Mike Miller knows how to tell a good story. The Oconomowoc resident’s inherit ability to connect with any audience through storytelling is a gift that keeps on giving.
The future TV news reporter and anchor honed his passion for sharing stories at an early age with his big sister.
“We would interview family members with a tape recorder and then type out these little newspapers and put them in our neighbors' mailboxes. I got the bug,” he says. “I remember when I was a kid my dad asked me if I wanted to be Paul Hornung or Alfred Hitchcock. I said Hitchcock.”
Growing up on the end of Hewitts Point Road on Oconomowoc Lake, Miller has fond memories of spending a lot of time outside, exploring everything Lake Country has to offer.
“It was a great place to grow up. We would be out fishing and waterskiing all day; we just knew we had to be back in time for dinner,” he reminisces. “In the winter our yard had the best sledding hill ever. It was really steep, and we’d get going and slide way out onto the ice.”
Miller attended St. Joan of Arc School in Okauchee and was in the seventh grade when he found himself standing at a crossroads -- literally.
“I was a crossing guard, and I was standing at the corner and there was this other crossing guard, Mary Anne. She went to the public school just down the street. We had to both stand at that corner, and we had eyes on each other,” he says, smiling. “The story goes that she went home and told her mom, ‘I met the cutest redhead.'”
The two crossing guard pals started dating in high school and were married in 1974 in an outdoor wedding in Oconomowoc on land that was once farmed by Mary Anne’s father. “It was a great wedding. People sat on hay bales, and I sang ‘Annie’s Song’ to Mary Anne. It was a brand-new song,” says Miller with a laugh
The couple moved back to Oconomowoc in the early '80s and built a log home along the lake where they were married.
Mary Anne taught school for 36 years, mostly in the kindergarten classroom in the Oconomowoc Area School District, while the couple raised their three children: Matt, Maren and Kate.
Cut and splice
After graduating from Oconomowoc High School, Miller took some time to figure out which way his life would lead him. Eventually, he enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, where he went on to earn a bachelor's degree in broadcast journalism.
“What I really wanted to be was a sportscaster. The college radio station told me to sit in the bleachers during a football game and record myself giving a play-by-play. It was awful!” he says.
Miller’s life changed when, during his last semester at La Crosse, his news-writing professor offered him the opportunity to earn 12 credits through a nonpaying internship at the local La Crosse TV station WKBT.
“It was an amazing experience. I was at the station every day writing copy, shooting and editing film and I discovered I really liked TV production, and I was good at it. Back then, editing meant you had to actually cut the film and then very carefully splice the ends together with glue. If you didn’t do it right, it would just fall apart,” explains Miller.
On the air
WKBT hired Miller after he graduated, and he cut his teeth in the industry for three years before making the big jump to WITI-TV (Channel 6) in Milwaukee in 1978.
In 1990 he joined WTMJ-TV (Channel 4) as morning and midday co-anchor and then when his contract expired, joined WISN-TV (Channel 12) in 2003 as anchor and reporter.
“I have had the pleasure of experiencing two rare things: I’m the only broadcast journalist to anchor three TV stations in Milwaukee, which also means I was fired -- twice,” Miller explains, laughing. “I also was the first to go to court and beat a no-compete clause in my contract with WITI. I had to; I had a wife and three kids that were depending on me.”
After representing the familiar face to hundreds of thousands of TV news viewers in Southeast Wisconsin for 32 years, Miller retired in May 2010.
“It was exciting; there’s such a rush to getting the news out. My job was to cover a lot of breaking news, but you don’t look back after a 35-year career and remember the daily shootings and fires. You remember the human interest stories,” he says.
A couple of stories Miller covered that will always stay with him include a 75-year-old former Marine who ran with his son from California to Washington, D.C., to raise money for wounded veterans, and Tallan Noble Latz of Elkhorn, who was heralded a blues guitar prodigy at just 9 years old.
“The stories about interesting people, that people really care about and that take four to five minutes to tell – those are the stories I wanted to keep telling,” says Miller.
The stories continue
Beyond the excitement of anchoring the news, there was always the pressure of deadlines, working terrible hours, weekends and holidays.
“Sometimes the pressure was too much. There is no good shift working in the TV business. The morning shows were just beginning when I was at WTMJ, and they were very popular. For 13 years I was getting up at 1:30 a.m. to get to work by 2:45 a.m.,” he explains. “I miss the people that I worked with, but I don’t miss the hours. Now I get up when I want to. Well, except when our dog Ziggy wakes me up!”
Miller was inducted into the Milwaukee Press Club's Media Hall of Fame in 2011 and in 2013 was awarded the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences’ Silver Circle Emmy given to "outstanding individuals who have devoted 25 years or more to the television industry, and who have made significant contributions to local television."
Today, the retired news anchor is busier than ever performing in gigs with his bands, Piles of Rhythm and 3M, exploring the U.S. and world with Mary Anne and hosting group tours through Holiday Vacations and spending time with his six grandchildren, Nora, Will, Bennett, Jackson, Claire and Eiley.
“We babysit our grandkids at least twice a week, and it's fun. We want to take advantage of spending as much time as possible with them, and Grandpa gets the honor of reading them books,” he adds.
He admits he really doesn’t watch the news and only turns on the TV to watch the Packers, Brewers and Badgers. And of course, he is still enjoying everything Lake Country has to offer.
“This area is beautiful; it really is like heaven,” he says, smiling. “I have never had a desire to be anywhere else. Where else would you want to go?”