Bears radio voice Jeff Joniak can empathize with the baseball announcers who are frustrated being tethered to their home broadcast booths, calling road games off monitors because of issues related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Joniak and analyst Tom Thayer faced the same challenge last season, when they called one road game on-site (they drove to the season opener in Detroit) and called the others from the culinary studio at WBBM Newsradio 780. As great as their setup was, it couldn’t replicate being at the stadium.
“Everybody wants to be there; that’s why we do it,” Joniak said. “We know we’re open for criticism because everybody analyzes everything these days. But we had to do it.”
This season figures to be less challenging. Most important, Joniak and Thayer will return to the road. WBBM cleared them to travel, though the traveling party will be leaner. Also, sideline reporter Mark Grote will return to the field for home games.
“Things are returning to some semblance of normal,” director of news and programming Ron Gleason said, “but we continue to take many precautions to ensure everyone’s safety.”
That’s also true at training camp, which opened to a limited number of fans Thursday after being closed to the public last year. What won’t change is Joniak and Thayer’s camp coverage, which remained extensive last year despite interviews being moved to Zoom rooms.
“It’s a long list,” Joniak said. “You almost invest the most time of the season in training camp.”
The pair will post videos on the Bears’ platforms in which they break down each position. For WBBM, they’ll shoot daily videos about practice for the website. “Bears All Access” airs at 6 p.m. Thursdays on The Score, barring a Cubs game, and Joniak will host the “Bears Coaches Show” on Monday nights on WBBM.
This season marks Joniak and Thayer’s 25th together on Bears broadcasts and Joniak’s 21st as play-by-play voice (he previously hosted the pre- and postgame shows). Joniak is looking forward to a more normal season, and it started with fans back at training camp.
“Training camp is a lot more fun when fans are there,” he said. “And I think it’s that way for the players, as well. I think it does ratchet up their competitiveness. It’s gonna feel normal again.”