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Q&A with Clay Travis

Brian Noe

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I was watching the movie Fight Club the other day. Brad Pitt’s character says at one point, “If you wanna make an omelet, you gotta break some eggs.” That thought is a good description of Clay Travis’ style. Gaining a lot of attention and a monstrous following sometimes involves ruffling a few feathers along the way.

Clay’s on-air style makes me flash back to those old-school Rolling Stone descriptions of heavy metal bands. You know the ones that are littered with a flurry of colorful and unique adjectives. The uncompromising national host of Outkick the Coverage on FOX Sports Radio, Clay Travis unleashes a relentless fury of persuasions in headstrong and unapologetic fashion. Pointed, biting, yet mixed with an authenticity and honesty that isn’t commonly accessible. Sure, that’s a little thick, but it’s also accurate.

“People who get mad at me fuel the people who like me.” If that isn’t a great evaluation of the reaction to Clay Travis, I don’t know what is. Coincidentally, those comments come from Clay’s mouth in the interview below. Clay also explains that owning his Outkick the Coverage website affords him a luxury that many others don’t possess. It helps unlock his no-holds-barred honesty on the airwaves.

Another line from Fight Club fits — “I am smart, capable, and most importantly, I’m free in all the ways that you are not.” In many ways, Clay Travis is the Tyler Durden of sports talk.

BN: Do you ever just wake up and say, “I don’t feel like dealing with crazy responses today?”

CT: (laughs) I don’t ever think about how people are going to respond to me. I definitely think when my alarm goes off in the 4:15 range in the morning central time — because I’m on east coast drive time living in the central time zone — I definitely think when it’s pitch black, “What am I doing with my life getting out of bed at 4:15am?”

I don’t really think about the way people are going to respond to what I say or write or do at all, but I definitely think, “My God, I’d like to just hit the alarm off and sleep for another three hours.” I would say that’s the most common thought I have at 4:15am when the alarm goes off. The other one is to turn the alarm off fast so I don’t wake up anybody else in the house.

Another thing is I’ve gotten pulled over a lot driving at 4:15-4:20am. I just hop in the car and get moving. It’s funny because the cops who are working the overnight shift will pull me over for going 45 in a 35 or whatever I’m doing on my way to work. It’s almost like they’re just checking to see if I’m coming home for the night or on my way to work. As soon as they see I’m on my way to work, they’re like, “Yeah, you’re fine.” I think they’re worried about drunk drivers and stuff like that because a lot of people, frankly, are still finishing their day when I’m starting mine.

BN: How long does it take for your mind to start functioning while you’re doing the show early in the morning?

CT: It doesn’t really take any time for my mind to start functioning. I’ve done middays and I’ve done afternoons. I think morning is a lot more challenging. Now, I will say it’s a lot more fulfilling because we get to talk before the new story of the day is set. Nobody has talked at all about any of the games that have happened by the time we’re talking.

I did afternoon drive for a long time in Nashville, and it’s crazy to me now with Periscope and Facebook and social media, that when I got started, I might be talking about a game that took place at noon on Saturday, and not talking about it until Monday afternoon. That’s 48 hours after the game has been over. That’s crazy to me now to think about doing something where it takes that long to react.

The other thing I’d say is great about mornings is I’m ahead of everybody. Sometimes I feel like the only people awake in the country are me and Donald Trump because I check my Twitter feed and nobody is tweeting anything. Then the president gets up and says something crazy on Twitter and it feels like he and I are the only two people up and moving that early in the morning getting in front of the news cycle. I think that all factors in. You definitely have a good sense of accomplishment. Like right now (while we’re doing this interview) it’s 10am my time and I’ve already been up for six hours.

The biggest challenge is as a dad. I used to love the time in the evening after my young kids were asleep. I could sit back and watch Netflix or I could read more regularly, and the news cycle would slow down. I would go to bed at midnight or 1am pretty much every night. I’m more of a night person than I am a day person. Now, I can’t stay up that consistently hardly at all and then turn around and do a three-hour morning show getting up at 4:15 in the morning. 

BN: What has your career path been like up to this point of hosting Outkick on FOX Sports Radio?

CT: I came to do everything I’m doing through writing. I still think of myself primarily as a writer. If I had to give up everything else, I think I would give up writing the last. I moved from writing initially for an audience of zero on my own website with nobody who had any clue of who I was while I was a practicing attorney, to doing radio. I started doing radio just as radio hits as a guest.

I always tell people who are writers to do every radio interview that somebody requests (especially when you’re young) because it’s good practice. I found out that I was pretty good at radio by doing 10-15 minute hits as a guest talking about the columns that I had written. That led to a once-or-twice a week show on 104.5 The Zone. I think I was getting paid nothing. Then eventually I got paid 50 dollars a show. That led to middays on 104.5 The Zone, which led to afternoon drive, which then led to doing an NBC Sports national show. Then, I left and eventually FOX Sports Radio recruited me to come back and take over their morning show a couple of years ago.

BN: When you were doing the afternoon drive show on The Zone, was that a two or three-man show?

CT: Three man. Now, I was doing a Saturday show for NBC — a three-hour show by myself on Saturday mornings. For several years I did six days a week of radio, three hours a day. That wasn’t counting whatever radio hits I’d be doing around the country as well. I had never hosted a five-day-a-week show by myself — and look I’m not technically by myself all the time — I’ve got a couple of producers in L.A. and a producer in Nashville as well. There are a lot of people who think they can do a three-hour solo show for years at a time. I think the reality is there aren’t that many people who can do it — at least do it very well.

BN: How would you describe the differences between writing, radio and doing television?

CT: I think what you have to learn about writing versus radio versus TV is they’re all different. I think writing is the most difficult. Radio is the most time consuming. TV is the easiest. In TV, you have a huge collection of people trying to make you look good. Writing, you’re sitting in front of the screen all by yourself. Radio, you’re basically by yourself. TV, you walk in and there’s like six or seven producers and they’re like, “Hey, we think these are the 10 best topics to talk about. What’s your opinion on each of these?” If you talk for more than a minute in a row, you’ve talked for a long time on TV. By the way, a 30-minute television show is 23 minutes without commercial breaks.

There’s a reason why people don’t go very often from TV to radio to writing, and why writers, if they have the ability or the interest or desire, can go from writing to radio to TV easier. I think each step gets progressively easier. Now, there are certainly things about TV that you can’t control. You can’t control what you look like. You can’t control your mannerisms. You can’t control how your suit looks or whether your tie looks good or whether your hair looks normal. Like those are all cosmetic things and much of TV is about how you look as opposed to what you say. That’s different, where as radio everything you say — and writing, frankly, is all about the words. There’s a lot more cosmetic aspects of TV.

BN: When you’re listening to a sports talk show host, what type of style interests you most? 

CT: I like to be entertained. I think the standards that apply across all those disciplines is what I try to be — smart, original, funny, and authentic. Not necessarily in every subject because sometimes you’re talking about serious subjects. Sometimes you’re talking about totally funny subjects so being really smart about it doesn’t necessarily apply, but I think over the course of your show on any given day, or over the course of my website, certainly over the course of television, my goal is to be smart, original, funny, and authentic. I think people who accomplish that on a daily basis are people that certainly I appreciate.

I’ve always said the guy I kind of pattern what I do in sports after as a young guy — I’m 38 now so I’m not that young — but the guy I used to pattern myself after to a large extent was Tony Kornheiser. I think he was the first guy to be great at writing, to be great at radio, and to be great at TV. My goal is and was to be good — and not just good but great — at all three of those disciplines.

BN: What annoys you about sports radio these days?

CT: First of all, I don’t spend that much time listening to sports radio. I think once you do it, if you spend very much time worrying about what other people are doing, I just don’t have the time and effort and energy. Other than listening to an interview here or there, or I put on Cowherd a lot because I think he’s so good, I’ll flip him on television and obviously people will send me segments and things to watch. I just don’t spend any time worrying about what anybody else is doing in sports talk radio at all. To me, I’m entirely focused on what I do, almost like tunnel vision. If I do a good job, then that’s my goal. Frankly, I really don’t care what anybody else does.

BN: When you deal with backlash over one of your comments, are you ever surprised by which ones people take exception to the most?

CT: It’s to the point now where it’s impossible to say anything on social media without backlash. Frankly, I don’t worry about it. My wife says it’s a unique part of my personality — I genuinely don’t care what people think about me. When I say that, I care what people who know me think. I care what my wife thinks. I care what my kids think. I care what people who work with me on a regular basis think, but it doesn’t really impact me what some stranger thinks about my opinion. It has zero impact on my day-to-day existence.

I think it’s almost impossible to not have backlash this day and age. I think much of it, frankly, is just total bullshit. I think it’s fake. My position has always been if you like something — watch, read, or listen to it. If you don’t, don’t. I don’t watch any television shows because I hate them. I don’t read any books because I hate them. I understand that there are certain people out there who do that. I just don’t have the time or the luxury to spend on paying attention to things I don’t like.

I spend most of the time evangelizing about television shows that I love. I don’t remember the last time that I talked about a television show outside the world of sports, and I was like, “Man, this show sucks.” I’ve got a 9-year-old, a 7-year-old, and a 3-year-old. I’ve got whole seasons of television shows taped on my DVR that I haven’t been able to get to.

I don’t really worry too much about backlash at all. Maybe initially I did. Only in the sense of, “Oh my God, am I going to get fired?” But once I started my own business, and once I owned Outkick, I’m never going to fire me. So, I don’t really care what anybody says or what criticism I get because as long as I’m the boss, what are you gonna do to me?

BN: When someone is coming at you on social media, what do you consider off limits?

CT: I’ll block people immediately now if they say anything about my kids or my wife. To me it’s like the mafia. The mafia didn’t go after kids and wives. If you have an opinion with me you can say whatever you want. Pretty much, I don’t care. I might block you if you’re just blowing up my timeline. I think we’re up to almost 600,000 Twitter followers now. It’s hard to keep up with my mentions, frankly, and some days I just can’t. But if I look at something and I’m like, “Man, this guy has tweeted me 20 times in a row and he’s clearly an idiot,” I’ll just block him because I don’t like when people fill my timeline up. Outside of my timeline getting filled up, obviously wife and kids. To me it’s all business or family in general. That’s just beyond the pale to me. So, other than that, it just doesn’t even register with me.

BN: If you’re looking at it from your audience’s point of view and evaluating yourself, what would you say is the #1 strength you have that has helped you create a massive following?

CT: I think it’s probably honesty. Authenticity. I think we live in an inauthentic age. I think there are a lot of people who don’t always agree with my opinion, but I think the people who really like Outkick and like what I do appreciate the fact that I don’t pull any punches, and I tell people exactly what I think. I think that’s rare. I think people are so afraid of getting fired or so afraid of offending someone that they tiptoe up to their opinion, or they don’t really say what they think if they’re afraid it’s not a politically-correct opinion — it’s not a politically-correct answer.

What I see the most is people saying, “Thank God for saying what you actually believe, because I think that’s rare.” I would say that’s probably what resonates for the people who like me the most. That’s probably what they would say or resonates the most. Like I said, my goal is kind of an acronym context — it’s SOFA — smart, original, funny, and authentic. I think authenticity is so rare that it’s what registers the most.

BN: Is having the freedom to say something that somebody else might not what you love the most?

CT: When I started Outkick, my goal with the website was to say exactly what I wanted to say and not ever worry about what anybody thought, and have total creative freedom to write, say, and think whatever I want. That is what I value the most. Plenty of people are like, “ Oh, Clay Travis says what he says for money or attention” or whatever else. I’ve turned down money in exchange to maintain my creative freedom.

I would say there are certain people out there who say, “Clay Travis is a sellout.” To the extent that selling out means that you will do whatever it takes to make the most money possible, you can talk to every employer that I’ve ever worked with. Whether it’s FOX, whether it’s FOX Sports Radio, whether it was The Zone back in the day, whether it was FanHouse, Deadspin, CBS Sports, all of them. There have been times where I’ve been offered more money to do what I’m doing, but have to have more restraint on what I say, think, or do. I’ve turned down the more money in favor of creative freedom.

Certainly you can say it at FOX. Certainly you can say it at FOX Sports Radio. You can certainly say it at FanHouse back in the day, everywhere else. I kind of gravitated toward the space where I can say what I want to say, and write what I want to write. I haven’t chased money because I could’ve made more money just by kind of tamping down and tapering off some of the stuff that I say.

BN: How would you assess your time doing Outkick on FOX Sports Radio?

CT: I think it’s going really well. We developed a really substantial audience. They can speak to the numbers better than I can, but I think our numbers are up something like 84% over the last year. We’re approaching 300 AM/FM affiliates, got satellite radio, the podcast — I don’t know what the final numbers for January are going to be, but it’s going to be in the millions. It’ll be the biggest month that we’ve ever had. I kind of pay attention to that stuff along the way.

I know that we’re growing and growing pretty rapidly just based on what I see on Facebook and Periscope and whatnot. I’ve enjoyed it and think it’s been successful. Do I want to do it forever? No. If you told me in 15 years that I was still going to be getting up at 4:15, I don’t think I’d want to do that, but I like it now. And I love my producers, who work hard on the show, and my bosses. They’ve had my back completely. Don Martin and Scott Shapiro are the best bosses I’ve ever had.

BN: You’ve been involved in a few controversies. I don’t want to get too personal, but how does it work at home? How does your wife handle some of the things you’ve been in the middle of? 

CT: I think she was more nervous before I quote unquote “made it” with Outkick. Now, I don’t want to say that I could never work again because I’m obviously not that wealthy, but if suddenly I didn’t have any jobs from anybody other than Outkick, I would be perfectly fine for the rest of my life.

I think the fear on her part is she would say certainly much of being married to me is living in a constant fear that I’m going to say or do something that provokes an outrageous and outlandish reaction. I think that fear kind of diminishes every day, week, and month going forward because at this point I think my audience has got my back. I control so much of the means of my own distribution that what are they going to do? Just stop reading my articles on Outkick? Stop reading my tweets? Stop watching my Periscope and Facebook shows?

People who get mad at me fuel the people who like me. It’s a 50/50 universe. And so, the idea that somebody out there would decide, “I want to shut down Clay Travis. He shouldn’t be able to say or write what he says,” I think fuels the people that are out there that support me. I don’t think those people are ever going to leave. I just don’t worry about it. I’ve got a big audience and I think that audience has my back and won’t leave me as long as I continue to be smart, original, funny, and authentic.

I can’t speak to my wife’s day-to-day opinion of me. Like any wife I’m sure she’s frustrated and upset with her husband on a regular basis, but I don’t think it’s necessarily because of anything I’m doing in a professional context. Look, I’m a pretty good dad. I’m around my kids a lot. They don’t judge me for any of my public persona because they don’t listen to the show. The feedback that they get growing up in Nashville is phenomenal. We’ve got a huge fan base here. The kids, I don’t think anybody’s ever said anything bad to them. They’re like, “You’re dad’s Clay Travis. That’s awesome. I love the show. I love his site.” From their perspective, I think they genuinely believe everybody on Earth loves their dad because the negativity they’re not exposed to.

BN: Do you think that your style brings out more honesty and edge with the people around you on the show such as your producers, the board op, update guy and even your listeners? 

CT: Well, I think honesty is rare. When you are honest, sometimes people are initially shocked by it, and they will follow it up with more honest responses than they would typically give. I think much of sports and sports talk radio is cliché now. To the extent you can break through the cliché with a direct honest opinion — I think that works to the benefit of the show whether it’s producing, callers or tweeters. I think all of that kind of melds together into a symphony of an outstanding way to spend the morning. Whether or not that’s the case, it’s ultimately for other people to judge, but that’s kind of my goal every morning.

BN: As far as approaching topics on a show, how do you decide what to focus on?

CT: I think I’m good at knowing what subjects people are going to care about. I think that comes from writing. I think that comes from being active on the internet. I think you can give me 10 subjects and I can say, “Okay, I can make these three interesting. And I have strong opinions on these three.” I don’t think it’s always the best subjects. I think it’s the subjects that you feel the strongest about.

For instance, as we’re having this conversation, I just finished the show a couple hours ago and this morning the baseball Hall of Fame vote came out. Some people will spend a lot of time talking about whether they think Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens should be in the Hall of Fame. I think the answer is yes, but I don’t find that to be a very interesting subject. Like okay, the answer is yes, and what then goes beyond that? I can talk about it, but I don’t particularly care. If I were in my car, I wouldn’t want to hear somebody talk about the same subject that has existed for what? 10 years? That’s been debated how should you consider steroids?

For the same reason I don’t do Michael Jordan versus LeBron James. There’s literally nothing that somebody can say about that subject interestingly until every year of LeBron James’ career is over. Then you can go back and say, “Okay, how does LeBron compare to Michael Jordan after 12 years” or whatever, but even in the middle of the summer when there’s nothing else going on, I don’t find that to be an interesting topic.

Now, I think much like with cable news, they have found out that you only want to talk about the three or four biggest stories in your mind in your world. That’s what I do. There are some people — we’ve got 12 segments in a three-hour show — there are some people who will come on with 10 or 12 different subjects and have their entire show kind of sketched out that way. I’ll rarely go more than four subjects total. And that’s because I think about if I’m in my car driving to work, do I want to hear Clay Travis talk about the three or four biggest stories in detail, or do I want to hear him touch on 12 stories? I want to hear the three or four biggest stories in detail, something that I care about on that day’s basis as opposed to just having somebody go all in on it.

The other thing is, we don’t have that many guests. A lot of people guest up. We don’t ever have a guest on Monday. There’s so much to react to during football season, I come on and I just talk. Usually, there’s a lot of stuff that happens over the weekend and on Mondays there are a lot of topics in general. It’s rare that we have more than two guests. In a three-hour show we might have a guest on for two segments. So that means we’ve got 10 segments to fill.

I’m not a big guest guy. I think people are tuning in because they want to hear what I have to say, or what people on the show have to say. I think they want to hear us talk about the biggest possible stories. That’s what I kind of work towards in the context of what the show structure should look like.

BN: What do you see yourself doing 10 years from now if you’re not waking up at 4:15 in the morning and getting pulled over by cops?

CT: I don’t know what I’m doing in six months. 10 years from now to me is so far in advance. The easy way to answer that is 10 years ago I was a 28-year-old who was publishing his first book. 13 years ago I was graduating from law school and never could’ve projected where I am today, not necessarily having to do with the success of it at all, just what I’m doing. I don’t think that I ever would’ve predicted that I’d be doing what I’m doing now. So a decade from now? I’ve got no idea. I just don’t want to die. I hope I’m still alive in ten years because I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I think the next decade is going to be really fun.

BSM Writers

Jac Collinsworth Has Learned From The Best

“The way he would take all of the young people, myself included, under his wings. You couldn’t get this anywhere else.”

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Jac Collinsworth got his first taste of Notre Dame football while watching his brother Austin play for the Fighting Irish. There was his brother playing on special teams and getting a chance to return kicks.

“I remember sitting in the stands for his first football game inside Notre Dame Stadium thinking this is the coolest thing I’ve been a part of,” said Collinsworth. “The history of this building and my brother is out there in a Notre Dame jersey.”

Not only did Jac eventually go to Notre Dame as well, but he just completed his first season as the play-by-play voice for Notre Dame Football on NBC. As a student, Jac was part of the NBC sideline production team during his four-year education at South Bend from 2013 to 2017 and he was the sideline reporter for the NBC broadcast of the Blue/Gold spring game in 2016 and 2017.

“To work on the broadcasts for four years — as an intern really — with Alex Flanagan and then with Kathryn Tappen for three years down there on the sideline and being in all those production meetings, it was such an invaluable piece of the journey for me.”

And now, the 27-year-old is the television voice of the Fighting Irish.

“To see it all come full circle and be up there in the booth, it was really a special experience every single game,” said Collinsworth.

After graduating from Notre Dame, Collinsworth joined ESPN where he was a correspondent for NFL Live and Sunday NFL Countdown while also hosting the ESPN-owned ACC Network’s football show The Huddle.

Jac then returned to NBC in 2020 and was part of the Notre Dame telecasts during the pregame show and halftime show for two seasons. Collinsworth had the opportunity to learn under veteran play-by-play voice Mike Tirico, especially during the production meetings.

Tirico became a mentor to Collinsworth.

“I felt like I was getting a graduate degree watching him handle those meetings,” said Collinsworth. “The way he would take all of the young people, myself included, under his wings. You couldn’t get this anywhere else. To be able to do that for two years and still have him as a close friend and somebody I can text…I text with him before every single game.”

Another huge mentor to Collinsworth has been the legendary Al Michaels, the former play-by-play voice for Sunday Night Football who is now calling the Thursday night package for Amazon.

“I talk to him all the time,” said Collinsworth. “I’ve had dinner with him. He invites me out to play golf. We just get on the phone and spent 45 minutes just breaking down everything.  Every time that phone rings I don’t care what I’m in the middle of, I walk outside and I take that call.”

Collinsworth, the son of former Bengals wide receiver and current NFL Sunday Night Football analyst Cris Collinsworth, first felt the broadcasting itch growing up in Ft. Thomas, Kentucky.  It goes without saying that his father was a huge influence, but Jac remembers when Highlands High School was being renovated when he was in 7th and 8th grade.

The first part of the renovation was a brand-new broadcast facility.

“It was a studio that had these amazing cameras, a desk, lights and two sets,” recalled Collinsworth. “To this day, I’ve never seen a high school setup…I mean this is better than most college setups…a state of-the-art facility.”

The class was called “Introduction to Filmmaking” and Collinsworth started out wanted to be a cameraman. 

“I became obsessed with running around the school and filming all this stuff whatever students were doing,” said Collinsworth. 

From there, Jac gained experience in editing and producing but deep down inside he thought he wanted to be a cameraman…that was until his first taste of on-air experience.

“They started a rotation where everybody in the class had to try hosting the announcements live right before the final period of the day,” said Collinsworth.

And the rest is history.

An important part of Jac’s growth as a play-by-play announcer came last spring working NBC’s coverage of the United States Football League. Paired with Jason Garrett, Collinsworth was able to continue the learning process before taking over the Notre Dame duties. He appreciated the fact that these were really good football players that were among the best players on their college teams and could very well be in the NFL.

And just like for the players, the USFL was an opportunity for Jac to get better at his craft. 

“Just continuing to learn the art form of calling a game,” said Collinsworth. “The timing and getting out of the way sometimes and letting the broadcast breathe and rising for those big moments.” 

An incredibly big moment for Jac would be if the opportunity to work a game with his father ever presented himself. It’s something that he’s thought about and would love to see come to fruition somewhere down the road.

But if that happens, there could be a problem for the viewers.

“Would anybody be able to tell who is talking?” joked Jac.  

Jac and his father sound so much alike it’s scary. In fact, during our twenty-minute phone conversation, I really had to pay attention to listen for any discernable difference between Jac and his dad and it was very hard to find any.

But it would still be fascinating to hear them work together.

“I think it would be a very cool experience,” said Jac. “We would have so much chemistry that it would be a crazy experience. I would love to do it. I’d be getting out of his way and let him make points and I wouldn’t be afraid to take a couple of shots at him. I think it would be damn entertaining.” 

While their on-air roles are different, Jac has been able to learn a lot about broadcasting from his father. While he does — for the most part — give his son some space when it comes to work, Cris leaves Jac a note prior to each broadcast, mainly has it pertains to a specific aspect of a telecast like coming back from a break or the flow of a telecast.

But there’s one valuable lesson that Jac learned from his dad years ago that he has adopted for himself.

“Probably the biggest thing I’ve learned from him is, he is a worker man,” said Collinsworth.  “He just works at this stuff.” 

Jac would constantly see his father going through film at various hours during the day, but Cris would still pay close attention to his son’s studies at school and would let Jac know about it if he saw something wasn’t right.

Like when Jac would be having some difficulty with a math assignment.

“I’m like ‘Dad, this is calculus, I can’t figure out how to do this equation’,” said Jac. “He would put that clicker down and come up and he would be deep in the math book going through the chapters learning all this calculus that he hasn’t done in 40 years.  I’d come down at six in the morning and he’d still be flipping through the math book while I’m eating breakfast and he’s teaching me the lesson to make sure I got it for the quiz.

“That’s how he was…just the work element is the biggest thing that I still use every day and I definitely got it from him.”

Aside from his football duties, Collinsworth has also been a NASCAR studio analyst for NBC and he’s also been the voice of Atlantic Ten Men’s Basketball and the Atlantic Ten Tournament. There’s something to be said for getting experience in multiple sports because each sport has its own pace and its own flow.

Some play-by-play voices specialize in one sport and some can handle multiple assignments.  In Jac’s case, there’s one sport that stand above all the others.

“The rhythm, feel and flow of a football game is my favorite,” said Collinsworth. “Football has always been my first love and grew up around it. Basketball happens fast not to mention you’re on the court and you’re right there in the middle of it. I’ve called baseball games too and that’s a very slow game.” 

Jac Collinsworth is still very early in his broadcasting career but he has great talent and he’s been rewarded with some amazing opportunities like Notre Dame Football and being part of NBC’s NFL coverage.

But he knows that he’s had some help along the way and he’s very grateful for it.

“I feel like I’m living out a dream and I feel like I’m standing on a lot of people’s shoulders that helped me get there,” said Collinsworth. “I think about a lot of people who didn’t need to but chose to help me when I was a kid. I feel like I have a great responsibility to take that advice and take it as far as I can and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

And it all started with a high school television studio and his willingness to try all different aspects of the business.   

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Chris Kinard Has 106.7 The Fan, The Team 980 Primed For Continued Success

“Coming right out of the books and beating our direct competitor in the first month will always be something I’m proud of.”

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When Jim Riggleman resigned as manager of the Washington Nationals in June 2011, it was the first time Chris Kinard thought the fanbase cared about the team.

Riggleman wanted the Nationals to pick up the option on his contract and effectively remove the “interim” tag from his job description, and once they declined to do so, he essentially packed up and left.

From the time he was young, Chris Kinard was interested in media, and he had early exposure in the industry since his uncle Lee worked as a television news anchor in Greensboro, N.C. The elder Kinard was the pioneer of the Good Morning Show on WFMY News 2 and was honored with the dedication of the main studio in his honor from where he worked since 1956.

By the time he was in fifth grade, Chris Kinard began listening to radio and realizing it may be a viable career path for him to pursue. He shadowed his uncle in 1996 to learn about news media and television broadcasting; however, he gravitated towards working in radio in part because of WJFK-FM, and had an affinity towards professional sports.

“A local morning show here in D.C. on a top 40 station was kind of my entry point,” Kinard said. “I listened to that show actually when it moved over to WJFK for years in middle school and high school.”

At the time, WJFK-FM was broadcasting in the talk format and was among the network of stations syndicating The Howard Stern Show and other programming targeted towards the male 25-54 demographic. Kinard was an avid listener of the station, tuning in to its programming for several hours a day over the course of many years.

Today, it is known as 106.7 The Fan and it is managed, along with Audacy’s cluster of radio stations by Kinard himself. He was responsible for flipping the station’s format from talk to sports in 2009 and has helped cement the brand as dominant in the ratings.

“Flipping the station to sports will always be a bittersweet thing for me,” Kinard said. “I grew up with the station [in] the previous format and I took a lot of pride in what we were doing at the time, but I think we launched with great success. Coming right out of the books and beating our direct competitor in the first month will always be something I’m proud of.”

During his freshman year at American University, he got word that The Sports Junkies were making a public appearance a few minutes away from his childhood home. Additionally, he found out the show was looking for people to volunteer to serve as interns, an opportunity he knew was simply too good to pass up.

Inherently shy, Kinard introduced himself with the hopes of landing an internship at WJFK-FM. A few weeks later, he received a phone call informing him that he was selected to work as an intern, a surreal opportunity for him to begin working in sports media. Little did he know he would still be working at the station, albeit in a more substantial role, 25 years later.

“When it started and when I was actually in the building and seeing the behind the scenes, I was kind of in awe,” Kinard said. “….I had no idea what I was doing really except that I really wanted to be there and couldn’t believe that I was and wanted to soak it all in.”

Three months later, one of the show’s producers who largely acted as a call screener left the station to pursue another opportunity in media. As a result, there was a gap to be filled, and since Kinard had been diligent and responsible as an intern, he was hired part-time to take over the role. At the conclusion of his sophomore year in college, he was hired full-time as the producer of The Sports Junkies – a development in his career he calls “fortuitous” initially difficult to foresee balancing with two years remaining to earn his undergraduate degree.

“It was a really kind of interesting conversation with my parents about whether to do it or not and how it would impact my schoolwork and that kind of thing,” Kinard said. “I just was determined to take that opportunity; I knew how scarce they were I guess just by seeing people who had been at the station and working part-time [for] several years who had left because they couldn’t get a full-time position.”

By the time he was in his junior and senior years, Kinard had valuable professional experience from working at WJFK-FM and also interning at the local ABC affiliate station. Although he participated in some of the student-run media outlets at the school, his mindset was to prioritize what he was doing off campus.

“I’m not sure that I actually got a lot out of college to be honest with you because I was doing it outside of school already just by kind of virtue of connections,” Kinard said. “Being in Washington, D.C. and all the opportunities that are available here, [that was] really… my focus more than anything else.”

During his first year as show producer, The Sports Junkies became nationally syndicated on Westwood One Radio and was achieving notoriety and high ratings within the marketplace. The show is hosted by four childhood best friends – John Auville, Eric Bickel, Jason Bishop, and John-Paul Flaim – who began the program on public access television in Bowie, Maryland before joining WJFK-FM as evening hosts in 1996. None of them had any formal broadcast training, instead utilizing their indelible chemistry and local background to auspiciously impact sports media.

“They’re very authentic,” Kinard expressed. “I think when people hear them, they can relate to them. They sound like every guy’s group of friends sound when you get together. I think they sound like our city; they sound like sports fans in Washington over the last 30 years.”

All four co-hosts recently inked four-year contract extensions to keep The Sports Junkies on 106.7 The Fan, officially putting pen to paper together in studio earlier this month.

Since 2016, The Sports Junkies has been simulcast on NBC Sports Washington, and although listeners now have the ability to add a visual component to their experience, it did not change how any of the co-hosts approach the job. From the beginning, there was a mutual understanding that the show would still operate in the same way with the cameras serving the purpose of pulling back the metaphorical curtain.

“It is really a fast-paced show in terms of the camera switching and the direction of it because there’s four guys, so I think this show translates really well,” Kinard said. “There’s a lot going on because there are four hosts, not just two talking heads. There’s also two producers that chime in a lot. There’s a lot of movement, I think, within the show because of just how dynamic of a cast it is.”

Since its official shift to the sports talk format in 2009, 106.7 The Fan had primarily competed with The Team 980 to try to win in the ratings. In November 2020, Audacy, officially agreed to acquire various stations across the United States owned by Urban One, including The Team 980, effectively ending that competition. Part of Kinard’s job is to oversee both sports talk stations, which now compete with ESPN 630 DC.

“We have some really talented staff,” Kinard said. “I’m not sure we’ve ever had more talent under one roof than we have now. Having two stations in my market allows me to groom new people and give people opportunities quicker than I could with just one station.”

Moreover, he helped launch 1580 The Bet, a radio station broadcasting in the growing sports gambling format in partnership with the BetQL Audio Network and CBS Sports Radio. Its creation coincided with a nationwide effort by Audacy to better utilize certain signals to their full potential, and with the proliferation and legalization of sports betting in select states across the country, many of them flipped to this format.

“I think it was important to have the BetQL Network represented in Washington at a high level because of the proximity to the MGM National Harbor, which is just kind of 15 minutes away from the radio station,” Kinard said. “[It is] on a signal that, in the past, had not been a big ratings play, so that was a great opportunity to just kind of own sports in Washington – to have 106.7 The Fan; The Team 980; and 1580 The Bet all under one umbrella.”

A compelling draw to sports radio is live game broadcasts, and as brand manager of Audacy DC, Kinard is responsible for maintaining 106.7 The Fan’s relationship with the Washington Capitals and Washington Nationals. When the teams are doing well, it usually results in better metrics for the station.

“There’s a huge correlation between winning and listenership and also advertiser interest,” Kinard said. “There’s a segment of the fanbase, I think, that thinks that local sports radio roots against the teams. It’s not that we root for the teams necessarily, but if you ask any host probably on any radio station in America whether it’s better for their individual show’s success and their overall station success if the teams are successful, I think everyone’s going to say it’s way better.”

Prior to the start of this NFL season, Audacy DC parted ways with the Washington Commanders due to a disagreement regarding “the value of the broadcasts.” The Team 980 was previously owned by the Washington Commanders franchise itself and had been the flagship station of the team for several years through its sale to Urban One in 2019. The Fan had not had the radio broadcast rights to the Commanders since 2006 before it was broadcasting in the sports talk format, hence why The Sports Junkies co-host Eric Bickel stated that the station had had no relationship with the team for two decades.

Since the Commanders officially entered into a new partnership with iHeartRadio, its flagship station has been BIG 100, which airs a classic rock format. Consequently, The Team 980 had the opportunity to change its on-air strategy, airing five hours of pregame coverage every week followed by extensive postgame coverage. During the games themselves, the station has broadcast Burgundy & Gold Gameday Live, a show that has had stellar listenership thus far.

“I think play-by-play rights are really important and do have a ton of value, but only if it’s done in a way where there’s partnership on both sides but also an understanding on both sides that the team has a job to do and the radio station has a job to do,” Kinard expressed. “Our focus is just to continue to provide great talk and coverage of the teams.”

As media continues to evolve with changes in technology and consumption habits, Kinard remains optimistic about the future because of the influx of new talent and the leadership at Audacy.

“We have just a wealth of talent and content, and I think that content will cut through no matter what’s going on with technology,” he said. “I think that we will continue to push to make sure that we are on the platforms that we need to be on and that we own that content and can monetize it for the future. I don’t know how anyone could compete with that, so I’m really excited about it.”

Kinard’s vertical movement in the industry might not have been possible without finding a mentor in Michael Hughes, the station’s general manager. Over the years working in the industry, Kinard grasped that managers are often not thinking about the needs and wants of individuals because of the myriad of responsibilities they are juggling related to the entity as a whole over any given period of time.

As a result, it is essential for subordinates to communicate with their superiors, as they are “at the mercy of the communication [they] receive,” according to Kinard.

“I had a conversation with him about… wanting to be a program director,” Kinard said of Hughes. “I think he took that seriously and took that to heart and he said, ‘Well, let me help you be prepared for that when the time might come.’ It just so happened that it came less than a year later.”

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Pete Thamel Was ESPN’s College Football Missing Link

His no-frills approach is refreshing in a time when many “insiders” view being as famous as the athletes they cover as a quasi-goal for their futures.

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For a network often accused of “running” college football, it always seemed odd to me that ESPN never had that true news-breaking reporter it had for other sports. That is, until it hired Pete Thamel in January of this year.

ESPN poured resources into “insiders” like Adam Schefter, Adrian Wojnarowski, and Jeff Passan while it poured rights fees into the SEC, Big 12, Pac-12, ACC, and the College Football Playoff, but from the outside, it looked as if the network just wasn’t interested in having that same type of reporting for college football, which is truly puzzling.

When the entire postseason of the country’s arguably second favorite sport is centered around what is best for your television channel, you would think supplementing it with high level, national reporting would be a priority.

Maybe the right deals never came to fruition or maybe the value just wasn’t seen by the network until Thamel became available, but his contributions to ESPN’s college football coverage have been immeasurable.

In a day and age where reporters break news on Twitter and get around to eventually writing a story for their outlet’s website, Thamel flexed his reporting chops in a major way on Sunday. While the rest of the college football world was still pondering whether Ohio State should consider firing Ryan Day, Thamel dropped a bomb on the sport’s landscape by revealing Wisconsin had hired Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell to run their program. His initial tweet was accompanied by a link to ESPN’s website with further details about the move.

Pete Thamel was so convinced he was the first and potentially only person working on that ever-changing breaking news story, that he took the time to write the story, submit it through ESPN’s editorial staff, and then release the news before anyone else. In 2022, that’s the equivalent of mailing his story from side of the country to the other in order to break news. And yet, he was so far ahead of the game that he was able to take his time, gather his facts, and report an accurate, succinct story that would be of value to him and his network. What a novel concept.

One of Thamel’s best qualities as an “insider” is he — thus far — hasn’t been plagued by questions that have been a factor in the perception like his ESPN counterparts. Schefter, Wojnarowski, and Passan have each faced their own incidents during their time as the lead reporters for ESPN but Thamel, in my opinion, is unlikely to be pulled into those scenarios. It seems clear Thamel doesn’t release things for the benefit of anyone other than himself and the outlet he works for.

He doesn’t seem to be swayed by agents, athletic directors, coaches, boosters, or anyone else with skin in the game. His no-frills approach is refreshing in a time when many “insiders” view being as famous as the athletes they cover as a quasi-goal for their futures.

Last week, College GameDay host Rece Davis noted on the show’s podcast that Thamel brought “something to GameDay that GameDay’s desperately needed for years”, and he’s right. Not only did ESPN need a news breaker for it’s digital outlets, but it needed that presence on its pregame show.

And when you think about it, nearly ever other pregame show has that role filled. Schefter and Chris Mortensen hold that role for ESPN’s NFL coverage, FOX Sports has Jay Glazer in its NFL pregame show and Bruce Feldman for Big Noon Kickoff. It’s just an area ESPN lacked.

But they made a fantastic hire by bringing Thamel aboard, and his reporting will serve the worldwide leader well over the course of the following weeks as the college coaching carousel heats up.

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