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Appreciating The Legacy of Mike and Mike

If you missed the announcement this morning on ESPN Radio and television, Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic confirmed that they have been selected to enter the NAB Hall of Fame in 2016. The duo learned of the honor two weeks ago but wanted to hold off on publicly announcing it until ESPN President John Skipper was able to make the announcement with them.

MikeMike“Mike and Mike” have been a staple of sports radio since 1998 and they are more than deserving of this honor. The show has been serving listeners across the country for over 15 years, and regardless of your personal style preferences, few would deny they have a strong ability to entertain and inform. They also are very topical with their content and feature as good of a guest list as there is in radio.

In sports, if you perform at a high level, are the face of your franchise, and win multiple championships, you eventually get your name called to join the elite in the Hall of Fame. In broadcasting it’s sort of similar but the results that everyone delivers are usually very secretive so knowing the impact a show has on a local or national scale isn’t always easy to recognize.

None the less, if you’re the face of the ESPN Radio franchise for as long as “Mike and Mike” have been, clearly you’re doing something well.

Having been in this business as long as I have, I’ve seen how they operate. I was a colleague of theirs at ESPN Radio and I ran 101 ESPN in St. Louis when the station signed on and they were our morning show.

SW - JB and GolicFirst, as a colleague, they were very invested in their show and staff. Both were very approachable, although Golic was the more likely of the two to extend a hallway conversation. This was during a time when they both did TV later in the day. Greeny would contribute as a SportsCenter anchor and Golic as an Analyst on various shows. To say that they were being overextended would be an understatement.

A typical day would include hosting a 4 and a half hour (they were on from 5:30a-10a back then) morning show, showing up an hour or two before it to get ready, having a post-show conversation, discussing the next day’s plan, recording a look ahead promo for the network, and then reading liners and endorsements for local stations. After that they’d get a break, grab something to eat, maybe make a phone call or two and then it was on to preparing for the next ESPN assignment.

As the years have progressed they’ve reduced their workload but I remember how hard these guys worked for ESPN and I always respected it. We often say in radio that the top performers should lead by example, and “Mike and Mike” set a good one.

mmMore impressive to me though was how Greeny and Golic communicated with me once I was running a local station which featured them as our morning show. They cared about the success of the radio station, and although they were 1500 miles away and unable to be physically present around the brand, that didn’t stop them from doing extra things to help out. I could alert the guys of something by text or email and they’d follow up. I probably benefitted because they knew me a little but they didn’t have to. Their extra effort stood out.

One major misconception industry folks have about network programs on their airwaves is that the show is part of some other company and not connected to the radio station. That’s inaccurate. You can prefer to carry a local show, and most operators do and I happen to lean that way myself, but very few in this business would disagree that if they could hire “Mike and Mike” to do a locally focused show, they’d sign up for it in an instant. The issue was never their talent, more so the national image and topic structure.

Regardless though of where the content originates from, it’s coming through the speakers of your radio station. If it’s going to appear on your airwaves, then it’s up to the programmer, the air staff, the sales staff and the production department to make it sound connected to everything else the radio station does.

I’d write personality promos for the guys that offered a local twist, we’d use clips from their show in recorded show promos that focused on issues of importance to the local audience, we’d play soundbites from their shows that touched on local subjects and have our other local shows discuss them, and we’d have the guys call into our local programs occasionally plus voice commercials for local clients.

We even had them in town for a LIVE broadcast around the All-Star game and got them to do a video piece to recap their in-market visit. By the way, the girl at the end of the video was not staged. It happened organically and couldn’t have worked out any better.

Not every national host works this way but Greeny and Golic understood that by supporting us, it made it easier to support them. No business relationship works without a mutual commitment. Despite St. Louis being a provincial town which cares deeply about local issues and less about national topics, the program was consistently rated in the top 5 and was as high as #3 while I was there.

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Funny enough, the show almost never made the air. The original plan in St. Louis wasn’t to put them on 101 ESPN. Instead the plan was to go local in mornings and carry Colin Cowherd. I love Colin’s show and being local in morning drive presented more business opportunities for the brand than middays, but as we sized up situations and analyzed what would be best to generate ratings, the plan got changed. I’m thankful it did because it worked.

And that’s probably the best way I can describe “Mike and Mike” to someone who asks about their morning show – it just works.

twasThe show has become a big part of the sports radio format’s growth over the past fifteen years, and that speaks to their ability to not only have outstanding talent, but also evolve with the times. People don’t realize that Golic has had a longer career in broadcasting than football, and he’s been gone from the NFL for 22 years. What worked on-air in the late 90’s and early 2000’s is different than what works now, but yet they keep finding their way into good content. Social media also didn’t exist back then yet both guys are present and active in the space.

Two final things stand out to me in evaluating the legacy of “Mike and Mike”.

First, their success validates ESPN’s decision to build the radio network profile around them. In the mid-2000’s, the network was seen as the playground for Tony Kornheiser and Dan Patrick. Bruce Gilbert and the higher ups had a different vision and wanted to showcase Greeny and Golic more. Before too long the television simulcast was born and TV promos became heavily present on all ESPN programming showcasing the differences between the two men.

The campaign connected with everyday people, and as more people flocked to the show, “Mike and Mike” did a good job of keeping them around. Throughout the years they’ve continued to use television marketing to grow the awareness of the “Mike and Mike” brand, taking on different messaging along the way, and once again, it has resonated.

Despite the show’s awareness being sky high and the product itself maintaining a level of excellence for more than fifteen years, there have been concerns with the show in recent times. Last year Cris Carter was often a third member of the show during the football season, and the network announced plans this past May to add Molly Qerim as a permanent part of the program.

Except it never happened. And I believe that’s a good thing.

Here’s the deal, if you don’t like what “Mike and Mike” bring to the table, that’s fine. I’ve never once heard anyone say the show lacked chemistry or ability and I find that those who reject the show, usually do so because they prefer local programming or more opinionated personalities like Colin Cowherd and Jim Rome.

mikemikeBut that’s not who they are or claim to be and to expect them to be something different is asking them to not be authentic. Sure the show can be corny at times and I’ve heard people tell me they feel like the show serves as the “protector of the mouse” but they also deliver excellent interviews, their topic selection is elite, and you can tune in during any 20-30 minute portion of the show and feel like you’ve caught up on what you missed last night. They inform and entertain in a way that they are comfortable with and no amount of industry or social media backlash is going to change that. Nor should it.

Can you imagine if social media was around in the 60’s and 70’s? Shows like “The Odd Couple”, “The Honeymooners”, “Different Strokes”, “Dukes of Hazzard” and “All In The Family” would have been crippled because of it.

I can see the tweet already, “Daisy Duke is being held back by Bo and Luke. She needs her own show“. As feedback pours in, executives react and the next thing you know, one of the great shows you grew up on gets altered simply because of the fear of negative commentary.

“Mike and Mike” may not be perfect, but they’ve stood the test of time, continue to excel and make adjustments, and they’ve led the charge for ESPN Radio for almost two decades. They deserve to enjoy this journey together for however long it will last, without anyone trying to occupy the middle seat. It’s the least they deserve for what they’ve contributed to the success of the world’s largest sports network.

As we see with so many great performers who displays their skills for a long period of time, we’re going to recognize and point out their flaws and question whether they’ve still got it. But when you add it all up, Greeny and Golic are still going strong and aren’t even close to being finished. Sometimes we stop appreciating what we have in front of us. In this case, we may have done it with a program that’s of Hall of Fame caliber.

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