Duo takes golf talk to radio big-time
CLEVELAND -- Tune in to the NEC Invitational Golf Show on WTAM 1100 Sundays from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., and you're likely to say, "Hey, that sounds like two guys at a bar talking about golf."
That's just what hosts Russ Jeske and Gary Trivisonno intended when they started the radio show in 1997. Four years before, the show was broadcast out of a little station Jeske and his brother, Ray, owned in Massillon. Today, the show reaches an audience of about 100,000 in a six-county area, and an untold number in 38 states and Canada.
"We're No. 1 on Sunday nights," says Jeske. "Gary and I do a good radio job. It's fun, interesting. It's just two guys shooting the bull about golf. I tell my listeners, this is the only two hours of my life that make sense."
Jeske first met Trivisonno in 1995 at the inaugural tournament of the Tornado Tour, a mini-tour he created himself. Being a former PGA Tour player (1981-82) and seven-time Northern Ohio Player of the Year, Trivisonno couldn't resist the competition heating up at the new mini-tour. The pair hit it off, and, two years later, Jeske invited his new friend to do the show with him in Massillon.
"He asked, 'How long is the show, a half hour?'" Jeske says. "I said, 'No, an hour.' He said, 'What the heck are we going to talk about for an hour?'"
The hour flew, and Jeske realized that he needed to have Trivisonno on the show more regularly. Once the show started becoming more popular, Jeske lined his putter up at a bigger city: Cleveland. Initially, the duo was turned down by WTAM, but they did get picked up by WKNR 1220 in 1999. Some people might be surprised anybody picked them up, but Jeske used logic in his sales pitch to open radio executives' ears.
"I told them, look how many people watch golf. It's more than football. The NEC Invitational gets 350,000 fans, but the Browns only get 80,000."
Still a golf radio show? Some people, even diehard golfers, say they'd rather undergo a root canal than watch golf on television. Put it on the radio and you'd have them begging for the firing squad, right? Jeske says the show's growing audience defies this purported belief. Trivisonno concurs, saying that more people know him now for the show instead of his golf game.
"They don't ask how I'm playing anymore, they ask about the show," Trivisonno says.
If playing the game well has anything to do with talking about it well, it's no wonder Jeske, 38, and Trivisonno, 46, are kings of the golf airwaves.
Jeske played in high school and college at Kent State, and counts a 72 in 50-degree temperatures and 30-mph winds at the Northeast Ohio Amateur in 1985 as one of his best rounds. Trivisonno fired 61 twice in his career, once at the University of Alabama course and again at Tam O'Shanter in the pro-am at the Ohio Open.
There's no question, Jeske says, who would win in a head-to-head match. "Gary, hands down," he says. "He's so much better, and he has so much talent. When he was on the Tour in 1981-82, he was one of the longest drivers in the world."
"The weekend before he won I told people to watch this kid because he was in the top 50 in greens in regulation and top 50 in total driving. If he can get the putter going, you never know," Jeske says. "This might be one of the best stories in the last 50 years."
Of course, Tiger Woods, who Jeske has coined "the rock star" on air, is always a topic of conversation.
"We were at the driving range at a tournament one time, and there were about 2,000 people around," Jeske recalls. "Soon, it went up to 5,000 to 7,000, just before Tiger showed up. I said, 'The rock star's here.'"
While Jeske had 13 years to develop his radio voice and lingo before the show was picked up by WTAM, Trivisonno was dragged straight from the fairways to the airwaves with little training. But he's learned a lot from Jeske.
"I couldn't have a better partner," Trivisonno says. "I've never had a difference with him, and he's a natural on the radio. I couldn't see myself doing the show with anyone else."
Maybe it's in the genes, too. Trivisonno's brother, Mike, is a local celebrity with the No. 1-ranked talk show in Cleveland that airs on WTAM as well.
"Mike has a great gift of gab," Gary says. "Listening to him helps. And he gives me pointers, like telling me to occasionally talk about other hot topics not necessarily related to golf."
But Trivisonno's not ready to give up his day job just yet, as head golf professional at Aurora Country Club. "I'm so happy there," he says. Jeske also has duties off the air as teaching pro at Brentwood Golf Course in Grafton, but he has dreams of national syndication. "If we're No. 1 in Cleveland, why can't we be number one in Chicago?" he wonders.
Jeske also dreams of doing the show on-site at a major tournament such as the U.S. Women's Open or the U.S. Senior Open.
"Dreams can come true," Jeske says. "I used to tell the players of the Tornado Tour, 'Just because you don't know my name, doesn't mean I can't play.'"
August 11, 2003