I like Mike Taylor a lot. We didn’t have a previous relationship before I started writing for BSM. He is just a guy that started liking my posts on Twitter and I thought “I like him because he likes me.”
Mike has been on 760 the Ticket in San Antonio for eleven years, and I was interested in talking to him about the weird season the Spurs had and how NFL loyalties are divided in San Antonio. Instead, our conversation was wide ranging, covering everything from marriage advice, to racial identity to Sea World.
What I hope stands out is just how much Mike loves San Antonio. His focus isn’t just parroting the A-block on SportsCenter. He has strong opinions on the local taco places and has been known to invite listeners to join him at his favorite barbecue spot for lunch.
The interview does start with a lot of Spurs talk though. You should know that this conversation took place on April 10th, just as the Spurs had clinched a playoff spot and were yet to be kicked around by the Warriors.
DR: The Spurs finally clinched a playoff spot, but it was in question this season, probably longer than ever before. So, was this a new experience in covering the team for you?
MT: Yes. The goals are lowered and nowhere near as lofty as they usually are. It’s been weird covering what has just become another good team in the league and not the same old Spurs.
DR: So what have you had to do differently and how have listeners responded differently? I would imagine there are so many people in your audience that have known the Spurs as one of the NBA’s best teams for their entire adult life.
MT: That’s right. My oldest daughter is 20. This is the 21st straight year the team has clinched a playoff spot. She has no idea what it is like to not see them in the postseason.
It’s weird man. I’ve been here eleven years and I’ve never had to worry about things like lack of energy or locker room drama and players only meetings. It’s been like a soap opera this season, and maybe that is normal for other places, but we’ve just never had to deal with that down here.
The biggest difference is I have had to be so harsh. You have to keep it real though. This season I’m talking about coddling players and mystery trips to New York. It has been really different.
DR: Has this experience made you wistful for how easy things were before or did it make you realize how boring covering the Spurs had been?
MT: (Laughing) It depends on the day, man. If we’re light on content it’s great, but on days when I have other things I want to get to, I don’t have time for all of this drama.
This is a town that obviously loves the Spurs, and it loves the Cowboys. All of that red carpet treatment bullshit, we get our fill of that with the Cowboys. The appeal of our basketball team is the almost collegiate atmosphere. Guys are low key. They mostly stay off the grid. It’s been fun at times for radio, but it is weird for a fan.
DR: San Antonio isn’t the only market that has dealt with this. I am sure this is something that stations in Detroit and San Francisco have talked about too. We’re coming off the BSM summit where we had this panel of programmers talking about how it is important to separate politics from sports talk, even sometimes when the two worlds collide.
In San Antonio though, you have Gregg Popovich. He has been one of the most vocal voices for the resistance in the sports world. How much does that bleed into the sports show?
MT: At first a lot, because it was so out of nowhere. Every morning I would say “Wow! Did you hear Pop? Let’s play the audio.” It caught me off guard. His first rant was right after the election. By now though, I think the fans are tired of hearing it. Even the ones that really agree with him.
The team has struggled this year and I hear from fans, even the ones that agree with him, “Dude, you’re 14-25 on the road. Why don’t you talk about how we fix that?”. If they were winning all year and Kawhi Leonard wasn’t AWOL I don’t think it would be as polarizing.
It’s not like he can’t focus on his job and rip the president. A lot of us do that every day. Right now though, a reporter asks about the game and gets a 15 second throw away answer, but if someone has a question about Trump he’s got eight great minutes.
Keep in mind too that this is one of the reddest states in the country. San Antonio is a military city full of blue collar, conservative-type people. Even people that didn’t vote for Trump, you know, this is Texas. There are certain things we don’t talk about at the dinner table, and politics is one of them.
When it first happened you had people saying “I can’t believe he did that” and people that were calling me to say they were right there with him. Now it’s kind of grown tiresome. Not with me, but that is most of what I hear on Twitter and emails.
DR: It’s gone from “I can’t believe he did that” to “I can’t believe he is still doing this.”
MT: Yes! This team is the KGB of the NBA.
MT: (Laughing) Yeah. Trump loves the Russians, and Pop hates Trump, but I joke with the beat writers that being around the team everyday has to be like covering the Kremlin. You get so little information about the team, and when he does answer questions you either get some vanilla, throw-away answer, a half-truth or a bold-faced lie.
DR: So, you’ve been there for 11 years. Do you feel like you’ve gotten to know Gregg Popovich at all? Have you spent any quality time with him? I understand he keeps a very tight inner circle.
MT: (Laughing) Absolutely not! He doesn’t like me very much, and that’s okay, because I know it’s nothing personal. When I was doing afternoons, I used to do the post-game show from the arena every home game. I used to try to get to the locker room right after the game. It got to the point that I just quit going in there.
I asked him some silly question about point guards one night. He looked at me like I was a jerk that had just asked about his dead relatives. Then he goes “Does anybody have any questions that make sense?” I thought “well geez, I thought that was a decent question.” But the next two games I went in there with completely different questions and got the exact same answer from him. “Does anybody have any questions that make sense? I’d be happy to answer them.”
He was delivering a message that he had no time for me or for the team broadcast. So that’s my only personal interaction with him. It was him treating me badly, and that’s okay. I had lunch with (Spurs GM) RC Buford once and it went well. He was great, but as far as Pop, absolutely not.
DR: So outside of the Spurs, I know you said San Antonio is wild about the Cowboys. What else moves the needle in your town?
MT: It depends. You can never really go wrong with college football. We have a lot of what I call “t-shirt Texas fans.” They don’t have a degree from there. They probably can’t tell you where a science building is on campus, but damn it, they’re Longhorns man! I’m sure you see a lot of that with Duke fans where you are.
DR: I graduated from Alabama. I see it when I’m here and when I go back there.
MT: Yeah, it exists here because San Antonio is about 60 minutes from the campus. So it’s UT football, the Spurs, the Cowboys and after that it is a crap shoot, man.
I don’t like to do a whole lot of national stuff, because I’m bookended by national shows. I want to keep it as local as possible. So thank God I have worked for managers in the decade plus that I’ve been in San Antonio that don’t care what I talk about. They just want to know if the needle is moving and if they can sell it.
My program director, who I have worked with for five years, has never once dictated content to me. That’s a luxury. I get that I am lucky in that regard. This morning we talked about McDonald’s handing out free food to kids getting ready to go take the STAR test. I can talk about whatever I want. There are listeners that get bummed when I do talk sports.
This time of year is great. We’ve got the playoffs, so that will be half the show. The other half will be literally whatever I want.
DR: How much did the Astros winning the World Series register in San Antonio?
MT: Only a little. It’s a terrible baseball town. There are baseball fans here, but not enough to do segments everyday. During the regular season I might do an Astros segment, but only if something extraordinary happens. I did a segment or two during the World Series last year, but it’s not like it was half the program.
DR: You talked about moving from afternoons to mornings. I’ve mostly done mornings in my career too and have always struggled with how to balance staying informed with getting enough sleep. How do you do that?
MT: Dude, honestly you just don’t. They moved me to mornings in 2013, so it’s been a minute. I was thinking about this today knowing you were going to call me. I think, unless you tell me otherwise, that I am the only solo morning host in a major or mid-major market that has to do things the way I do everyday.
It’s all me. Everything you hear out of the speakers in the morning is my work. I am the James Brown and the Howie Long of this show. I have to gather all of the info and form the opinions about all of it. I’ve got a board op who does a great job for me, but he is a part-time employee. I am the only full-time guy working on this show and it is hard.
I’m 43 years old and I’m not trying to be dramatic, but you read all this stuff about there being a certain amount of sleep you need per night or you will either have health problems or you’re going to die early. Man, that is the truth. I have these six year old twins, which I get aren’t the company’s problem, but it is hard to have kids that young at home and have to get up at 4 am.
You don’t want to sacrifice being a decent father and a decent husband, but you can’t skip out on the attention you have to give to prepping your show each day. So I try to keep my day down to a routine so I get to bed on time and am up at 4 AM to have time to catch up on what I missed.
It is a never ending ass-whip. Don’t get me wrong. I love the show. I love doing the show. It’s just all the stuff that leads up to it.
DR: So which have you decided is better, chronic health problems or early death?
MT: (Laughing) Leaving radio! I’m not trying to get myself in trouble here, and I don’t think I will. I’ve got like a year and a few weeks left on this deal I’m under. After that, I am not trying to continue doing the show this way.
At some point I am going to need a co-host or a full-time producer or a different time slot. Otherwise, I may have to get out, honestly. Like I said, I am 43. I’m lucky as hell. I love the people I work for. It’s that shift. It’s going to run me out of the business if I don’t get help.
I’m not saying I want to sleep until 5:30 and mail in the prep everyday. When you have some help, it becomes a different kind of prep. If I can get some help everyday and change my prep routine, then I could probably do 10-15 more years in mornings.
DR: You talked a little bit about your future. I wonder how much you think about iHeartradio’s future, given everything the company has been going through. You also have this weird element that most iHeart employees don’t. You’re right there at corporate headquarters.
MT: Yeah, you know, to corporate’s credit, they’ve pretty much left us alone. I think they know it would be unfair to use us as guinea pigs. If I hear from corporate, it is someone in sales or management reaching out to say they are a fan of what I’m doing. When I first got here there was that eye in the sky that I was afraid of, but I learned that I was going to be left alone.
I don’t fear getting fired or losing my job. Hell, the company owns 800 radio stations. The next biggest company I want to say is Cumulus, right? And they might own 400 stations.
DR: It is Cumulus and I think they own less than that. For some reason I want to say 325.
MT: And they fired chapter 11 too, did they not? So the problem is industry-wide. As long as I continue to have good ratings and make the company money, I’ll be fine.
That is the benefit of being the step-child station in the building. All of the pressure is on these big FMs and the news talker down the hall. It’s cheap to operate our station.
Everyone everywhere is having to change the way they operate. It wouldn’t shock me if in 3-4 years the company is a lot smaller, but I am going to continue to do my deal and not worry about it.
DR: Your wife works in the media too, right? TV news?
MT: Yeah. She is the news director for Spectrum here. It’s their local 24 hour news channel. It’s on in both San Antonio and Austin. It’s why we actually live in Austin.
She’s a rockstar man. She handles me and the kids. She puts up with my crazy schedule and she runs two news rooms. She’s a badass.
DR: So do you have any secrets to making a media marriage work? Between the schedules and sometimes being pulled in different directions professionally, can there be a blueprint at all or is the goal always “let’s just get through today”?
MT: Sometimes it’s both because the kids have crazy schedules too. Let’s just say I don’t get to go home and catch up on Netflix. There are a lot of domestic chores I have to get done everyday, and if I fall short, I have not done my job. My wife works so much. It’s a daily grind, from the x’s and o’s standpoint, but we love each other very much. That is never in question.
You gotta be willing to lose an argument, I guess. But doesn’t that go for every husband? Lose an argument, but you can’t placate her. If you just want to tap out of an argument, as long as it seems genuine, she’ll go for it.
DR: Because of that pull in opposite directions, there was a time that you were living in Green Bay, Wisconsin and still doing the show for San Antonio.
MT: Oof! Yes.
DR: Forget for a second that you were doing a show for a community that is always 60 degrees from a place where it is always -60 degrees. How did the show feel different to you during that time, and how did it sound different to the audience?
MT: Well, fortunately I had built a relationship with my people, who I call “Thunderdome.” That was around the time that we were traveling a lot with my wife’s work. Now finally we’re just about settled.
I don’t think it would have worked, except that I had already been there for five years at that point. If that had happened when I was only in San Antonio for a year or eighteen months, I don’t know that they would let me do it. Listeners would be more apt to say “To hell with that guy. What does he know about us? He moved!”.
My wife wouldn’t have taken the job if I wasn’t established in my job. We talked about it. We went to our respective managers. I sat down and said “I’m thinking about moving to Green Bay,” knowing they could have fired me. But they didn’t. They went out and got me my own gear and said “As long as you can get on the air everyday, go do your thing from wherever you need to do it.”
Thank God for the NBA package. I was able to watch Spurs games. I’m glad it happened in the internet age. You can do radio from space now if you really need to, and I’ve gotten used to doing the show abroad, because since we have started traveling for my wife’s job, we have lived in Green Bay, on the Texas coast, Austin, back to San Antonio, to a little town called Tyler, Texas, and back to Austin.
The key is my heart is always home. I live in Austin, but I can tell you fifty times more about what is going on in San Antonio. I just sleep in Austin. My heart is in San Antonio.
DR: I know you had that base of knowledge before you started moving around, but what do you do day to day to make sure you’re plugged in to the community and that the show sounds like a show in San Antonio in 2018?
MT: Well, again, thank God for the Internet. I read so much. I subscribe to our paper there. I have all of the local news station apps and will look at their newscasts as much as I can. We only live about 60 minutes away, which is not far, but not exactly close. I will go down there as much as I can.
Whenever I do go to town, I try to make sure I do something funny. Maybe make a video at some landmark or go downtown. Any time I’m there I try to mention where I’ll be eating lunch.
I do all that because we don’t have a marketing budget. My show is a word of mouth show. We don’t do topics unless they are based in San Antonio, and if I do talk about something that’s happening outside of the city, it’s gotta have a local angle. You bring it back to San Antonio and talk about it in a way that people here are talking about it.
It’s a big city with all different types of people. There are a lot of transplants, so you can get away with not being 100% local all the time. I’ve been on air there for so long though that I have a really good feel for it.
DR: Neilsen says the market is 53% Hispanic. Does that have an influence on your show at all? I don’t mean “are you talking soccer?”. I mean does it change the way you deliver content?
MT: Of course. I’m half Mexican, thank God! I like to joke that I’m a Mexican when it’s convenient. I only turn white when there’s a cop around.
I’m kidding. But if you listen to my show, you’ll hear a lot of Hispanic discussion. I try not to alienate white guys or black guys or anyone that simply doesn’t care, but it’s there. You’ll here a lot of Spanglish. We have to do a cartel report every couple of weeks, because unfortunately I am able to kill a segment with who got their head chopped off near the border, which is only 90 miles to the south.
I have a lot of regular callers and characters that are Mexican. Sometimes I’ll slip into the stereotype for the joke, and it’s genuine. I can get away with it because my mom is Mexican and I know what I’m talking about. I grew up with and around Hispanic people.
Yes, I have absolutely made an effort to make that culture a part of my show, because it is such an important part of this community and of my audience. I go and do a remote, and I’ll tell you, when people come out, it’s way more than 53%, brother.
DR: Does that put a limit on just how successful the show can be? Not the way you do it, I mean, but the fact that the market is 53% Hispanic.
MT: I think so. The details of the are demographic studies and information that are way above my head, but if I got hired tomorrow to do a radio show in Chicago, I’d have to change things up.
When I got the interview for this job, I told the bosses that my show was going to be any and all things local. That’s what I want to be. First, I am any and all things Texas and after that it is any and all things San Antonio.
If I got fired tomorrow and then found a job doing radio in Oklahoma, the first thing I would do is learn Oklahoma history and get my hands on anything I could not just about Oklahoma sports, but the culture. You have to relate to the audience in local radio, man.
DR: When my partner and I first got to Raleigh, I was in rock radio at the time. The way we learned the market was we took the morning guy on the country station in the building out for lunch. He was a native and had been on air there for 20 years and we just said “okay, tell us everything.” How did you do that in San Antonio?
MT: I did the same thing. I just walked around the building and asked everyone “Tell me where to go” and then I went. I wasn’t trying to bullshit anybody like I knew the place before I knew the place.
Even on air I was honest. I’d say “I’m from Ft. Worth. All I know is Sea World and the Alamo. What else should I know?”
DR: (Laughing) Wait, is Sea World still there?
MT: Barely. There’s no killer whale shows.
DR: Then why the hell is it still there?
MT: Well, it’s mean to make them jump through hoops. So now you just go look at them in a tank.
DR: Oh. That makes more sense. I thought you were saying that all the animals were just gone. If you think about it it is kinda mean to make them jump through hoops.
MT: Yeah. You can still go walk around and see dolphin shows and sea lion shows, but it’s a dump. It’s still there. The Alamo is still there. I already knew about all that.
What I wanted was to go eat at a restaurant where I might get hepatitis. Tell me the local places, the pure blood Mexican places, the holes in the wall. I want to go there.
That’s what I sold them on in the interview. I am going to indoctrinate myself in this city. I’ll be able to run for city council in a year.