For the better part of 25 years my clock radio alarm was set for 6:20 a.m. and it was the voice of Mike Mullen that awakened me from my slumber. In the days before the crushing onslaught of 24 hour sports coverage, it was Mullen providing the Lima land area with its first glimpse of what happened the previous evening in the world of sports. Mullen's daily sports reports, nightly commentary and his call of basketball and football games became the standard of excellence for broadcast journalism in west central and northwest Ohio.
And to think, it all started from the back of a military truck providing coverage for flag football games in Ethiopia.
Mullen was born in Cincinnati but raised in northern Virginia. A graduate of Gonzaga High School in Washington D. C., he makes no claim to athletic prowess. He did, however, acquire a keen interest in sports and became the sports editor for his high school newspaper, penning a popular column he dubbed “Mullen it Over.” Years later Mullen would resurrect that title for his insightful nightly commentary on WIMA radio.
After high school, Mullen headed back to Ohio, attending Xavier University on an ROTC scholarship. Upon graduation he was accepted into Navy officer's candidate school and, upon completion of OCS, was commissioned an ensign in the US Navy. His first assignment was communications officer aboard the USS Davidson DE 1045 based in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
It was while stationed in Hawaii that Mullen's interest in sports broadcasting received its “spark.” Mullen recalls, “I began listening to Hawaiian Islander minor league baseball games on the radio. They had a terrific young play by play announcer. I never missed a game and the idea began to form in my mind that announcing was something I wanted to do.”
Lying in his bunk aboard ship one night Mullen decided to take a chance. He contacted the radio station and set up a meeting with the baseball announcer he had been listening to all summer. That announcer was a young Al Michaels, whose own career trajectory would take Michaels to the pinnacle of sports broadcasting. Mullen remembers the gracious Michaels advising him to “buy a tape recorder and begin describing everything you see while watching sporting events on TV, with the sound turned off.”
Mullen took Michaels' advice to heart but it wasn't until his next assignment that he put it to practice. The Navy transferred Mullen to the isolated naval base in Asmara, Ethiopia located along the Red Sea on the east coast of Africa. There he discovered the Armed Forces Radio station on base was shorthanded. “I walked in and volunteered to do play by play for the many athletic league games on base, something that had not been done before,” remembers Mullen.
For his very first broadcast, Mullen backed a “deuce and a half” truck up to the base football field to use for a press box, ran a cable two blocks down the street, plugged in, and began his broadcasting career by calling a flag football game. It was only the beginning. Mullin remembers, “I called hundreds of softball, football and basketball games.” He began to perfect his craft. “I found out that I loved broadcasting and was pretty good at it,” Mullen states.
Mullen's big break came when he was assigned to broadcast the Southern European Armed Forces basketball tournament in Athens Greece, a “big deal.” He made the decision that when his enlistment was up he would end his navy career and look for an opportunity in broadcasting.
Once out of the navy, Mike migrated to Ohio and remembers “driving all over the state dropping off resumes.” When he stopped at the WIMA television station in Lima, Chuck Osborne, the station manager, took one look at his resume and hired Mullen as the weekend sports anchor. He was at the television station a short time before moving over to WIMA radio to pursue his first love, radio broadcasting.
One of Mullen's first decisions was asking John Barton to partner with him on broadcasts and the two began a long and memorable career together. Their first broadcast was a Lima Senior High basketball game with Toledo Macomber in December of 1974, a game that featured two future NBA players in the Spartan's John McCollough and Macomber's Kelvin Ramsey.
Mike Mullen's 30- year career in broadcasting brought him many deserving awards and accolades but the most impressive, for me, was the level of respect he earned among the football and basketball coaches he covered. I never heard a coach say a critical comment about Mullin. I attribute that to the level of professionalism he brought to the broadcast booth and the fact he treated every game he covered with the same enthusiasm and attention to detail.
In the last couple of years I've had the opportunity to witness this first hand. Mullen was lured out of retirement to become the voice of the UNOH racer basketball teams and for the last couple of years I have provided color for those broadcasts. Before a recent game with Davenport University, the radio announcers for the Racers' opponent confided to us that their leading scorer would not be playing that night. I mentioned to Mike that UNOH coach Chris Adams would want to know the scoop. But Mullen looked at me and said, “He won't hear that from us, it wouldn't be professional.”
From the arid plains of east Africa to the fertile fields of west central Ohio, Mike Mullen has remained consistent in his approach to the career he first dreamed about in the warm waters off Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.