By the time 4:30 in the morning rolls around, LA Live morphs into LA Lifeless.
Travis Rodgers now has visual confirmation.
“There’s not a soul around — except maybe some guy is cleaning, buffing, scooping,” the new KSPN-AM (710) early morning weekday drive co-host admitted about the otherwise neon-lit, fan-flash favorite gathering area across the street from Staples Center.
“I did see someone early one morning in the Starbucks, and I thought, ‘Oh, maybe I can hit that on the way up the elevator.’ Nope. It’s not open until 5.”
When you beat the opening of a Starbucks to work — which is when Rodgers and partner Kelvin Washington must do to be in the ESPN Radio studios in the offices right next door — you’re officially on the zombie shift.
The intent behind raising the shade on an L.A.-based sports-talk station before dawn is simple: Find another entry point on a more intimate basis with whomever is out on the Southern California freeways heading to their jobs, or perhaps dragging themselves home from their previous endeavors. The success of this leap of ratings fate may not be deemed success/failure for another 16 to 18 months, according to station program director Mike Thompson. That’s the nature of this beast.
KFWB-AM (980), recently rebranded as “The Beast” all-sports format, has already been asking Jeanne Zelasko, Marques Johnson and Sam Farber to time-slip their lives and start a show that starts at 5:30 a.m., jump-starting Jim Rome’s 9 a.m. arrival. Early ratings for the show, as well as the station, aren’t much of a ripple.
And it has been tried before. In the late 1990s, Brian Golden used to do a live 4-to-6 a.m. “Early Morning Sports Page” show for KAVL-AM (610), based in Palmdale and a Fox Radio Dodgers’ affiliate, trying to synch up with the thousands of commuters who made the daily trip between Kern County and the Newhall Pass.
But other than that, this KSPN innovation/experiment requires Rodgers and Washington to take one for the team. Whatever financial compensation is involved can be parlayed into a stock purchase of a local caffeine-driven company.
As Rodgers emerges at 11 a.m. from the ESPN Radio studios just before the lunch crowd hits LA Live — that adds up to six straight hours of sports yammering, including his syndicated Yahoo! Sports Radio shift from — it’s a bit of an eye opener as he heads home to Orange County to see his wife and three kids.
“Maybe I’m not a morning person — I know when I was 20, I wasn’t,” the 43-year-old admitted. “You just get up and do it.
“This is something I’m ridiculously excited about. ESPN is obviously a huge opportunity, a station that rates well in the market, they’re committed to succeed, grew up 20 minutes from here, I get talk about the teams obsessed with when I was a kid,”
For KSPN, the other purpose of having Rodgers-Washington start the on-air conversation from 5 to 7 a.m. on something called “ESPNLA Morning Show,” with the suggestion it become “Rise and Grind” leading into Colin Cowherd’s national show, is that it keeps things going when it moves to a 7-to-9 a.m. livestream on the company website and the ESPN app. Those technically-advanced in the male 18-34 and 25-54 age targeted demographics have another choice.
“Radio has become more like TV has been for years, where we have shows on multiple platforms that many times compete with each other,” said Thompson, who has been arriving himself at about 4:30 a.m. each day lately to help the launch that began last Monday.
KSPN, owned and operated by ESPN, had carried the solid national show hosted by Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg for years on the 710 signal until it was decided it could be shifted to the other ESPN affiliate in Southern California, Angels-owned KLAA-AM (830), when Thompson wanted to give local voices a try.
Rodgers had been that local KLAA voice for the last couple of years, based in studios at Angel Stadium, and solicited Thompson to include him in the new KSPN plans, making this look like a straight-up show swap.
To create this, however, Thompson decided to let go of highly-regarded sports news anchors/reporters Beto Duran, Pete Fox and Dave Joseph. The time taken for the top-of-the-hour update segments has been morphed into the existing KSPN sports-talk shows, thus smoothing over any sort of abrupt breaks — or opportunities for listeners to leave. Thompson points out other stations in this 80-station market have gone to a similar philosophy.
So enter Rodgers, whose sense of humor and even his facial features may remind you of comedian Seth MacFarlane. Rodgers’ backward career curve to this place of local recognition comes not long after 15 years of a wildly successful run as the driving producer for Rome’s burgeoning sports-talk empire, which lead to a syndication drive with the Premiere Radio Network.
Rodgers broke off from Rome’s run in 2009, mostly because he wanted to see if he could do this talking thing on his own. It was a difficult breakup, but like any marriage, “if it’s not going to end badly, then it’s not going to end,” Rodgers said.
After a stop in Houston, and then engaging with The Sporting News Radio Network that has since before Yahoo Sports Radio, Rodgers understands his solo career may need more than just a six-year span to fully separate from the perceived Rome influence.
“I still get questions all the time about Jim,” said the Arcadia native and UC Santa Barbara grad, “and I guess I have to steal a line that he has used when people still ask him if he’s the ‘Jim Everett guy’ (a reference to a confrontation Rome had with the former Rams quarterback while on an ESPN TV show in 1994).
“Jim would always say: Yeah, but there was a lot more to it than what you think happened. I’m really proud of what we did together. Now, I’m just trying this. I’m a work in progress.
“The thing that really gets me is when people say I’m trying to do a Rome impression. I mean, we worked intimately together for 15 years, and some of him rubbed off on me, and me on him. But stylistically we’re pretty different.”
The transition from producer to on-air talent was hardly as smooth as anticipated for Rodgers, who out of college aspired to be a local TV sportscaster.
“There’s a reason why those jobs are separate,” he said. “My role with Jim wasn’t a traditional producer, just booking guests or screening calls, I was more into content creation and shaping conversations, much more collaborative. That was my value to him.
“I saw when Jim used to get frustrated about things but I never understood why from the producer side. But now that I’m here, it makes perfect sense. When it’s your responsibility and your voice out there, and you make a mistake, it’s on you. That took me a while to figure out.
“It’s one of those things now that feels like going from an assistant coach to a head coach. Sure, I know how to draw up plays. But where I already held Jim in high regard for how he did his show, that respect goes to a whole new level for me now.”
Rodgers still spends his 9-to-11 a.m. window weekdays continuing to do his Yahoo Sports Radio show called “Travis Rodgers Now,” available on the Yahoo Sports app and YahooSportsRadio.com in L.A.
But even with the new wake-up call, Rodgers doesn’t turn in until shortly after 10 p.m. so he can follow L.A.-based games to their conclusion. So now, afternoon naps are schedule.
“When I did the show at KLAA (from 6 to 9 a.m.), it was just a 25-minute commute from my home in Laguna Niguel,” said Rodgers. “I could get up at 4:15 — again, no one should be up at that time — and have no problem.
“This is a little more of a drive, and I’m up at 3. But the difference between 3 and 4 is negligible — they’re both awful. But I’m happy to do it.
“I know the people on the road when we are on the air care about sports the same way someone who drives to work at 8 in the morning. I’ve always kind of wondered why there aren’t more local morning shows done like this.”
Let the other sports-talk station program directors sleep on that one.
Credit to the LA Times who originally published this story