Their guest list reads like a who’s who of sports: Hank Aaron, Jim Brown, Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Ken Griffey Jr., Earl ‘The Pearl’ Monroe, Vida Blue, David West, Michael Jordan’s agent David Falk, Ed “Too Tall” Jones. These are just some of the big names in sports history that Chairman’s Circle investors Larry T. Robinson and Howard Robertson have interviewed on their nationally syndicated radio show and podcast, R&R on Sports.
While the sports world is filled with African American hosts today, almost 10 years ago Robinson and Robertson are proud to have been among the first African American duos to host a national sports radio program.
“When we got started, there was no national show like it,” said Howard. “That was the pitch to sell the show initially. Plus, it's a show with hosts who are not former professional athletes or coaches, but who have a love for sports, are former college athletes and have a unique everyman or what we call ‘barbershop’ kind of sports perspective. It's more of an opinion show based on what's happening in the world of sports from African American perspective.”
Larry and his wife, Natalie Robinson, had become fast friends with Howard and his wife, former Chamber president and CEO Beverly Robertson, after moving to Memphis in 1996 for Larry’s pharmaceutical job. Natalie joined Howard and Beverly at their company, Trust Marketing.
Years later -- “It was Friday, May 3, 2013,” Larry says, recalling the exact date – Larry was driving to the Kentucky Derby. “I was unfulfilled, unhappy in my career,” he said. “I was having a conversation with God, asking Him what I should do next. The response came back: sports radio, and I told God He was crazy.”
After the idea had a chance to sink in for a few miles, Larry asked, “So who’s going to be on the show with me? And God specifically says Howard Robertson. So I ended up calling Howard, telling him about my message from God. And he's like, man, I don't know about this. Let me think about it.”
Howard called Larry back Monday morning. “I don't know how you knew that my whole life I wanted to be a sports commentator,” Howard said. “There's no way you would have known that. So it must have been some kind of divine intervention or something. If God sent you, let's do a pilot.”
So they did. For the first few months they recorded the show at Ward Archer’s Archer Recording Studio in Midtown. “Once the pilot was done, we started shopping it around,” said Larry. “Howard had a friend out in San Francisco in the sports show radio syndication business. We sent the show out there, and he loved it. So from almost day one, we had national syndication for the show.”
That success continues today, with the show now recorded in the audio/visual studios at KUDZUKIAN, where Larry is CEO and founder. R&R on Sports airs in more than 100 markets nationwide – though not in Memphis – and is available as a podcast on all the major apps, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Pandora.
“Our show is just two friends talking,” said Howard. “We cover sports, talking about evergreen topics with people who’ve made sports history. We talk from the perspective of African American sports commentators. I'm a baby boomer and Larry’s a Gen Xer. We look at things differently, we process things differently. We have different experiences and exposures. We're at different times of life. I think that adds to the edginess of it.
“There's a lot of banter between us, what many like to call checking. We may give each other a good-natured hard time to keep the levity in the show. We have a healthy number of female listeners. There’s no analytics or any of that stuff. We're taking those issues that are happening and really adding some education and levity to it… a little bit of education and a whole lot of entertainment.”
They also offer thoughtful commentary on social issues. They point to their interview with Tommie Smith and John Carlos. The two men won the gold and bronze medals, respectively, in the 200-meter sprint at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. At the medal ceremony after the race, all three medalists wore human rights badges on their jackets. Smith and Carlos each raised a black-gloved fist as they faced the American Flag during the U.S. national anthem. Those raised fists, which some considered a black power sign but Smith called a human rights salute in his autobiography, are regarded as one of the most overtly political statements in modern Olympics history.
Larry recounts their interview with Smith and Carlos. “They talked about what happened to them after they did what they did on the Olympic stand, and they talked about what happened to the Australian runner – Peter Norman – who won the silver medal. He did not raise his fist. He didn't have on shoes. He had on black socks like they did. And he held his head down. He was castigated totally in Australia for being on the stand and sympathizing with them.”
“Tommie Smith recalled how the head of the IOC, the International Olympic Committee, called them for a meeting the next day and told them to bring their medals,” said Howard. “The IOC was thinking they were stupid enough to come into a meeting where they were going to take their medals away from them. Instead, they got on a plane and flew back to the United States.”
Those are the kinds of stories you won’t get on just any sports show. But they’re the kinds of stories Larry and Howard are proud to share from Memphis.
“I want people to connect the dots that this show happened as a result of relationships, and in Memphis, Tennessee, relationships are key. That is my understanding of what the Chairman's Circle seeks to be about. It can be about relationships and exposure at an executive business level. That's how R&R came to be. I’d like people to make the connection that the Chairman’s Circle presents the same kind of successful relationship opportunities.”