50 Years Of WBBM Newsradio Sports Reporters: Mark Grote

Josh Liss
May 21, 2018 - 1:26 pm

WBBM Newsradio/Josh Liss

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- In honor of WBBM Newsradio's 50th anniversary, some of WBBM Newradio's sportscasters, past and present, have shared their Newsradio memories.

WBBM Newsradio's Josh Liss spoke with Mark Grote, who is now at our sister station 670 The Score, to look back at his career with the station. 

"Josh I am doing great, wonderful to be here and I am really happy to be part of this," Grote said.

Liss: Yeah this is going to be fun conversation. First off, let's not forget you are coming back to 'BBM this fall. How cool is that going to be? Doing some Bears work.

"Yes, I am going to be doing the sidelines for the Bears broadcast with Jeff Joniak and Tom Thayer so I am looking forward to being cold again during my job," he said.

Liss: Back on Bears radio, jacket required.It's interesting since you stopped being a 24/7 whatever you want to call it, a full-time 'BBM employee, a sports guy, you come back, you did a year with the Cubs in 2015 and here you are back on 'BBM doing Bears sidelines, so we are looking forward to that. So how long was your tenure, what was the years, when did it all start for you?

"It started in 2002. Interestingly enough, Josh, you will always play a part in my career. I don't know if you remember this or not, the really quick synopsis was I was working downstate in Springfield and had been in contact with you and some other station and I had got an offer from The Score to kind of do three-quarters time, not full time, so I rolled the dice, come back to Chicago and here we go at the age of 30 or whatever it was and live with my parents, whom I love, but it's just not a good look. They were happy and it was great, but my goal was to get out of there as soon as possible. A full time job opened up at 'BBM and I remember being in bed at my parents house and you called and said would you be interested in possibly a full time position at 'BBM and I said absolutely...So 2002 to 2010 were my years at WBBM, but I had to remind you of that story," Grote said.

Liss: I must have been satisfied as well after hanging up the phone, but from your perspective, that I got the job moment - what do you remember about that? Did you wake the whole house up?

"Well I hadn't gotten the job at that point. I do remember, you were the recruiter, the first phase of it, so you probably gathered the candidates, then I talked to Joniak as well, and it's great in this business once you had heard me in person, because everything I did was on the telephone, and I was not told I had the job, but I kind of knew just because how the conversation was going and it filled me with adrenaline and excitement to actually get the offer on the job was great. This is a station, when I was downstate I used to listen to you doing something in the mornings at :15 and :45s and Joniak in the afternoons, even going back to old Ron Gleason back in the day; so this is a station that I always listened to and to be apart of it was a huge moment for me. I took it very seriously. 

Liss: That is neat to hear. Do you still remember the lock out? If you were done with one of your sportscasts...

"Yeah, but they changed. [Liss: They changed over the years, but do you remember yours back in '02 and the number of years you were here?> Yeah, let me just think. I have to actually go through it in my head. I don't remember if we did, 'with sports at :15 and :45, I'm Mark Grote, Newsradio 780 WBBM.' [Liss: Maybe a home of the Bears somewhere in there.> Yeah, there was a home...well see it depended, if it was Bears season we would give the pregame - 'pregame 9 o'clock, kick off noon against on Vikings, on your home of the Bears, Newsradio 780 WBBM,' so something like that. I was never here in the 78 days. Where you here in the 78 days?" Grote said.

Liss: Yeah, I started the first lockout we did was Newsradio 78. Then they added the 0 and then they added the 105.9 FM. And now we are everywhere. You can stream us too, it's beautiful. 

So it was Jeff, it was me, you must have been around, and Eric Brown.

"Yes the smooth Eric Brown," Grote said.

Liss: You almost slipped into it.

"Eric was the nicest guy in the world. So yeah, Eric Brown was there, who else was there, you, Jeff, was Dave Kerner...yes, Kerner was there, and when I first started Zach was still there and for people who don't know...[Liss: So you two overlapped?> Yeah, so for people who don't know, back then we were actually in a different building, for people who know the magic of radio. [Liss: Oh yes, McClurg Court> Well you were at McClurg Court. Sports guys and traffic guys were in a totally different building," Grote said.

Liss: Right, you were outsourced at the time, so you were 40 hours a week exclusively to WBBM, but you were being paid by another company; the company that usually employs the traffic reporters. 

"I called it the orphanage, because we were all there, none of us had real homes until you and Jeff brought us into your home right here in this building where we are now," Grote said.

Liss: So we quickly got to your greatest memory of working at WBBM sports - being able to actually work at WBBM.

"To see the people with whom we actually worked here in the Prudential building downtown, so we were finally adopted and I had a full time home. Not only a full time job, but a full time home here, so it made a whole lot more sense. So yeah, you, Zach, Jeff, myself and Eric Brown. That was the original staff and then eventually Zach went to the Score and Dave Kerner came over to WBBM...or maybe Kerner was there, I don't know," he said.

Liss: He was traded for Zach so maybe you were here during the trade? We will clear up that timeline and let people know.

Have we switched over to digital yet? Or were we still working on tape recorders, carts and reel-to-reels?

"Yeah, when I was at the orphange it was still carts. I remember, because you know change is scary, and when you are in this business, you get comfortable with carts, and you never realized how cumbersome they are until it gets better, and then the digital world comes into life, in editing, and in cuts and it is so much easier," Grote said.

Liss: You think those 20 and 40 second carts cue up fast, wait till you can actually press the button and it goes. We are so happy that that age came. But, what do you remember about your schedule, how we were using you as an achor and a reporter, and what you remember about your duties in those early days?

"I was doing a lot of nights then, whether it was - I think when I first started it was more anchoring than reporting, a lot of nights anchoring, I wasn't really one of the prime reporters yet, but as time went by and I evolved and improved at my job, I started going out into the field. So most of my work was at night, whether it was covering Cubs games, covering them all, Cubs, Sox, Bulls, Bears, Blackhawks and anchoring a few nights a week, doing weekends. I am still mad about having to work on the weekends, I didn't appreciate that. [Liss: But you were so good at it, you didn't have a choice.> But I knew that was part of the gig. Everybody, c'mon I still don't get holidays off in my life and it is just part of being a sports broadcaster. Sports happen on weekends. So yeah, a lot of nights anchoring and then it evolved into more reporting."

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

Liss: You covered so many great teams and no so great teams and some great memories. Before we get into some of your memories and some of your favorite events to cover and teams and athletes. In the news business, you come across some stories that are difficult to report on. We are a news station first. What might of been a story or stories you found tough to write, or tough to talk about on the air, anything stand out?

"The Sammy Sosa cork bat incident was one of those. I don't think anybody was originally covering that game and I was dispatched to Wrigley Field. I remember Joniak calling me and having to get me credentialed and then kind of join the party late. So that was definitely one of those times where you wanted to get the story right, be really careful with it, there were some outlets that wanted my opinion on it too, and that is always a touchy line when you are a reporter and then you are asked to put on your opinion hat, as well, so that was kind of a tricky story," Grote said. 

"I remember having a couple run-ins with players as well. One in particular was Barry Bonds at Wrigley Field on this station. It was very simple. I needed to find out if Barry Bonds was in the lineup. This was when he was kind of hurt and kind of every other day. So there was no Twitter back then or anything like that. It was starting to evolve in that direction, but I needed to find out if he was going to be in the line up for WBBM just to kind of get that news broken and we were over in the Cubs visitors clubhouse, which is a very cramped, uncomfortable clubhouse to be, there is a herd of reporters in the clubhouse, we are all standing together in the herd, no one is daring to go up to Barry Bonds, so I was like, the heck with it I got five minutes, [Liss: I got to be the guy> Only because I had to be on the air in seven minutes. So Barry is over there with his weights, he is lifting his weights back and forth, I go Barry, I said, can I ask you a quick question? I am not trying to do a big interview or anything like that and he looks at me and goes, 'man can't you see I'm doing something right now.' And just shock waves run through my body, but then I had the gall to stay there and ask him, 'hey man, I just want to know if you are playing today, I don't care about anything else,' and he looks at me and goes, 'man I don't know.' And then I walked back to the village of reporters and they are all like, 'is he playing, is her playing?' and I'm like I DON'T KNOW. And then I run upstairs, did my report...the nice thing was later one of the reporters was able to find out since they knew I had the guts to up to him, they said yes he is playing today. So it all came full circle."

Liss: What else stands up between the teams that either struggled to make the playoffs, or won a championship? We've see the full sort of rainbow of winning and losing during your tenure here in Chicago. What else stands out?

"Well a couple things stand out. My first really big beat was the Illini in 2005, the year in which Illinois went all the way to the title game and ended up losing by five points to North Carolina, but that was just an absolute blast as you might recall Josh. It was all in the Midwest. The Final Four was in St. Louis. You had games in Indianapolis and then you had that famous game against Arizona at Rosemont Horizon, or Allstate Arena, as it's called, where the Illini came back from 17 with Deron Williams doing ridiculous things. So that was one of the huge memories that I had," Grote said. 

"And of course the White Sox too. The '05 White Sox - covering that entire run...just unbelievable stuff. On the disappointing ledger, I covered the '07, '08 Cubs, both seasons...they were promptly swept by the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks as well.

"I think my favorite interaction ever would be with Shaquille O'Neal. I went to a Bulls, I think Miami shoot around...every once in awhile you get lucky, and a superstar is there and available, so I just go up to him, I have my big credential on, and Shaq looks at me, looks at my credential, and goes 'Mark Grote' and he renamed me and then during the interview, he was getting old, I said 'Shaq you know a lot of people are saying you lost the step, you're getting older,' and he looks at me and goes 'You are getting older too Mark Grote, I think you lost a step.'"

Liss: That's fantastic. Obviously you are still busy with radio. You are going to be doing stuff with the Bears in the fall, we look forward to having you on. And all sorts of work with 670 The Score, being their Bears reporter. What are we forgetting about you and your time at WBBM?

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

"Well one of my favorite things here was weekends at WBBM, because they were a little bit more laid back and there is no bosses around or anything like that so I loved interacting with an Al Rosen, who was one of the engineers - he's got stories, he's got years and years...he's one of the guys that you hear on the credits for Bears radio. Steve Miller, one of the reporters, award-winning reporter would always have chips and guacamole for us so that became a tradition here on Sundays. One of the guys I really love working with, unfortunately passed on, Dave Mitchell. We mentioned Eric Brown, one of my favorite people as well. God rest his soul, what a sweet man he was.

"I am sure I am leaving out tons of things, but I can honestly say, in terms of people, I've had a lot different of radio jobs going back to Peoria and working my way through Central Illinois, and now at The Score. This was my favorite place, WBBM, in terms of interacting with people. It still is," Grote said.