Chicago Likes Mikes, Local Media “Embarrassed”

This is not a good sign for the state of sports talk radio in Chicago. Dan McNeil, the TV/radio columnist for the CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, says that the most recent Arbitron ratings show a disturbing trend: ESPN’s nationally-syndicated “Mike and Mike in the Morning” has become the top-rated sports talk show in Chicago. Not just in its time slot, but of any show - including the big-shot local guys. And McNeil isn’t happy:

Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg, aka Mike and Mike

They do a fine show, but it’s best consumed in markets such as Bangor, Maine, or Enid, Okla., or Salem, Ore. In big towns like ours, local sports talk never should lose to a more vanilla national show. Shame on all of us.

Readers in Bangor, Enid or Salem, please contact me to get his email address. For everyone else: isn’t this pretty sad? Friends in Chicago frequently complain about the lack of quality of their sports talk shows, and when one of the big drive-time shows has a segment called “Who Ya’ Crappin’?,” we’re hardly talking Peabody Award-winning work here.

Now, I don’t mind Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg. They do a fine, perfectly solid radio show every morning. But as O’Neil said, there’s nothing spectacular or groundbreaking about the show. It’s just … a show, straight from the Sports Talk 101 Playbook, all fake arguments, clear-cut characterizations (one’s a fat slob, the other’s kind of gay), making it easy to digest for your morning commute.

But is that alone enough to make it the No. 1 show overall in one of the nation’s top sports market? No. This clearly illustrates a point everyone should pay attention to: the awesome power ESPN has to create “celebrities” in the sports media world.

Why does everyone know about “Mike & Mike”? Because you can’t turn on ESPN for more than 10 minutes without seeing them, whether it’s a commercial, a segment on “Sportscenter” or, for God’s sakes, the National Spelling Bee. And let’s not forgot the thrill of actually seeing them do their radio show LIVE ON TV!

At this rate, with as badly as ESPN Classic has slipped in the ratings, if ESPN doesn’t turn it into the much-rumored ESPN Soccer channel, they should just turn it into ESPN Mike and Mike and let them have control 24-7. Kind of like when MTV would have Weird Al take over and turn it into “Al TV,”except not as cutting edge.

And from the radio side, this is another small nail being driven into the giant coffin of local sports talk radio. Stations throughout the country are pulling out of locally-produced programming and going with nationally syndicated shows from ESPN, Fox and Sporting News. Why pay hosts, producers, board ops and more when you can get the same ratings (or better) with something provided by your network?