It’s instantly recognizable. The tone, the timbre of the voice are iconic as Altgeld Hall, the Hill Gang or a chorus of “Go, Southern Go.”
“Fletcher’s free throw is all over the iron and in.”
Yeah, that’s Saluki basketball. That’s Mike Reis.
Over the span of 40 years, Mike Reis has taken Saluki baseball, football and basketball fans to the NCAA tournament, the College World Series and to a football national championship. The press box at Itchy Jones Stadium bears his name.
Not bad for a kid from Cincinnati, via Cleveland, via Chicago.
Mike Reis, the kid from St. Viator High School who showed up on the SIU campus in 1974, never dreamed he’d still be in Carbondale in 2019. That Mike Reis thought he’d be here for four years, then make his way into the world.
“I went to St. Viator in Arlington Heights,” he said. “They had a guidance counselor that knew SIU was good in Radio-TV and knew I wanted to be a sportscaster, a play-by-play guy. He recommended that. It was in-state tuition and that worked too.”
It turned out Reis was pretty good in radio and television as well.
Mike Reis the college student worked at WSIU, the radio station on campus. He also worked for WCIL. As a student broadcaster, Reis called SIU’s appearance in the College World Series. Pretty heady stuff, but he was just getting started.
After graduating from SIU in 1978, Reis started working full-time at WCIL two days later. Now, he finds himself looking back at a career spanning four decades.
“So, one year leads to five, which leads to 10 and the next thing you know, ‘Holy bleep,’” Reis said. “Forty even knocks me for a loop when I think about it.”
It’s been a mutually beneficial relationship, a relationship built over time, with winning and pitted with peaks and valleys. Reis wasn’t an instant success.
“I think about 10 years in. Southern Illinoisans make you earn your keep,” Reis said. “So, it was a while before I felt like I was from here. I think it takes a long while to establish. I think winning helps you establish.
“When I took over, I started doing the games, Southern was just two years away from going to the Sweet Sixteen in 1977. My first year was the beginning of the Joe Gottfried era. There was a lot of losing and I was blamed for that. But, the good news is people were listening as the rookie kid on one of four stations, people were listening.”
His job has changed over the years. For most of his career, Reis was a reporter at WCIL as well as being the play-by-play broadcaster. Ten years ago he joined the athletic staff at SIU. During that time he has become a fixture on campus, a familiar face and the definitive “Voice of the Salukis.”
“The school means everything to me,” Reis said. “It is my life. I know how that sounds. It doesn’t sound healthy, and I get that. I don’t’ claim it to be healthy. But, the winning and the losing, it affects my demeanor, my job and it also affects my personality. I understand that’s a little too involved, a little too obsessed, but it matters to me.
“It matters when Southern loses. It matters when Southern wins. I still think I handle it professionally, but it certainly matters because this is the place that helped me achieve my goal.”
And, the SIU athletic program has given Reis quite the ride.
Rey Dempsey’s 1983 team won the NCAA 1-AA national football title. Rich Herrin, Bruce Weber, Matt Painter and Chris Lowery took him to the NCAA tournament in 1993, 1994, 1995, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007.
Winning and good working conditions conspired to keep Reis in Carbondale.
“There have been opportunities to go, but nothing better than what I have,” Reis said. “That’s why I say, no matter if the radio stations have owned the rights, or now SIU and Learfield own the rights, we’ve always had the tools to do the job at a bigger market level than what we are. My goal, I wasn’t smart enough at 21 to know this, but we wanted the best.”
‘We had ownership that provided the resources that I could get great help. I could get competent help and good equipment. My goal always was when you tune into an SIU game, you would pre-judge the market and think it would be a small market sound. But, I wanted it to be a large-market sound. I think we’ve been able to do that.”
Now, at age 62, Reis is nearing the end of a storied career.
“I think three more years unless all of a sudden I have a windfall,” he said. “I don’t like the sound of 70-year-old broadcaster. There are other things I want to do in terms of seeing things. I seem to enjoy things a lot more than I used to that are outside of sports, so that tells me what's coming. I hope it’s my call at the end, and it’s not the business or my boss. I would say at least three more years.”
And, although Reis still loves the job, things get complicated as life progresses.
“I’ve been to Terre Haute enough,” he said wryly. “Some of that stuff gets a little old. I’ve always said when I don’t want to travel anymore, and it isn’t fun, then I don’t want to do it. It’s harder to connect with athletes at this age … I’m their grandfather. So, that can be a little frustrating. When I started, I was their same age. I remember the first time I was older than the coach, that was a little bit alarming.
“I still think it matters. Television is more important, but I still think it matters. I still think we matter. I have to be really happy, I think in the end if you’re going to last 40 years …”
And, when it’s all over, Reis said he will remain indebted to SIU.
“SIU has given more to me,” he said. “I’m not big on ‘Well he served for 40 years.’ Unless you’re volunteering, you’re not serving. I’m getting much more back. I’m paid a good salary. I have a good job. A job that got better when I got away from the day-to-day reporting because I got better hours and I got more money. This is not volunteer work. This is a job that is my passion and I happen to love it and the people I work with so they have given it all back to me.”
An iconic statement.