By Jeff Sherman Staff Writer Published Oct 04, 2005 at 5:35 AM

{image1}"The World's Greatest Sports Talk Show" found a new home last week, and 50-year-old Steve "The Homer" True, a 15-year Milwaukee radio veteran, is feeling all the normal feelings anyone would when starting a new job. He's getting used to the surroundings, the new computers, new people and a new time slot.

True left Clear Channel's WISN-AM after the station shuffled its line-up in favor of more national political programming at night and less local sports talk like Homer's 6 p.m. show. Now at ESPN Radio 1510, Homer says he's excited to continue his show and work for "the kid" -- station owner Craig Karmazin.

One of the best talkers in the business of sports radio, Homer continues as the voice of Marquette men's basketball but now entertains on an all-sports station that has been waiting for a star like him.

Born in South Bend, Ind., his father was a professor at Notre Dame, and he has seven brothers and sisters. He played tennis as a kid, because, he says, "I wasn't good enough at any other sport."

Tennis led him to UW-Madison where he walked on and lettered in the sport as a freshman. True decided to leave UW and pursue tennis for what he calls "reasons still unknown."

After about a year playing tennis, he decided to come back to Wisconsin and his coach at UW obliged with a scholarship. He assumed he'd play his last two years at UW, but came down with rheumatoid arthritis, which ended his playing career.

He ultimately graduated from Indiana University in South Bend after returning home to finish school. To this day, he claims he's the only person to graduate from a college and not know the school's nickname.

He's a homer, "but not idiot," as he puts it, and Steve True is the subject of the latest installment of Milwaukee Talks.

OMC: So, what was your school's nickname?

Steve True: They were the IUSB Titans, which I discovered reading a book by Homer Drew, who was the coach at IUSB for one year, now the coach at Valparaiso. He's also the source of the greatest trivia question ever. Homer Drew coached at two colleges in the South Bend area, neither was Notre Dame, what were they? He coached at Bethel College, a Bible college and he coached at IUSD. The Schwab wouldn't even know that!

OMC: What did you major in, and how did you get into radio?


ST: I graduated with a major in accounting, which of course I didn't use. Again, reasons unknown. I had given tennis lessons to someone who knew the top radio guy in South Bend, John Thompson, and I thought I could do that as well as he does. So, I enrolled in a broadcast school in Chicago called Midwestern Broadcast, famous graduates Don Cornelius and Lauren Brown. Did that for about three to four months and then sent out tapes and was hired in 1980 by WIXK radio in New Richmond. I was there about two years and got fired when they found out I was looking for a new job.

Then I went to Alliance, Neb., which is the end of the world. I was there two years, then to Appleton, then to Madison's WIBA, where I was part of the famous "black Friday firings" where five of us got fired, including current Sen. John Erpenbach. Next I was hired by Mark Belling at WTDY. Then, about six months after Belling came to WISN, I was hired there to replace Bob Dolan. And, I was at WISN for 15 years.

OMC: What did you think you'd do when you were in college?

ST: I was a finalist for the men's tennis head coach job in Indiana. Didn't get it, but got some great Bobby Knight stories. So, that's really what I thought I'd always do. I have great respect for high school coaches; you have such an impact on kids. You remember the good coaches and teachers and they often times move you in a certain direction.

OMC: Talk a little about high school sports.

ST: I've had Joel Claassen, the girl's basketball coach at Pius XI who won 14 state championships, on my radio show. He said to me once that not one of the girls on his teams have ever been divorced. I thought that was incredible. It speaks to him, to the kind of girls on his teams. I wish I could do more on those people high school coaches, but you can't do it in Milwaukee. High school sports get lost. There's a quarterback at Wauwatosa East who is the best throwing quarterback I have ever seen in high school. I want people to comment and know this. The average Packers fan would call in and say "who the hell cares?" But, you see a level of dominance in high school sports that you don't see in college.

{image3}OMC: Did your parents make you play sports?

ST: My parents never made us play sports. I regret that I didn't have my kids play tennis more, because I love it. But I thought, why should I? I let my kids do what they want to do. I still believe that parents shouldn't attend all of their kid's sporting events. You want to go to some of them, but it shouldn't be their life.

OMC: What are your impressions of Milwaukee?

ST: The greatest place to live, as far as traffic. For a town this size, it is the best. It amazes me that you can get around as easily as you can. It's the best thing about this town by far; you can have a life that's not determined by traffic. It's an old-fashioned town, too. I know why Ed Debevik's didn't work, because we still have those types of places here today.

Milwaukee's a good sports town, too. It has a lot of teams for a town its size. There are more teams than there probably should be -- because you really count the Packers, too. We have everything; not an NHL team, but an NHL team has no business being here. I'm sure a lot of this has to do with the Pettits, but this is a great sports town.

But people are really fanatical about one thing: the Packers. And that's good if you are in my business. I really contemplated at one time doing "all Packers all-the-time.' Back in '95-'96, people just couldn't get enough. I could have probably done it, could have burned an hour with the trainer talking; "How you taping Brett's ankle?" I love that stuff.

Though this will change if they continue to lose. I don't want teams to lose. People just don't follow sports as much when teams are bad. Like now at 0-3, there's no point in Mike Sherman talking. Nothing you can say is going to appease the fans.

OMC: What's the best sport to watch on TV?

ST: Football is so good, and it's so good now in HD. It's just perfect.

OMC: Did you stay up for the James Blake vs. Andre Agassi U.S. Open match?

ST: Yes, I did. Agassi said it the best, "this is great for tennis." The sad part is it didn't make a damn bit of difference. And that match was as good as anything that McEnroe, Borg, Connors ... it's sad, but you can't make people like something. Tennis had its phase, then people started playing it and finding out it's hard. But, now look we are really starting to like sports that require real little, if any, athleticism (like) poker, Texas Hold 'Em.

OMC: I'm going to give you a bunch of names, give me your thoughts: Brett Favre.

ST: Paul Horning said it the best, "The best player to wear a Packers uniform." He's significantly smarter, not just a little smarter, than people realize. The country QB thing is just garbage. You can see why he's a good quarterback; he has the ability to see everything around him. Living on the edge is the essence of his family, and he has the intellect go with that.

OMC: Michelle Wie.

ST: The golfers seem to say that she's phenomenal. Unlike Tiger Woods, she hasn't won anything. You got to learn how to win. She may be so good that she can. I could see her being more like Greg Norman, or someone who is viewed as having incredible talent but doesn't win as much as people think. I'm not as strong with that opinion, because the golf fraternities that play with her say she's just that good. To this point, she's been in situations with pressure and performed terribly.

OMC: Al McGuire.

ST: No person in my life has ever entertained me more. For whatever reason, he was nice to me. I don't know why. I didn't see him all that often, but I would just laugh and he'd say incredible things. He just had an amazing way ... when you were done talking to him, you felt better and went away smiling.

OMC: Bob Costas.

ST: Really, really smart. And I think over the course of his career has become bored with sports and he's felt a need to be bigger than sports. So, he's taken on baseball with his positions. I don't sense the same joy anymore. Dick Enberg seems as happy at doing a game as ever. Costas seems like he wants to take a greater role than just calling games. He's been great, though, at what he does.

{image4}OMC: Bud Selig.

ST: Whenever I think of Bud Selig, I think it's just incredible that Milwaukee is city that has the office of the commissioner of baseball. We've had more than our share of fights. I laugh that I've suggested many of the things that he's ended up doing. He was a traditionalist. I say, do want ever you have to do to get fans in the park. And now he will go down as the most innovative commissioner in baseball history, there isn't any question about that. The saddest part is, at the end of the Seligs' ownership of the Brewers, people thought that they scammed the town. You can disagree at some of the things he did, but people fed on that. This Ulice Payne as president thing was just totally bogus if anyone really wants to tell the real story. That wasn't that important, though, people (started saying) the Seligs used Milwaukee. That's pathetic; it's just so far from the truth.

OMC: Ricky Weeks.

ST: I've had a guy on that said he's going to be in the Hall of Fame. He's that good. These guys can play. Weeks is only going to get better. They tell me that he wants to get better, and if he's committed to getting better ... he's going to be fun and he's going to be great.

OMC: Finally, Mark Belling.

ST: People want to believe that I hate him and he hates me and it doesn't matter what I say, they want to believe that. It's just not true. But, if anyone has some pictures of him or some inside information on him -- knowledge of any inappropriate behavior. I'm your guy. Not that I would use it or anything. I never start rumors, I just spread them!

OMC: Are you excited or nervous about switching to ESPN Radio 1510?

ST: It's changing jobs. It feels odd, and there's an adjustment period. I could imagine a baseball player that was with a team for 15 years getting traded. You just feel different. I came here because I believe in the kid (Craig Karmazin, the president and chief executive officer of Good Karma Broadcasting, who owns the station). I made that reference, of course, kind of like Robin Yount. He's somebody who has done things at a very young age that amaze people. That's why I did what I did. A number of people tell me that I'm nuts. Now they might take my reputation to be of greater value than I do, but you can see in my life -- doing things that make no sense, there's a track record. But that's what it came down to.

It's a different environment. It's a bunch of young people that are just working and having fun. I remember that era; you can do whatever you want when you love want you are doing. There's an energy here. It's cool just to be around. All the people here are doing what they love. There's a difference in the time I'm on the air, but that's just an adjustment.

OMC: What's your definition of success?

ST: The highest standard is your own standard, by far. Inevitably, in our business, you basically have to learn to entertain yourself. The worst thing is when you get bored. There's an energy you have to create, you obviously have to get ratings. But in sports talk, it's just a minute group. My job is to make more money than they pay me. Hopefully a lot more money. However they can do that is fine with me. You want to entertain. If someone listens to my whole show and doesn't laugh, the show sucked. I never know when or why they are going to laugh.

I loved Rush Limbaugh when he first started, he did creative things, he made you laugh. He doesn't do any of that anymore. He's become a parody of himself. It's almost inevitable though because he's so successful. He doesn't have to do anything, the core he has listening doesn't require. A few like me did, but why now alienate the people that like your show? Some people like Rush, (Howard) Stern don't have to reinvent themselves, but most of us do.

OMC: How has radio changed in your 15 years?

ST: I really don't think it has. The rest of society has changed more. Radio has always been really volatile.

OMC: Do you think the market can support two all-sports stations?

ST: There seems to be greater evidence of it in other towns. That's more of a sales thing, can they generate of revenue to support themselves? Sales people can tell you that, that's what it comes down to.

OMC: What are your thoughts on the upcoming Marquette basketball season?

ST: I feel fortunate that I'm able to do it. I'm appreciative of all the people involved that I can do it for at least one more year. Obviously I like doing the games. People associate me with Marquette basketball as much as anything, for good or bad -- if you're a Badgers fan.

This year? I haven't seen (freshman guard) Dominic James play yet. I'd like to see him play. But people who have and that I respect say he's very, very good. If he is very, very good, then they will surprise people. They will be more athletic than they have been. No one really knows how the Big East will be as a conference. You know they aren't going to be on top, but how good do you have to be to complete in the middle, how good to you have to be to be sixth, to be 10th ... no one really knows that. Wesley Matthews is going to be good, too.

OMC: If you could have a drink ...

ST: Baileys!

OMC: ... with one person dead or alive, who would it be and why?

ST: It would be Jesus Christ without a doubt. I guess you have to be Christian to believe, but if the guy came back from the dead -- I just want to interview him and you know ... and if you believe he is who he says he is, then you are like, "Come on, do some tricks, make me fly." I guess that's kind of sacrilegious, but come on!

I've had so many drinks with George Thompson (former radio broadcast partner for Marquette games and All-time leading score in Marquette basketball history). Working with George has been the best. It was just so much fun, the things he taught me ... there's just no one like him.

If anything I hope I was able to help the average person understand the game and to better appreciate just how brilliant he was at calling a game. And if they don't, it was my fault. That's the job of a play-by-play guy, to bring out the best in the analyst. George was brilliant, two stories:

The first year on the air with him Tony Smith had made 32 straight free throws. And, he's at the line, makes the first one and George goes, "I didn't like that one." The next free throw, Smith misses.

Aaron Hutchins one game, makes a basket, the first one of the game. George says, "32, Homer, minimum for him." I think he scored 35. Stuff like that.

Professionally, it's been the greatest treat working with George. It was like a party doing the games. It will be fun working with Jim (McIlvaine). But, everyone does something in their professional life that you say, that was the best, just the best.

- and ESPN Radio 1510 are media partners and involved in cooperative marketing.

Jeff Sherman Staff Writer

A life-long and passionate community leader and Milwaukeean, Jeff Sherman is a co-founder of OnMilwaukee.

He grew up in Wauwatosa and graduated from Marquette University, as a Warrior. He holds an MBA from Cardinal Stritch University, and is the founding president of Young Professionals of Milwaukee (YPM)/Fuel Milwaukee.

Early in his career, Sherman was one of youngest members of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, and currently is involved in numerous civic and community groups - including board positions at The Wisconsin Center District, Wisconsin Club and Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.  He's honored to have been named to The Business Journal's "30 under 30" and Milwaukee Magazine's "35 under 35" lists.  

He owns a condo in Downtown and lives in greater Milwaukee with his wife Stephanie, his son, Jake, and daughter Pierce. He's a political, music, sports and news junkie and thinks, for what it's worth, that all new movies should be released in theaters, on demand, online and on DVD simultaneously.

He also thinks you should read OnMilwaukee each and every day.