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Give Mike & Mike credit for beating Chicago's Mike
By Ted Cox | Daily Herald Columnist

Mike North

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Published: 6/27/2008 12:08 AM

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Like a victorious rebel army, Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic rolled into town Wednesday to throw out the first pitch and sing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" at Wrigley Field, the very day after Mike North had stepped down from his throne as the reigning king of Chicago sports-talk radio.

Maybe that's not quite fitting as a metaphor. Given the immense ESPN Radio resources, Mike & Mike are no scruffy revolutionaries, and the other Mike, North, is certainly less than regal as a radio host. (That's the nature of his appeal.) Yet there's no denying, in the long view, this has to be considered a major upset: the syndicated Mike & Mike on WMVP 1000-AM beating local guy North on WSCR 670-AM and pretty much ending his run as the defining voice on the Score.

First things first. The people who've had it in for North for years have wasted no time jumping up and down on his apparent grave after the Score withdrew its offer to him Tuesday and North declared he was "now done at the Score" in a post on his Web site. (Jay Mariotti cheering it on the grounds of "decency, professionalism and couth in Chicago sports" is like Rush Limbaugh arguing for fairness, civility and consideration in political discourse.) Yet there'll be no crowing here.

North was and is a radio pro with his own unique voice, and he helped make the Score and stamp it as the radio home of the local Chicago fan. And it wasn't as if he was having his rear end handed to him; he was just getting beat by the other all-sports talk show in a very competitive time slot.

So give credit to Mike & Mike, as well. They have a wonderful, marvelous chemistry as a general-interest sports show. (Compare their appeal to the dead air on Mike Tirico's midday-afternoon ESPN Radio program.) What's more, don't underestimate Greenberg's impact as someone who cut his teeth at the Score. In a market as xenophobic as Chicago, Greenberg's local roots helped sell the show and Golic to local listeners, and they built on that initial acceptance.

Still, it's amazing to me. Mike & Mike whipped North in Chicago and pretty much dictated the end of his 16-year run at the Score. It's like Pepsi outselling Coke in Atlanta - and getting it to alter its formula to boot.

So is this a bonehead corporate move on the order of New Coke? I'd say it is. North embodies the Score brand. He is who the Score is. And if he was getting beat in mornings, the like-minded (and equally Chicago-accented) Mike Murphy was and is cleaning up against Tirico in middays. You live by the sword, you die by the sword, but that sword - a determinedly Chicago-centric approach to sports - was and is the Score. To my way of thinking, the Score should have found a way to retain North. Move him to middays? Sure, why not, it's where he first had his success with Dan Jiggetts. Cut his pay? Sure. North would be the first to accept that if you lose, you don't get the same rewards. But treat him with the respect and honor he deserves and make a place for him.

As for North, he's not blameless in this. Even he should realize by now that he was and is better with a partner, if not an equal (he never treated Jiggetts or Doug Buffone as an equal, not as a radio personality in any case), at very least someone strong enough to, shall we say, hit behind him, protect him in the lineup and make sure he saw some good pitches to hit. That was not the role filled by Anne Maxfield, and it is certainly not the role of the more sycophantic Fred Huebner.

After making a reported salary of $1.5 million the last few years, North doesn't need to work again. More likely, however, he'll find a gig elsewhere for pride's sake, with a shift to WLS 890-AM and a foray into conservative political talk most likely. Maybe reunited with Fritzy and Les Grobstein. Who knows? Good luck with that.

Now, it's true, the Score has an opportunity to redefine itself. But you know what? A station redefining itself is like a sports team going through a rebuilding program. Stations and consumer brands work for years to define themselves, and when they change and it doesn't work they usually end up going back to the original approach. Understand, I like and admire Mike Mulligan and Brian Hanley's show, but they're not going to have it any easier than North did against Mike & Mike. My advice to them should they leave the newsroom and go full-time as morning hosts: Save half of whatever you take home, because the time will come when, like North, you need it. It's the way of radio.

In the air

Remotely interesting: Head-to-head, broadcast rules. Last Friday, when WGN Channel 9 aired the White Sox' announcers and Comcast SportsNet Chicago had the Cubs', Channel 9 still had double the local Nielsen ratings, 6.9 to 3.5. When they switched Saturday, Channel 9 did a 9.5 to CSNC's 2.4. They'll go head to head again today at 3 p.m., with CSNC having the Cubs' Len Kasper and Bob Brenly and getting an early start with a 2 p.m. pregame, while Channel 9 has the Sox' Ken Harrelson and Darrin Jackson. CSNC will also do a postgame after Fox handles the Saturday game starting at 2:30 p.m. on WFLD Channel 32 (with the partisan Thom Brennaman and Mark Grace on the call), and CSNC will have a pre- and postgame for Sunday's 7 p.m. game on ESPN. The Cubs did post a season-high 7.2 rating on CSNC Wednesday, meaning more than 250,000 Chicago-area households tuned in.

Daryl Hawks joins WMAQ Channel 5 as a sports anchor and reporter effective July 28. The Buffalo, N.Y., native comes to town from NBC sibling KNTV-TV in San Francisco.

End of the dial: WMVP 1000-AM retained its 1.4-1.3 lead over WSCR 670-AM in monthly Arbitrends released this week.

Give WMVP's Dan McNeil, John Jurkovic and Harry Teinowitz credit for addressing the Score's Mike North situation on the air Wednesday, while the Score was pretending nothing was up.