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Mike Opelka Is Broadcast Professional With Two Decades of Experience

Mike Opelka currently works as a regular fill-in host on several syndicated radio talk shows heard daily across the country.

Jim Cryns

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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

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Is the NFL Really an Unchallengeable TV Product?

If most opportunities to watch the NFL in primetime are regarded as miserable, is there really no way to beat the league in the ratings or has no one actually tried?

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When the NFL placed Thursday Night Football on a streaming service, I wondered if anyone in sports television would really take the opportunity to challenge the league. So far, no one has, and likely will.

But that leaves me asking the question: is the NFL really that unchallengeable? Is it really this 1,000-pound gorilla that can’t be toppled?

In some aspects, yes, absolutely, 100%. But in others, no, I don’t think so.

For instance, any TV executive would be a fool to try to beat the league in the 1:00 PM and 4:00 PM ET timeslots on FOX and CBS. And really, you can’t hardly attack the league on Sunday Night Football or Monday Night Football, either.

But Thursday Night Football? Earlier this month, our Ryan Brown argued that the NFL put a bad product on Thursday nights and usurped the evening away from the college ranks and ESPN. And he’s right to a certain degree. Once Thursday Night Football really got going, ESPN essentially abandoned the idea of putting marquee matchups against the package.

My pitch to ESPN, or even FOX (although both are unlikely to want to anger the strongest strategic partner in television), would be that Thursday Night Football is as vulnerable as its ever been. It makes nearly weekly headlines for its lackluster schedule, which in turn leads to headlines about the lack of enthusiasm legendary broadcaster Al Michaels has to broadcast the lackluster schedule.

Also, if you pull up X on a given Thursday evening, you’ll see your timeline flooded with complaints about the viewing experience being miserable, fans struggling through buffering and distorted pictures, and overall complaints about the product. Now, for the record, I don’t have those issues, I think everyone else just needs to get better internet, but that’s another column.

But if most opportunities to watch the NFL in primetime are regarded as miserable, is there really no way to beat the league in the ratings or has no one actually tried?

My contention is that if ESPN or FOX were to put up real, actual, truly marquee college football games on Thursdays in primetime, they would have a chance to do really well. And I think it’s something the Worldwide Leader should consider now that it holds the rights to the SEC. With the additions of Texas and Oklahoma, the league, and in turn ESPN, will have some of the biggest games in college football, and there are only so many Saturdays and only so many good timeslots to put those broadcasts.

Why not look through the schedule and say “Ok, LSU vs Texas A&M, we’re going to put you on Thursday night at 8:00 PM ET up against the 1-10 Carolina Panthers versus the 4-8 Chicago Bears“?

In true internet spitballing fashion, that question leads me to another one: who says no?

The NFL is the unquestioned king of live television. I’m not foolish enough to think otherwise. But the ratings from the league’s first-ever Black Friday game featuring the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets had to be, in my estimation, slightly underwhelming with 9.6 million viewers.

But, just because you’re dominant doesn’t mean you’re bulletproof, either. I think there’s a hole in the NFL’s armor. And I think the league knows it, too, but operates from such a position of strength it believes it can’t be toppled. All it takes is someone to have the gumption to attack it.

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Dagen McDowell Is Ready For A New Adventure With Fox Business

“Every decision in America is born of policy, On the show, we bring that to our show. Talk about the news of the day.”

Jim Cryns

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To know Dagen McDowell, you must understand what she comes from, where she comes from. You won’t know her until you know the lessons, kindness, and determination set forth by her parents.

Her parents operated a small grocery store, LW Roark and Company. Charles and Joyce McDowell were high school sweethearts and both went to college but decided to go back home and open a business. “This is in the middle of nowhere,” McDowell said. “It was a wholesale grocery store. They sold it in the late 90s.”

She said her parents were smart, encouraging, and took every opportunity to teach McDowell and her brother.

“They’d constantly talk up people who came into the store. Both of them have and had an insatiable curiosity about everything. They felt they learned things through their customers. It was more fun to learn about things from other people.”

McDowell’s parents never took a week off work. Never. The family took no vacations as most families would. Once while McDowell was in college at Wake Forest University, the family visited the Air and Space Museum on the Mall in D.C.

“Both of my parents were very interested in architecture and landscapes. We’d go to Williamsburg and just look at the buildings.”

McDowell joined FOX News Channel in 2003 and helped launch FOX Business Network as a founding anchor in 2007.

Her mother passed away three years ago and her father is still very much a part of her life. Her father was a constant teacher.

“One time my father, who we called Dowell McDowell, was putting up an outbuilding and asked me how long one line should be if the other line was such and such. He taught me the Pythagorean theorem when I was about 4 years old.”

McDowell was nurtured by parents with endless curiosity.

“I was raised by parents who would always debate and converse around the dinner table. We shared breakfast and dinner together every day. They loved learning, were always inquisitive, never afraid to ask a question. My parents shared a fearlessness and passed that on to me. I’ve never been embarrassed to ask people questions. I love talking to people and finding out about things.”

For a long time, McDowell had no idea what she wanted to do for a living. She knew if she worked at different jobs she’d eventually figure out what she was good at.

“I knew I was a decent writer, but I always tried to get information out of people, what they were doing. Ask if they were fulfilled and happy.”

At Wake, Forest McDowell majored in art history and had every intention of working in a museum, possibly as a curator.

“I interned at the Center for Contemporary Arts. I lived in Venice, Italy for a while. Wake Forest owns a house in Venice.”

After that it was Colorado. She moved back to New York during the recession of 1991 with a duffel bag. She took the Amtrak to New York City and sublet an apartment for six months.

“I had no TV, just a radio. I knew I could find something good to do in New York, there were so many jobs. I always wanted to live in the city. Either the city or way out in the country. Nowhere in between.”

She said being in New York made her feel anything was possible. This was January in 1994 when job ads were still in the physical newspaper, like the New York Times. McDowell interviewed at Institutional Investor through a referral from a friend.

“It was a brilliant magazine with terrific writing,” McDowell explained. “Very prominent in the industry. They were looking for someone to work with the newsletter written for the financial community.”

She’d cover topics like the bond business, Wall Street, and money management. The magazine made her take a reporting test where you’d make up a story and write it. She was offered a job and worked there for three years.

“I learned to be a journalist there,” McDowell said. “I could write but I became a better journalist. We’d break news, create our sources, and learn more and more about finance. People love to talk about what they do if you show interest.”

The next big job was SmartMoney.com, a resource and web newspaper for private investors. There McDowell wrote a personal finance column. She started doing commentary on television shows, the way a lot of people in different professions tend to do. “Then I started making more appearances on weekend financial or business shows,” McDowell said.

She got a call from Neil Cavuto about 20 years ago and he told McDowell, ‘Kid, you want a job? I know you don’t have much professional TV experience. We’ll give you some training and you’ll figure it out. If you do, you stay. If not, you go.’

McDowell said she was glad she was a writer first before she arrived at Fox. She writes her own scripts and has a background in finance and business writing.

“Before the business network was launched, they had only one business reporter and two senior business correspondents,” she said. “I’ve gotten to do so many different jobs, use different muscles, so to speak. As the years have passed I’ve discovered other talents I may have and I’m incredibly grateful for that.”

There’s a new show in town. McDowell and Sean Duffy will co-host The Bottom Line which will air on weeknights from 6-7:00 PM ET.

McDowell said she and Duffy come from extremely similar backgrounds. Duffy is from rural Wisconsin and McDowell is from Virginia.

“We know what small-town living is like, “McDowell said. “I might live in New York City but where I grew up affects the way I view the world. I’m still grounded in my hometown. On the show, we look south and west with everything we cover. You have to think of your audience. Rather than talking about them, we talk with them. That’s our shared background and vision. Sean is extremely down to earth and generous.”

McDowell said the show is not financially based, but steeped in business.

She said Duffy’s experience as a former U.S. Congressman, he understands policy as well as financial matters.

“Every decision in America is born of policy,” she said. “On the show, we bring that to our show. Talk about the news of the day.”

This is different from anything McDowell has done in the past.

“It’s a two-anchor show in the evening,” she explained. “This is not taking place during market hours. We tie all the business happenings together from the day. Again, it’s not about Washington or New York. It’s about the people we grew up with. We talk to them. Build a relationship with them on the air. For me, this is not just sitting in front of a camera. I can run off at the mouth as well as anyone, hang in there with the filibuster.”

McDowell says she is blunt, but hopes she isn’t rude. During a recent interview for the new show she used the terms ‘pig potatoes’ and ‘chapped backsides.’

“Those are terms I just made up,” she said. “I make up a lot of phrases and don’t always know what they mean. I have an entire repertoire of those kinds of phrases.”

Duffy assumed they were southern phrases he had to learn from McDowell, but she assured him she’d never heard them anywhere else.

“I’m just making stuff up,” McDowell said. “You can’t curse. Can’t say BS. At least you shouldn’t say BS on television. You don’t want to say manure. You never want to say something that makes people wince or evokes a smell.”

Dealing with people directly and bluntly seems to come from her mother.

“My mother had grit,” McDowell said. “She was also very kind, never syrupy. I used to say she had no magnolia-mouth.

That’s got to be a southern phrase.

McDowell said her mother was not a servile flatterer, but she was kind. Always there when somebody was in need.

“She had real grit. She’d stand and fight for her friends and family members.”

Her mother passed away after being diagnosed with stage-four cancer.

“She went through unimaginable pain,” McDowell said of her mother. “For nearly six years. You want to talk about somebody who was tough. There was nobody more pugnacious than my mother.”

She explained even with her illness, her mother was always on the go. Continuing to live her life. When questioned about being so active while she was ill, her mother continued to show grit.

“My mother would say she didn’t want to walk around looking like she had cancer. She asked, ‘What choice do I have? I could lay in bed and wait to die, or I can get up and do what I can .’”

McDowell said her mother’s illness taught her to be a caregiver in ways she never could have imagined. Her mother taught her to find moments of joy every single day, in the smallest of things.

“It can be as simple as telling a stranger to have a great day. Treat a perfect stranger with kindness. I do it all day long. I know it sounds corny, but I want to be known as a person who brings a casserole to a friend when they’re ill.”

A one-sheet from Fox tells you McDowell and the culmination of her background is perfect for The Bottom Line. The fact is, it’s true.

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Airing The Tyre Nichols Video Was A Necessity

There were hard moments to watch in those videos, hard sounds to hear. But they aired.

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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.

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