There's no stopping Blake after all this timeApril 10, 2020
By COREY STOLZENBACH
Generations of Hoosiers have welcomed him into their homes for the past 50 years. They’d get home from work to turn on the television to watch him at dinnertime, or right before bed. He’s told them about the happenings for that day — be it news or sports — and all the while, they in turn have bestowed honors upon him. His 50th anniversary is coming up this fall. He’s almost 76, but he has no plans of slowing down.
WFIE’s Mike Blake would have thought anyone to be crazy if somebody told him back in 1970 that he would still be doing this 50 years later, but here he is. He told his wife, Jenny, back in the 1970s that he had to get out of Evansville. Blake, like many in the business, had ambitions to ascend to a larger media market. He told of almost going to Miami in the 1970s, or to Nashville in the 1980s, but he remains a southern Indiana staple 50 years, four children and nine grandchildren later.
“I think I always had the attitude, ‘Be as good as you can be,’” Blake said. “Don’t be just the best in Evansville. Try to be the best, in the event you get to Chicago or Indianapolis of L.A. or New York, and I kept that attitude. I have to admit, as I’ve looked back, I think, certainly by the time I was 50, but early forties, I pretty well knew, even though I may not have admitted it; and when the offers didn’t come in like they had, that was a pretty good indication.”
The 50 years have all been a blur to him. Blake spent decades as the local host for the Jerry Lewis Labor Day telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, beginning in 1971. He didn’t know what muscular dystrophy was at the time, but remembers thinking to himself how fun it was about an hour into the broadcast. Blake was convinced he landed a good gig.
Then he went to Las Vegas and met Lewis for the first time in 1972, learning what the purpose of the telethon was. He came to realize that star athletes are heroes to an extent, but the real heroes are the ones who battle diseases such as muscular dystrophy.
“I have met some of the finest individuals on planet Earth through my relationship with the MDA,” he said.
Blake has also the honor of meeting a lot of people in Dubois County during the past 50 years. He has a great relationship with Jasper football coach Jerry Brewer to this day, and late Wildcats basketball coach Ed Schultheis was a dear friend of his. Blake remembers covering Scott Rolen when he played for the Wildcats, heralding him as an “unbelievable talent” whom he’s interviewed several times.
“You could see it, when I covered him in a sectional, the quick bat,” Blake said of Rolen. “Did I think he was going to be in the majors? Not necessarily, but I thought, ‘Boy, he could certainly play at the next level — the college level.’”
He’s seen many changes since he first started. Twenty-four-hour networks have come into existence, the world wide web has been invented and social media has also been a game changer. Blake believes sports are covered better than ever before, be it locally or nationally. He believes TV is “still the gorilla in the room,” because it’s a driving force behind many things, such as leading people to formulate opinions.
Blake’s wife has called him a perfectionist, as even the trivial things eat away at the longtime personality. He likened it to golf, because no one will ever shoot the perfect game. If someone scores a 62, he said, they’d get upset if they bogeyed on the sixth hole. Blake still watches and critiques himself often, though he’s more tolerant of his mistakes than he used to be.
He had the responsibility of covering Air Indiana Flight 216, which claimed the lives of everyone on the men’s basketball team at the University of Evansville on Dec. 13, 1977. Blake is proud, though, of the team at WFIE and the communities that came together at that point. He still receives phone calls from people who tell him they remember he was on the air during that.
Blake reflected on other things in retrospect, such as when he asked somebody the wrong question, or when he asked too long of a question. He learned early in his career to be concise in his questioning after he interviewed the late Notre Dame head football coach Ara Parseghian, who didn’t know how to answer one of Blake’s questions after Blake spoke for a minute and a half.
“The more you engage your interviewee, the better you’re going to be in television,” Blake said.
Blake received his master’s degree from the University of Iowa in 1968, but someone told him that his education was just beginning, and that person proved to be correct. He’s found himself to be blessed with a decent voice, and not smoking has carried him far with his money maker. He hopes he’s evolved by being as relevant as possible and that people will still watch. Blake knows not to mail it in for his job, and to take the time to realize every time he goes on the air there may be people watching who have never seen him before, and, therefore, to come across his best. He still wants to interview the most important and interesting people he can, and he gets that chance on “Midday with Mike.”
As he’s been a constant in the area for the past half-century, people have shown him their appreciation. Blake has been inducted into the Indiana Football, Indiana Basketball and Indiana Sports halls of fame. He’s been named a Kentucky Colonel, and Owensboro gave him a key to the city. Blake also has his own bobblehead, and could not believe the number of people who lined up to meet him at Roberts Stadium before a University of Evansville basketball game one time to get him to sign his bobblehead.
“I didn’t think anybody was going to come,” he said. “Well, in 10 minutes, there are a lot of people. They don’t care who you are or what your name is, they collect bobbleheads. I learned then, but that was wonderful.”
He would tell his younger self not to take things too seriously and enjoy it. Blake would also tell his younger self that he’ll have regrets, but he’ll be okay, and he’ll want to do it again.
Blake is grateful he’s had good health and hasn’t had to retire yet. Some of his good friends retired and wished they hadn’t, even after they made a good living. He’s had people in his age bracket tell him to work as long as he can and as long as he enjoys it.
“I can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Blake said. “I’m not just sure when that day will be. It won’t be on my 50th anniversary, which will be September 25th, but I hope to cut back a little, and my boss and I have talked about maybe doing some stuff after I retire on a very limited basis, but I’d like to go out healthy and on my own terms.”
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