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

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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"

Report: Cubs preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson

Report: Cubs preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson

The Cubs are preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson, hoping the talented, frequently injured pitcher can stay healthy and provide insurance for their rotation.

Anderson posted a telling message on his Twitter account on Monday night, hinting at what would be another offseason check mark for the defending World Series champs.

The physical for the agreement — first reported by Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports and MLB Network — won't just be a formality as Anderson underwent back surgery last March and appeared in only four games for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season.

But Anderson fits on paper as a left-hander who will turn only 29 on Feb. 1 and won't have to carry front-of-the-rotation responsibilities or feel Opening Day urgency on a team with five projected starters.

The Cubs had been willing to gamble around $6 million on Tyson Ross, who recently signed a similarly structured one-year deal with the Texas Rangers as he recovers from surgery to address thoracic outlet syndrome.

The calculus would essentially be the same with Anderson. The Cubs have to factor in last year's grueling playoff run into early November, this season's sky-high expectations, the organization's lack of high-end, upper-level pitching prospects and the uncertainty surrounding the 2018 rotation.

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Anderson finished sixth in the 2009 American League Rookie of the Year voting with the Oakland A's, but he's reached the 30-start mark only one other time and never accounted for 200 innings in a single season.

Anderson underwent Tommy John surgery in the middle of the 2011 season, and the injuries piled up from there, dealing with a strained right oblique, a stress fracture in his right foot and a broken left index finger.

Anderson had such a fragile reputation that he accepted the one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from the Dodgers after a strong platform year in 2015 (10-9, 3.69 ERA). The Dodgers only got 11 1/3 innings out of Anderson, who didn't pitch during a playoff run that ended at Wrigley Field in the National League Championship Series.

The Cubs stayed exceptionally healthy while winning 200 games across the last two seasons and need to be prepared in case John Lackey sharply declines at the age of 38 or Mike Montgomery experiences growing pains while transitioning from the bullpen.

Whether or not Anderson is ultimately the answer, the Cubs will be looking to place a sixth starter into their plans.

"I don't know if a six-man rotation on a permanent basis is the wave of the future," team president Theo Epstein said earlier this winter. "But we certainly endorse it on a temporary basis as a nice way to pace guys for the whole season.

"We can get them some rest, whether you do it in April to preserve depth and ease guys into the season, especially after a deep October and November run. Or after the All-Star break in the summer to kind of get through the dog days and give guys a little bit of a breather as you ramp up for the stretch run.

"I think it would be tough to pull off all season long. But it's something that (could certainly work) in the right spot."

The start of preseason brings the return of hope for the Fire

The start of preseason brings the return of hope for the Fire

A year ago there was hope surrounding the Fire. Hope that general manager Nelson Rodriguez, entering his first offseason with the club, and new coach Veljko Paunovic could spark a turnaround at the club. Those new faces, coupled with an overhauled roster, meant there was hope that things could be better.

Rodriguez and Paunovic had not yet failed with the Fire so there was still that hope that they had a magic touch.

That eroded as the season unfolded and the team’s shortcomings were quickly apparent. The reworked defense seemed to be improved, but the midfield was typically overwhelmed.

Now, after the Fire finished last in Major League Soccer for the second consecutive year, that innocent hope that a new coach and general manager bring is gone. Fans have seen Rodriguez and Paunovic fail and, even though they inherited a team that was not an easy one to turn around, there will be more skepticism.

This year there is hope again, but instead of coming in the form of new management, it comes in the form of accomplished players. Juninho (a three-time MLS All-Star and three-time MLS Cup winner), Dax McCarty (an MLS Best XI selection in 2015) and Nemanja Nikolic (the leading goalscorer in the Polish Ekstraklasa in 2015-16) on paper make the Fire a better team. Can they mesh into a cohesive team that will actually perform better in matches?

“You’d like to think so,” Rodriguez said on Monday at the team’s media day at the PrivateBank Fire Pitch on the North Side. “It’s an inexact science, or at least for me it is. I know others will be more brash and saying it’s all there and all the pieces are together. Until they’re on the field, until they’re in the hotel rooms, until they’re off the field at team meals you never really know.”

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Rodriguez did say that this group is “very different” than last year’s.

“You can talk about all these clever ways to change culture, but the best way to have a winning team is to have winners as part of your team,” he said. “With those four guys (including goalkeeper Jorge Bava) at least we’ve added certified winners.”

So with two former MLS All-Stars arriving in central midfield, arguably the team’s biggest weakness last season, and a proven goalscorer, the pieces are there for the Fire to be better. Now it’s up to Paunovic to put the pieces together in a winning way.

“Obviously we have high expectations because we believe we did this job so far in offseason by the acquisitions that we had and the guys that are still to come,” Paunovic said. “It’s going to be a better team, more competitive.”

Even with the additions, the roster isn’t finished yet. Two trialists are in camp with the Fire, right backs Drew Beckie and Boyd Okwuonu. Beckie is a 26-year-old Canadian who played the 2016 season with the Carolina Railhawks in the North American Soccer League. Importantly, Beckie has a green card and would not count against the Fire’s international roster spots.

Okwuonu, 23, was drafted by Real Salt Lake in the second round of last year’s draft but was not retained. He has represented the U.S. at youth levels, including as a part of the Olympic qualifying team last year.

Right back has been an opening on the roster since Rodrigo Ramos’ loan was not renewed and no player has been added to fill that spot yet so those two could be fighting for a contract. Rodriguez said further additions to defense and midfield are still possible.

“Preseason is going to tell us where we have to improve,” Paunovic said. “Of course, theoretically we all know that there are a couple of spots still to reinforce and a couple of spots that we have to improve. For us now during all this time we are open to all the possibilities.”

The roster appears to be better, but even Rodriguez admitted he had hope last year.

“I was confident last year and the results of last year were bitterly disappointing and utterly unexpected by me," he said. "I have to believe our roster is better, whether that roster comes together the way we imagine, time will tell.”