Many know Mike Heller from his weekday sports talk show on The Big 1070 in Madison. He explained, “I’m an open book on the radio. I think it’s important for people to feel like they know me.”
So what might surprise people about him?
“I cry at movies,” Heller admitted. And he found it hard to keep his emotions in check walking his daughter Amanda down the aisle.
Heller can be opinionated, for effect, on the air, but is a lot more “malleable” at home. He credited his mom, three older sisters and six daughters for helping him be “slow to temper.”
Heller has “four beautiful children, all girls” from his first marriage. In 2010, a mutual friend introduced him to Waunakee resident, Kari Zibell. He gained two more daughters and a son when the couple married two years later. The girls are all out of the house. Jackson will be a high school junior.
Heller said his connection to Kari “just happened right away. We’re both blessed in that way, because we found a great partner in one another. Life couldn’t be better in that regard. We found greatness in our relationship since we met.”
After living off Easy Street for four years, the Hellers moved into town to downsize and be closer to Jackson’s activities. It being Waunakee, they met almost all their new neighbors within two days of moving in.
Kari is the redecorator. Heller deadpans, “I move the ladder for her when she’s painting. And refill the paint bucket. And I’m really good at that. If pictures need to be hung, she’s hanging them.”
They run around attending Jackson’s many activities and often run through Waunakee. They started a Wednesday night run club that usually winds up at a Waunakee watering hole.
Heller enjoys golf. A club professional for almost 7 years during a respite from broadcasting, he described himself as an 8-handicap, decent golfer.
A country music fan, Heller cited the Zac Brown Band a favorite. The couple finds “live music is one of our good get-aways.”
He and Kari also enjoy weekend motorcycle rides on his Harley, often with no particular destination in mind.
“To be able to just go is a really nice feeling,” Heller said with a gleam in his eye.
In addition to visiting the daughters and two grandchildren who are settled around the country, the Hellers try to vacation each year. Favorite destinations range from Napa and Sonoma on one coast to New York City on the other.
Heller said they’ve discussed their future options.
“We’re open to the idea of being anywhere. We could be nomadic. There are lots of places we’d like to see and spend some time and I think we’ll do that.
“Radio has flexibility. I can have a Wisconsin radio show and do it from South Carolina or Phoenix, Arizona,” he said.
The young Heller was “good at almost everything and not great at anything,” he said. He played football, baseball and basketball at Appleton East High School and aspired to be a pro in each respective sport, depending on the season.
“That also morphed into wanting to be Ray Scott or Bob Uecker or Jim Irwin. That calling came to me early, too,” he recalled.
He was a second baseman/shortstop for UW-Oshkosh playing behind two more talented middle infielders. Heller poked fun good-naturedly at his junior season in 1985, saying “If it weren’t for my two hits that year, I doubt that we would’ve won the national championship.”
While earning his degree, he found himself in broadcast booths and locker rooms as a Green Bay television station intern. “Getting PAID to go to a Packers game? Light turned on. That was the direction,” he said.
Television sports jobs in Rhinelander, Madison and Memphis followed after graduation.
Heller returned to Wisconsin, worked at area golf courses and missed being on the air. He’s hosted the Mike Heller Show since 2004. Heller believes his years in radio are “the best part of what I’ve done professionally”.
Others around the country agree. Since 2012, Heller has also filled-in as guest host on the nationally broadcast Dan Patrick or Rich Eisen radio programs some 120-130 times.
Certain questions stump even the best conversationalist. What would he be if not a broadcaster? “Dang. That’s hard. I’ll defer on the question. I have no idea what I’d do.”
Heller added excitedly, “I’m lucky enough to be one of those people who does something that I don’t consider work. And they pay me to do it. And that’s fantastic!”