Milwaukee Talks: Gene Mueller
Sitting down for breakfast at Benji's with 620-WTMJ's Gene Mueller, it's hard to believe it's been 10 years since our last Milwaukee Talks with the local radio icon.
Last time we interviewed Mueller, 54, he was approaching the end of the line on the incredibly popular Reitman and Mueller morning show on the defunct WKTI. Now, he hosts "Wisconsin's Morning News," the culmination of more than 30 years in Milwaukee radio.
Even though his current job requires him to dial it down, Mueller remains one of the funniest people you'll ever meet in radio. His Twitter bio explains that he's a "Milwaukee radio host, sports fan and dark humorist waiting for (his) kids to choose (his) nursing home."
We just call him a legend. Enjoy this latest Milwaukee Talks.
OnMilwaukee.com: Last time we did this, you had just shaved your mustache.
Gene Mueller: Ten years too late.
OMC: Arguably. You were starting a stint with the Packers Radio Network.
GM: I did that for one year, the pre-game show and the halftime show. It was a nice experiment to get my feet wet over at WTMJ. It was also the time my wife decided to go back to full-time work, so we couldn't do both.
OMC: Well, the last question I asked you in 2002 was if you were at the pinnacle of your career. Now, other than the time slot, you couldn't be in a more different role in Milwaukee radio, right?
GM: Yeah, it's another world ... 30 feet down the hall. It's such a different approach to radio, and I love it. When I first got hired there, I'd walk past the spot where Gordon Hinkley was holding court with Jim Irwin and I'd go, "Wow, that's TM freakin' J." I'd go into our little closet that was KTI and try to turn that thing around. The whole dynamic of the building has changed. WKTI isn't there anymore, Hinkley's not there anymore. Every day I walk into that studio, I feel like someone is gonna tell me that the big kids want their chair back.
OMC: Did you ever think you career would go in this direction?
GM: No. I thought it would be nice to die with the company somehow. Some people thought they'd put Bob (Reitman) and me on WTMJ, but Bob retired before that subject was broached. We tried keeping it going on KTI for a while.
OMC: Do you ever talk to Bob?
GM: Yeah, I saw him about two or three weeks ago. We have coffee up at Solly's and get caught up.
OMC: You've been with Journal Broadcast Group for 30 years, and you were on the air before that, too. Are you the elder statesman, patriarch of Milwaukee radio?
GM: Designated old fart, maybe. I'm trying to think of anyone older. I could be the gray eminence.
OMC: Does that strike you as unusual? I mean, you're not an old guy.
GM: It's funny to think of how it's come full circle. When I got there, my hair was dark and long, and I was 40 pounds lighter. We were seen as the punk kids in this very staid building full of broadcast professionals. We were the goofy ones, and I still think of myself as that same guy. When you make references to people who aren't there anymore and they fall on deaf ears of people who are 25, suddenly, you realize, yeah, I'm that old fart.
OMC: So they put your your name on this show, and it started out as more personality-driven. It's moved more toward content, though. How do you straddle the line?
GM: It's different. I'm doing things I've never done before, like live commercials and personal endorsements. I was a sidekick, a news writer. Now, I'm not involved in the news content at all, except for stuff in between news casts, but that's more my take on things. I do interviews, which is still fun, but again, because of the compressed nature of the format, it's having to learn how to be more brief, more concise, more to the point. There's no warming someone up anymore. You've got to get right to it, and if you don't, the moment is lost. The train keeps moving.
OMC: Why did your management stick with one host after John Jagler left?
GM: I think they saw it as an opportunity to keep it simple, to have one conductor and to have the other elements contribute to the story count, which is the definition of the show. Big stories count, sports, news, service elements. Two people tend to talk to each other and get off the track. With one person, you keep chugging forward.
OMC: But for most of your career, you've been part of a team.
GM: Yeah, it's weird when the news people leave and Greg (Matzek) has his head in a computer for the next sportscast, and I'm just in there by myself. I'm still trying to get used to talking to myself. I did that earlier in my career when I was a disc jockey, but it's been a while. You have to be your own self-governor.
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Nice, humble interview. I enjoy listening to Gene.
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