Mike Ahern · 2008
by Howard Caldwell
Competitors are supposed to dislike one another. Mike Ahern and I competed for television news viewers for more than twenty-seven years (1967 to 1994), Mike for WISH Channel 8 while my employer was WRTV Channel 6 in Indianapolis. Not a nasty word was ever exchanged between the two of us. He was just as pleasant off the air as he was on the air. In fact, you might even call it a television friendship because we had a lot in common.
Both of us grew up in Indianapolis, both of us chose to remain in our hometown, both of us enjoyed what we were doing, and both of us in our youthful years used to do play-by-play phantom baseball broadcasts. Mike’s microphone was a rolled up magazine, mine was a bedpost in my bedroom.
Periodically, our paths would cross during our professional careers. I got a close-up look at Mike as a member of a “newscast” committee that for several years created a “wild and crazy newscast” for the Indianapolis Press Club’s annual Gridiron Dinner. All local TV stations were represented, but Ahern was the “point” man. His creativeness, wisdom, and humor were all vital to producing this effort.
Long before he began his thirty-seven-year news anchor career, his world was focused on a near north side home on Ruckle Street complete with a basketball goal mounted on the garage. News and radio were already creeping into his life. He had a newspaper route (his first experience in delivering news). He also became an avid radio listener. His local favorites were disc jockey Reid “Chuckles” Chapman and Luke Walton’s play-by-play description of Indianapolis Indians games. Both those gentlemen were on WISH radio, the station that added more television to the Indianapolis market by 1954 and hired Mike much later.
The youngster on Ruckle Street had no problem figuring out what he wanted to do in life. He had decided that by the time he was in the fifth grade. “My long-suffering parents indulged my behavior and finally caved in and bought me a Voice of Music tape recorder, so I would have some record of my bedroom broadcasts,” Ahern recalled.
High school days took place at Cathedral. He’s modest about his accomplishments, calling them “uneventful.” He played on the reserve baseball team, performed in some school theater productions, and did all right academically. It was at Cathedral where he discovered he enjoyed debating contests. The one that stands out the most in his memory was a debate involving the United Nations. He and a good friend took opposing positions. No other students participated. The teenagers decided not to mention that to their teacher, proudly reporting that they had finished first and second. Ahern now admits he was second.
Significant accomplishments really began to take hold when Mike enrolled at the University of Notre Dame with a major in communication arts. At that time, courses were primarily about print journalism, with broadcast training limited to two classes. Ahern credits a Professor Semens for helping him develop writing skills good enough to be published in campus literary magazines. The significance of this would surface later. Ahern’s interest, however, continued to be in broadcasting. He handled sports on the student radio station and eventually became program director. He also was favorably recognized by the university, becoming a member of the prestigious Blue Circle Society.
During his freshman year, on spring break, Mike was back in Indianapolis and dropped off tapes of student sportscasts to several radio stations. WIRE’s Program Director Donald Bruce, who later became a congressman, was impressed and offered him summer employment. That summer Ahern substituted for disc jockeys, did some rip-and-read newscasts, and tackled anything else that was available for $40 a week. That took care of summers until he graduated and was offered a full-time job. Luckily for him he was teamed up with legendary personality Wally Nehrling and that’s when his writing skills began paying off. He authored brief essays for morning newscasts that caught the attention of Eugene Pulliam, owner of the station and of the Indianapolis Star and News. Pulliam invited him to be a columnist for the Sunday Star. Eventually, Indianapolis 500 race broadcast veteran Sid Collins issued another invitation—membership on the big races’s Speedway Radio Network that was heard throughout the United States and in many other countries as well. Mike was just one year into his broadcast career when he was contacted by Collins. He had been doing high school basketball play-by-play for WIRE, and that’s when Collins decided Mike would be a good fit for his 500 radio team.
Invitations just didn’t stop coming. Another one came from Channel 8 News Director Bob Hoyt. Mike’s long and successful career started there on February 6, 1967. He also ended up married to a talented vocalist-actress who he met at her brother’s wedding in Washington, D.C. Sherry and Mike have been together for thirty-six years. She has sung with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and appeared at the Saint Louis Municipal Opera. Sherry also starred in a number of productions locally until their son, Kevin, was born. Kevin now is living in Los Angeles, where he is pursuing a musical career.
Mike Ahern has a long list of honors that not only recognize his journalistic and presentation skills but also have come because of his ability to write and to participate in nonprofit community events. He received the city’s highly regarded Caspar award for coverage of the 1978 blizzard that consumed sixty-seven hours of continuous weather coverage. Other Caspars were presented to him for hosting and producing a news magazine program, 30 Minutes.
More recognition has come from the Indianapolis Press Club. This includes best documentary, best enterprise feature, and best historical feature awards. Mike also is known for writing broadcast specials such as Another Side of Mike Ahern, based on published collections of his prose and poetry. Readers of both Indianapolis Woman and Indianapolis Monthly have been Ahern fans. They named him “Best News Anchor” for ten consecutive years. Mike’s love of laughter was publicized when he teamed up a few years ago with local broadcaster, Reid Duffy, for a humorous novel about television news, titled Festerwood at Five.
Mike Ahern’s last newscast for Channel 8 was December 1, 2004. Now retired, the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame board of trustees is highly pleased to welcome him into the Hall of Fame’s class of 2008.