It’s 8am in Charlotte, the middle of May, and Uber driver Mike has his SiriusXM dial tuned to ESPN Radio. Being a transplanted New Yorker, he isn’t attached to the local sports stations, but has pledged his support to the one network which has provided him with a consistent listening experience that suits his tastes, ESPN Radio.
Just ten years ago the father of two relocated to the area, hoping to find a show that talked about his hometown teams and partially resembled the program he had grown up on, “Mike and the Mad Dog.” But that type of show didn’t exist in North Carolina so it required adjusting to what was available. Although he enjoyed Mark Packer on WFNZ, he didn’t care as much about local topics.
That opened the door to finding a new brand and talk show. After sampling a number of options, “Mike and Mike” became his preferred listening experience. The show spent time talking about the New York sports teams, and had their finger on the pulse of what mattered most to sports fans each day. Over the next decade, Greeny and Golic were part of Mike’s routine, until November 2017 when ESPN decided to make a change in mornings.
“When they announced Mike and Mike were going away, I was upset and not sure I was going to stick around,” said Mike. “I enjoyed Greenberg and Golic and wasn’t happy that ESPN split them up. Luckily though Golic stayed and they added Trey who I knew and liked from TV, and that convinced me to give them a chance. I’m glad I did because it’s a similar show.”
The feelings shared by Mike are similar to what many others feel. There’s been a comfort in hearing ESPN Radio’s morning programming for close to two decades, and although “Mike and Mike” had their differences from “Golic and Wingo,” there’s enough similarities to retain the base that’s been loyal to ESPN’s morning show.
But anytime a station or network changes a popular show after eighteen years, it’s going to create noise, especially if the show isn’t considered broken. “Mike and Mike” were a huge part of the morning radio experience for sports radio listeners all across the nation, not to mention one of the most popular tandems on any of ESPN’s platforms. If the network was going to split them up and explore a new direction in morning drive, they’d likely have been given a pass. After all, introducing new faces and voices on a huge national network like ESPN Radio requires time.
But starting over isn’t an easy decision. It’s made even more difficult when you still have one part of the show in tact, and he’s familiar and popular with listeners and advertisers, and shown an ability to continue performing on a high level. Figuring out where Golic fit into the company’s plans was very important but this wasn’t just a company call. Golic had to make a few decisions too.
After going thru multiple morning shows on the same network with different partners, did he want to give it a third try? Did he want to continue dealing with comparisons to his former show? Was he still excited, energized and in love with the job he had done for over two decades, and willing to trust his employer to set him up for success after the previous year had produced a number of internal and external tensions as a result of his breakup with Mike Greenberg?
When the dust settled, ESPN chose to make subtle tweaks in morning drive rather than wholesale changes. There was an internal belief that Golic had more left in the tank, and affiliates and advertisers were comfortable and satisfied with the association and preferred for it to continue. Once Golic learned that Trey Wingo was an option to be his partner, and the addition of his son Mike Golic Jr. was being considered, it was clear to him that it wasn’t time to ride off into the sunset just yet.
“When the idea of working with my son and Trey was brought up it re-energized me,” said Golic Sr.. “This is my third time around the block. I worked first with (Tony) Bruno, then Greeny, and now Trey, and I felt the show was at its best when it was focused on being a radio show. The company said they wanted to get back to that and as I thought about it and the idea of working with Trey and my son, I felt we had a chance to grow faster than the last two shows did because the relationships were already established.”
Upon the announcement of ESPN Radio naming “Golic and Wingo” its new morning show, enthusiasm wasn’t as high among sports radio members outside of the ESPN Bristol campus. Many hoped the network would shake things up, and the idea of offering a similar style show was initially viewed as less than inspiring. As one unnamed source told me “ESPN had an opportunity to do something exciting and instead served up a second serving of vanilla radio.”
To content people not inside the ESPN bubble, higher value is placed on big personalities and unfiltered opinions. What isn’t given much consideration is whether a show is the right fit for the ESPN brand, sustainable for affiliates, and pleasing to the company’s paying clients.
But in executive circles, the ESPN brass had to consider a myriad of factors including the difficulties of replacing a high profile show. It’s easy to clamor for something new when moving on from an established program, but why purchase a new car if the one you already own drives well, is strong under the hood and only needs a few cosmetic changes?
“We’re proud of what we accomplished with Mike and Mike and saw this is an opportunity to build on the past 16 years,” explained ESPN Radio Senior Director, Programming and Operations Justin Craig. “Since making the change in mornings to Golic and Wingo, not one major market affiliate or dollar has been lost. I think that speaks to the power of our brand, the quality of our talent, and the trust we’ve earned from super serving our radio partners.”
Fast forward to today, six full months into their morning radio adventure, and “Golic and Wingo” have done their part to represent ESPN Radio well in the affiliate and advertising space. They’ve also produced the same multi-platform content that has made ESPN successful in mornings in previous years. The ratings may be down year over year in top markets like New York and Chicago (Two of ESPN’s owned stations and operated markets), but that’s not a surprise as any new show going in after Mike and Mike would require time before an audience committed to them. ESPN Radio Senior VP Traug Keller mentioned on the BSM Podcast last month that he believes new shows need over a year in order to establish a connection.
The bigger reflection of the show striking the right chord for company folks is that it’s held on to the “Mike and Mike” base, fueled the fire of the same “Mike and Mike” critics, and done its part to satisfy business partners. Although there’s a confident belief in the show’s development, areas of improvement aren’t being dismissed either.
“I think it’s a good show right now, but it has the potential to be great,” said Marcia Keegan, Vice President, National Radio Programming and Production. “The show could benefit from adding a few bigger guests, football talkers, and creative stunts. We’re always trying to find ways to improve. We’re only a few months into this show and already I can hear how it’s grown. As the guys gain more reps, they’re going to develop an even stronger rhythm.”
One advantage “Golic and Wingo” have over the prior two morning shows on ESPN Radio is the instant chemistry and familiarity that already existed between Golic Sr., his son Mike Jr. and Trey. Their relationship history doesn’t guarantee anything, but it helps a host feel comfortable when they already know their partner’s hot buttons, weaknesses, quirks, and day to day approach. It certainly was a huge factor in Wingo in making the decision to take on the challenge of hosting a 4-hour radio morning show.
“It’s very rare in this business to be twenty years in and get the chance to do something new with someone you love working with,” said Wingo. “Our prior relationship made this easy and worth doing. My biggest adjustment was adjusting to the morning schedule. I’m a night person. I’m still on that routine of “wake up idiot”.”
If Wingo thinks it’s rough hitting the airwaves at 6am each day, imagine what must be rolling thru Mike Golic Jr.’s head. He wakes up each day after 2am and sets a number of additional alarms just to make sure he doesn’t oversleep. He then hits the airwaves across the country at 4am, hosting “First and Last,” before making a seamless transition from his solo show to joining the first hour of the morning program.
Despite not having the opportunity to pre-plan with the morning crew due to being on the air, Golic Jr. says they’ve found a way to work around it.
“We talk a lot and prep the night before,” explained Golic Jr.. “They also get to listen to me while driving in which gives them a chance to hear what I’m passionate about and react to it too. We’re fortunate to have a good cast around us too and we’ll rely on them and trust their feedback to determine if we should stick with something or change direction. Nobody is afraid to speak up and voice their opinion on ways to make the show better.”
But when family relationships carry over to the workplace, sometimes they’re counterproductive. That isn’t the case though for the Golic’s. Mike Jr. made the choice to pursue a football career just like his father, and when that didn’t work out, he pursued his father’s second labor of love, the sports media business. So far, so good.
Since making the move, Golic Jr. has increased his value inside ESPN. He’s gone from making occasional on-air appearances, contributing to fantasy football programming, and co-hosting “First and Last,” to hosting “First and Last,” taking part in social media shows, and appearing each day on “Golic and Wingo.”
Given the nature of the sports media business, there will of course be whispers about Golic Jr. gaining advantages due to who his father is. He’s not naive, he understands that. Ironically, most who move up the ladder in this industry do so based on having talent and relationships. Rarely do people land a high profile opportunity by blindly submitting a resume and demo tape.
No matter what your perception is of Jr.’s ability to get his foot inside the door, he’s had to work hard to stay there. He’s also had to perform in front of the nation’s eyes and ears, knowing that he’ll forever be compared to his father. Though those comparisons may bother some, Golic Jr. wears them like a badge of honor. He’s proud of who his father is, and acknowledges how much of an influence he’s had on his career.
“I saw the proof of concept in my dad,” shared Golic Jr.. “Mike and Mike was a big part of my life. The work dad did on that show inspired me to want to be in this business. Now look at where we are. How many people get to talk sports with their dad each day for a living? The only downside of working with him is that he’s wrong a lot. He could also dress better and improve his footwear.”
That good ole fashioned ribbing between father and son has been on display since the show was introduced on ESPN Radio in November. It allows them to provide a family friendly sports program for morning commuters, while embracing unexpected moments that may leave them initially startled. No time was that more evident then when Rhonda Rousey appeared on the program.
“Golic and Wingo” aren’t going to be confused for a shock-jock morning show or a program which goes for the throat of whoever’s on the front page of ESPN.com. They concentrate their efforts on having insightful, topical and entertaining sports conversations while mixing in laughter, guests and social interaction. That may not be a revolutionary approach but it’s a formula that keeps an audience engaged and advertisers and affiliates happy.
“We want to continue building the relationship and get comfortable discussing anything on the show,” said Wingo. “I’m not worried about numbers and things beyond our control. We’re just going to roll with the punches, do what we do, and see what happens. Just like the NFL Draft, nobody really knows what’s going to happen. You’re making educated guesses. Right now, we’re having fun and delivering what we feel is a good show and we’re going to enjoy the ride as long as it lasts.”
Though he might downplay it, Wingo understands the high stakes involved in running point on ESPN Radio’s morning show. The program, which also broadcasts on television on ESPNEWS, is critically important to the network’s success. If ratings, revenue or affiliates were to decline, so too would the fun.
But unlike some in local situations, if the show doesn’t work out, Trey doesn’t have to worry about finding employment. Having been one of the best and most respected hosts on ESPN’s NFL programming, he’s earned trust with the viewer, and likely gained a few more fans in the company by agreeing to take on the challenge of filling Greeny’s spot and hosting the morning show. Despite having done a great job on the network’s NFL coverage, Wingo admits the chance to expand his horizons was welcomed.
“My presence on ESPN around the NFL has been tremendous but this now gives people a chance to learn more about me and my personality,” said Wingo. “Sports fans are discovering that I keep my finger on the pulse of other sports too. You’re not going to hear hot takes from me. That’s not my style. I’ll give opinions when I feel I need to, but I believe it’s about organic conversation and this shows provides plenty of opportunities to create that.”
The challenge of creating those organic conversations depends largely on strong chemistry and familiarity. Trey and the Golic’s have a firm handle on that. Golic Sr. has been down this road before, and knows all too well how difficult it can be and how long it can take to find the right mix with a co-host. His prior two morning shows with Greeny and (Tony) Bruno were each successful, but required developing relationships and learning what to do and what not to do.
In this case though, relationships were already formed. Golic and Wingo have worked inside the same location for over twenty years, they’ve done shows together, and they’re friends with mutual interests. That certainly helps when assembling a new show, and Justin Craig says that preexisting chemistry has made a difference in the way the show has grown over the first six months.
“They’re in their first season,” Craig points out. “In sports, teams get better with time. There’s still work to be done of course but I think Mike and Trey launched at a higher point than others.”
To make sure the morning show is firing on all cylinders, ESPN Radio has spared no expense in surrounding their on-air stars with a top notch behind the scenes crew. The production team is led by radio producer Dan Stanczyk, social media producer Ali Bronson, board op Cliff Augustin, production assistant Devin Kane, and imaging director Jerry Mailhiot.
And that’s just the radio side of things. The television crew includes producer Rob Morgan, director Carlos Mejia, production assistant Andrew Distler, and researchers Brett Perrotta and Riley Foreman.
With that type of support given to the show, creating a multi-platform successful product for ESPN is the expectation. When you watch on TV, listen on radio, follow on social media, or catch up later on the website, the reason things run smoothly is because of all of the individuals involved in the show.
But how does that factor into the content creation process? Ali Bronson acknowledged that teamwork, attitude and role definition are important behind the scenes, but having consistent input and solid execution from the hosts makes all the difference.
“These guys are motivated to deliver a great show and there’s a collective understanding of what’s expected each day,” said Bronson. “They each know their role on the show, and participate in the content process including how to use social media and GIF’s to create tune ins. Golic Sr. steers us back to where we need to be if we get off track. Trey drives the show and looks for his spots to react. His being new to the show has brought a new energy and allowed everyone to have fun. In terms of what we talk about, it depends on what matters most at that particular time. The NBA Playoffs and NFL topics though generate the strongest reactions from Trey and Mike Sr. so we make sure they’re a big part of what we do.”
With nearly six months in the books and having weathered the storm of replacing a high profile morning show, it’s natural to wonder “what’s next?” The content may be topical, the chemistry natural and the energy high, but to expand the audience, increase the confidence, and elevate the position of what was initially viewed by some as “Mike and Mike Part 2,” it’s all about where the show goes from here.
Golic Sr. acknowledges that they’re off to a strong start, but hasn’t lost sight of the way the business works or his own career aspirations:
“I view this industry very similar to my football career, I’m on the same team but the roster changes sometimes,” explained Golic. “I think this show has the ability to grow faster than the last two did and we’re off to a good start but if we’re able to get Jr. more involved in the future that would be welcomed. As long as I’m having fun, I want to keep doing this. I would though like to call more games.”
So, that begs the question, should Golic Jr. be more involved? If the network is going to include him in the first hour, why not utilize him during the remaining three?
To their credit, network officials have eased Golic Jr. into the show rather than immediately throwing him into the deep end. That strategy has allowed Trey and Mike Sr. to find their groove together, which is essential for the program to ascend to its highest level.
However, the youthful approach that Golic Jr. supplies has added a nice touch. That’s especially important given that Trey and Mike are in their mid fifties. It allows the show to play to both ends of the sports radio demographic. One thing’s for sure, an increased role certainly wouldn’t be rejected by Golic Jr. if it were to be presented.
“I love doing this and want to contribute more but that’s not up to me,” Golic Jr. said. “If they feel in the future that my role should be expanded then I’ll happily have that conversation. But right now, I’m just thrilled to be a part of it.”
Golic Jr. may have his sights set on advancing his career and earning more air time on the nation’s largest sports morning show, but after enduring the public barrage that comes with replacing a popular show like “Mike and Mike,” Trey and Mike have reached a point where they’re done looking in the rear view mirror. They’re not worried about how they stack up to the former show, if ESPN executives are second guessing their decision, or if their style of show makes the masses happy. Their primary concern is doing a show they can feel good about it. If that results in affiliates, advertisers, listeners, and executives being satisfied, then that’s icing on the cake.
“I don’t get caught up in numbers and all that stuff” said Golic. “If I can leave you with one serious and one funny note then I feel good about what we did.”
Never one to pass up an opportunity to lighten the mood, Wingo countered with “If I can wake up and get thru 4 hours, that’s a good day.”
Six months into the start of their show, the lights remain on, the affiliates are still there, and the revenue is strong. That has to give ESPN executives confidence that they’re on the right track.
For Golic and Wingo though, there’s another way to measure progress. Their badges still work, the checks still clear, and they continue to do a show with people they enjoy being around. If that’s not the definition of success, then what is?