5 Questions with...WBBM 780's Jeff Joniak


5 Questions with...WBBM 780's Jeff Joniak

Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2010

By Jeff Nuich
CSN Chicago Senior Director of CommunicationsCSNChicago.com Contributor

Want to know more about your favorite Chicago media celebrities? CSNChicago.com has your fix as we put the citys most popular personalities on the spot with everyones favorite weekly local celeb feature entitled 5 Questions with...

On Wednesdays, exclusively on CSNChicago.com, its our turn to grill the local media and other local VIPs with five random sports and non-sports related questions that will definitely be of interest to old and new fans alike.

This weeks guestone of the top NFL radio play-by-play announcers in the nation whos REALLY enjoying his job this yearhes the voice of the red-hot Chicago Bears heard locally on WBBM Newsradio 780 and throughout the Midwest on the Chicago Bears Radio Networksimply put, hes a broadcast veteran who just keeps getting better and better each yearhere are 5 Questions withJEFF JONIAK!

BIO: One of the energetic and exciting voices of the National Football League, Jeff Joniak is enjoying his 10th season behind the microphone as the play-by-play announcer of the Chicago Bears in 2010.

Joniak is passionate about the NFL and the Bears, and is linked to a 25-year association with Chicago sports fans.Joniak has hosted the Chicago Bears game day broadcasts since 1997, serves as WBBM Newsradio 780's Director of Sports Operations while maintaining his afternoon drive-time sports anchor shifts. Additionally, Joniak hosts The Bears Insider radio show on WBBM with Bears head coach Lovie Smith each Monday night during the season. On game days, Joniak and Bears analyst Tom Thayer co-host Bears produced television shows, Bears Game Day Live and Bears Game Night Live. The shows won a 2009 local Emmy Award.

Joniak and the Bears Radio staff earned the 2007 Peter Lisagor Award and the Associated Press Award for Best Sports Reporting for their coverage of Super Bowl XLI, the Silver Dome Award for Best Play-by-Play in 2007 and 2008, and a 2007 regional RTNDA Edward R. Murrow Award for the Bears Radio pre-game feature Joniaks Journal which focused on the difficulties experienced by Bears receiver Rashied Davis growing up in California during the L.A. riots.

Throughout the year, Joniak is asked to emcee many different events related to his work with the Bears including the National Football Foundation Scholarship Awards ceremony, the Ed Block Courage Award ceremony, the annual Bears Care Gala supporting breast and ovarian cancer research and treatment programs at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Rush University Medical Center, and John H. Stroger,Jr Hospital of Cook County, the JP MorganChase Corporate Challenge, and the Vision in Education Award Dinner funding scholarships for The Willows Academy and Northridge Preparatory School.

Joniak is also a local spokesman for companies like AT&T, Jewel, Lowes, Walgreens, NorthShore University Health System, and the Resnick Automotive Group.

Before tackling Halas Hall, Joniak co-hosted the game day broadcasts for the Chicago Bulls during their championship years from 1991 to 1996. For the gripping coverage of the death of Walter Payton, Joniak and his staff won a prestigious Peter Lisagor Award. He also won two Lisagor awards for his coverage of the NFL Draft, AP awards for his sportscasts and Bears pre-game features.

Jeffs first broadcasting job was at SportsPhone in Chicago, followed by stops at the Tribune Radio Network, Illinois News Network, CLTV, and Metro Networks where he started the sports department. It was at the old WMAQ Radio that Jeff became Sports Director, worked on the Bulls broadcasts, anchored morning drive, and started with the Bears in 1997, as co-host of the pre and post game shows.

Jeff is a 1980 graduate of Hersey High School in Arlington Heights, and a 1984 Broadcast Journalism graduate of Iowa State University.

1) CSNChicago.com: Jeff, hopefully Sunday nights game against the Giants was a just bump in the road and that Jay Cutlers injury is not a serious one. That aside, the Bears are still 3-1 and have some favorable games in the next few weeks. Does this team still have the tools (O-Line included) to make some serious noise around the league this year and head back to the playoffs?

Joniak: One month of football does not a season make. No division titles or conference championships are won in September or October. It certainly reduces the margin of error on the back end of the season if you win early and often, but every team in the league is a work in progress. The Bears are no different.

I still believe the Bears have the potential to be a playoff team. What happened at the Meadowlands was unfortunate. The Giants took advantage of an offensive line trying to develop young players and cohesion on the fly, while still learning how to execute the new system. No one said it was going to be easy. The process is not simple, and if all goes well, the unit will be stronger later in the season. We saw growing pains in Jersey. It went bad for several reasons and every player on offense bears some of the burden for the breakdowns that led to the anemic production. I am a big proponent of trying to run the ball early to set a tone on the road, and remain patient with it throughout the game. Once the Giants smelled blood in the water, they were ferocious, really just out of their base defense. The corner blitzes they unleashed were damaging. A 3-1 record still looks good, and the resiliency the team showed in the first three games needs to take root for the rest of the season. I believe the veteran coordinators and offensive line coach will be able to smooth out the rough spots.

2) CSNChicago.com: It will be tough for Bears fans to forget about the team-record nine sacks that New Yorks defense leveled on Cutler. In your opinion, what would you say is the number one adjustment the Bears offensive line needs to make going forward in order this type of punishment to never occur again this year?

Joniak: Simply put it is about execution. They need to find the best five blockers, and get them as many reps together as possible to build that trust and chemistry essential to winning football. While its true what happens up front is critical to offensive success, the entire unit must understand the protections. Today with zone blitzing, every player is part of the protection puzzle. Every player must be fundamentally sound and have the knowledge necessary to make the proper adjustments snap-to-snap. As for running the ball, remaining committed to the point of attack is the key. Be happy with three or four yards, stay on schedule and be disciplined to avoid costly false starts so that the third downs are short conversions, not impossible long conversions that put the defense in a position of strength.

3) CSNChicago.com: Youve been involved in the radio biz for over 25 years already and have excelled in both on-air and management roles. Who would you say has had the biggest influence in your broadcasting career on both of those ends of your industry?
Joniak: I have been fortunate over the years to work for some impressive, successful leaders in the broadcasting industry. Here in Chicago, we are blessed with a great history of talent at all levels of the business. It is a vibrant, creative, and challenging market that allows each broadcaster the opportunity to carve out their own niche in this unique market. I believe it is a market that rewards hard work, a blue collar ethic that speaks to the people of this fabulous city. Respect is earned, not given in Chicago. Once you rise to a certain level or have earned the opportunity to make a bigger splash in the market, you have to work extremely hard to keep that position with no guarantee you will profoundly impact the audience.

The biggest professional joy I have experienced is through play-by-play. I have long admired the passion, intensity, and excitement that Pat Foley brings every night to a hockey game. I worked on the Bulls radio broadcasts during the championship years and learned a great deal from Neil Funk and Jim Durham.

When I started with the Bears broadcasts in 1997, I had such a great opportunity to work with Wayne Larrivee and Hub Arkush. It was an established, successful booth with a lot of moving parts and not just on game day. Being a team announcer comes with wide-ranging responsibilities, particularly with the Bears. It was like going to grad school during those yearssuch a valuable education on so many levels.

In terms of managementI have been a Sports Director for the bulk of my 25-years, but always managing a small department. Whenever I have been in a position to hire, I have always leaned towards bringing in younger talent with a great work ethic and potential. Many have gone on to bigger and better jobs nationally and locally. It is something I am proud of.

Lastly, the managers I have worked for all put me in a position to succeed. It was up to me to do the work, but I am grateful for their trust and opportunity. The late Jim Frank, Lorna Gladstone, Weezie Kramer, Georgeann Herbert, Drew Hayes and currently Rod Zimmerman and Ron Gleason just to name a few.

Zimmerman and Hayes looked beyond my inexperience as a play-by-play announcer and gave me a chance in 2001 to call the Bears. It was not an easy choice for them to make, but ten years later, I am so grateful they went with the underdog.

4) CSNChicago.com: You and your Bears broadcast partner Tom Thayer have developed a rock-solid on-air rapport over the past several years. Why do you think the camaraderie works so well and what are some of the challenges you face in terms of preparing for each game?

Joniak: I am truly blessed to have a broadcast partner like Tom. He has an unmatched enthusiasm for football. He is a lifelong fan of the Bears and loves the franchise. Hes taught me how to watch the game like a coach, while understanding the unique circumstances of being a player. I am always learning something new from watching tape or discussing the game with him. And we discuss it every day during the season, and often every day of the year. He works at it so hard. I am not certain many play-by-play guys are fortunate to have an ex-player dedicate so much of his life to getting better in the booth.

We both are honored and humbled by the opportunity to bring the games to the fans that cant make it to the stadiums. It is something we take seriously and we both work extremely hard to put on the best broadcast possible. Our responsibilities are very different over the course of the week, but it does involve every aspect of the business from internet to television to radio to sales and marketing. We absolutely love it. For me the most challenging aspect of the job is time. There is never enough time to get everything done the way I like to get it done. Once the season starts, it never slows down.

We are surrounded by great people, not only on our radio crew, but throughout the Bears organization that help us prepare and ultimately provide a product everyone can be proud of.

5) CSNChicago.com: Who would you say are your favorite NFL & non-football sports announcers of all-time?

Joniak: Its a very tough question. There are so many great announcers past and present. I obviously think the world of Wayne Larrivee. His versatility is unmatched. He is superb at everything he does. I have always respected the work of Brent Musburger. Every event sounds bigger with Brent. I like the work of Dallas Cowboys announcer Brad Sham, Kansas City Chiefs announcer Mitch Holthus, Tennessee Titans announcer Mike Keith, and Raiders announcer Greg Papa are among the very best in the NFL. Kevin Harlan is outstanding.

Non-football: Vin Scully. Jack Buck. Ernie Harwell. Jim Durham. Pat Foley. Each one is a legend. Cubs television announcer Len Kasper is one of my favorites. Smooth as silk.

Back in the day Durham called the Bulls games on radio by himselfthe descriptions and the excitement in his calls were amazing. It was a treat. He was so good.

Joniak LINKS

WBBM AM 780Jeff Joniaks Bears Blog

Chicago Bears official web siteJeff Joniaks Keys to the Game"

Sale looks to stop the slide as White Sox face Royals on CSN


Sale looks to stop the slide as White Sox face Royals on CSN

The White Sox take on the Kansas City Royals on Sunday, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with White Sox Pregame Live at 12:30 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Sunday’s starting pitching matchup: Chris Sale vs. Edison Volquez

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

— Latest on the White Sox: All of the most recent news and notes.

— See what fans are talking about before, during and after the game with White Sox Pulse.

Why Cubs believe in Kyle Hendricks and his sneaky-good potential


Why Cubs believe in Kyle Hendricks and his sneaky-good potential

Maybe Kyle Hendricks would inevitably be overshadowed in a rotation featuring the National League’s reigning Cy Young Award winner (Jake Arrieta), a $155 million All-Star lefty (Jon Lester) and a Texas cowboy who also has two World Series rings (John Lackey). Not to mention a Cubs team identified with zoo animals, dance parties and an explosive offense.

The low-key personality, sense of calm and sharp focus that’s allowed Hendricks to survive in The Show – and also earn an economics degree from Dartmouth College – certainly plays into that perception as well. 

But there’s no denying what Hendricks means to the Cubs as an extremely reliable fifth starter for the team with the best record in baseball – in what’s shaping up to be a very shallow market for pitching at this summer’s trade deadline and this winter’s upcoming class of free agents.  

Hendricks had to become a huge part of the story after almost throwing a complete-game shutout during Saturday afternoon’s 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Phillies in front of 41,555 at Wrigley Field. 

“What you saw today – that’s what you could get out of him,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s 88-89 (mph) with the really good changeup and he broke out the hooks a couple times. But he’s good against lefties and righties when everything’s working. And he can keep the ball on the ground, which is really important in this ballpark. 

“Right now, what you’re seeing, to me, is not a reach by any means. This is what he can look like very, very consistently.”

Hendricks needed only 104 pitches to throw his complete game, allowing five hits and finishing with seven strikeouts against zero walks. The Phillies (26-23) scored their only run in the ninth inning, after second baseman Ben Zobrist and right fielder Jason Heyward lost a flyball in the sun. Freddy Galvis got credited with a double and later scored on the throw to first base to complete a Ryan Howard strikeout, taking advantage of the extreme defensive shift against Philadelphia’s fading slugger.   

Hendricks (3-4, 2.93 ERA) has thrown at least five innings in each of his nine starts so far this season. He made 32 starts last year and finished with a sub-4.00 ERA and a very good strikeout-to-walk ratio (167:43). He’s 26 years old and can’t become a free agent until after the 2020 season.

“Now his confidence is back on, because he knows he can use the curveball as well,” catcher Miguel Montero said. “There were so many ways to go, because everything was working.

“It’s huge (when) it’s not just fastball-changeup. He’s got another weapon to go to sometimes. And, obviously, as a hitter, you know it’s three pitches (now in play). It’s a little bit more uncomfortable for a hitter. You don’t know what you’re going to look for.”  

Hendricks beat Zack Greinke and the Arizona Diamondbacks in his first start this season – and lost a 1-0 decision to Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants in his previous start. Not that Hendricks is about to start pounding his chest on the mound or running his mouth in the interview room. 

“I’m pretty confident, but it doesn’t really matter much,” Hendricks said. “All that matters is going out there and making pitches. It’s back to work this week, (throw) my bullpen, stay where I’m at in my lane and keep the ball down with some angle.” 

Seven-run ninth inning dooms White Sox in loss to Royals


Seven-run ninth inning dooms White Sox in loss to Royals

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- What an implosion.

A day after they inexplicably gave away one contest, the White Sox outdid themselves on Saturday afternoon.

Instead of evening the series with a decisive victory, David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle allowed the Kansas City Royals to rally for seven ninth-inning runs to send the White Sox to a stunning 8-7 loss in front of 31,598 at Kauffman Stadium. Brett Eibner’s bases-loaded RBI single off Kahnle capped an improbable comeback and delivered another crushing blow to the White Sox, who have lost five straight and 13 of their last 17 contests.

“This is a tough one, no matter how you look at it,” third baseman Todd Frazier said. “You saw what happened. You can go back and think about it, game we should have won and didn’t win.”

“We’re all professionals and we’ve seen crazy things in baseball. This is one of them.”

Saturday’s loss ranks as one of the craziest in club history. The White Sox went from a state of joy, cruising toward a pivotal victory, to disarray in a span of 51 pitches.

Leading 7-1, Robertson took over and struck out Paulo Orlando.

Cheslor Cuthbert then singled and Eibner doubled to deep right when Adam Eaton lost the ball in the sun. Robertson walked Omar Infante and Alcides Escobar consecutively to force in a run, which prompted a visit from White Sox manager Robin Ventura.

Whit Merrifield’s grounder then deflected off the glove of Robertson and a potential double play turned into a two-run single and made it a 7-4 contest.

“The worst part about it was looking back and seeing Brett (Lawrie) was right there,” Robertson said. “If I had let it go, I would have got us out of the inning. It’s frustrating when you make a mistake like that.”

Lorenzo Cain’s hustle kept the inning alive as he narrowly beat out a game-ending double play to drive in another run. Eric Hosmer followed with an RBI double to right-center field to make it a 7-6 game and end Robertson’s day.

“It’s a terrible performance on my part,” Robertson said. “Can’t say much else about it.

“It doesn’t matter what the score is, I still have to get three outs. I let the whole team down.”

Drew Butera lifted his team’s spirits. The backup catcher entered in the ninth inning after an apparent knee injury knocked Salvador Perez out of the game. Already on tilt, the Kauffman crowd erupted when Butera ripped a 99-mph fastball from Kahnle for a game-tying double.

The White Sox opted to intentionally walk Orlando. But it didn’t prevent Kahnle from allowing Butera to advance to third as he uncorked a wild pitch. Kahnle also intentionally walked Jarrod Dyson to load the bases for Eibner, who ended a 10-pitch at-bat with the game-winning single under the glove of Sox first baseman Jose Abreu.

“The way games have been going, you go to the guy to close it out, because we haven’t been able to get to him,” Ventura said. “There’s no shot clock. There’s no time clock. If you can’t close it out, that’s what happens. And today we couldn’t close it out.”

The White Sox entered the ninth inning without a care in the world. They had bounced back definitively from Friday’s stunner, when the bullpen surrendered a four-run lead over the final three innings.

An opposite-field approach against Kansas City starter Yordano Ventura took hold with two outs in the fourth inning. Brett Lawrie, Alex Avila and Avisail Garcia all had opposite-field singles, Garcia’s providing the White Sox a 1-0 lead. Tyler Saladino then crushed a hanging 0-2 slider from Ventura for a three-run homer to left field and a four-run lead.

The White Sox offense continued to add on against Ventura. Avila doubled with one out in the fourth inning and Garcia hammered a 2-1 changeup for a two-run shot. Garcia’s homer, his fifth, traveled 428 feet at an exit velocity of 113 mph and gave the White Sox a 6-1 advantage.

They added another run in the fifth as Austin Jackson singled, advanced on a wild pitch and scored on a throwing error by Omar Infante.

And then the Royals happened again.

“They have mojo over there right now,” Avila said. “They just keep coming at you and taking advantage of the fact that we’re scuffling a little bit right now.”

The devastating loss was the third in 18 days in which the White Sox bullpen surrendered a significant lead. The unit, which has a 4.73 ERA this month, also blew a five-run lead in a 13-11 loss at the Texas Rangers on May 10. Along with a blown four-run lead on Friday, the White Sox nearly surrendered a four-run advantage in the opening game of a doubleheader against the Cleveland Indians on Monday.

“It might have a lasting effect,” Frazier said. “There are going to be some guys who are in here who tonight aren’t going to be real happy. Once you get in here and know we start over again, I’ve learned from the best that you start all over like nothing happened and go about your business.”