Travis Demers became the full-time radio play-by-play voice of the Portland Trail Blazers at the beginning of the 2019-20 NBA season. The mother of all unforeseen circumstances caused the NBA to suspend its season on March 11 – a global pandemic. The impact of the coronavirus has been felt by the NBA as a whole — including broadcasters like Travis.
It’s a unique time for Travis to navigate through the hiatus as he has a two-year-old boy named Lincoln and another son due on July 3. While increased family time is enjoyable, Travis describes his helpless feeling in the work world. I’ve seen firsthand how Travis prepares and puts in the work. Any worker is going to feel strange while not being allowed to contribute like normal.
In addition to his play-by-play duties, Travis also hosts a weekday radio show from 3-6pm on 620 Rip City Radio. COVID-19 has affected Travis’ broadcasting schedule, which in turn impacts his current talk show responsibilities with co-host Chad Doing. One of the most interesting parts of this piece is when Travis details a feeling of guilt he experiences occasionally. It’s a strange time in the world at large. The same can be said about the sports world. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: How would you describe the impact that the pandemic has had on you professionally?
Travis Demers: I’ve never really had a situation where I wasn’t working. Even when I got laid off from another radio station — I was out of work officially for about 10 months — I was still working. I still found plenty of other things to do. Yeah, I’m still working and doing the radio show at home but this is really unusual. I’ve never had a situation before where I felt helpless and I felt like there’s not a whole lot I can do.
I know a lot of other people are in this boat right now but for me it’s an unusual, quiet feeling of and almost helplessness in the work world. In terms of my home life it’s an opportunity to spend time with my wife and my son that I normally otherwise wouldn’t have, especially traveling and being on the road working as much as I do. I don’t know if and when I’m ever going to get this opportunity again to spend the time with my family so I’m making the most of it.
BN: That feeling of being helpless — has that caused you to approach your show differently at all?
TD: I don’t think it’s changed how I approach the show that much. The big difference is with not a lot of sports to talk about right now, we’re forced to come up with other things so it leads to more creativity. It leads to more reflection whether it be on past things in sports, favorite moments, trying to find a way to help the community and just having more fun. I’ve always been a little bit more uptight just in general than I’d like to be. I think in a lot of ways this has helped loosen me up because there’s no reason to be uptight right now.
BN: Outside of the obvious — not calling Blazers games — how does your schedule differ now due to the pandemic?
TD: The big difference obviously is just being at home. I’m much more involved in the family life now. Usually if it was a show day I would go in around 11 for a three o’clock show. Now I’m getting up and helping with my son. We have breakfast. We’ll watch a movie. We’ll go outside. I’ll put him down for a nap and then I’ll call Chad. We’ll get things set up for the show instead of doing that in studio and going in a couple of hours earlier.
On a game day I’m not doing prep at home. Usually I spend probably about a total of four hours of prep time per game, maybe a little bit more than that depending on the game. But I’m not doing that from home. Before when I was home I was still doing quite a bit of work in addition to when I was gone. Now there’s really not much work to do at home. When I’m home and when I’m with my family that time is focused on them.
BN: NBA players might have a tough time ramping up to play games after months off at home. On a broadcasting scale, is there some ramp-up time needed for you to get back into peak form?
TD: I’m sure there is. I’m sure there’s always going to be a little bit of rust. The first preseason game you feel like there’s a little bit of rust you want to shake off. In some ways the preseason is time for the broadcaster as much as it is for the players to get back into a rhythm. For guys who have been doing it for 10-20 years, I’m sure that turnaround time is a little bit less. But for me in my first full season after doing about half the year last year, yeah there’s a little bit of a warm-up time. Hopefully not more than just a couple of minutes or a quarter but I would imagine yeah it might take a little while.
BN: Are you doing the Joe Buck thing where you’re commentating about random things around the house?
TD: In my house, yeah. I’m not taking user submissions. I think Joe Buck proved why that’s probably not the best idea for everybody. But for me yeah I’m just doing it around the house especially with my son playing basketball, playing with his toys, and mostly that kind of stuff. I’ll do it for my wife a little bit when she’s making dinner and give her a good call when she makes a good meal. There’s definitely a little bit of that going on in the house.
BN: How do you think that first game back will feel for you when it eventually does happen?
TD: It’s tough to say because I don’t know what the situation is going to be. Is it going to be a playoff situation? Is it going to be a regular season situation? Will there be fans in the stands? Will it be the beginning of next year? Will it be sometime we pick it up this season? I think all of that plays into it.
If it is this year, do you have to pick up where you left off? If it’s next year how do you put into perspective that last year was cut short and now you’re starting new. Everybody’s going to have a different, unusual feel to a season that ended so abruptly. It’ll be different. There’s no question it’ll be different. I just don’t know exactly how different and I’m not going to know until I sit in that chair.
BN: There are some radio stations that are doing virtual games on PlayStation. It’s been mostly a baseball thing, but do you think something could work along those lines for basketball?
TD: Well we’re seeing it on TV. The NBA has this tournament with 16 players and they’re playing NBA 2K. It’s airing on ESPN. I think it’s a really cool idea because now you’re getting competition. It gives fans something to watch. It gives fans somebody to cheer for. Here in Portland, Blazers fans were cheering for Hassan Whiteside in his first-round matchup with Patrick Beverley. Unfortunately he lost, but even for a little while, it gave fans an opportunity to cheer for one of their own guys.
I think in the same context of fans looking for something to cheer for we’re watching all of these old games — the Blazers have been running a lot of them, MLB Network, NFL Network, the other night I was flipping between Super Bowl XLVII and Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. It was awesome. But watching in the ninth inning when the Twins had runners on first and second and nobody out, I knew the game went 10 innings so the drama wasn’t quite there. I think fans and people are looking for some kind of drama whether that’s on the radio or TV. I think something like that absolutely could work.
BN: Maybe that’s why marble races are popular. [Laughs]
TD: It’s something, man. People who have a serious gambling problem that look for really obscure things to bet on because they need their fix — it’s very similar.
BN: Would you enjoy a classic game if you were listening to yourself on the call?
TD: Yes and no. I would enjoy the moment. A lot of things would come back. I’ve watched some of the classic games that I’ve had a chance to call. I wasn’t on the TV call so I watched the national TV call of the four-overtime game between the Blazers and Nuggets. All of these memories keep rushing back. I’m my own biggest critic. I think if I were to watch myself in that moment call that game, I’d be picking apart everything that I had said. I could have done that better. I could have done this better. I guess I would use it more as a learning experience than just be able to sit back and enjoy it.
BN: Have you enjoyed being more present on your talk show or is there a void without play-by-play?
TD: I’m definitely enjoying it because it’s not like the games are still going on and I’m not getting to call them. Being able to be present — Chad and I have worked really hard on our show together. Being gone so often over the course of the season I feel out of touch. I feel like I’m out of the loop. Chad’s done a great job in my absence and there’s a reason why he’s in that spot. But it’s nice to be back in the mix and in the groove again every day. It can feel like it’s our show and I’m not just a guest on the program that Chad’s been working hard for. It has been good and I have enjoyed it.
BN: When you’re on the road doing Blazers games instead of your talk show, is it a feeling of guilt that you have?
TD: There is guilt. Yeah, because I feel like I’m not being there to help out my partner. Chad has been great and has done everything he can to not make me feel guilty about it, but at the same time it’s like hey, I’m on a 10-day road trip and I’m not doing my job so you’re left to pick up 100 percent of the slack. There is some guilt there.
Before Chad showed up I was doing that show by myself, so I’ve had to give up complete control. That was difficult to do at first. Now I’m just kind of going along with his program. It took me a while to accept that, but given how often I’ve been gone, sometimes I don’t feel like it’s right for me to challenge him on something or to say this or that because he’s the one that’s putting in the work every single day and I’m not.
BN: I hear you. Now that you’re back you can’t hit him with, “I don’t want to do that topic.” You’d feel bad for saying something like that, right?
TD: Yeah, exactly. It’s weird because your name is on the show and it just doesn’t feel like it’s my show sometimes. And that’s okay. That’s what it is, but Chad deserves a lot of credit because he has gone out of his way to make sure that I don’t feel that way.
BN: What does no Blazers basketball at this time mean to Portland as a community?
TD: The Blazers are Portland’s team. The Blazers are Oregon’s team. College sports are different. The MLS is different. The Blazers have been around for 50 years. That’s the team that people around here relate to and identify with. This time of year we should be in the stretch run getting ready for the playoffs. To have no sports and to not have your team that you’re used to either watching on TV, or going to the games, or making sure you plan your schedule around, for a lot of people there’s a sense of absence. There’s a sense of something missing. There’s a hole. I’ve talked to fans and I’ve read some things on social media from fans that there’s just a void right now. There’s no distraction.
Over the course of history there have been a lot of tragic things. There’s been a lot of terrible things for individual people that have things going on in their lives that are tough whether it be the loss of a family member or something like that, sports has always been a distraction. It’s always been there. This is really the only time in modern history that there is no distraction. There are no sports.
I think people now a few weeks into it have kind of gotten used to it but that void is still there. I remember living in New York on 9/11 and the NFL games were canceled that weekend. Major League Baseball was on hiatus for a little while, but it came back relatively quickly within a week or so.
That was a national tragedy. This is an international pandemic and not only is the distraction gone for a week or two or three, we have no idea when we’re going to get that distraction back and we’re going to get that entertainment back. There’s just a big void in that context.
BN: They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder. If you apply that to the sports world, what do you think the reaction is going to be like once sports are back?
TD: I think in some ways it’ll make us appreciate things more. I would imagine the first game back for every team across America is going to be sold out regardless of the sport; especially if you have the NBA and NHL canceled the way that college sports have been. The next time the season rolls around, or if they do play later on in the summer, I’d imagine every single arena across the NBA is going to be packed.
I don’t know how long it’s going to last though because those warm feelings don’t last for a long time, but they’re there and they’re special and it makes people come together. That first couple of games, that first week, that first month, it’s going to be — in whatever arena — an incredible atmosphere. I can’t wait to see that. I can’t wait to experience that. Portland is a great atmosphere as it is, so just imagine that being notched up a few levels when people really appreciate what they didn’t have when it comes back.
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.