Don’t be afraid to ask for help with anything.. marketing, sounding better, advice on equipment, getting guests…again we all work together.
part of our interview series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A Founder”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Wagner from The Mike Wagner Show. Mike Wagner is a 30+ year broadcasting, voiceover, and radio personality with experience in greater Chicago, Southern Illinois, Milwaukee, and in Bismarck, North Dakota since 2007.
Mike is not only the host of The Mike Wagner Show since 2018, but he’s also an occasional fill-in on-air and former weekend personality at KFYR radio in Bismarck, North Dakota playing the greatest songs of all time, plus news, sports and serves as executive producer of North Dakota sports and the Executive Producer of The Saturday Morning Sportszone on Fox Sports 710.
Mike has also interviewed over 800 guests and counting interviewing celebrities like Sandy Helberg, Carl Gottlieb, Richard Karn, Ron Dante, Jim Peterik, Laurene Landon, Kenny Aronoff, Leland Sklar, Billy Davis Jr., and Marilyn McCoo plus authors, comedians, medical experts, business professionals, inspirational people and more.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve been in radio since 1982 and before that, it felt like I was born with a radio in my ear listening to the Green Bay Packers on WTMJ radio in Milwaukee as my parents put a transistor radio in my crib trying to sleep. I would later listen to play-by-play for all the Milwaukee and Chicago sports teams plus listening to Top 40 and album rock on all the stations. My Dad and his friend Sam from his work gave me a weather radio for my 10th birthday and I would pick up all the stations nationwide like St. Louis, Detroit, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Boston, San Antonio, Denver, and a wild Top 40 station in Little Rock, Arkansas.
As things progressed, I became a sportswriter in high school planning on going into journalism…however I was told that computers would be the next best thing, so I took that up and started Harper College in Palatine, IL in 1982 to study computers. However, when I saw a booth for WHCM radio asking for DJs, I walked up to the booth to find out what’s it about…and not long after that, the radio bug bit me like Spiderman and the rest is history.
I took the next step to go to Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, IL to finish my degree in radio-TV in 1985. I worked at WSIU as an on-air personality, news reporter, board operator and did the same at WIDB and Southern Illinois Media Services. Then in 1988, I began my first commercial station at WRMN?WJKL in Elgin, IL in the same capacity, did some mobile DJ work and served as emcee on a number of events, and joined WKTA/WNVR in the same capacity with an emphasis on sports and music. I took a break in around 1996 to concentrate on raising a young family until around 2006 I came back to do voiceovers in Milwaukee and back into radio at WRLR-FM in Round Lake, IL (near Milwaukee) then got recruited by an Arizona consulting firm to join KDKT in Western North Dakota in 2007 and later went to KFYR radio in Bismarck in 2010 in the same capacity and have been there since and The Mike Wagner Show started in August of 2018 after coming back from a trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota and now on over 30+ podcast platforms and growing.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
Mainly it was trying to get in and get your foot in the door and get your name out there. Radio is a very tough and competitive business and you have to really work hard to keep your shift and stay in the game. It’s also where working at a number of stations in a few years is common because everyone is fighting to keep their jobs and back then it was a dog-eat-dog business. Now with the current state of radio, everyone works together because the meaning of today’s radio has changed.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Knowing that I’ve been told by thousands of people in my lifetime that I have a great voice for radio and am very gifted plus the fact that things will get better the next day or beyond that.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
I have interviewed over 800 guests on over 30+ podcast platforms (new ones get added quickly!) and that number will change quickly by the time this article comes out, and simply loving and enjoying what you do is what makes the job a lot easier and more enjoyable. Plus I have taken home 5 awards so far and have been placed in the Top 200 in each country.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
My first interview on The Mike Wagner Show was with Sandy Helberg from the Mel Brooks movies (Spaceballs, History of the World, High Anxiety) and before I was about to put him on my hands got very sweaty, and was fumbling with the phone and the controls to where everything was out of whack, and I started with a cut from Spaceballs where he was Dr. Shlatkin and he was supposed to create a new nose for the princess which turned out to be a disaster, then I fumbled on the name and messed up the intro, and Sandy didn’t think he was a doctor. But after a few minutes, things settled and became a regular conversation and some laughs and drew rave reviews by the listeners. That day, I said to myself, I can do this!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Actually what makes The Mike Wagner Show standout is the fact that it’s an actual live casual conversation without the reality script and fast-paced to keep everyone interested in a classic radio setting with everything goes…no edit or cough buttons…and no 5-second delays…it’s all pure conversation with some laughs. I’ve had guests tell me after the show that they enjoyed themselves and enjoyed the questions they were asked.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Don’t expect your show to be number one in a few weeks, it takes time to grow and establish an audience, and build your own number one in your area. Don’t get stressed out with the numbers, you have your good days and bad days, and some days a great guest will get a few listens while an unknown might get lots of numbers…also expected with unexpected and roll with the program …use your gifts wisely and don’t put all your eggs in one basket…and most importantly…always listen and show interest in your guests…you never know what you can learn from them…and be humble….
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I’ve had a number of people along with way help me with my show…various publicists…my listeners…my fan base..and most importantly…my wife and my family are my biggest cheerleaders…
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Because we need more goodness in a negative world…too many Howard Stern or Joe Rogan wannabees…too many podcasts that bash other people…and what’s needed are the days of Johnny Carson bringing laughter and good conversation back into our lives…that’s what we need the most.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
First of all…I wish I knew about these tips and techniques when I first started in radio. I had more of a mentality that I would stay at a radio station for a long period of time and later realized that turnover is a lot faster than expected. I had a few opportunities to leave a station to take on another assignment only to pass up for security. That was a mistake.
Second…No one is going to be in one place forever. Change is constant and change is always evolving. There are always better opportunities.
Third…In podcasting, people will help you and guide you along the way. This is no longer a cutthroat business because we are in this together, and we all have our number ones.
Fourth…Don’t be afraid to ask for help with anything.. marketing, sounding better, advice on equipment, getting guests…again we all work together…
And lastly…Get on podcasts or have a host come on yours to cross-promote shows…this is a great way to build friendship, camaraderie, and a lifetime bond.
Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?
I had an amazing 2020 at the tail end of the year where I had over 50K listeners and viewers on a week’s worth of guests around Christmas time and placed in the Top 50 podcasts in the world by the NY Weekly Times, Hollywood Entertainment News and The L.A. Weekly Times beating out Michelle Obama, Adam Carolla, Bill Kirk, and a few others during that period and finished at #162 overall on Apple and Chartable. And then after the holidays, the numbers dropped but picked up a few months later…maintaining a high level is tough, but easier if you know how to handle it properly.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂 Bring more encouragement and smiles to everyone, say please and thank you, don’t put anyone down, and love people even if they are different from you. Also, sharing common ground is the most important thing to building relationships and tearing down walls from a favorite color, favorite pet, favorite drink, sports team or simply what they like on their pizza…
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Go to www.themikewagnershow.com and click on the links, and listen on over 30+ podcast platforms including Facebook, Spreaker, Spotify, iHeart Radio, iTunes, Google Play, Apple Music, Anchor FM, YouTube and follow us on Instagram and Twitter today.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us! My pleasure and thanks for having me!