Sports Jams' stalwart four of Lake Geneva a team effort
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LAKE GENEVA Mike Coolidge is a referee. Well, not really, but he’s definitely the anchor of WLKG radio’s Sports Jam, the longest-running sports talk program in Walworth County.
Coolidge, along with co-hosts John Handel, Jerry Stelse and Bill Blakeley, has been talking sports for the past 18 years. Compared to other radio station giants in Milwaukee and Chicago, with considerably more air time, the Sports Jam guys have outlasted many of their peers. They continue to entertain, discuss, argue, agree to disagree and occasionally come to a consensus, all within two hours on Saturday mornings from seven to nine.
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Coolidge has been sports director (and just about everything else) at The Lake since the station opened. Coolidge said the program is successful because of its simplicity.
“I seriously think it’s because we all like sports and these three have all coached; it’s not like a job at all,” he said.
The show started simply enough. Owner Tom Kwiatkowski bought the station in 1994 with the idea of having a sports-oriented FM format. After further review, he decided to cut sports programming to include some locally broadcast high school games and the Sports Jam.
The show carries lively conversation about all professional sports, and has featured many notable figures from the sports world, including Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun, University of Wisconsin-Madison men’s basketball coach Bo Ryan, basketball legend Digger Phelps, NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson and Dallas Cowboys quarterback and Burlington native Tony Romo, just to name a few.
However, it’s local high school sports that keeps listeners tuning in.
“I think we’ve evolved because we have a following,” Coolidge said. “We will have people walk up to us and start talking about something we said on the air.”
Team player, philosopher
Jerry Stelse is well known in Lake Geneva, having coached Badger High School basketball for 25 years. The former University of Wisconsin- Whitewater standout has an impressive resume of coaching basketball and baseball with more than 300 career hoops wins.
“306 (wins),” Stelse added, “but who’s counting?”
Stelse sits between fellow hosts Handel (who played for him), and Blakeley, both accomplished coaches in their own right. Like any great team, Stelse has high praise for his broadcast teammates.
“They’re the experts, and Coolidge is good enough to go anywhere,” Stelse said.
When pressed for his contribution, Stelse said he is more philosopher than playmaker on the show.
“I’m there for my opinion, and not afraid to give it,” he said with a wink.
When Stelse isn’t on the air, he’s frequently on the golf course, almost any golf course. He also can still be spotted in the halls at Badger High School, this time as a substitute teacher. Grandkids also are a big part of his ever-so-busy retirement, he said.
“I’m either playing golf or baby-sitting, or subbing or baby-sitting,” Stelse said.
Bill Blakeley was busy with basketball at Williams Bay when co-host Handel had a time conflict with his busy schedule. Blakeley stepped off the court, sat down in front of the microphone and has been a fixture on the show with the others ever since.
Like Stelse, Blakeley coached basketball for three decades. He also was Williams Bay athletic director and a baseball and football coach, all while raising six children.
Blakeley has seen a lot of attempts to change the show’s formula but said one fix was the most effective.