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An Interview With the People's Champ (plus bonus commentary!)

We were fortunate this week to get some time with Gavin Dawson, host of the Morning Sports Page on 95.5 The Game, chaperone of post-game Blazer coverage, and all-around voice about town.  We asked him about his show, the purpose of radio, and his view on the Blazers (yes, including Greg Oden).  Enjoy!

Blazersedge:  It’s been a whirlwind year for you, first leaving the old station then picking up with 95.5 The Game and then sitting in the main chair in one of the most crucial time slots in your business.  How are you feeling?  Caught your breath yet? 

Gavin Dawson:  Well obviously I got very fortunate, I have to acknowledge that.  And I also need to acknowledge John Canzano who dropped me a line the same day I got let go and told me he wanted me to come work for him at Rose City Radio (at that point KXL).  That was cool and it made the unemployment process a lot easier.

But damn, for me to work at one place for eight years, and within months of me being let go, another all sports station was launched.  Talk about an all time lucky break.

I also got lucky to have management that appreciates what I do.  Things are different for me here, obviously there’s a lot more pressure to perform, but I love it.

Blazersedge:  .Last we heard the show’s ratings were fantastic.  Care to update us? 

Gavin Dawson:  Yeah it was cool to come out of the gate and get a good ratings book.  But, it's just one.  It's cool, but our goal is to be #1 out of all radio stations every single time. The ratings come out every three months or so, so it will be a while before the next report.

Blazersedge:  How crucial are the Blazers to your show?  Can a Portland sports show remain viable without them as the main topic?  Would you even want to? 

Gavin Dawson:  They are vital to me.  The most important team, and it’s not even close.  Some people love the Ducks, some the Beavers, the Mariners and Seahawks get support here in Portland, but just about everybody has a take on the Blazers these days.  Even a lot of out of town transplants eventually succumb to the energy and passion of being involved with this fan base.  

About 7 years ago, there was an article in the trib, propping up “Portland’s media icon”.  He said the Blazers weren’t big ratings generators, and that football is king.  The lapse in positive Blazers news allowed for it.  A bunch of people bought into it.  It spelled an era of Portland sports radio where talk of the Blazers wasn’t valued.  It wasn’t a requirement of talk show hosts to have a genuine interest in the NBA at all.  That always bothered me, but I took pride in the fact that real Blazers fans that were sticking with the team through the hard times could find discussion on my Saturday show or the old post game show.  

The station remained viable, but ratings didn’t really take off until the Blazers became a big story.  

It’s crazy anyone could think football is King in Portland.  That’s a mindset of people that don’t come from here and will never fully understand the connection….and that there is why I’m stoked to be working for Rose City Radio.

Blazersedge:  Give us an idea of the purpose of a good sports radio show.  Is it news?  Dropping knowledge and helping people understand more about sports?  Entertainment?  Something else?  Which of those comes first in your business? 

Gavin Dawson:  It really all falls under an “Entertainment” umbrella.  That’s the main function.  There’s three main ways we aim to do that.  I’m much more of an entertainer and conversation facilitator than a journalist.

To me, journalists deliver the info.  They worry about getting it first.  We have journalists working for the station.

On the show, we are looking to take that info and create an entertaining discussion.  Whether it’s through comedy, analysis, phone calls….whatever the situation calls for.  We try to pick the angle that will best serve the listener, and they will find most entertaining.

Blazersedge:  You seem to have a good rapport with your co-workers, at least if the on-air bantering is any indication.  Dish a little bit on the crew and your relationship with them. 

Gavin Dawson:  I love these guys.  I’ve been working with Chad for ten years.  If you think he’s border line nuts after listening to him on the show, well you are probably right.  We end up in off-air cussing matches about every two weeks. 

We really let each other have it.

It’s funny in life, most of the time we go through life being annoyed, getting irritated, or genuinely being pissed off at somebody.  But we never say anything.  For whatever reason, on the show, on the air and off, we just say it. 

It can be tense but it’s worth knowing that everything is on the table.  And when you’re plan is “to make radio history” which ours is, you can’t worry about people’s feelings getting in the way.  At least that’s the way I see it, but I’m kind of a Richard.

Zing is awesome too.  He’s key to the operation because he’s never in a bad mood, which is key at 5 A.M.  It’s hard to be grumpy for long with Zing around.  He’s built a sports bar in his basement too, like 12 TVS, fridge, the whole 9. 

Intern Jordon is still around, miraculously.  He was late in the month of October, and we put his fate in the hands of the online quick poll voters.  He was losing for the entire third hour, and somehow he scraped by 51-49 in the final minute of the show.

Blazersedge:  Share your impressions of the Blazers’ season so far.  Everything you expected? 

Gavin Dawson:  Greg’s debut was anti-climactic. I guess saying that will make me a bandwagon jumper and a hater right?  Anyway, real talk.  

After he got healthy though, he’s been more and more impressive every game.  I was impatient with him, I’ll own that. But that’s in my nature so I won’t apologize.  It’s great to see him playing well now. 

The team sits at 7-5 as I’m writing this.  I am 100-percent fully stoked on the team as a whole and every individual has done things this season to make me very optimistic.  

If Paul, KP, and Nate wanted to this season, they could put together a team that could compete very favorably with the Lakers.  This year is still about evaluation, and finishing that process though.

Blazersedge:  You took some flak this week among Blazersedge readers for your assessment of Greg Oden.  What was that assessment and what were you trying to get across?  Have the last few games altered your perception of him any? 

Gavin Dawson:  Aaah yes.  I was too impatient to wait for this Q to talk about it I guess. Classic!

I have no idea how I came to be at odds with Greg Oden or the Blazers in any way.  I’m a full time supporter, I bleed red and black.  I stuck with this team through everything, and to have people challenging my status as a pure Blazer fan hurt me to be honest.

At the same time, I ticked enough people off, so I own that part.

On the other side of the coin, and I think J-Quick and Henry Abbott would agree with me.  If you say anything not 100-percent endorsing G.O. right now, you have to be very careful with how you present it.  I made the mistake of not framing it as well as Hank and JQ did and I’ve learned from it.

Now, to answer the part about his performance starting in game three of his season.

Yes.  I was worried that it would take weeks, months, if not the entire season for him to readjust to competitive hoop. Mentally, emotionally, physically.  There were many facets to why he didn’t have good statistical games in his first two outings, and nobody could say when he would break loose of the factors that were holding him back.  To have it happen in the very next game is great.  I can’t imagine how bugged out forum and chat room threads would be right now if GO was still putting up an average of one point every 9.5 minutes. 

Blazersedge:  Favorite Blazer right now and why? 

Gavin Dawson:  Rudy Fernandez.  It sorta troubled me when he got his feeling hurt over being made fun of for wearing a sweater for two straight days.  Guys that can’t take some ribbing seem like sissies to me.  

But he’s looked nothing like a sissy on the floor.  He’s the skinniest guy on the floor, and he’s talking the most smack.  

Guys that try to intimidate him quickly find out it doesn’t work because he’s either ignoring them or giving them an earful back.   

Plus, he’s got a playground flair to his game, which I love. 

The European mental approach to hoop is superior to the one employed in the U.S.A.  There, it’s truly about the team.  And the players really buy into it.  Unfortunately here, quite often the players just pretend like they do.

It’s a genuine team first attitude with Rudy that will further endear him.

Greg has some of that too.  I loved it when he deflected questions about his big 20-10 game at Golden State by saying the win is the most important thing. 

Blazersedge:  Favorite Blazer Dancer right now and why? 

Gavin Dawson:  The redhead.  There’s just something about her I guess.  Maybe it’s the newness of her or maybe it’s the idea of bouncing loose change off her stomach.   

I’ll never get married again but I would consider going steady with her, I guess.

Blazersedge:  How many All-Stars play for the Blazers this season?  Three years from now? 

Gavin Dawson:  One this year.  Brandon amazes me with his improvement.  

Two in three years.  Greg will join Brandon.  

I think eventually they’ll get four like Detroit did.  Whether that’s Rudy and LMA, or one of those guys and an acquisition to be named later, I’m not sure.  

Wow, this team is still in position to add a max-contract player to the mix.  Sometimes I trip out on the good fortunes of this franchise.

Blazersedge:  The Blazers make one move to win it all.  What is it?   

Gavin Dawson:  Wow.  Very difficult because the kind of players that could make the difference would probably require the Blazers send back one of the main four to land.

So, I’m shopping for a guy on a team who’s window has closed, but still has the skills that playoff teams covet, and has a G.M. who’s looking to blow up the roster and start fresh.

Expiring contract of Raef for Vince Carter or Jason Kidd?  That doesn’t lock down a title though does it?

I really want Tony Parker, but that idea is at least two years away. 

Blazersedge:  Anything else to say to Blazersedge readers while you have the floor? 

Gavin Dawson:  Just to acknowledge that this site is awesome.  The service you and Ben provide for your readers is brilliant.  Whether it’s the original content that you two write about, or a thread of conversation from other contributors, I can always count on great information and opinions in a professional format.  

Really, major props for building and maintaining this.  It’s unique in the world of sports.

I know many folks were upset (rabid?) about the Morning Sports Page’s comments about Greg Oden last week.  It was nice of Gavin to clear the air a little bit.  To me, his answer to the question about the purpose of sports radio speaks volumes about the context of that Oden banter.   

I liken the situation to that of a professional gambler.  Gamblers know that there are certain situations where the safe bet isn’t the right one to take.  The gambler may be almost certain that a particular horse will win the race, but you have to bet $5 on that horse to get $1 in return.  Another horse may not have near the chance but he pays 4:1.  Most gamblers will avoid the first bet and take the second, not because they think the prediction is right, but because it generates more potential action for their dollar. 

In a way, this is exactly the situation that a morning sports host in a competitive radio market finds himself in.  You have a choice how to react and analyze.  You can take the wide, solid road and be right most of the time or you can put your heart out on your sleeve, emphasize that “fan” part of yourself, and really get in there and tear it up.  The former pays 4:1, the latter 1:5.  How you make that choice depends in large part what you view your purpose as.  If you’re there to be the journalist or the analyst or to educate and you know your career can be measured in decades then you probably go with the 1:5 bet.  But there’s no doubt the 4:1 bet is a more entertaining experience.  In the short-term, quick-hitting, massive-turnover world of radio that’s important.  If you view your purpose as entertainment first, you go for that bigger payback for sure.  Whether you win or lose, get praised or yelled at, it’s more fun to watch (and listen to).  That’s why it makes a lot more sense in that venue to go with the “Oden’s a bust” or “Oden is God” angles than “Be patient with Oden this year and be happy with baby steps and watch him grow into a monster later.” 

Now I am not in any way insinuating that Gavin or any of his cohorts say things they don’t believe.  (And I should add that I haven’t talked with Mr. Dawson about these things…I’m just offering my own post-interview reflections here.)  Rather I am saying that part of Gavin’s job is probably to take that little seed of outrageous fandom that we all have inside of us--the side usually only our buddies on the couch hear--and grow it, throwing it out there for everyone to hear and react to.  As long as his primary purpose is entertainment he got to have a more developed fan-side and have it farther out than any of the rest of us…lumps and bumps along the way included. 

To me this is the beauty of the whole sports discussion genre.  We can get those different flavors.  Obviously I operate here in a different medium and with a different set of assumptions as far as my mission.  I put a high premium on being grounded, well-reasoned, complete, and correct which hopefully at some point will give rise to entertaining discussion.  Gavin puts a high premium on entertainment, interest, and incisiveness which hopefully at some point will give rise to knowledge.  If you look at it from his point of view I’m probably a grinder, playing the odds on every hand and building my bankroll little by little.  He, on the other hand, just stared down Johnny Chan and took the pot and is going to the World Series of Poker.  Maybe someday I’ll be looking at his picture all over billboards and going, “I knew that guy when…”  Maybe someday he’ll come to me and ask to borrow my delivery truck to get by.  I tend to think the world works best when both are operating congruently.  There’s a place for it all and we’re lucky to have all these flavors to choose from. 

Thanks again to Gavin for the interview time and for the Blazer coverage on the MSP! 

--Dave  (