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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Aug. 22, 2014

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In Movies & TV Commentary

Bill Michaels had to syndicate his show to get it on the air.

OnMedia: The creative return of "The Big Unit"


Bill "The Big Unit" Michaels had to take a creative route to get back on the air so quickly in Milwaukee, thanks to a "no compete" clause in his contract with his former employer, WTMJ-AM (620).

He created his own network and syndicated "The Bill Michaels Show," which launches Aug. 1 on WSSP-AM (1250) and two other Wisconsin stations.

"I've been assured by three different legal teams that we are free and clear to do this," Michaels tells me.

But he wouldn't be surprised if there's a legal challenge.

That's not entering into his thinking much right now, as he prepares for a show that will fill WSSP's 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. mid-day slot, and play in afternoon drive time on Green Bay's WNFL-AM and Sheboygan's WHBL-FM.

Leaving WTMJ when his contract wasn't renewed back in April – the contract formally ended in May – is a quick turnaround for the creation of a radio network. But Michaels doesn't see it that way.

"It's quick for everybody else but me," he says, joking that "it's like giving birth to an attorney, for me. I was hoping that we could do it in just two weeks, and then just go."

And he's ready to go, understanding that without the guaranteed audience that the state's biggest radio station brings, he's got to do this on his own.

"Now, it's real. You're gonna find out what you got. It's no longer one button (around the state). If they really enjoyed you the first time around, they gotta search around the dial to find you.

'I'm the brand. There is nothing to fall back on"

Still, he says, "I'm not scared, I'm more excited," Michaels tells me. "I cannot wait to take the first call. It can't get here soon enough."

He's hoping to pick up additional markets – places like Madison, Stevens Point and Wausau – in the coming months.

The network means he'll have to work to make his show statewide. Of course, that's easier with a sports talk show than other kinds. The Green Bay Packers, UW Badgers and Milwaukee Brewers all transcend the communities they play in to appeal to a statewide audience.

"I think there's this pride in Wisconsin about Wisconsin sports," he says.

He'll have to deal with a bit of a structural problem in taking calls, since the show will be live in Milwaukee, and delayed in the other two markets. His plan is to continue use of social media, like Twitter and Facebook, to connect listeners with the topics under discussion.

Michaels says he had offers outside the Milwaukee market after WTMJ let him go, but he wanted to stay in the state. And he had folks asking him to stay - important folks like the advertisers he'd formed personal relationships with since he arrived at 'TMJ in 1999.

Speaking of WTMJ, Michaels expressed satisfaction with his time there.

"It was a great run at, 'TMJ," he says. "I can't say enough about what they did for me – and what I did for them. I'm sad about how it ended."

He had nothing but positive words for his replacements there, Gregg Matzek and Trenni Kusnierek. "I wish them nothing but the best," he says.

But just as he's trying not to focus on potential legal challenges, he's not focusing on where he used to work.

"Now I focus on me," he says. "Now I focus on what's ahead."

Jaycee Dugard tells her story: ABC gives over two hours of Sunday prime-time real estate (at 8 p.m. on Channel 12) to Diane Sawyer's lengthy conversation with Jaycee Dugard, who spent nearly two decades in captivity after being kidnapped at 14.

ABC News offered this video of Sawyer's first reaction after the interview:

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