Mike & Mike: The Power of Sports Chemistry

Sports talk’s “odd couple” combine humor and savvy in creating compelling radio every morning
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Golic was there first.

In 1999, while Mike Golic and ESPN were seeking a replacement for his radio show co-host Tony Bruno on their year-old syndicated morning program, they brought in another Mike from the TV side of ESPN, just to fill in.

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Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic are morning staples for America’s sports talk listeners.
Credit: ESPN Photo Golic’s wife Christine sensed the chemistry between Mike Greenberg and her husband right away.

“He opened up with a joke,” Golic recalled. “I was heavier then. We got on the air and he said, ‘When we stand next to one another, we look like the number 10,’ because he’s so thin and I’m so fat. I laughed, because I don’t care. We went on for 15 minutes and it went really well; and at [the] break, I called my wife, and her exact quote was, ‘He sounds kind of geeky, but he’s the one.’”

The hosts of ESPN Radio’s weekday morning show “Mike & Mike” — known to fans as Golic and Greeny — were inducted into the NAB Broadcasting Hall of Fame this month. Their sports-oriented show, which turned 16 last month, is available on ESPN Radio and on ESPN affiliates; it is simulcast on ESPN2 and distributed on other platforms.

Golic excelled in Notre Dame football, played in the NFL for nine years and began his broadcast career in Philadelphia. He joined ESPN in 1995 as a studio analyst on “NFL 2Night” and later on “NFL Live,” and worked as color commentator for Arena Football League and ESPN/ABC college football games.

Greenberg attended the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University; worked in Chicago sports journalism, including a stint at WMAQ Radio; and joined ESPN in 1996 as an anchor for the launch of ESPNEWS. He later anchored “SportsCenter” for years.

The two have co-authored a book, acted in motion pictures and appeared many times on “Late Night with David Letterman.”Greenberg has danced with Anna Trebunskaya; Golic has parodied Kim Kardashian by posting a #GolicButtPhoto, which was exactly what it sounds like. They visited the George Bush White House to announce a T-ball game and co-hosted a promotion in which 500 couples applied for the chance to be married on the show.

But it is their relationship that seems to make the biggest impression.

Greenberg has said that when his daughter was in nursery school and the teacher asked what her parents did for work, Nikki stood and said, “My mommy has conference calls and my daddy talks to Golic.”

The two Mikes are self-deprecating and relatable. Their show is built around the balance between Golic’s insights as a retired professional athlete and Greenberg’s skillful interview questions from a “man in the seats” perspective. Layered on top, the two play on the caricatures of Golic, 53, as a dumb D-lineman who loves food and the Fighting Irish, while Greenberg, 48, is a brainy metrosexual who indulges in $400 haircuts and hand sanitizers.

“One thing my dad taught me at an early age is always be yourself,” Golic said. “That is me. I do love doughnuts. I love a plate of bacon. If I never have to put on another dress shirt in my life, I’ll be happy as all get-out.”

The NAB Broadcasting Hall of Fame is a club that includes Vin Scully, Jack Buck and Mel Allen; but mention those sports broadcasters to Mike Greenberg and he’ll point instead to another inductee as a more relevant inspiration: Larry King, whom he idolizes.

Greeny is emphatic in describing “Mike & Mike” as a talk show. “To be a good talk show host, you have to have a natural curiosity. I don’t look at successful people, talented people, sports people and just admire them; I wonder how they do what they do, I wonder what they’re thinking. … I think some people just accept, ‘Oh boy he’s a great player.’ I’m genuinely curious about what makes him that way, what’s driving him, what is going on in his head at the time.”

He cites two other influences. Greenberg considers Howard Stern “the master at hosting a talk show and keeping everything moving and remaining in the center of it but letting other people shine,” and admired Regis Philbin for his superb show management and timing skills.

LIVING THE JOB

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This photo of the boys working out in 2006 captures part of their on-air personas.
Credit: ESPN Photo by John Arden Watching sports of course is part of the job; and the hours can be tough, even after 16-and-a-half years of morning drive.

“People always ask if you get used to it, and the answer is no,” says Greenberg, who rises at 3:45 a.m. “You never get used to that alarm going off.”

Golic gets up at 4:15 each morning, looks at highlights, then watches more games in compressed format at work. After the show, tomorrow’s story ideas are developed throughout the day in an email chain involving 40-odd people. The guys watch more sports at night.

“Before I even go to bed tonight, we’ll have a pretty good idea of a rough draft of what the show is going to be,” Golic said. “A lot of times it writes itself.”

Social media is an important element of the show, which has 1.2 million Twitter followers, and both hosts have their own popular feeds.

On one recent broadcast, “Mike and Mike” riffed on news that Dos Equis beer would replace the actor who portrays “The Most Interesting Man the World.” The hosts asked their listeners to suggest replacements from the world of sports. Sample reply: “Usain Bolt. He is so fast, light travels at the speed of him.”

“I started hosting talk shows at a time when we were soliciting faxes from our listeners,” Greenberg said. “Life is like a train and it never stops moving. If you don’t keep chasing it, it’s just going to get away from you. … In this day and age, social media is a huge part of that brand building.”

Golic’s voice comes through clearly in his tweets (on watching “The Bachelor”: “I’m about to throw myself down the steps. My God, make the crying women stop”) though he considers himself horrible at it. “If I was paying somebody to do my tweets, they’d be fired.”

He is struck by the intimacy the show fosters. Listeners tell him they first tuned in at age 10 and are now graduating college, or “You’re always in the car when we’re driving our kids to school” or “We feel like we know you and we never met you.”

“I’m very happy that listeners and viewers have kind of embraced us, because we’re both very, very strong family people,” he said. “They’ve allowed our family to grow up on air with them. That’s been a lot of fun — bringing my kids on to sign their letters of intent [to attend Notre Dame], and Greeny’s first kid, Nicole, being born the first year of our show.” Both have lost their fathers during the run of the show; both have invited their wives onto the program.

JUST GETTING STARTED

Golic’s broadcast career has coincided with a remarkable change in the role of the athlete-broadcaster. 

“You have former players who do everything from doing games, doing studio shows, doing radio shows, to blogging, writing for magazines. It’s unbelievable the opportunities now for athletes. People always ask us, ‘How do you get into this business?’ Greeny says, ‘Play nine years in the NFL and you’re going to get a chance.’” 

Neither expected the show to have the run it has. “Greeny did this show thinking it would last a couple of years and that would be it — it would be some experience on the radio and he’d go back to doing ‘SportsCenter.’”

But Golic says there’s no question about how he wishes to be remembered.

“A football player. Without question. No hesitation at all. On my tombstone I’d rather it be, ‘Was a ballplayer at Notre Dame and in the NFL for nine years.’ Absolutely. Maybe I just don’t want to be associated with Greeny on my tombstone.”

Greenberg says he feels like he’s just getting started in his career. “This is all that I ever wanted to be. My mother will tell you that when I was five, I would sit down in front [of the TV] and I would announce the football games. If I’m going to be remembered at all — beyond, hopefully, as a good husband and a good father and a good son — it would be to say that I was a good talk show host.”

He is a believer in the power of radio, though he acknowledges the business has changed from the days when he could walk into the station owner’s office to receive his holiday bonus. He says radio is a vital and indispensable medium that will never be replaced because of its immediacy.

“In fact, in some ways I think that radio, if the people who are in charge of the business play it right, has a chance to emerge even more important than ever. It’s one thing to listen to music on your phone; but it’s another thing entirely to try to hear good, insightful analysis of what’s going on in culture or anywhere, whether it be sports, or politics or entertainment or whatever it is you’re interested in.

“Radio remains the most efficient and immediate medium for delivery of that, and it’s portable. … From the standpoint of those of us whose job it is to create the content, I feel like we are as relevant as we’ve ever been, and I don’t see any reason to think that’s going to change.”

About being inducted into the NAB Broadcasting Hall of Fame, Greenberg said, “I am a radio person. I love the media. I love the business. This is the greatest honor that I’ve ever received. This is all I’ve ever wanted to do; and for someone to say that you’ve done it that well is about the best compliment you could ever possibly pay me.”

Golic used the words “stunned” and “incredibly honored,” then added: “I don’t even know what to say. I almost want to drug-test the people that put us in.”

A version of this story appeared in the NAB Show Daily News and is copyright NAB.

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