By Andy Tarnoff Publisher Published Oct 14, 2002 at 5:36 AM

Gene Mueller is one - half of the Reitman and Mueller morning show on 94.5 WKTI. A staple of local FM radio, he's served as an alarm clock for countless Milwaukeeans for 20 years. This season, he expanded his reach statewide by joining the Packers Radio Network.

A regular guy who can laugh at his own jokes as well as himself, he's a rabid fan of the Brewers and "The Simpsons." He's also a father and a family man who's not at all embarrassed when noticed in the checkout line at the supermarket.

In another exclusive Milwaukee Talks interview, we caught up with Gene to chat about the green and gold, his wacky work schedule and what's it like to have a Beastie built in your likeness beheaded.

OMC: Tell me about your new gig on the Packers Radio Network. Add to your morning show duties, and you must be working 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

GM: It's not that much, but it's a little extra time. Everybody in Wisconsin is a Packers fan, but now I have to read more, prep more and really know my stuff. I gotta know what I'm talking about, because people out there know more than I do. I really believe that there are Packers fans out there who know more than the announcers.

OMC: It's quite an educated fan base.

GM: Yeah. They've lived here all their lives, and they remember the past. I can't BS them. I can't win a trivia contest with them. They're smarter than I am. I can help make them even smarter. I'm their vehicle to make them learn more about the team. But Sunday, or whatever game day is, gets to be a long day. The rest of the week is just reading and keeping up. It's a labor of love. But it's the Packers, and every day is game day. We love the Packers.

OMC: But you're a big Packers and Brewers fan, anyway.

GM: Yeah, it's not a stretch. It's not like being the opera correspondent.

OMC: That might take more research.

GM: Big learning curve there!

OMC: How did you get involved with the Packers broadcasts this season?

GM: Len Kasper left in March, and they came to me in June and asked if this would be something I'd think about doing. I've listened to it, being a fan, so I asked to listen to a tape of the whole thing so I could see what it really involves. It got to be three weeks before camp, and they asked if I wanted it or not. So I said, "sure, fine." And that was it. It came together pretty fast. The next week we had a big production meeting and away it went.

OMC: So what time do you get to the station on a Sunday?

GM: 6:30 a.m. I got out of here around 5 p.m.

OMC: How do you get ready for your morning show the next morning?

GM: I go home and decompress. I watch the second game with my boy and watch "NFL Primetime." Then it's time for "The Sopranos" and "The Simpsons." It's my usual routine; I don't stay up any later.

OMC: Although I have to think a Monday night game is impossible with your schedule.

GM: I'll burn Tuesday as a vacation day, yeah. That will be a day off.

OMC: You have somewhat of a journalism background, right?

GM: I started out as a disc jockey in radio, but when I got to college I started to work more toward news. I was a part-timer in Sheboygan, where I was born, but when I quit school, I went to become a radio news reporter up in Stevens Point. I did that for four years and went to QFM and was news director there.

OMC: When was that?

GM: That was '81.

OMC: How did you wind up at WKTI?

GM: A guy I worked with in Stevens Point was at KTI when they took it off the automation. They'd already hired Bob (Reitman) as program director. He shot me a call at QFM and asked if I wanted to come on board. That was September of '82, so we've been doing this for 20 years.

OMC: After 20 years, are you running out of material?

GM: No, there's always something. And we have Gino (Salomone, their producer) so there's plenty of grist for the mill.

OMC: I don't want to make you feel old, but I grew up listening to Reitman and Mueller. I remember my grandma and I trying to find the Heiney Winery.

GM: In beautiful downtown Waldo.

OMC: Do people still talk to you about the old stuff?

GM: Yeah, we hear that. We always hear about the Cabbage Patch dolls.

OMC: Oh yeah, I do remember that! Something about dropping them over County Stadium?

GM: That was November of '82. It was just a throw-away, something stupid we said. It was in the middle of the big Cabbage Patch Kid push, and people were beating each other up to get these dolls. It was the first Friday after Thanksgiving. We just came up with this stupid scenario and that was pretty much it. We didn't think anything more of it until later in the morning when we started getting some calls from the people at the Brewers, asking what was going on their parking lot? They started to get calls, too. It was a slow news day, and someone wrote something about it in the paper. A couple of TV stations picked up on it, also. Then we're getting calls from Australia about this thing, and it just went huge.

OMC: What's it like to think that people have been listening to you for 20 years?

GM: Flattering. You know people mean it from a good place in their heart when they say, "I've been listening to you since I was a little kid." I guess it's just part of the evolution of someone being in the same place for 20 years. It's what you hope for if you really love the business -- to get a job you love in a city you love. That doesn't happen that often in radio. We've been lucky, blessed with a great audience that stays with us. At first blush it makes you feel old, but flip it around and take it for what it is, it's the ultimate compliment.

OMC: What's it like working with Bob Reitman?

GM: Great. He's a great guy who's as Milwaukee as Milwaukee can be. He's compassionate and has a great sense of what should be said at the right time. Things aren't always funny, like September 11. Bob's perfect for that. He's got a perfect sense for the moment, and I wish I had that gift.

OMC: Does he really wear that vest every day?

GM: He didn't have it on today. He must have had a golf outing. Those are the days he goes vest-less. Otherwise, it's there. It's when he doesn't wear pants when have a problem.

OMC: You're a huge "Simpsons" fan. What's your favorite episode?

GM: As I watch them all in reruns, I find something I like in every one of them. The one with the day in the life of Bart, Marge and Homer, is great.

OMC: That's the one where Homer loses his thumb, and Lisa builds "Linguo" the robot?

GM: I've seen it 10 times, and every time I bust a gut. It's so clever and well-told. There are people who can't get past the fact that "The Simpsons" are a cartoon and think it's a kids' show. Nothing could be further from the truth. It's genius, and it's the best show on television.

OMC: Are you a pop-culture junkie? You must be if you can bring all this to the radio every day.

GM: Not really, especially compared to Gino. He is a pop culture god. When I was younger without kids it was easier to have my finger on the pulse, because I had more time to indulge. If it's a function of age, I'm guilty, but it's a lot easier to lose touch with that. I don't see the movies as much as I'd like to. I've sworn for 15 years that I want to get caught up on "Law and Order."

OMC: So your producer helps out quite a bit?

GM: That's the beauty of the set up between the three of us. There's no ego, and nobody feels as if they have to be in control. Each of us is willing to say, "I don't know. You take this part. Have fun."

OMC: Is there enough chemistry between you and Bob, that listeners of your show are really hearing three guys talking?

GM: Yeah, it's hard to believe sometimes that this crap that we're spewing is going out through radio and dashboards and landing on people's ears. It just feels like two or three guys shooting the breeze. Bringing in Amy and Jenna, it's like, "now we have estrogen in the room, so we'll be a little more polite." But it's still the same atmosphere. It never really feels like work.

OMC: Do you write your own news?

GM: Yes, but we have the luxury of having channel 4 and TMJ radio in the building. They do the reporting, and I hack down the scripts for our purposes.


OMC: I'm beginning to understand now that your atypical hours are actually pretty good for being a parent.

GM: It's hard going to bed before your kids do, so that's pretty weird. The older they get, the longer that gap gets. I'm not there to send them off in the morning, but I can get to their practices and functions. I can be there when they get home from school and help with homework. So it's nice. I like these hours. It's 100% unnatural to get up in the middle of the night. There's just nothing right about that. Some people in this business say they love it. I don't. But on the other hand, there are enough benefits on the side that allow you do things other people can't do. It's tough on young people, who can't have a night life. I did when I was younger and single. You can do that then; stay out 'til 11 at night and turn and burn. I can't anymore, and I don't even try. Buddies will come up with tickets to a Monday night football game and tell me, "You can do it. Just take a nap!" No, you can't.

OMC: Especially because you have to be at the top of the game when you're on the radio.

GM: You'd like to be. It's weird because there are some nights that I'll get three hours of sleep and think it's going to suck, but actually pull it off. A wise man who in worked radio once told me, "The best show prep is a good night's sleep." And that's really true.

OMC: But at least you get to see Brewers day games, right?

GM: I've got my 20-game package, and I always catch every weekday day game.

OMC: When you're out at a game, do people recognize you? Is that weird?

GM: Some do, some don't. Shaving the mustache helped. It's great when they do, because it means we're having an effect. If I'm walking around anonymously in this town, and I'm in the media, that's not a good thing. It's nothing I crave. I don't wear a sign around my neck that says, "Ask me about Reitman."

OMC: Our last story about you on involved your mustache. What happened to that bad boy?

GM: It's the first time I've shaved it off since high school. I used to shave it off whenever I'd get upset at my girlfriend, because she liked those five, gnarly hairs. It just stayed all the way through my adult life. I had a beard, which was really heinous. But the mustache always survived. I was going through the process of mustache separation, mentally detaching myself from my upper lip hair. I was really starting to pare it down. One day it was just gone, and I think I did it under the radar.

OMC: And you have your own Beastie, right?

GM: It was tough when someone snapped the head off that sucker on Water Street. I didn't quite know how to process that.

OMC: Was it a voodoo thing?

GM: We're thinking it was either liquor-related or Chicago Bears related because my Beastie was wearing a Packers jersey.

OMC: Or both! But they found it, though.

GM: They found it at the Marc Plaza (Hilton Milwaukee City Center). They took the severed head and made a plaque of it. We're auctioned it off for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. The body was bought and will also be auctioned off for charity.

OMC: Are you at the pinnacle of your profession?

GM: You keep trying to do the best you can. We have a great company here. It's a fantastic situation, and the morning show is prime time. So you get up in the middle of the night to do it, but if you're in radio, this is where you want to be. The Packers thing is a nice little cherry on the cake. It gives me something selfishly different to do, something that's professionally challenging. It's an honor and a privilege to be part of something this building has had for 75 years -- the Packers rights. And I get to be involved, even in a peripheral way. Thank you, God. It couldn't get any better than that.

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.