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Mike and Mike’s Differences Helped Make Them Great

In 1998, I was just learning how the radio business worked. I was at a small station that powered down at night, making $200 per week, and had no idea if this industry was one I wanted to build a career in. My son Dylan hadn’t even been born yet and I had a full head of hair, although the early signs of scalp evacuations had just begun.

During that same year, Bill Clinton became president. John Elway won his first Super Bowl, defeating Brett Favre’s Green Bay Packers 31-24. The New York Yankees won the World Series, sweeping the San Diego Padres, and Michael Jordan was knocking down a jumper after moving Byron Russell aside to lead the Chicago Bulls to another NBA Title at the expense of the Utah Jazz.

All of that happened just as Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic were crossing paths and preparing to embark on a radio adventure together, one which has lasted for nineteen years. Greeny and Golic became a true staple of sports radio and television and it’s hard to believe that we’ve reached the end of the line when each still has plenty to offer. Golic will continue soon on the radio with Trey Wingo and his son Mike Jr. and Greeny will move over to television to launch a new show “Get Up” in 2018 on ESPN.

Before Mike and Mike were born, there was Bruno and Golic. Tony Bruno and Mike Golic owned the morning drive real estate on ESPN Radio from 1995 to 1998 and had Tony not left, who knows if the past 19 years of sports radio and television history would’ve gone the way they have. But so much in life is about timing, and the way this story has evolved had everything to do with it.

When ESPN began looking for a replacement for Bruno, the idea of Greenberg becoming the permanent host wasn’t high on anyone’s list. It wasn’t even a job that was attractive to Greenberg. He considered the opportunity because he thought it would help him earn more recognition from network executives, paving the way to a higher profile position on television. In fact, Greeny insisted on remaining involved as a host on SportsCenter, doing more than 100 shows per year for 11 years.

At that time, Greenberg was seen as a SportsCenter anchor with a future in television. Golic had little familiarity with him. Complicating things further was the perception of the radio network. Clearance of ESPN Radio’s programming was minimal, and although the network’s lineup featured some great hosts such as Golic, Dan Patrick, Tony Kornheiser and Chuck Wilson, it hadn’t yet become the national powerhouse that it is today.

But then something happened.

Five minutes before the first audition together in 1998, the two men began chatting. Greenberg began busting Golic’s balls over his weight, and being the self-deprecating guy that he is, Golic had fun with it. Greeny has told the story numerous times of how he referred to the pair as a number 10, Golic being the burger and himself being the bun, and their immediate chemistry, humor and differences opened the door for the two to become a permanent team. Even Golic’s wife took notice during the audition process, telling her husband “he’s the one.”

ESPN worked the two Mikes together for a number of additional shows and began talking to Greeny about becoming part of the mix in 99, finally making them the network’s morning show in 2000. They haven’t looked back since. Mike and Mike became the national sports radio soundtrack for hundreds of stations across the country and along the way earned an induction into the NAB Radio Hall of Fame in 2016.

If ever there was a slogan that perfectly described a show, it was the one that Mike and Mike embraced. “What makes them different, makes them great” was how the network described the program, and everything from their on-air content execution to their radio promos, TV commercials and appearances on TV shows, sitcoms and movies, all captured that branding. They were radio’s version of Felix and Oscar (The Odd Couple), a louder and heavier alpha-male former jock sharing the same space with the thin, bright, dorky, metrosexual sports fan turned broadcaster. Individually and collectively they had a firm grasp on who they were and understood what made their combination appealing to the audience.

It was Greeny and Golic’s success that sparked stations across the country to further explore on-air combinations featuring broadcasters and athletes. The growth of their program on television led to the network gaining confidence to introduce additional radio-television simulcasts. Plus those who made an impact on the show behind the scenes, often found themselves advancing in their careers. As a result of working with Mike and Mike, Pete Gianesini, Justin Craig, Scott Shapiro, Ray Necci, Jason Romano, Amanda Gifford and Liam Chapman all moved up the ladder. A number of others in our industry have gained bigger roles too after working with Greeny and Golic.

I was fortunate to be at the network between 2004-2006 when the show started to gain traction and a bigger focus from network executives. Bruce Gilbert was a big proponent of Mike and Mike. He believed in the pair being given stronger exposure. Given that they were on the air during morning drive, it made a lot of sense. Prior to that, the network had placed a bigger emphasis on middays with Dan Patrick and Tony Kornheiser.

Although they did a lot right, Mike and Mike weren’t without faults. Earlier in his career Greeny would shy away from accepting guests on the show who he had been previously critical of. The Mike and Mike wedding in 2006 was an event which left many in the building confused by, even though some executives liked how it produced additional publicity for the show outside of sports circles. Golic had his share of times on the air where it was clear he wasn’t dialed in on what happened the night before, and the show’s conservative approach in delivering opinions and confronting guests drew frustration from fellow media members and led executives to constantly tinker with the show in search of more opinion, even installing rotating third hosts at one point.

When you add it all up, the highs certainly outweigh the lows. If you execute a show under the nation’s eyes and ears for over 19 years, you’re going to have some ups and downs. Nonetheless, there was no better national program in recognizing which topics mattered most to sports fans each morning. If a major story broke, you knew Mike and Mike would be on it. When newsmakers needed to be heard from, Mike and Mike had them. You could drive your kid to school, watch the show with your wife or girlfriend, or listen at your office desk and know that it’d be topical, informative, entertaining and comfortable. More importantly, you knew they’d be themselves.

The criticisms that have been directed at Greeny and Golic throughout the years have often been due to not relating to their personalities or style. That’s understandable. No show strikes a perfect chord with every listener. But as people, Mike and Mike were comfortable in their skin and they executed that way on the air. They were proud of the fact that they presented a sports show which a family could listen to. They were OK with not diving into discussions that divided a room. They accepted that some people wouldn’t tune them in because they weren’t edgy enough or willing to embrace men’s room humor.

Some shows relied on aggressive language, colorful humor and hot takes to make their points. Mike and Mike took a different path. They trusted their smarts, chemistry, love for sports and the best sports guest list in morning drive to help them win. They weren’t afraid to have fun either. Whether it meant Greeny milking a cow, professing his love for Chad Pennington in song or dressing up as Justin Bieber, Mike Golic being waxed, recreating the Kim Kardashian nude photo or stuffing his face with donuts, bits being created with Joaquin (Curt Kaplan), Liam’s mom and Frank Caliendo, or the two men joining forces to execute longtime benchmarks like the “Just Shut Up” award and “Stone Cold Lead Pipe Locks”, Greeny and Golic delivered a good blend of laughter and learning in a way that made sense to them.

That may not sit well with everyone, especially some local media members, but what I appreciate about it is that they understood who they were, what they wanted to be, and why it was important to stick to their principles. Authenticity is vital to any show’s success and Mike and Mike found their own way to succeed for 19 years. Their run together produced healthy ratings for a number of markets including Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Pittsburgh, Columbus, St. Louis and New York. I’m likely leaving out a few others but you get the point.

Too many times in our business we look to find faults in individuals and shows rather than understanding and appreciating their styles and strengths. Mike and Mike became the morning sports page for fans across the nation on a network as large as ESPN for close to two decades because they were dependable, topical, informative and entertaining. Their chemistry was off the charts but above all else, they were genuine and honest.

On this final day of their show, I thought it was worth highlighting how they left us with one final memory and lesson.

If you follow Mike and Mike on Twitter, you’ve likely noticed over the past month how Greeny, Golic, and their production staff have engaged with listeners via tweets and videos. Huge credit to Megan Judge on leading the charge to implement the way these guys have closed out their show on social media. The Mike and Mike twitter account has over 1.6 million followers and responding to the flood of activity they’ve been hit with must’ve been daunting yet they’ve made it a point to be consistent. They’ve used the hashtag #MMSayThanks and have gone above and beyond to thank listeners individually for their support, many times personalizing their commentaries.

By utilizing this strategy, Mike and Mike showed their audience that they pay attention and appreciate their support. Since introducing the approach to wind down the show, a number of high profile sports figures and organizations have gotten involved, passing along tweets, photos and videos thanking the duo for an amazing run. That type of publicity is invaluable.

I’ve been critical of our industry in the past for its lack of social engagement. Too often I see brands push content at people yet fail to acknowledge or respond when listeners try to interact. However, this was a great example of acknowledging, respecting, and personally connecting with the audience. Each time Mike and Mike and their crew weighed in on social media, their fans told others about it. Listeners and viewers were made to feel special which in return gives those fans reason to root for both men’s future success.

As I wrap this up, I want to thank Greeny and Golic for being great peers, partners, and professionals. They made the morning commute for millions of people a lot less stressful and more enjoyable, and their place in the history of the sports media business can never be taken away. Everything we do in sports broadcasting circles back to connecting with an audience. Little differences help make us unique and worth spending time with. For Mike and Mike, it was enough to earn them nineteen wonderful years on the air, a hall of fame honor, and a lifetime of memories, connections and friendships. If that isn’t the definition of success, then I’m not really sure what is.

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