Talking with A radio man who dials it up a notch

 

Name: Mike Sugerman
Age: 60
City: San Francisco
Position: Broadcast journalist

 

J.: You’re a reporter for KCBS Radio and KPIX TV, but more than that, you’re one of the country’s best storytellers — As your eight national Edward R. Murrow Awards attest to. How did it all start?

Mike Sugerman: I walked into the campus radio station at U.C. Santa Barbara 43 years ago and fell in love with it. I listened to rock music and was on the radio. I thought it was neat and realized in college you could actually be a broadcaster for a career. As a reporter, you get to see important people, talk to pretty much anyone. I always say a press pass is a front-row seat to history and a backstage pass to life. I pretty much haven’t done anything different for the last 43 years. I still love getting up and going to work every day.

J.: You’ve covered just about every story under the sun, most of them with your trademark inflection and man-on-the-street style. What stands out most in your memory?

MS: My favorite stories are the funny ones that help to illustrate a point. For example, there’s a ballot measure currently where some people want to divide California into six parts. People were saying they could get anything on the ballot, so to prove that, I made a petition to say that we want to put overhead sewer lines on Market Street — because it was the dumbest thing I could think of. And I got 15 signatures from regular, middle-class people. I said, “I want to put this on the ballot,” and they said, “OK.” I was sort of stunned. That’s the type of story I like. You can make a point and have fun with it.

Mike Sugerman

J.: How has radio changed since you started?

MS: Well, today when I came into work, my boss said, “Did you take pictures?” Pictures? Why do we need pictures? It’s radio! But now we have Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, and we need pictures.

At the same time, radio is the same because you’re telling a story in someone else’s words, with sounds and noises that help paint that picture. The number of reporters has greatly decreased. When I first started, there were nine or 10 reporters from different stations covering a story. Now there are one or two.

J.: What is it about radio that you can’t get in other forms of journalism?

MS: I often say that radio is the most visual medium because you paint pictures [in your mind] of what you hear, and you won’t forget it. It’s much more effective and intimate than other forms.


J.:
How long have you been in the Bay Area?

MS: I grew up in L.A. and got here as soon as I could. I’ve always loved San Francisco, and when I got a job up here in 1979, I really fell in love with it. I still get a thrill when I round “Hospital Curve” and see the skyline every day.

J.: What was your Jewish upbringing like?

MS: I went to Sunday school but spent a lot of the time at the candy store down the street when I was supposed to be in class. My parents gave me the choice of Little League or bar mitzvah. I chose Little League.

J.: Did you have a bar mitzvah?

MS: No, but my two sons did at Beth Israel Judea in San Francisco. My wife [KCBS reporter-anchor Janice Wright]  and I were active while our sons were in school, but we haven’t been since then. But we do celebrate the High Holy Days and I make latkes for Hannukah.


J.:
Have you been to Israel?

MS: Yes. We went after my first son’s bar mitzvah. We gave him the choice of a party or a trip to Israel in 1997. It was a very moving experience to see Jerusalem and to see the three most important places for three different religions within walking distance. But it was just so hot — so we spent a lot of time in the pool. My second son went on a Birthright trip and got really into Judaism. Birthright was the smartest thing anyone has come up with.

“Talking with …” focuses on local Jews who are doing things we find interesting. Send suggestions to liz@jweekly.com.