcast the network’s Olympics coverage and that additional Wild Card playoff telecast.
NBC can’t have been happy that most of the social media chatter afterward focused on the broadcast, rather than the game result. Especially when the discussion centered on how poorly Michaels and Dungy performed in what turned out to be a thrilling playoff game. That’s a pairing that the NFL probably doesn’t want to see again.
Michaels will likely call at least one more Wild Card playoff game for NBC since he intends to work on the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. He’s also under contract with Amazon for another two seasons unless he decides to retire before that deal expires. So perhaps the simple solution is keeping Dungy out of the broadcast booth and giving Michaels a better partner.
But can NBC drop in another analyst who hasn’t worked with Michaels all season? Anyone would arguably be an improvement over Dungy. Is it at all possible for Herbstreit to be hired on for a one-off playoff broadcast, thus ensuring that the broadcast team will have some on-air familiarity and chemistry?
Otherwise, NBC’s only other option may be its Notre Dame broadcast team of Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett. (The network tried that last season with Tirico and Drew Brees, only for Brees to wilt under the harsher NFL playoff spotlight.)
The pair also called USFL broadcasts for the network, so at least there would be familiarity rather than trying to figure each other out during a telecast. Yet Collinsworth and Garrett aren’t terribly popular with viewers. And as with Brees, that crew will face intense scrutiny with a larger playoff audience.
Unfortunately, NBC appears to be stuck here. Unless the new Big Ten broadcast team of Noah Eagle and Todd Blackledge gets a shot. That might be the best option! Other than Notre Dame or USFL games, where are the other opportunities for NBC to develop a No. 2 NFL broadcast team? No one wants to put Al Michaels through Chris Simms in the broadcast booth, right?
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Al Michaels Has Options But He Has To Make a Choice
“It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.”
I don’t ask much out of game announcers; get excited when appropriate, get the simple information correct, don’t get so caught up in your shtick you put yourself above the game. Al Michaels has been doing all those things well for the better part of half a century and few would argue that he’s not one of the best to ever do it. That doesn’t mean he can’t lose his fastball.
Before you read any longer, I am not here to say Al Michaels has lost his fastball. What I am here to say is Michaels has all too often this season seemed upset with and disinterested in the game he is calling. That isn’t entirely surprising when you consider some of the Thursday night action he called on Amazon Prime where the average margin of victory was almost nine points per game.
On top of that, the Amazon schedule had a dreadful two week stretch with Colts 12-9 win over the Broncos in Week Five and the Commanders 12-7 win over the Bears the next Thursday. It was in that Broncos-Colts game Michaels asked Herbstreit if a game “can be so bad it is good?” Herbstreit’s answer was “No”, by the way. It was the full 15 game schedule that Michaels told The Athletic’s media critic Richard Deitsch was like trying to sell a used car.
All of that is fine, the inaugural Amazon Prime season was not a smashing success. The streaming giant missed audience projections and will lose advertising revenue because of it. The lackluster schedule did not help that. But Michaels was given a second life; he was the NBC play-by-play announcer for the Saturday Night Wildcard Playoff game between the Chargers and Jaguars. It initially looked like Michaels might be the problem as five first half Jags turnovers had them in a 27-0 hole. But the home team staged a nearly unprecedented comeback for the win.
It was the performance by Michaels and, to a lesser degree, his analyst Tony Dungy that has led to criticism. Criticism might be too soft of a word, Michaels was roundly dragged for his lack of enthusiasm during the comeback and specifically on his call of the Jacksonville game winning field goal. The enthusiasm of the call of the game winner had a mid-3rd quarter of week four feel to it.
Me telling Al Michaels how to do play-by-play of an NFL game would be the equivalent of me telling a physicist how to split an atom. So, this isn’t just a Michaels criticism, few things bother me more than hearing a game announcer complain about the length or quality of a game as if he’d rather be anywhere else. It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.
How many NFL viewers would sit in the seat Michaels, or any NFL announcer occupies, for free? They’d feel like they won the lottery if they also were getting the money those announcers are getting paid to be there. The guy that works a 12-hour Thursday construction shift just to get home and crack a beer for the NFL game probably doesn’t want to hear how tough that game is to announce.
On top of all of that, Michaels was given the gift of one of the wildest NFL Playoff comebacks you’ll ever see and, at times, sounded as if he was completely disinterested in being there. Pro tip: the best NFL announcer in those moments is Kevin Harlan (see: Miami at Baltimore from earlier this season. That has nothing to do with my lifelong Dolphins fandom). Michaels’ lack of enthusiasm was compounded by the exact opposite from Mike Tirico on the very same network for the Bengals-Ravens Wildcard game Sunday night.
Tirico, like Michaels, has a sterling resume of play-by-play accomplishments. The difference is Tirico sounded like he was having the time of his life on Sunday night.
To be fair, their two styles are different. Michaels has a very old school, Pat Summerall approach. Summerall, Vin Scully and Dick Enberg came along at a time when announcers were far more likely to let the pictures tell the story. More new school guys like Harlan and Tirico approach it differently.
Look, Al Michaels helped us believe in miracles. His place in the Sports Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame has long since been cemented. Being a hall of fame inductee doesn’t mean your style will forever be accepted by the masses. That leaves you with a few options; you can continue your style and accept or ignore the criticism or you can ride off into the sunset and enjoy the fruits of your decades of labor.
Al Michaels has what we all want; great options. He can choose any of them and be a winner in the game of life. It doesn’t matter if he enthusiastically embraces them, or not.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.
Bernie Kosar Was the Victim of a Policy That Doesn’t Work Anymore
“The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.”
One week ago, Bernie Kosar lost his job on the Browns Radio Network for placing the first legal sports bet in the state of Ohio. Kosar, just like Jets coach Miles Austin weeks earlier and Calvin Ridley last year, violated a league policy that forbids team employees from placing a bet on any NFL game.
The integrity of the games still matters. The belief that what we are all seeing is being fairly contested is what gives those of us that like to have a little vested interest in the outcome the desire to lay our money down in the first place. I get the league’s discomfort with a coach on the staff of a team in the middle of the playoff hunt making bets. I get its fear of the message it sends to have players making bets.
Roger Goodell and the 32 team owners are well within their rights to object to men that can potentially control the outcome of a game or postseason seeding doing anything that even appears to jeopardize its fairness. Even perceived impropriety can compromise the league’s tremendous value.
But Bernie Kosar doesn’t have that kind of influence on the outcome of a game. He is just a broadcaster and not even a game analyst. He is part of studio coverage.
I am far from the first to point this out, but in 2023, the NFL has three official sports betting partners. Just last week, it approved the first ever in-stadium sportsbook, which Fanatics is set to open inside of FedEx Field. If the NFL is comfortable enough with the reality that its fans like to bet to make those things a reality, then Kosar losing his gig is absurd. It is the result of nothing other than “well, that’s the way we’ve always done it” thinking.
Maybe Kosar was terrible on the radio and the team was looking for a reason to move on. I don’t live in Cleveland and I am not a Browns fan, so I have no idea.
How many times have we heard that NFL owners hired Goodell to “protect the shield”? I’m not even really sure what it means or when it applies anymore. If I had a vested interest in the public perception of the league, I know that I would want someone to do the PR math on this situation.
Bernie Kosar isn’t an addict that can’t watch a game without the high of winning or the emotional distress of losing everything at stake, at least not as far as we know. This was a bet made through an advertising partner, to benefit charity. He even said on his podcast this week that the purpose of making the bet was to generate some money for former players in need of help.
This is like Disney threatening daycare centers with lawsuits for painting Mickey Mouse on a classroom wall. The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.
Surely you have seen Garrett Bush’s impassioned rant on the Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show about the obstacles facing Damar Hamlin because of how many hoops the NFL makes former players jump through in order to get some kind of pension.
On January 2, we were all united in our concern for a guy that hadn’t even completed his second full NFL season. We didn’t know if he was going to live, but if he did, we all knew that the NFL had done everything it needed to in order to protect itself from ever having to pay a dime for his medical care. Less than a week later, Bernie Kosar was fired for what amounted to a charity stunt that was meant to raise money and attention to very similar issues.
At both the league level and the team level, there was incompetence that lead to a man unnecessarily losing a gig and to the Browns and the NFL looking horribly out of touch with reality.
Are we acknowledging that people gamble or not? Are we acknowledging there are responsible ways to bet on football and are interested in generating revenue off of it or not? Because it doesn’t seem to me that the same league that just gave the thumbs up to open a sportsbook inside of a stadium is really that concerned with people that cannot affect the outcome of games betting on those games.
Has the NFL come out and said that it is going to cover every medical bill for everyone that has ever played the game? We know that this is a brutal game that leaves a physical and physiological impact on the men that played it. Why would we make it harder for someone that knows that pain to help others do something about it?
I feel awful for Bernie Kosar. Whether he needs the money or not, it is embarassing to be at the center of a controversy like this, particularly because in the NFL in 2023, there is no reason for a controversy like this to exist.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.