"Chuck and Wickett" lead sports fans into the larger conversation
When you turn on the radio and flip over to one of your favorite stations, part of the reason is to be entertained. The other part, probably at a sub-conscious level, is to find comfort in the familiar.
Morning radio thrives on habit, as people fire up a station in their home or car as they get ready for the day, commute to work or take the kids to school.
Chuck Freimund and Mike Wickett, hosts of "Chuck and Wickett" on WSSP-AM 1250, have become part of the morning routine for thousands in southeastern Wisconsin. When your world revolves around sports, following your favorite teams or just catching up on what happened on and off the field of play, their show serves as a gateway into a larger conversation.
I chose the word "gateway" pretty carefully, working as a representation of what a fan goes through when they hand in a ticket before a big game. And it can also mean the action that leads to something bigger, like a first drug that leads a person into becoming an addict. At least a love of sports can be healthier than other addictions of choice.
"We usually email or text each other the night before about 'what are we talking about tomorrow,'" Wickett said minutes before going on the air.
I visited the show last week, sitting in on the early morning routine the two hosts go through as they prepare and shape the segment topics of the day. Wickett is at the main board, running through multiple buttons, dials, sliders and computer screens.
"Everything sounds like it is running hot today," he said as I watch the computerized meters bouncing from green high into the red.
Freimund is in the news booth, working through wire reports and internet sources to put together the headlines he broadcasts at the top of every hour during the four-hour on-air shift. During this particular morning, he's running the audio from Packers coach Mike McCarthy from his Monday press conference.
Wickett notices the bit of audio – that I would have had on an old cart looping cartridge of tape when I worked in the medium in the 1990s – doesn't sound as well as it could be. While Freimund is finishing the news, Wickett re-records the clip and cuts it up digitally to run in the show's second hour.
It is the first day of October, and Wickett hops on Facebook and Twitter to post the question of the day, asking listeners to weigh in on what the month means for sports fans. The question is, "what's the best part of October?"
"I think for me, it's Big Ten football," Freimund says, sparking the banter that makes up the bulk of a local sports talk show.
Sometimes the two agree on the same side of a certain topic, sometimes they don't. But it's never forced – like some sports programs are known to do for dramatic affect. With these two, you get the real thing for better and for worse. I personally think that's why many in the Milwaukee market relate to the show, as they are able to identify with where the hosts stand, coming from different perspectives and sharing a common love of sports.
"I put a lot out there, the baseball post season, the Packers and the division play in the NFL … " Wickett said on the air. He's also pointing out what commenters on Facebook said, relating what October means to them.
One listener mentioned the start of the NHL season, another said October means "The Walking Dead."
Wickett says to Freimund, "I don't know what that is. Is it a TV show?" and the pair turn their heads and look to me. At this point, I forgot I was in the same room, just taking in the conversation and forgetting that the hosts were looking to the media writer occupying space in the broadcast studio.
Oh yeah, that's me.
I simply nod my head, yes.
They move on, giving each other hand signals, starting the talk that will get listeners to call and weigh in, being aware when the break is going to hit, and which advertising liner is next.
"The Monday after a Packers loss is when we get the most calls," Freimund said, knowing full well what the average "Joe from Cudahy" wants to talk about. He also talked to me about what he and Wickett will do with the rest of the day once they are off the air.
Freimund is the sports director at the station, who will plan out the coverage for the major professional and college sporting events. He'll also line up the guests for the show. Wickett takes care of the advertising and promotions, producing the spots listeners will hear throughout the rest of the day.
Then they consume as much sports as they can, and email and text each other about what they will chat about tomorrow.
But before this day's broadcast is done, "Chuck and Wickett" will hear from a Packers player, they will talk with a Milwaukee Brewers insider about wrapping up a lack-luster season, and they will ask the fans what they think, drawing them into the conversation.
In perspective, this was just a little over-an-hour-long glimpse into a day, pale in comparison to years with the morning show and a few decades worth of experience covering sports … in a city that has a great love for "our teams."
I wonder what the next question of the day posted on social media will be, that will spur the banter all over again tomorrow.
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