Get to know WTSO's Mike Heller and Owen Murphy

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Posted by on August 02, 2008 at 22:03:16:

Behind the Mike: Stirring up local sports talk
Murphy's Rolodex, Heller's local flair make for good ratings

Would it be fair to say that Owen Murphy marches to the beat of his own drummer? Fair enough in the sense that he was once a drummer in a post-punk band while waiting on tables in New York City.

Would it be fair to say that Mike Heller's unabashed loyalty to state teams is par for the course? Fair enough in the sense that he was an assistant golf pro after serving as a television sports anchor in Memphis.

Heller and Murphy? What do they have in common as radio talk show hosts on WTSO-AM/1070? Nothing. Everything. That's fair to say, too, and maybe why they are No. 1 in the market from 3 to 6 p.m. weekdays with males between ages 21 and 54.

"We just look at things differently and that evolved into chemistry, or whatever you want to refer to it as," Heller said.

"In simple terms, we want to entertain as many people as possible in surprising and interesting ways," Murphy added.

Maybe their greatest asset in building an audience has been Murphy's Rolodex. On any given day, you might hear from Peter King, John Clayton, Chris Mortensen, Rick Reilly, Buster Olney or Mike Ditka.

"When big stories have broken, Owen has used his contact list to get us innumerable big guests," Heller said. "That makes a huge difference when you can get a national name to talk about a local story."

What is Murphy's secret to lining up such high-profile national correspondents?

Tenacity is one quality, and it can be traced back to his pursuit of a career as a drummer/bass guitarist. While waiting for his big break in New York City, he made a life-changing discovery. "I realized there was no break on the way," he said.

Calling an audible on any designs of becoming a musician, Murphy got involved with another facet of studio life as a producer. During an internship with Thirsty Ear Recordings, a record label, he worked behind the scenes on a radio talk show hosted by Kennedy, a former MTV host.

Persistence was a key, especially after Murphy got laid off from one job and another employer went belly-up. Throughout his odyssey, he was gaining valuable experience as a producer, particularly in the realm of booking guests for others.

"I was tenacious, I wanted to succeed and I wouldn't give up," he said of his game plan. "I would call people over and over again. There was an art to it. I was polite, but I just wouldn't stop calling."

That helped with a rep and resume. That he also was confident and creative -- "I knew I was a good producer and I had a knack for writing teases and organizing things" -- made Murphy even more marketable to something like ESPN Radio.

Murphy was hired as a producer and assigned to a variety of shows, ranging from Game Day and Game Night to Mike and Mike (Golic and Greenberg) and Dan Patrick (who's now with CNN/Sports Illustrated and XM satellite radio).

Patrick had his own show booker while he was at ESPN. But Murphy pitched different themes and ideas and wrote comedy sketches. He also warmed up guests and the many contacts that he made during his two-year stint with Patrick have turned out to be invaluable today.

So how did Murphy wind up on the other side of the mic at ESPN 1070? The station's program director, Tim Scott, talked him into it after Murphy relocated to Wisconsin with his wife, Jackie, who got a job with Lands' End in Dodgeville.

"It never occurred to me that I was good enough to be on the air," Murphy said. "And I'm probably still not good enough to be on the air, but what the hell?"

What makes for good radio? "Smart, provocative, entertaining, surprising hosts and content," Murphy suggested. "And you better damn well know what your audience is interested in and, then, you need to make it interesting for yourself."

Favre, Favre, Favre, Favre, Favre. "If he blows his nose, it better be on your show," Murphy said of the five-day show cycle after Favre announced his intentions to play again for someone in the NFL. As you might expect, Murphy and Heller have different takes on Favre.

"We're not of a like mind on a lot of the issues that we talk about," Heller said. "Coming into this market, Owen had no specific allegiance to the Packers, the Brewers, the Bucks or the Badgers."

That's because Murphy is a Gopher, a native of Minneapolis. By contrast, Heller is a Cheesehead from Appleton and a UW-Oshkosh graduate who was a utility infielder on a Division III championship team. "I'm more of a fan, which I've never really hid," said Heller, the play-by-play voice of UW women's basketball.

Heller's face may be just as recognizable as his voice because he was a sports anchor at WMTV-TV/Ch. 15 for more than four years before moving on to a larger market in Memphis. Mike and his wife Kristen wanted to get back to Wisconsin, though, to raise their four girls, so they returned to Madison.

Over the years, Heller has worked with different partners, each of whom has had his own unique personality and perspective on sports.

It's no different with Murphy, who has been Cheech to Heller's Chong. Or maybe Lucy to Heller's Ricky. Along with Jon Arias, who produces and handles ESPN updates, the double play combination has been drawing some quality numbers.

"The listener needs to trust or respect one opinion, regardless of whose opinion it is," Heller said of the dynamic behind doing a talk show with co-hosts. "There also needs to be some level of disagreement, some point or counterpoint.

"As far as Owen, if we're talking at the office or talking in a bar or talking in the car, we just view things differently, and that in itself makes for interesting talk."

(Cap Times)

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