He was born on the old Southside of Chicago, admittedly a dicey area back then. Mike Opelka’s father wanted out and they moved to Glenview, Illinois. “The area is making a comeback today,” Opelka said of his old neighborhood. “It runs hot and cold. In the early 60s, my uncle got a brick through a plate glass window with a note telling him to get out of the neighborhood. That old Marine did not immediately leave, but my parents took us to the near north suburbs.”
Despite moving to the north shore, Opelka remained loyal to the White Sox, Bulls, Blackhawks and Bears.
“We’d cut school for opening day at Wrigley Field. We’d compete to be my dad’s plus one for Bears games. In those days they played at Wrigley Field. It was a tight space and not exactly conducive to 300-pound linemen slamming into the ivy on the outfield walls. It looked like somebody put up a couple of inflatable pool mattresses to prevent players from running into the brick walls.”
He also loved Comiskey Park. “It was out of control. We’d sit in the outfield while Harry Caray did games sitting in the bleachers,” Opelka said. Caray was hammered by the third inning. They had a chair in the bleachers where they’d give you a haircut. People can’t even relate to that kind of stuff today. There was a shower in the bleachers. The kind you use when you’d need a chemical shower in chemistry class.”
Opelka’s Northside neighborhood was a who’s who when it came to professional athletes. They were just two miles from HOF player Ron Santo in Glenview. Iron-headed Blackhawk Keith Magnuson moved in around the corner from the Opelka family.
“I was a busboy at Valley Lo Sports Club in Glenview. The first time I saw him I said, ‘Hello Mr. Magnuson.’” Opelka said. “Keith smiled and that’s when I noticed Magnuson had no teeth. He’s the first guy in NHL history with 200 penalty minutes. Chicago Stadium was amazing. If you sat one row up in the balcony when people started stomping the whole place shook.”
Opelka was the runt of the litter in his family. “My older brothers and my sense of humor were the only things that saved me from getting my ass kicked all the time,” he explained. “Humor is what saves everybody. My grandfather taught me about comedy. He took me aside each New Year’s Eve and we’d watch the Marx Brothers and W.C. Fields movies.”
He was an editor/writer with TheBlaze from 2011-2017, at the time, based in New York. When TheBlaze downsized in 2017, Opelka started doing fill-in work about 180-200 days a year. He built his in-home studio five years ago.
“I was on the road for the 2012 election. I had floor credentials for the DNC in Philly. Katie Couric came up to me and thought I was Steven Spielberg. I guess I had the same glasses, a similar beard and was wearing jeans and a sport coat. She gave me a big hug. We were just two ships passing in the night when they nominated Hillary Clinton.”
When his wife’s parents were ill, Opelka and his wife moved out of NYC to Wilmington, Delaware halfway between Washington and New York. He’d take the ACELA train daily into New York, a high-speed luxury train.
Opelka is a self-described ‘goober smoocher.’
“You’d run into so many celebrities on that train. It was like Studio 54 on wheels. I ran into Dave Winfield, Mika and Joe, Colin Powell. Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters was on the train. He’d gotten up to go to the bathroom and I said hello to his mother. I said I was a big fan of her son, she said she was too and asked me to sit down.”
He sat down with Wolf Blitzer, ran into Chuck Schumer and Rand Paul (who were actually speaking then.)
“They were standing around John McCain,” Opelka said. “I also talked with Henry Kissinger and asked him his opinion on Barack Obama and Kissinger replied, in his deep German accent, ‘He needs to be given some time.’”
“When Jill Biden took the train when Joe was Vice President, she’d rent out half the first class car,” Opelka said.
Like a lot of radio personalities I’ve spoken to, Opelka is a funny guy who has done some standup and improvisational comedy.
“Those are two entirely different types of audiences,” he said. “After one of our improv shows, Bill Hicks came up and encouraged me to do more standup. I couldn’t believe it.”
Hicks could be said to be one of Opelka’s comedy idols. “He wasn’t old enough to drink and he jumped onstage as a kid. Hicks was at the top and he was fearless.”
Opelka had a great story about Sam Kinison, who would lose his mind with an audience that didn’t support him.
“He was yelling at a crowd one night. ‘Do you want a crucifixion? I’ll give you a crucifixion!”’
Kinison found a roll of duct tape backstage and a ladder, now wearing just his boxer shorts. He had the audience follow him outside to a sign on a 7-11 across the street from the club.
“Kinison taped one of his arms to the crossbar and had a guy tape the other one, and he was just dangling there. The club owner had to beg the cops not to arrest him.”
From hosting nationally syndicated radio programs to producing network television shows, Opelka is a broadcast professional with two decades of experience in radio and television (live and recorded) on a network, national and local level, as well as digital media platforms.
Before working in radio and TV, in the early 80s, he was in Houston. Opelka said to get a job all you had to do was fall down, the unemployment rate was so low.
“There were people in good jobs they didn’t belong in,” Opelka said. “I was hired with a head-hunting firm with no experience. After a few months, I was hired by Houston’s 93 Q’s Morning Zoo as a writer. I also did some comedy bits and wrote parodies for them,” Opelka explained. “I did a pretty good Bill Murray voice.”
Opelka talked about Scott Shannon, the ostensible architect of the Morning Zoo format.
“Shannon took the station from “worst to first” in the biggest market in the country in just 73 days in 1983,” Opelka said. “Nobody had done that. A buddy of mine told me I’d be good as a writer for that kind of format.”
The station flew Opelka from Houston to Newark, a place he said was not the best advertisement for New York.
“I spent the morning with Shannon. I watched them do the show. Ross Brittan was Shannon’s co-host and he’d grown up in Glenview, the same place as me. We had an immediate connection.”
Before he left the station, he was offered an executive producer position for the show. He lived near Shannon in Montclair, New Jersey. He assisted in writing a parody song for each guest who was coming on the show. He wrote one for Elton John, the Bee Gees among many others.
He then tried his hand at television. Opelka said his first agent was a Korean-born man adopted by an Orthodox Jewish family from Brooklyn. “He sounded like Gilbert Godfried but looked like a relative of Kim Jong-un.”
The agent asked Opelka to pitch some ideas for television for the soon-to-launch FX Network that Fox was building. He pitched five and they bought three. Opelka spent three and a half years making TV for FOX and FX before returning to radio.
Between the two, Opelka said he’d take radio over television.
“Television is a less forgiving environment,” he said. “Radio is more like family. You can trust people. Hunter S. Thompson said, “You find the worst depths of humanity in television.”
Opelka worked at FX before it became the huge network it is today. He said a lot of great talent came through FX.
“I worked with Orlando Jones, who knew more about mainstream music than anybody I’d met. Tom Bergeron and Jeff Probst came through there, Phil Keoghan.”
Opelka said radio isn’t what it used to be, neither is the money.
“I was lucky to be involved in major market radio, but the economics have changed,” he said. “I was the executive producer of the ill-fated Wake Up with Whoopi, a syndicated radio show that ran with Whoopi Goldberg for a couple of years. It was a decent idea, but there were too many managerial spatulas in the pot and they all believed they had control. In the end, the only person in charge was Ms. Goldberg.”
Opelka said Whoopi Goldberg was smart and if you were smart, you were her best friend. She refuses to suffer fools. She was always interested in making sure she had the right information.
“She could get every name in the business to be on her show, and she did. After that did ended, Whoopi was hired to co-host The View.”
Starting in April 2018, Opelka began co-hosting the Angie Austin & Mike Opelka Show. The syndicated show was in 24 markets and survived for almost four years before being retired due to lack of financial viability.
Since the end of the Angie & Mike Show, Opelka keeps busy with his gig as “America’s Guest Host.”
Mike Opelka currently works as a regular fill-in host on several syndicated radio talk shows heard daily across the country. From Chris Plante, Joe Pags and Simon Conway to local stars like Rich Zeoli in Philly, Drew Steele in Ft Myers, FL and Mike Broomhead in Phoenix to name a few. He can be contacted at MikeOpelka@aol.com
Jim Cryns writes features for Barrett News Media. He has spent time in radio as a reporter for WTMJ, and has served as an author and former writer for the Milwaukee Brewers. To touch base or pick up a copy of his new book: Talk To Me – Profiles on News Talkers and Media Leaders From Top 50 Markets, log on to Amazon or shoot Jim an email at email@example.com.
Airing The Tyre Nichols Video Was A Necessity
There were hard moments to watch in those videos, hard sounds to hear. But they aired.
Far be it for me not to address this outrageous and embarrassing instance in humanity. After the videos of Memphis police brutally beating Tyre Nichols were shown on television there really seemed to be more outrage emerging from society this time than from the media, for a change. One would think that’s how we wish things to be.
In instances like this, where the video and audio images are far from brief but are instead chaptered as they unfold, there are few options other than to let them run their course. Clocks — breaks hard and soft — are out the window, just as in live coverage.
Because that’s what this was, only the live this time was us, and as we all absorbed and reacted to actions disapprovingly familiar yet somehow foreign at the same time, the impact was still becoming apparent even though we already knew the outcome.
It’s happened before.
Not always like this but we’ve seen it before, police encounters shown on the news overtakes and become the news.
It takes effect as the sights and sounds are digested, dissected, and discussed, often before their potential impact could really be imagined.
In 1991, when the Handycam footage crossed screens for the first time and we learned Rodney King’s name, we didn’t know then but we had a feeling.
We were on the right track, though as newsrooms evolved and street reporting incorporated a different type of storytelling.
I was a cop in 1991. Changes came. Some.
It’s 2023, I’m no longer a cop. Changes will come again. Some.
Turning points — or the overused watershed moments — mean just as much to the news media as they do to law enforcement.
The “why’s” that make this a turning point are more society and community based this time around than they were in 1991.
At least I think so. And I don’t think it makes a bit of difference who’s involved this time.
There were hard moments to watch in those videos, and hard sounds to hear. But they aired. Where they couldn’t air, they were described in great detail; descriptions sometimes can be worse than the real thing. Sometimes, not this time.
And they should air, they shouldn’t stop airing. This is what happened and this is what people need to see and hear and this is exactly why we are here.
Warn them, provide them with a heads up that they’re not going to like what happens next. It’s life and we show life, and we show what some of us do with it when it’s someone else’s.
Overall, I would say the news platforms held their composure, even after the videos were released. I saw, read, and heard some refreshingly neutral coverage, even from outlets where I expected hard turns into the lanes on either side of the road.
Legitimate questions were asked by anchors and reporters and much of the time, the off-balance issues were raised more by those on the sidewalks and those on the other side of the cameras and microphones.
As much as I find myself in disagreement with what I often see on the cable networks — all the cable networks — I did find a sense of symmetry watching CNN’s Don Lemon speak with Memphis City Council Chair Martavius Jones in the hours after the videos were released.
Regular protocols be damned, Lemon and producers lingered patiently as Jones, visibly overcome by emotion, struggled to regain breath and composure enough to be able to speak. Rather than cut away or move to other elements, they stood fast and it became an example of what often requires no words.
There were fewer punches pulled on other platforms as well.
The sounds of the screams, the impacts, and the hate-filled commands were broadcast through car radios.
As were Tyre Nichol’s calls for his mom. They aired. They had to.
Bill Zito has devoted most of his work efforts to broadcast news since 1999. He made the career switch after serving a dozen years as a police officer on both coasts. Splitting the time between Radio and TV, he’s worked for ABC News and Fox News, News 12 New York , The Weather Channel and KIRO and KOMO in Seattle. He writes, edits and anchors for Audacy’s WTIC-AM in Hartford and lives in New England. You can find him on Twitter @BillZitoNEWS.
Does the Republican Establishment Get It?
For many it seemed that the Republican establishment stood idly by as Democrats changed the rules and worked behind the scenes to alter elections.
In a move that seemed to go against the wishes of the patriotic American grassroots, the Republican party on Friday re-elected RNC Chairperson Ronna McDaniel.
The media immediately took notice, as many on television and radio are now wondering why the party would re-elect a chairperson who has been so unpopular with the base of its party.
Grant Stinchfield discussed this issue Friday night on his program, Stinchfield Tonight, which airs on Real America’s Voice network.
“Ronna McDaniel holds on to her chairmanship of the Republican Party. By a whopping total of — what were the numbers– 111 to 54. Harmeet Dhillon only received 54 votes. Mike Lindell 4 votes. This is proof to me that the Republican establishment is dug in,” Stinchfield — formerly of Newsmax — said. “Don’t tell me they’re out of touch. See, you tell me they’re out of touch, that implies ignorance. They’re not ignorant about anything.”
As sentiment for Dhillon grew in the days leading up to Friday’s vote, many influential politicians and party donors publicly offered her their support and endorsement. These included Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), as well as donors Mike Rydin, Dick Uihlein, and Bernie Marcus.
Also on board were musician and outspoken conservative John Rich, along with the state GOP of Nebraska and Washington State. Countless journalists and media personalities, such as Charlie Kirk, Miranda Divine, and Lou Dobbs, also came out publicly in support of Dhillon. Former President Donald Trump remained neutral, not making a public choice of either of the three candidates.
For many of Dhillon’s supporters, the deciding factor was public sentiment across the party’s base.
“They’re reading the same chat boards. They’re getting the same emails I’m reading. I will literally post something about this race when I was supporting Harmeet Dhillon. There was not one comment – not one – that supported Ronna McDaniel. Everyone wanted change,” Stinchfield said, noting that the party elite saw the same groundswell of support for change.
“Now, nobody has an issue as Ronna McDaniel is some evil kind of person. I don’t believe she is. I believe, though, that she is part of the establishment. She’s been around too long as far as the establishment goes. And she’s been ingrained in doing business as usual. It’s not working.”
In making their choices known, many Dhillon supporters simply pointed to the scoreboard during McDaniel’s reign.
“Think about where we are. 2018, we lost the House. 2020, we lost everything. 2022, we won the House, but we should have really steamrolled the House and we should have taken back the Senate, which we didn’t do,” Stinchfield said. “That means we’re on a real losing track since she took over. I don’t like being on a losing track. I like being on a winning track.
“Something has got to change when you talk about all of this. So how does Ronna McDaniel get 111 votes and Harmeet Dhillon only get 54 votes, when everyone, every Republican voter I talk to said it was time for change?” pondered Stinchfield.
And even more than the losses, for many it seemed that the Republican establishment stood idly by as Democrats changed the rules and worked behind the scenes to alter elections. The most recent example of which came in Arizona, where presumptive gubernatorial favorite, Kari Lake, was “defeated” when countless voting irregularities occurred in some of the state’s most deep-red areas.
“Under her watch, Democrats instituted a mail-in ballot scheme. That may be even worse than losing, when you talk about the House and the Senate and all these things. The fact that we now have a junk mail-in ballot scheme across the country under Ronna McDaniel’s watch is serious trouble. Very serious trouble,” Stinchfield said on Friday. “And so the reason it is is because the Democrats are rigging the system.”
For years – until Donald Trump descended the golden escalator and took the world by storm – the Republican party had the reputation of being the party of the rich. Rush Limbaugh used to refer to this wing of Republicans as “the country club crowd.” President Donald Trump flipped the narrative completely, offering a clear vision of hope and patriotism to working-class America.
Reputable polling — such as Richard Baris’ Big Data Poll — consistently showed Trump running well ahead of almost every Republican candidate during the 2022 mid-term election cycle. In other words, Trump still maintains considerably more support across the country than most of the individual Senate or House candidates experienced.
Many experts believe this is because voters still view Trump as an outsider, while they view the Republican party much less favorably.
“Let’s tell you how out of touch they are, how elitist they are,” Stinchfield said, calling out the GOP establishment. “This meeting that went on, do you know where it is? It’s at the Waldorf Astoria Monarch in California. One of the most expensive resorts in America. You’re lucky if you get a room for a thousand dollars a night down there on Dana Point. Now, it’s a beautiful hotel, but why is the Republican Party holding an event there? Then I went back and I looked at what RedState did. RedState went back and looked at some of the expenses that the Republican Party under Ronna McDaniel’s leadership was spending money on.
“Take a look at this. $3.1 million on private jets. $1.3 million on limousine and chauffeur services. $17.1 million on donor mementos. $750,000 on floral arrangements. Now you compare this to the Democrats. The Democrats spent $35,000 on private airfare. A thousand dollars on floral arrangements. A thousand. Not $750,000. A thousand. And the $17.1 million they spent on donor mementos, the Democrats spent $1.5 million.
“Democrats know where to put the money. It’s not giving donors gifts. Donors shouldn’t want gifts. If you give money, give money. You don’t need the fancy pin to put on your lapel.”
Following her loss, Dhillon warned her party that it must listen to the base, saying, “if we ignore this message, I think it’s at our peril. It’s at our peril personally, as party leaders and it’s at our peril for our party in general.”
Rick Schultz is a former Sports Director for WFUV Radio at Fordham University. He has coached and mentored hundreds of Sports Broadcasting students at the Connecticut School of Broadcasting, Marist College and privately. His media career experiences include working for the Hudson Valley Renegades, Army Sports at West Point, The Norwich Navigators, 1340/1390 ESPN Radio in Poughkeepsie, NY, Time Warner Cable TV, Scorephone NY, Metro Networks, NBC Sports, ABC Sports, Cumulus Media, Pamal Broadcasting and WATR. He has also authored a number of books including “A Renegade Championship Summer” and “Untold Tales From The Bush Leagues”. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @RickSchultzNY.
The State of the Radio Industry and Technology
“As the industry continues to evolve, radio broadcasters must find new ways to monetize their digital offerings and adapt to changing listener habits.”
After writing some three-dozen columns for Barrett Media, I often hear that I don’t provide a balanced view of the radio industry. Therefore, this week, I will write about the strengths and weaknesses of the radio industry. It may be a little simplistic, but it will make sense at the end. I promise.
The radio broadcasting business continues to evolve in the digital age, with strengths and challenges to consider. One of the most significant strengths of radio is its ability to reach a broad audience. Radio waves can travel long distances, allowing local stations to reach listeners beyond their immediate area. This makes radio a powerful tool for both local and national advertisers. Radio also reaches audiences in their cars, at work, and at home, providing advertisers with multiple touchpoints. According to the Radio Advertising Bureau, radio reaches 93% of adults in the United States each week, making it one of the most widely consumed mediums. Furthermore, radio is a cost-effective form of advertising, with lower ad rates than other media forms. This allows small businesses to reach a large audience without breaking the bank.
Another strength of radio is its role in emergency communication. In times of crisis, radio can provide important information to listeners quickly and efficiently. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requires all radio stations to have emergency alert systems, allowing them to disseminate critical information to the public promptly. Radio can be a lifeline for communities during natural disasters, power outages, or other emergencies, providing updates on road closures, evacuation orders, and other important information. Radio can reach remote areas where other forms of communication may not be as reliable. This makes radio a vital tool for emergency responders, who rely on it to coordinate responses and disseminate information.
Despite these strengths, the radio industry faces several challenges in the digital age. One of the biggest challenges is competition from other media outlets, such as streaming services and podcasts. The rise of these digital platforms has led to a decline in traditional radio listening, which is likely to continue.
According to a Nielsen report, traditional radio listening among adults aged 18-34 has dropped by 20% over the last decade. Additionally, many radio stations are struggling to monetize their digital offerings, which has led to a decline in revenue. However, radio has been able to adapt by incorporating streaming services, podcasts, and other digital platforms, which allows them to reach a wider audience and cater to changing listening habits.
Another challenge is the consolidation of the radio industry. In recent years, there has been a significant amount of it, with a small number of companies owning multiple stations. This has led to less programming diversity and less market competition. This can lead to a homogenization of content, with less local flavor and less opportunity for new voices in the industry. However, many smaller independent stations have survived by providing unique and localized content catering to the needs of their community.
Despite these challenges, the radio industry continues to generate significant revenue. The Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB) says that radio advertising revenue in the United States reached $18.9 billion in 2019. The radio industry has been able to adapt to the changing market, with many stations now offering a combination of traditional and digital programming. The industry has also been able to monetize digital offerings by incorporating targeted advertising, sponsorships, and other revenue streams.In conclusion, the radio broadcasting business is facing challenges in the digital age, but it continues to have an enormous audience reach and role in emergency communication.
Additionally, the industry continues to generate significant revenue. As the industry continues to evolve, radio broadcasters must find new ways to monetize their digital offerings and adapt to changing listener habits.
If my analysis seems a little simplistic or this column doesn’t seem like my typical style, it’s because I didn’t write it. The column was written using artificial intelligence (AI). More specifically, by the hottest tech trend these days, ChatGPT.
How hot? Here are a couple of data points from a report in Axios.
- In June, generative AI was covered in only 152 articles. Just six months later, the topic has generated roughly 12,000 news stories, according to MuckRack data.
- At this year’s CES trade show, 579 exhibitors were listed under the show’s “Artificial Intelligence” category — more than double of those categorized as “Metaverse” (176), “Cryptocurrency” (19), and “Blockchain” (55) combined.
ChatGPT is AI technology that allows you to have regular conversations with a chatbot that can answer questions and help with tasks such as writing columns.
ChatGPT is what Siri wants to be when she grows up.
ChatGPT is currently open and free while it’s in its research and feedback collection phase. If it’s not perfect, it’s certainly a lot of fun. It is also quite helpful when researching a topic (as long as the information you need is pre-2021). It is much more efficient and precise than Google, any other search engine, or Siri. I find myself obsessed with seeing what it knows and can do. If you try it, you probably will be too.
Andy Bloom is president of Andy Bloom Communications. He specializes in media training and political communications. He has programmed legendary stations including WIP, WPHT and WYSP/Philadelphia, KLSX, Los Angeles and WCCO Minneapolis. He was Vice President Programming for Emmis International, Greater Media Inc. and Coleman Research. Andy also served as communications director for Rep. Michael R. Turner, R-Ohio. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow him on Twitter @AndyBloomCom.