Milwaukee Talks: WSSP-AM morning host Mike Wickett
For nearly five years, Mike Wickett has been helping Milwaukee sports fans start their day, co-hosting the morning drive show on Sportsradio 1250 WSSP-AM.
After graduating from the Specs Howard School of Broadcast Arts, the Michigan native got his start in his hometown of Canton in March 2000, with WTKA-AM. He worked his way up at the station, filling a number of roles before finishing as assistant program director.
Since coming to Milwaukee, Wickett has endured his fair share of wrath from local fans, especially after allegedly "jinxing" the Brewers. Still, Wickett, laughs it off and despite what some may think, he does want the local teams, including the Brewers, to do well.
OnMilwaukee.com sat down with Wickett recently to chat about his career, his passion for sports, his adopted home town and his secret agenda to curse any and all Wisconsin teams in the hopes of helping the teams back in Michigan.
OnMilwaukee.com: There's no secret here, you're not a local guy. Where's home for you and how did you end up here in Milwaukee?
Mike Wickett: I grew up in San Diego, spent 10 years there. Then I went to high school in a Detroit suburb; graduated in '99. I was on my high school radio station for four years and then went to a broadcasting school in Detroit. While I was there, I started interning at a sports station, 1050 WTKA in Ann Arbor.
Seven years later, I went from being an intern to night time producer to morning show producer to morning show co-host and finally, to assistant program director. After seven years in a market like Ann Arbor, you start to wonder if it's the time to move on. The obvious move was to go to Detroit, but that wasn't an option at the time. My boss at the time, Ryan Maguire, got the job here in Milwaukee running 1250 and six months later, he gave me a call and asked what I knew about Milwaukee.
OMC: Did you know anything about the city at the time?
MW: I knew it was a major market, I knew it would be a raise in pay, I knew it would be a pro town, which is always a bonus. I love college football, I'll always be a Michigan fan, but the chance to come to a pro town ... it was like "well, let's check it out." I came to town New Year's Eve eve of 2006. I did an interview and then kind of a sample show. It was me and another guy with Doug (Russell). Ryan met with Doug and picked me to be his co-host and, four and a half years later, here we are.
OMC: You mentioned starting out at your high school radio station. What drew you into the business?
MW: Unlike most people – you know, most people don't know what they want to do growing up, they figure it out in college or whatever – when I was in seventh grade, I used to listen to the morning show on B100 in San Diego. The Jeff and Jer Morning Show. I would wake up early before middle school just to listen to the show. That's when I fell in love with radio. I would listen to the show and I thought, that that's kind of what I wanted to do.
When I moved to Michigan, I was registering for my high school classes, and my counselor asked what I wanted to do. I told him that I liked radio, that it sounded kind of fun and that I liked sports. It just so happened that Plymouth Canton High School, where I went, had one of the best high school radio stations in the state. My counselor used to be the station manager there and he got me in contact with the station to set up an audition.
I tried out, filled out the packet, got called back and started out doing sports and news. By my sophomore year, I had a DJ shift and I was calling play-by-play for high school basketball games, football games, baseball and softball. I did hockey once and, well, that's not an easy one. I wasn't successful there.
I thought when I went to broadcast school, I thought I was going to be the next great rock DJ, I thought that was my calling. Then I started interning at a sports station and I started to realize, really early, that to do sports, you had to have an opinion. You can't just be a fan.
OMC: So, do you just kind of stumble into sports then?
MW: Honestly, I kind of stumbled into it, yeah. I didn't go into broadcasting school thinking I was going to do sports. I went in with an open mind. They didn't have a specific program for doing sports. They had a news program, which translates well for doing sports, but I didn't know what I wanted to do other than I wanted to be on radio.
Music seemed like the way to go, like the morning show I listened to in San Diego. I was doing promotions for a cluster in Ann Arbor and the opportunity to do sports presented itself. I think I'm the epitome of right place/right time. I really am. About six months into my part-time job, the afternoon producer left the business and I slipped right in.
Three years later, one of the morning show hosts left and when they promoted the producer, I slipped right into that spot. Another morning show host left and I moved into there. It's all about the right place at the right time.
OMC: Hosting a sports talk show, how many different roles do you have to fill. Is it one part instigator, one part fan, one part ... I dunno, therapist?
MW: People ask that a lot. Sometimes people think that we fake our fights or pick sides ahead of time. Listen, we know what we're going to talk about. You can kind of get a feel going into the show.
When the Packers lose, you know you're going to talk about it. When the Brewers lose, you're going to talk about it. Same with when they win. You have to make your points, for one thing. But the good thing about sports is, you're a place for fans to come together, whether it's to complain or cheer. Especially in our format. It's where people come together to be fans. You get an idea of what the show's going to be about before you go in, you plan a little ... it's like clay, you can't go in and just rigidly schedule stuff.
OMC: How do you prep for the show?
MW: After the third glass of wine ... OK, no, I'm kidding. Milwaukee is, like most Midwest towns, very local, very loyal. There are a lot of Milwaukee people in Milwaukee, if that makes sense. Just like in Chicago, Cleveland or Detroit, you go into a show knowing that you're going to spend most of your time talking about the local teams and what they did the night before.
My co-host and I will email and text each other back and forth, throughout the day or night and we'll come up with about 24 topics for roughly 12 segments. We know what most of the topics will be, but we can't just say "OK, we'll talk about the Brewers."
We've got to have a specific angle. We have to have opinion. We read the news sites, we read the blogs. We don't just walk in and turn on the microphone. A lot of people think that, but there's a lot of prep.
OMC: So the disagreements are real?
MW: Very much so. If I'm sitting here with (co-host) Chuck (Freimund) and we have different opinions, that's gold. We could be discussing the play of (UW running back) Monte Ball. I could say he's great, Chuck could say he stunk and we'll stop our conversation and say "let's save this for on the air." We'll get into disagreements on things when we're planning, we'll stop right there and bring it on the air. It's real. There's nothing scripted about it.
OMC: Let's talk about Chuck for a second. You guys span some generations there. How has it been working with him?
MW: He and I, yeah ... we're pretty different. He's 44 and I'm 30. He's married with kids and I'm none of the above. It really kind of adds to it because we do see things from very different perspectives sometimes. I've been really blessed to have worked with some amazing co-hosts.
Really, I couldn't have come into a market like Milwaukee without knowing as much of this history if I hadn't been paired up with some absolute professionals. I hadn't spent but a minute in Milwaukee, but I was lucky enough to get to work with Doug, who grew up here, who worked here, who knew the players and the teams and he knew the fans, too.
And now, with Chuck ... You know, Chuck covered the Brewers in '82. He helped start sports radio in this town. He's worked everywhere. He's a lot like me, in that he loves to sit and watch college football, have a couple of beers and talk sports.
He knows his Wisconsin sports, though. I've only been here four and a half years and if you're going to come, as an outsider, into a place like Milwaukee where it's "our team," "our guys," "our high schools," you need somebody like Chuck to work with. We work really well together.
OMC: How do you handle national stories? Does the local stuff usually override the national headlines?
MW: The bigger the story, obviously, the more attention is going to get. I don't think Chris Johnson's new $53 million contract is going to resonate too much with Joe from Cudahy. But if it's a story that's in the news, you have to hit on it. The trick is how can we make it a local story.
Take the Michael Vick contract. He's going to make $100 million, again, and he's won nothing. So you can turn that discussion into "when is Aaron Rodgers going to get paid?" You can put a local spin on it. And let's be honest, over the last year, Wisconsin sports stories have been national sports stories. The Brewers. The Packers. Wisconsin and Marquette. The Bucks in 2009. They've been in the national spotlight a lot.
When a national story comes up, though, we have to talk about it – we want to talk about what people are talking about. But more often than not, they want to talk about their teams.
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The one good question would have been asking him about Doug Russell, but you can't expect OMC to ask any tough questions. It's really a shame WSSP decided to saddle Russell with this guy.
Good stuff Wags & Wicks. However Mike should've been a Chargers and Clippers fan like me.
He said that Chuck is 44, and covered the 1982 Brewers. Where does a 15 year old "cover" the Brewers?
Knowing Wickett, the shiner is from either drinking, a woman bigger than him that took offense, or tried to pull a wrestling move while drunk (actually any of these are really b/c of drinking)
Show me the other Talkback
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