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Wednesday, November 4,2009

Seen and heard

Michael Patrick Shiels brings talk show to television

by Bill Castanier
Michael Patrick Shiels was ready for his close-up Monday morning. The host of 1240 AM WJIM’s “MPS in the Morning” was decked out in a tuxedo for the TV premiere of his daily talk radio program.

As of Monday, Shiels’s show is being simultaneously broadcast on Fox 47 WYSM, making it a footnote in radio history, as it joins the ranks of only a few other radio-TV combos, two of which were produced for national audiences. The defunct Don Imus show was one; another is the long running “Mike and Mike in the Morning” on ESPN.


During a visit to his Michigan Avenue storefront studio last Thursday, Shiels was taking the preparations in stride, as seven robotic cameras were being tested in their final shakedown.


He wasn’t even sure what the program would be, come Monday, but Shiels went about his business in his typical low-key manner, bantering with call-in guests, the weatherman and producer Amanda Wall.


Shiels preferred to talk about his influences in the business: Larry King, Dick Purtan, and, especially, Detroit radio host J.P McCarthy, for whom Shiels worked as a producer during his last five years on the air.


After McCarthy’s death, Shiels, who has also written numerous travel books, wrote a book on the legendary drive-time radio man. He still starts his own show with a recording of McCarthy, saying “Good morning, world.”


On Monday, Shiels and the WYSM TV crew were scurrying, as they did final equipment checks and arrangements for instudio guests, who included Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero and his challenger in Tuesday’s mayoral election, At-Large Councilwoman Carol Wood. The two almost crossed paths, as Bernero went first, while Wood waited in the green room for her time on air.


“Other than not making faces,” Shiels, said in-studio guests will be the one big change for his show, which has typically relied on call-ins.


But it won’t be every day that State Sen. Gretchen Whitmer drops by and Shiels sports a tux. Then again, with major political races on tap for next year, perhaps his studio will be at capacity.


Throughout the show, technicians played the set like a giant video game, operating joysticks that control remote cameras and adapting on the fly.


Although WJIM-AM is wrapped with some conservative talk show hosts, Shiels said he has no political affiliation; he’s equally at home talking politics with either side of the aisle.


The 48-year-old host has been preparing for the job for what seems to be his whole life. While in high school in Wyandotte, he and a good friend were already experimenting with live radio. When they moved to Mount Pleasant to attend Central Michigan University, they hosted their own radio show on a local, low-watt station that bragged it could be heard as far away as Midland and Saginaw.


Shiels said he never wanted to be a rock jock, always a talk radio host. That may be, but for now he is also a local TV star, and, of course, he will have to dress the part and shave in the morning.


He hopes to interview people on the street, although the show is on a little early for foot traffic in its Stadium District digs on Michigan Avenue between Cedar and Larch streets. On Monday, a few employees of the Greater Lansing Convention and Visitors Bureau showed up with signs (a la “The Today Show”) to show their support.


A couple of weeks ago, when the weather turned cold, Shiels said a visitor blew a cloud on the window and wrote a message in it, but he couldn’t read it. Today he could use a robotic camera to zoom in on any such greetings.


Fox WYSM and WJIM Citadel Radio began talking about the partnership last April as a way to create morning content and do something “not in the traditional news format,” said Gary Baxter, Fox TV general manager. Baxter and Citadel Broadcasting Regional President Matt Hanlon said they believe the show could be syndicated statewide as a way of creating compelling content for morning news.


Hanlon said when all the tech stuff was worked out, it still came down to “trusting each other and having a shared real estate or business vision.”


The real winner in the new venture could be the adjacent Great Lakes Chocolate and Coffee Co., which was selling more than a few cups of Joe to early risers waiting to go on the air with Shiels.


‘MPS in the Morning’


5:30 – 9 a.m. Monday – Friday on 1240 AM WJIM; 6 – 8 a.m. on Fox 47 WYSM www.wjimam.com, www.fox47news.com


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