By Andy Tarnoff Publisher Published Jan 27, 2012 at 8:56 AM

Sitting down for breakfast at Benji's with 620-WTMJ's Gene Mueller, it's hard to believe it's been 10 years since our last Milwaukee Talks with the local radio icon.

Last time we interviewed Mueller, 54, he was approaching the end of the line on the incredibly popular Reitman and Mueller morning show on the defunct WKTI. Now, he hosts "Wisconsin's Morning News," the culmination of more than 30 years in Milwaukee radio.

Even though his current job requires him to dial it down, Mueller remains one of the funniest people you'll ever meet in radio. His Twitter bio explains that he's a "Milwaukee radio host, sports fan and dark humorist waiting for (his) kids to choose (his) nursing home."

We just call him a legend. Enjoy this latest Milwaukee Talks. Last time we did this, you had just shaved your mustache.

Gene Mueller: Ten years too late.

OMC: Arguably. You were starting a stint with the Packers Radio Network.

GM: I did that for one year, the pre-game show and the halftime show. It was a nice experiment to get my feet wet over at WTMJ. It was also the time my wife decided to go back to full-time work, so we couldn't do both.

OMC: Well, the last question I asked you in 2002 was if you were at the pinnacle of your career. Now, other than the time slot, you couldn't be in a more different role in Milwaukee radio, right?

GM: Yeah, it's another world ... 30 feet down the hall. It's such a different approach to radio, and I love it. When I first got hired there, I'd walk past the spot where Gordon Hinkley was holding court with Jim Irwin and I'd go, "Wow, that's TM freakin' J." I'd go into our little closet that was KTI and try to turn that thing around. The whole dynamic of the building has changed. WKTI isn't there anymore, Hinkley's not there anymore. Every day I walk into that studio, I feel like someone is gonna tell me that the big kids want their chair back.

OMC: Did you ever think you career would go in this direction?

GM: No. I thought it would be nice to die with the company somehow. Some people thought they'd put Bob (Reitman) and me on WTMJ, but Bob retired before that subject was broached. We tried keeping it going on KTI for a while.

OMC: Do you ever talk to Bob?

GM: Yeah, I saw him about two or three weeks ago. We have coffee up at Solly's and get caught up.

OMC: You've been with Journal Broadcast Group for 30 years, and you were on the air before that, too. Are you the elder statesman, patriarch of Milwaukee radio?

GM: Designated old fart, maybe. I'm trying to think of anyone older. I could be the gray eminence.

OMC: Does that strike you as unusual? I mean, you're not an old guy.

GM: It's funny to think of how it's come full circle. When I got there, my hair was dark and long, and I was 40 pounds lighter. We were seen as the punk kids in this very staid building full of broadcast professionals. We were the goofy ones, and I still think of myself as that same guy. When you make references to people who aren't there anymore and they fall on deaf ears of people who are 25, suddenly, you realize, yeah, I'm that old fart.

OMC: So they put your your name on this show, and it started out as more personality-driven. It's moved more toward content, though. How do you straddle the line?

GM: It's different. I'm doing things I've never done before, like live commercials and personal endorsements. I was a sidekick, a news writer. Now, I'm not involved in the news content at all, except for stuff in between news casts, but that's more my take on things. I do interviews, which is still fun, but again, because of the compressed nature of the format, it's having to learn how to be more brief, more concise, more to the point. There's no warming someone up anymore. You've got to get right to it, and if you don't, the moment is lost. The train keeps moving.

OMC: Why did your management stick with one host after John Jagler left?

GM: I think they saw it as an opportunity to keep it simple, to have one conductor and to have the other elements contribute to the story count, which is the definition of the show. Big stories count, sports, news, service elements. Two people tend to talk to each other and get off the track. With one person, you keep chugging forward.

OMC: But for most of your career, you've been part of a team.

GM: Yeah, it's weird when the news people leave and Greg (Matzek) has his head in a computer for the next sportscast, and I'm just in there by myself. I'm still trying to get used to talking to myself. I did that earlier in my career when I was a disc jockey, but it's been a while. You have to be your own self-governor.

OMC: Your station has a right-leaning reputation, but your show is not specifically political, is it?

GM: Middle of the bird, yeah. We're neither left-wing nor right-wing, but people still paint us with that brush. That's the reason why some people will not come on as guests with us in the morning, while others are more than anxious. I get it both ways, which tells me that we're doing it right.

OMC: Do you keep your own personal politics out of the show?

GM: Definitely. Nobody wants to hear what I think. We have hours and hours of programming for those types of people, and I'm supposed to be right down the middle. I like being there. I want to learn, I want to find out from both sides. I'm not there to inflict my opinion on anyone. Toilet seat up, toilet seat down, I'm an open book. I'll tell you how I feel. When it comes who should be the GOP nominee or how Obama's doing, that will stay in the man cave.

OMC: My wife has worked with you, on and off, for a number of years ...

GM: And I want to apologize for all that I've said and done in front of her.

OMC: Yes, but she says that I'm the second funniest person she knows. You, apparently, are the first.

GM: You're a funny man, you're second to no one. Remember, Andy, it's early in the morning. I think at that hour there's a certain survivor mentality. It's like the same dark atmosphere that nurses and ER docs and firefighters have.

OMC: She says the funniest stuff never makes it on the air.

GM: Oh, God, no.

OMC: But at another time in your career, you were paid to be funny. Now, you're not so funny on the air. Do you miss that?

GM: It was always hard defining what is funny. I'm 54 years old, but inside, I'm still 14. A fart will always be funny. A burp will always be funny. I will go dark very early. Virtually nothing offends me, so it was very easy to do QFM radio. Getting to KTI was a whole different story. I had a partner who was very proper, and I mean that as a compliment. He didn't play blue at all. Off the air, we had a lot of fun, we were guys. On the air, he'd say, "That's not right." I appreciated that.

OMC: It seems like a lifetime ago when I was listening to you at 9 years old, searching for the Hiney Winery with my grandma. But you're only 54. You must've been 25 years old back then.

GM: I was, but that's the beauty, that you and your grandma could listen to that station. There was something there for both of you. Part of what's missing these days is that big tent atmosphere. Everything is so niche nowadays.

OMC: You've seen radio change so much. Now radio personalities are all over Twitter and social media. You are active, too.

GM: I love to tweet during Packers games. It's a great way to vent. People dial you back down if you're being too negative, though. It's like sitting in a giant, interactive bar where everyone knows each other. I love how beat reporters converse with fans. Some things have stayed, like Twitter, but I still can't get fired up by LinkedIn.

OMC: After all this time, you could be coasting a little, but you're not, are you?

GM: Thanks. This is an honor to have this job, and I'm not just saying that. I think of the people who've had this job at this station. We'd joke that every time a hearse would go by, we'd say, "There goes another TMJ listener." But they keep making more. People grow into WTMJ. It means a lot of things to different people. It's a trust that's been given to me by people far more talented than me. Now it's on us. Maybe do it in a different way, but you don't want to go in there and sound misinformed or stupid, because you're exposed. They'll call bullsh*t on you.

OMC: Will you be the Gordon Hinkley of the year 2030?

GM: I'd like a taste of the Church and Chapel money, too, you bet! But you've got to know when to get off the stage. I don't want to stay if I'm addled, if I can't hit the fastball. I'm trusting friends and others to tell me that. When the bad outnumbers the good, then it's time.

OMC: But do you anticipate doing this for a while?

GM: Considering what happened to my 401K, yeah. And I got a wedding coming up and a kid in Marquette, so definitely for two more years.

OMC: So, knowing that we'll do this again in 10 years, are you still at the pinnacle of your career?

GM: It's a great young group that I work with. They keep me young, I hope I keep them honest. I think I still make them laugh, or at least they tolerate me with polite giggles. When you've been around the business for a while, there's a tendency to think you know it all. There's always someone younger or smarter to tell you that you don't – and they're right.

Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.

Before launching in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.

Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.