Utah Jazz Behind The Curtain: An Interview With Wendover Blue

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Spanning six years and more than 400 Utah Jazz games, Travis Rust, better known to many a Jazz broadcast radio listener as “Wendover Blue,” was the man behind the scenes keeping the wheels greased and directing countless hours of action smoothly. The finished product we’re privileged to be entertained by takes a lot more than one might suspect to pull off. Travis was a consummate professional as a Miller Group employee in every facet of the word.

I was lucky enough to have a chance to peek behind the scenes and get Trav to pull back the curtain for you as he moves on in his life to the next adventure. 

Purple and Blues: How did you come to producing Utah Jazz games, and how long did you do it for?

Travis Rust: I started producing Utah Jazz games at the beginning of the 2008-09 season. I had originally started as an intern — at that time we were 1320 KFAN — and I was offered a job shortly after beginning the internship and was tasked with producing Jazz games. This current Jazz season was my sixth season of producing. One year with Hot Rod Hundley, the rest with David Locke.

PnB: Were you a fan of the Jazz when you applied for the internship?

TR:  Yes, I was a fan of the Jazz. I grew up here in Utah and grew up with the Jazz.

PnB: What made you want to get into sports radio production?

TR: Nothing really made me want to do sports radio, it’s just something that happened. I took a radio production class at SLCC where I learned how to edit sound and operate a board. When the time came for me to focus on my future those skills translated to sports radio.

PnB: Do you have any gems about Locke?

TR: Concerning Locke, I love him. He’s passionate, hard working and smart. I learned a great deal from him during our time together as the Utah Jazz radio team. I hope I can take what I’ve learned from him and apply it in the future. I also hope Jazz fans understand the asset they have in his understanding of basketball and the Jazz organization.

PnB: Locke is truly unique in the sports world, we are extremely lucky to have him in the Utah market. Who were some of your other favorite folks to have the pleasure of working with?

TR: Of course, I’ve been able to work with the pre, half and post-game talent which consisted of Scott Garrard, Spence Checketts, Tom Nissalke, Tony Parks, Jake Scott, Britton Johnson and the great Ron Boone. If I’ve forgotten anybody, I do apologize. I think most everybody know who those personalities are. My interns are the ones I work with the most. Some have been good, most have been GREAT. Some of them are:

Austin Horton: Now Executive Producer of The Big Show with Spence and Gordon on 1280 AM and 97.5 FM The Zone
Jake Hatch: Now Executive Producer of Cougar Sports with Alema Harrington and Ben Criddle on 960 AM The Zone
Ben Anderson: Now Reporter/Host at 1320 KFAN

There are many many others who were smart and hard working that have gone on to other adventures. I love them all and thank them for their dedication to the broadcast.

PnB: What was the best part of the job?

TR: The best part, I think, was knowing that you were part of something unique. Not everybody has the chance to do the things I’ve done and I tried not to take that for granted. It was also fun to see peoples’ reactions when I told them what I did. Some completely understood and were listeners, others looked at me like I was an alien. Also, being around smart people in a high-paced environment and literally breaking a sweat to accomplish the things we needed done was extremely fun.

PnB: How many people does it take to produce a successful show, ideally, including all those out front and behind the scenes?

TR: The amount of people needed to produce a successful show depends on the circumstances. During this current season there have been times when all five of our interns had been assigned to do stats, work in the studio and assist the visiting team with their needs.

On the fullest of nights, it takes 13 people to produce a full broadcast and fill all our responsibilities.

PnB: Surely interns get some rookie hazing. Do they get pink headsets, or donut duty?

TR: The only hazing we give interns is putting them in situations that they have never experienced before, such as going to the locker room, keeping track of stats and various other things all while telling them that an enormous amount of people are watching and listening to everything we do.

PnB: Welp, there goes my theory as to what happens to all the leftover popcorn from games. It does NOT end up in interns’ vehicles or backpacks. What was the hardest or worst part of the job?

TR: The hardest part, by far, was all the late nights and weekends we work. Many people hear the final buzzer of the game and that’s that. When the final buzzer sounds, our work would just be starting. We usually weren’t leaving the studio until midnight or later, depending on time of tip-off.

PnB: To the casual fan all the electronics might as well be an airplane cockpit. Could you explain some of the workings to us?

TR: In some ways it is an airplane cockpit, each light can do something different. Each screen shows me something different. If the lights are wrong or the screens are wrong listeners might hear something unintentionally.

During the games, I’m cutting highlights calls from Locke, managing the different elements of the broadcast such as 30 Point Bell in-game feature of other NBA action, close finishes of other games, making sure we have Thurl Bailey on at the correct time and many other things.

PnB: Being essentially locked in a box for hours at a time, what did you do for fun to pass the time when the going was slow?

TR: We stay pretty focused, even during the occasional blowout. Yes, there are jokes and stories and general good times had by all, but during the games we stay pretty solid. On the latest of nights, during the awful back-to-backs, when we’re off the air but still working, we would occasionally configure the board to be off air and listen to music via YouTube, mostly rap. I have an affection for hip-hop music.

PnB: Personally, I’m partial to Bone Thugs. Who’s your top three hip-hop artists? 

TR: For me personally, I enjoy Jay-Z a great deal. His greatest album is The Blueprint. Other than that I enjoy the usual brilliance of 2Pac, Biggie and Nas. While working in the studio we would switch it up quite a bit. Artists would range from Drake to Ja Rule to Naughty by Nature.

PnB: When it comes to food, what do radio producers and techs eat, lots of pizza? Ridiculously fast sandwich delivery? Sack lunches?

TR: In terms of food, for home games we have the privilege of eating in the media room prior to starting a broadcast. For road games though, Jimmy John’s is a radio producer’s best friend. Also, with the studios being inside EnergySolutions Arena, Crown Burger isn’t too far away. Pizza is a regular visitor as well.

PnB: Dominoes, Pizza Hut, or other? 

TR: There was never a specific pizza provider. Mostly whomever was smart enough to deliver to the studio in the dark of night or whomever Britton had a coupon for.

PnB: Basketball Twitter will want to know: Pineapple on pizza or no?

TR: Yes, pineapple on pizza. Hawaiian style, ham and pineapple, is great.

PnB: What are you doing for the next phase of your career now that you’ve retired from the Jazz job?

TR: I graduated from the University of Utah in the spring of 2013. My college education gave me training in the public relations field of the world and that’s where I’m headed. I left my position with Jazz radio to take a PR internship with a company here in Salt Lake City. At some point it became clear to me that a career in radio had its limitations. There is a log-jam of people in the money-making positions. It was an extremely hard decision to leave. As taxing as the job could be, few things top being a part of a Utah Jazz radio broadcast. 

PnB: Most Jazz fans have heard of “Wendover Blue,” but many don’t know that the moniker is yours. What’s the story behind this tremendous nick?

WB: Wendover Blue stems from the great Coach Tom Nissalke. The casinos in Wendover, Nevada would sponsor the “Guess the Score” contest. Callers would submit their guess for the final score and the caller closest to the actual score would win a free stay out in Wendover. Well, some of the names were very, shall we say entertaining, unusual, and led Coach to believe that I was making up names and pocketing the awards and spending days off and summers in Wendover. In reality, I’ve never been further west than Tooele on I-80.

PnB: Not counting the countless ridiculous Guess the Score submissions from me under made up names for comedic purposes, what was the most ridiculous winner’s name that you can recall? 

TR: The original brilliant name that came through on the phone was “Johnny Noble.” When that name was presented during the post-game show Coach Nissalke’s first reaction was: “What’s that, a porn star?” We all immediately hit the floor in laughter. It was an all-time moment between myself, Coach, and Scott Garrard.

PnB: Is there anyone you favor for stepping into your shoes, or are you the MJ of radio producers?

TR: I favor no one in particular. The broadcast has been left in quite capable hands.

In Travis’s absence it’s been a team effort to continue production of Jazz games. Until a full-time replacement is found, Austin Horton and Jake Hatch, among others, have been holding down the fort. Wendover Blue’s last game was February 12, 2014, a Utah Jazz win over the Philadelphia 76ers.

Every last one of Mr. Rust’s colleagues I’ve talked to say he will be sorely missed and wish him Godspeed in future endeavors.

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