A little under 17 months ago, a new sports talk radio station debuted in Milwaukee – WOKY 920 – "The Big 920 Sports" – when Clear Channel Communications flipped the frequency’s format from country music.
It was the newest addition to the sports talk scene in Milwaukee, which already featured WSSP 1250 and ESPN 540, but it came with a connection to Madison and its sister station "The Big 1070."
Wisconsin Badgers play-by-play men Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas began the day, followed by syndicated programming, Brian Posick’s dedicated Badgers talk from 2 until 3, and then Phil Dawson and Mike Heller.
Now, the station is firmly planting itself in Milwaukee by announcing today the addition of "the voice of the Bucks" – radio play-by-play man Ted Davis – to the afternoon lineup as a co-host with Heller.
The two will be on from 2 to 4 p.m., with Heller then going solo from 4 to 6.
"I’ve never questioned the quality of the talk show I do, the quality of the sports show because I think it stacks up," said Heller, who has been a fixture on the Madison sports scene for over two decades. "The difference was, in Milwaukee, the biggest market in the state, the sports fan doesn’t know who I am.
"So, adding Ted to the mix gives our broadcast that and the steps that we’ll take in working with one another will make for a very good show, and then it’s recognizable in Milwaukee and it gains some instant credibility, even though I thought the thoughts and opinions and the quality of the show would have that level of credibility. Now we have a name to it in this market. That was the biggest step we needed as a company to try to be able to make."
Along with that announcement, the duo will be broadcasting locally out of the station’s studios in Greenfield.
It’s an important addition for 920 as it looks to gain greater traction in the Milwaukee market, and Heller hinted more is to come.
"This is another step in our process of being Milwaukee’s go-to sports talk and broadcast station," Heller said. "This isn’t the last big thing we’re doing. I think there is another opportunity that will happen somewhat soon that I think really will plant the seed of who we are in Milwaukee. And nothing happens overnight. When we launched (in January) it was the tree in the forest. I don’t know who heard it, who even knew that we began that last January. The process continues and adding Ted is a big step. There are more things coming that will continue to establish (us) and they’re all good. It’s a good thing."
As for Davis, he is coming off a two-year run at WSSP as a member of the afternoon "Big Show" ensemble and is looking forward to the opportunity to co-host a program.
"I think if you do this for any length of time, we all have ego, and if you get to this level you’re pretty competent at what you do," he said. "And so I think we all think that we can have a bigger role on whatever show we’re on. Even though I didn’t have an issue being part of an ensemble, when I had a chance to be on a show, between Mike and I, we can really drive the topics, that had appeal to me, too."
Davis had cut his teeth in the talk format long ago in the Dallas-Ft. Worth market, but after nine seasons of play-by-play with the Dallas Mavericks and, at the time, 15 years in that same role with the Milwaukee Bucks radio network, he knew it was time to branch out.
"I think you have to have more than one iron going in the fire," Davis said. "So, to do play-by-play and then to be able to do a talk show, which allows you to have a little more of a personality on the air than you have when you’re doing play-by-play, in enjoyed that."
Davis admitted having such flexibility is also an important considering the future of the Bucks in Milwaukee has not been determined.
"I think you had to (think about it)," he admitted. "I think at the end of this whole process, if we have a new arena and I’m still doing games, then financially I’m fine. But I’m just taking that precaution of what if in 2017 all of a sudden the team is gone? That was part of the process too."
Despite the fact that he has been a play-by-play man for nearly three decades, Davis wasn’t surprised that he got hooked on the talk format – and that he would want to continue in that medium.
"Doing the show was fun in the afternoon," he said. "I realized I’m good at it. I’m a good ad-libber. You have to be to do play-by-play, because pretty much everything you do is ad-lib. And I reacted well to what they were saying, and I realized I enjoyed the exposure that I got from doing the talk show.
"I think it introduced me to another set of ears and people who are sports fans but not might necessarily be NBA or Bucks fans. So I reached a different group."
The pair will begin their show on May 5, and admit there will be a learning curve.
"When you get on the air with somebody, the only way to develop chemistry is to get on the air and start working," Davis said. "I would say it wouldn’t be a huge length of time before we kind of know each other. That will happen, that chemistry."
Heller is more than confident in Davis’ ability to be an opinionated host as well due to his background in morning radio and recent stint as an opinionated voice.
"I think Ted would actually be in the minority – I could be wrong on this, but it’s been my experience – some play-by-play guys are not good talk show hosts, are not good with opinion because many times you’re kind of stifled from opinion," Heller said.
"Your job is description and entertainment in description of a game. Sometimes that guy doesn’t make for a good opinionated talk show host. But I’ve listened to Ted. I don’t have any question in his ability to entertain and offer opinion isn’t at all compromised by what he does for his day job over all these years."
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.