Food — Talking Food With The Crew From Chat And Chew

Talking food with the crew from Chat and Chew

Mike and Karen tell you where to get the best in local grub

By Bernard Vaughan []

With no professional broadcasting experience, you’d think it would be hard to run a three-hour radio program about food.

But for Mike and Karen from “Chat N’ Chew with the Big Guy and the Mrs.,” the charming food program on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on 101 WGIR, the job comes naturally because, after all, they’re only talking about what they love.

“I don’t have a degree in food, but what I do have is a love for food,” Mike said.

The two sound as if they were genetically constructed for radio: Mike, “the Big Guy,” has a quick, deep and altogether jolly voice befitting a large man of culinary passions; Karen, “the Mrs.,” (they asked not to be identified by last name, “Because we’re incognito so much,” Karen says), on the other hand, has a high-pitched voice of reason, frequently correcting the Big Guy on his mispronunciations.

Mike got his start not in broadcasting, not in a classroom, but at Bonneville and Sons car dealership—where he continues to work in customer relations—when a radio personality from WGIR came in to buy a van.

“We sat at my desk and we were talking, and all of a sudden she says to me, she goes: ‘You have a great voice for radio,’” Mike recalled. “And I looked at her and I said ‘And you’re trying to hit on me and I’m a married guy!’”

But as Mike found out, she wasn’t attracted to him in the least; but she was serious about his voice.

The only thing close to broadcasting Mike had done was announcing at the New England Speedway for numerous fund-raising events he organized to raise money for Kristen’s Gift, a New Hampshire-based charity whose vision is to provide toys, games and educational materials for the Pediatric Oncology functions and playroom at the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon. The charity is in memory of Kristen Xiggoras, the daughter of one of Mike’s co-workers, who died of a rare form of cancer. In one night, they raised $10,000.

The radio personality asked Mike what he was interested in, and he said sports, politics and food. Since there was already a sports show on WGIR and everybody loves food, as opposed to politics, they decided to have Mike, as “the Big Guy,” do an eight-minute restaurant review during Thursday morning drive time. The review took off, and Mike proposed doing a Sunday morning show to promote New Hampshire restaurants.

“The word that I’m trying to get out to this state is that you do not have to drive to Boston to get a good meal,” Mike said. “You can get it right here at home.” 

He started with a one-hour show, but again, it became such a popular show that he was recently allotted two more hours for the program; Mike also brought along the Mrs. to add some color to the show.

The show revolves around food but the topics vary widely, with interviewees ranging from area chefs and restaurateurs like Jeff Paige and Peaches O’Rourke to New Hampshire native Mike Wilson talking about his new coffee, “Political Grounds,” to deer farmers and people who make floral-like arrangements out of fruit.

“It’s not just restaurants,” Karen said, her head barely visible above the hanging microphone. “We try to bring in all kinds of food tidbits.”

“We try to find the unusual,” Mike said. “…something that not everyone knows about—that little restaurant that sits on the hill that nobody sees.”

Mike and Karen live in Derry and have been married for 15 years.

“We’re a Brady Bunch family,” Mike said. “Her two children, my two children, and none of our own. And how I got the name ‘Big Guy’ is her daughter, Nicole, when she was very small said ‘Mom, what do I call him?’ She had a new man in her life. And [Karen] said to call me whatever she wanted. And she looked at me and said ‘Big Guy.’”

“And that name has stuck,” Karen said.

It’s only fitting that the couple has their own radio show considering they met each other on Dick Syatt’s Saturday morning program for professional singles on WRKO.

“I used to listen to the show for comic reasons, and believe it or not, the Mrs. did too,” Mike explained. “Well, one day, I was egged on by some of my finally I call the station. Make a long story short, I met Karen. We had our own first date, then we had a family date, and it’s history.”

Mike and Karen—and WGIR, understandably—were concerned that three hours could be too much time for the Big Guy and the Mrs. to fill up, but the transition has been smooth.

“If you ask my wife, my mother and my boss, I was given the gift of the mouth, and it’s my greatest asset and my greatest liability,” Mike said.

The two are such naturals that they don’t even prepare for the show.

“I swear to God, we do not prepare for our show, and I will tell you why,” Mike said. “I hate what I call ‘script radio.’ I can’t stand it. It’s boring. You turn on the radio, and you can tell the radio personality is reading straight from a newspaper or reading from the Internet. I don’t like that kind of radio. I’m not your normal radio personality, I’m not grammatically correct.”

“That’s where I come in,” Karen said. “The dynamic between us when I begin to correct him is what the listeners love.”

“The people love it,” Mike said. “People say that what makes our show good is that we’re real, and we’re fun. They say they never know what’s going to come out of our mouth next.”

“Neither do we,” Karen said.

- Bernard Vaughan

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