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BCB Interview: Mike Terson

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On Friday, September 21, Cubs PA announcer Mike Terson stopped out in the bleachers to talk to me -- about his job, how he got to where he is, and a number of other subjects. I had meant to post this soon afterwards, but the playoffs, and several trips I took, got in the way of getting this posted sooner. Now that the season's over, here's a look at the guy who mans the microphone at Wrigley Field for all weekend home games.

BCB: Explain a little bit about your background, where you're from, what you do, how you got this job.

Mike Terson: I am originally from the Chicagoland area. I've lived in Chicago my whole life - city and suburbs. When I was four years old I lived on Wilton and Addison and learned how to ride my bike on Wilton - took the training wheels off and my early memories were sitting in my living room hearing the crowd.

Eventually I grew up in Des Plaines, and then Buffalo Grove. So I've been a Cub fan, but first, my dad was a Sox fan and my grandfather and my uncle were all Sox fans. But because my parents were divorced I lived on Wilton and Addison with my mom, for convenience sake the first baseball game he took me to was a day game at Wrigley Field. So I jokingly blamed him for me being a Cub fan after that because it was his doing.

So, I've been a Cub fan my whole life.

In high school I was on the speech team. I was interested in radio and I was the emcee for the school assemblies and stuff like that - this was in Buffalo Grove. And I was a drummer for the Show Choir. And Wayne Messmer's daughter, Stephanie, was in the group with me. So way back in the `80s I met Wayne and picked his brain and do you have any advice.

I got into radio after college. I went to Harper and then I went to Northern, and worked for a station out there, 92.5.

When I was in college I was a DJ at Walter Payton's nightclubs. And we would give away a lot of Cub tickets as bar prizes back then. So we had a lot of tickets on hand and so I'd come to a lot of games but I worked nights so I'd ride my motorcycle down here during the day. So I made a point of it every time to say hi to Wayne and tell him what I was doing.

I had sort of settled into my first PA job, which was the Chicago Cheetahs. They were a roller hockey team that played at the Odeum [in Villa Park]. They went defunct after that. But I had sent Wayne a letter letting him know I was doing that and I expressed an interest in doing the Wolves. And at the time I got a very, very nice rejection letter. They weren't looking. Then a few years later I was at a Cub game, I was sitting right around section 230, 240, nice and covered on a rainy day, my brother was with me. My brother says to me "Don't you always go say hi to Wayne Messmer when he's singing the anthem and you're here?" I said, "Yeah, I do, but it's raining and I'm just going to stay dry today." I sat there for another 10 seconds and I said, "All right, I'm going to go say hi to him, you talked me into it." So I went to say hi to him and he said, "I need to talk to you about something." So he went to sing the anthem and I stood there - the longest kind of two minutes of my existence, waiting for him to finish. He came off the field and we went under the tunnel to talk. And he said, "I remember you sent me the letter and the Wolves are looking for a PA guy, would you be interested?" Absolutely! So that's kind of how all that started. I was just persistent enough to keep on his radar screen.

This is now my 9th season with the Wolves. And this is my 3rd season with the Cubs. And when the opportunity first came about, the way I was told was ... Paul Friedman, the night PA guy, he had been doing the nights and weekends and I'm sure you know the story when Wayne got shot and he used to do all the games and that's when Paul came in. But because of ... he has a wife and kid and he wanted to cut back; he didn't want to do the weekends anymore and so I think Wayne got my name thrown in there and that's kind of how it all happened.

BCB: This isn't your fulltime job. What do you do?

MT: I am the public relations and marketing manager for the Buffalo Grove Park District. And as a sports fan, someone who has loyalty to a team for as long as I have, it's kind of cool to be able to be able to carry it over to my professional life, to give back to the community in which I kind of grew up and went to high school, and one of my first part time jobs was at the park district. So it's really kind of neat to be to have that area of my life as well.

BCB: Tell me a little bit about what you do to prepare for each game.

MT: I arrive 3 hours before the game. And you wouldn't believe how long the script really is. If you ever just took a day and sat and logged everything I say from start to finish you'd be amazed.

Most of my work is before the game. I'm literally talking for a full hour before the game. I stop in the marketing office. I get the timetable for the day -- who's doing the ceremonial pitch or two, who are the Walgreens bat kids, any of those types of pregame things you'll see out on the field. Sometimes a player is getting recognized by a sponsor with an award or Major League Baseball is presenting an award -- Player of the Month. No two games are the same. Every game there's something different going on. So I get all that. I kind of get my script in order, get the lineups so I have everything pretty much in order, ready to go before the chaos of the pregame begins.

One of the things I'll do is either I'll call the other team prior to them being here, call their media department or I'll find a media person before - if there's any tricky pronunciation with a player, especially the end of the season with the minor league call-ups, you're not familiar with their name and how it's pronounced. I'll grab a bite to eat before the game. There's not a lot of time to do that during the game. That's pretty much the routine.

BCB: Who gives you all the various lineup changes and pitching changes? Where do you get those?

MT: If you listen to the TV and radio broadcast a lot of times you'll hear a voice, a mystery voice in the background. And when Sharon Pannozzo was the media director her volume was higher so you'd really hear her in the background. Peter Chase [the new media relations person in 2007] is a little lighter so you don't always hear him in the background. But that will come from the media director. Every broadcast booth up there has a speaker so you'll get the - I get those changes as Len and Bob get them, as Pat and Ron get them. That's where it comes from.

And when things are happening on the fly like that sometimes you might notice a correction. Sometimes it came over there incorrectly. He's got to read hand signals from the umpire so he may have interpreted the signals wrong and announced it over our PA system wrong so it gets announced wrong and then that's where you'll get corrections and we'll see who it really is.

BCB: Are you looking to do this on more of a full time basis?

MT: You know, I'll tell you, Al, to be honest with you, I feel like I've got the keys to Disney World. One of the things my dad said to me when I was interviewing for the job with John McDonough was: did you show him a picture of your basement? He wanted me to convey my loyalty to the Cubs. I had a pool table with a royal blue felt. A Cubs stained glass light that I had custom made. All this Cubs memorabilia, and Bears. Working for Walter Payton ...

BCB: A lot of us have places like that.

MT: Sure! But before all this happened, I was really kind of a super fan. So it's and here I am 3 years into it and every day is like a dream come true. It is such a dream job and it is such an honor to work at this level for any team let alone the team you grew up watching and rooting for and I don't know what the future holds. I don't know what Paul's aspirations are. I don't know what Wayne's plans are. I've made it clear to the Cubs that I'm available for all of the 81 games that they have at home at any time and, but I also, I have such a sense of loyalty to Wayne not only for the opportunities that he's helped me to get, but you know he's mentored me over the years. I'd like to think that if I were to be compared to anyone's style, I don't try to sound exactly like Wayne, but I like to think I have my own style.

BCB: You all three have different styles.

MT: I agree. I think so too. But I would say I was probably most influenced by Wayne. Ironically when I was a kid, my dad had DePaul tickets at the Rosemont Horizon, so it's kind of interesting to be working in that building as an adult. But I grew up listening to Jim Reibandt [the Bears' public address announcer] because he did the DePaul games when I was a kid and I always thought that he was really one of the greatest PA voices in the city and ... so I would say a combination of him and Wayne would be who I try to emulate.

As far as down the road. I don't know what would happen. I would never ... I like Paul and I like Wayne so much I would hope to see them there long-term as well.

BCB: Where is your spot in the press box?

MT: I am the very last booth on the third base site so I have a window next to me. Paul and I, we all sit there. Andi, who runs the message board under the scoreboard, she sits directly next to me and then behind me is Gary Pressy, the organist.

BCB: How do you work with your voice coming back to you on the PA speakers?

MT: It's not only that, but there's a lot going on. People come in and out of the booth. There's a lot of distractions. You wouldn't believe how surprisingly distracting it can be at times. I think just focusing sometimes I'll plug one ear when I'm talking to try and block out some of the side noise. I don't wear headphones. I know a lot of the stadiums I notice the PA does wear headphones. I don't know; my guess is that Wrigley is just it's an old ballpark and some of those amenities that you would see in a newer ballpark are not here. So whatever reason, I never asked and that's just how it is. And at Wolves games I don't wear headphones either so I'm used to announcing without headphones.

BCB: Are you in a similar spot at the Wolves games in a press box area?

MT: For Wolves games I'm at the west end of the ice kind of where the players come out. It's a big - it looks like a fish tank really, it's a big Plexiglas box and fortunately the speaker column is right above me so there's not a lot of delay whereas here there's a little more of a delay. It's actually more difficult to announce from the field. Occasionally like last year on Ryne Sandberg Day I announced from the field during the pregame. Occasionally there's something going on where they need me out on the field to do the pregame and the speakers are further away. You've gotta find the right spot near the dugout where you get the least amount of bounce-back or bounce-back from two different speakers. It's challenging sometimes but you just kind of concentrate and focus.

BCB: I see you're wearing your Wolves Championship ring. That's pretty cool.

MT: Yeah. I've got two of these. My first season they won the Turner Cup in 2000 and this is the Calder Cup ring from '02. And I've gotta tell you... I'm a Jewish kid from Buffalo Grove with not a ton of athletic ability. To walk around with a championship ring it is a thrill. And I think that one of the reasons I love doing this, and the reason I got into doing this -- I've always been not only a Cubs fan, I'm a sports fan. I was a Blackhawks fan growing up. Bears fan, Bulls, huge DePaul. I love college basketball. And I always wanted to be the guy on the court. I wanted to be Ryne Sandberg. And to be able to be a part of the production, not having the ability to play the game at that level but to still be a part of it on some level, to be able to be a part of it in some way, in this way, is just great. I was at a wedding once and there was a ticket guy from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and he had a Super Bowl ring and man, I thought my ring was big.

BCB: I was once on the same airplane flight as Billy Williams and he was sitting in the chair in the gate area right in front of me and I could see his Hall of Fame ring. It was very cool.

MT: I remember looking at Walter's Super Bowl ring and Hall of Fame ring and it is, it really is cool.

BCB: How do you separate being such a big fan and doing your job?

MT: Because if I don't I won't get to do my job any more is the best way to describe it. You have to be professional. You have to separate yourself from that because you have to.

BCB: As the home team announcer you are supposed to show more enthusiasm towards Cubs players than the visiting players, right?

MT: My style is not to. I know Paul does a little bit. I can ask you. If you were a tourist and you had never been here before, would you be able to tell if the home team was batting or the visitors based on my inflection?

BCB: No I can't. As a hometown fan I kind of would like to hear more for the home team because you're here in theory with most the people here. Granted, you get visiting people here all the time but most of the people are rooting for the Cubs.

MT: As am I. I was mentored by Wayne Messmer, John McDonough and Jay Blunk. If you listen to me do a Wolves game it is a little different. I am probably one of the most straight forward PA guys in minor league hockey as well. When the Wolves score a goal I do a little more volume but for penalties, same for either team. But as much as I think I had my own style developed when I came in, the Cubs are such an established brand, such an historic brand, for lack of a better term, that I was trained this is what we're looking for. And I think that one of the reasons they selected me for the job was because I fit with what they were looking for. And the game production that Mr. McDonough has...

You know it's funny, Al. I listen to you make that comment and I can remember John saying to me once he wanted me to even tone it back even a little more. But ...

BCB: But Paul doesn't do that.

MT: I think that Paul has been here longer. He's more established and for whatever reason that's his style, they're comfortable with that and it's one of those things I guess I don't ask. I'm so thankful to have the job and that I'm doing well enough that they continue to ask me back to do it. They're happy with what I'm doing and they've made it very clear that that's they style they're looking for.

I will tell you that I alluded to this when I first emailed you. I feel like I'm the in between generation, I got out of college before the Internet. I typed papers on a typewriter so sometimes I think I missed out on some of the things technology has to offer and we're in this age of people like you have this forum, self created, where it used to be if a fan was a passionate fan like you other than the people in your inner circle you had no voice or forum and I think it's interesting in this day and age of technology that you were covered by the Chicago Tribune and there's a link I believe on the ESPN site to your site.

BCB: I can remember in 1984 when there was a similar pennant race to this year's, dialing Sportsphone 100 times a night trying to find out the scores of the other teams. Now I can go home with Extra Innings and watch the other games. It's so different.

MT: And even if you don't have the package you can go on the Internet and get each pitch.

BCB: Or watch it on your phone.

MT: Yeah. I really is amazing. And the earlier question you asked me about separating myself as a fan and checking that at the door. That's not always easy to do when you're a passionate fan and I don't when I first started with the Wolves, they have a message board on their site and they made it very clear they don't want employees responding. They have a person who does that.

When you're talking about professionalism there are certain things you do and you don't do. It comes with the territory, but the one thing I'll say is I love the territory. And sometimes it is difficult to check my hat at the door when I hear a fan... like I'll be at a McDonald's or a Culver's ordering a burger and I'll hear a Sox fan and a Cubs fan in some nice debate about baseball and someone makes a comment about something you just want to jump in there and kind of throw your two cents in and it's not always easy not to do that. I do have to remember that I do represent the organization and I can't just be a fan and say whatever is on my mind. And it's human nature to get defensive even when you hear things about yourself or read things. So it's not always easy to do that but as a fan I also really think that is so wonderful that that medium is there. There is nothing that I enjoy more than having a baseball conversation with an educated fan or a passionate fan. Or reading some of the great posts that really good baseball fans, doesn't even have to be a Cubs fan, someone who's really knowledgeable about the game has to say.

BCB: I'm a television director and there was a time when I thought I wanted Arne Harris's job. Then I thought -- if I get into sports TV being a fan, it would be like work and I don't want it to be work, I like it this way. I have a different job in TV and then I come out here and enjoy it as a fan instead of sitting in a production truck.

MT: I think if I would have had to sit in a production truck I would feel the way you do, as well. Wrigley Field is, I've always kind of referred to it as my religion, my place of worship. I'm not a religious person, I was raised Jewish but I don't really celebrate holidays. My wife is Christian. I never was a very religious person. I kind of jokingly said this is my religious experience.

BCB: I understand that.

MT: I get to come to the game and work in a capacity where I have a very good seat, where I can see all the action and I'm so grateful to have the privilege of calling a game in this ballpark.

BCB: Do you subscribe to the no cheering in the press box theory or are you allowed to cheer up there?

MT: Technically I'm not in the press box but I guarantee you that when a game like there was Monday night (September 17), when something like that happens at the end where the place goes nuts. I'm fist pumping. I've had some conversations with fans who sit near my window on a regular basis. I'll see them after a game and they'll chat with me and they'll say oh I saw you calling a strike on that something...

I've had a fan look at me at a close play knowing I have a TV monitor ask me safe? Out? And I'll signal back to them - he was safe; it was a good call. I don't necessarily cheer yell or loud but I'll do a fist pump. Gary gets into it too. So we do have a good time up there in the booth.

BCB: Were you ever a little nervous up there?

MT: I've gotta tell you it's funny that you say that, because I've called a lot of games at Allstate Arena with big crowds but all of a sudden that first game [at Wrigley Field] was like turning the microphone on for the first time. There was something about it. It did take a little getting used to. And you would think hockey is a tougher sport to call and in a lot of ways it is but in hockey I can talk over a play. In baseball you only have a short window to get some of that stuff in and when you're not getting the information quickly and you're not getting it out, I mean it can be a little nerve wracking.

BCB: I don't know about you, but my first team in this town is the Cubs. So if you're a Cub fan above all the other teams, maybe that played a factor too. Your passion is more for baseball than for other sports.

MT: Absolutely, without a doubt. If someone said to me you can only go to one sporting event the rest of your life what is it going to be? It wouldn't even be a hesitation. It would be right here. This would be it.

Whenever you do a job like that, and you being in television can appreciate this, there's a part of you that you're an entertainer. You want people to appreciate your work and you want them to like the product you're putting out. So as a true fan you want other true fans to like your work too. It's a natural thing.