Chris Bleck & Adam Abdalla Made It Hard For ESPN 1000 to Say No

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The Bleck and Abdalla show on ESPN 1000 was destined from the start.  

Co-hosts Chris Bleck and Adam Abdalla both attended Libertyville High School in Libertyville, Ill., a town approximately 40 miles north of ESPN’s State Street studio in Chicago.

With last names close to each other in the alphabet, Bleck and Abdalla often found themselves sitting next to each other in class or hearing their names called close together when read by a teacher in alphabetical order.

They weren’t friends at the time, but rather friendly acquaintances.

Upon graduating high school, both Bleck and Abdalla stayed in-state for college. Bleck went to Colombia College to study broadcast journalism with a focus on radio, while Abdulla went to business school at DePaul with the goal of starting his own record company.

Abdalla quickly realized that business classes required quite a bit of math, something he didn’t particularly care for. Couple that with a required class on Joan of Arc and Abdalla was looking to transfer schools.

He decided on Columbia College where he planned to study music production but, like most college kids, switched his major for the second time when he learned about the radio department that was just one floor up from the music department.

At Columbia College, Gensler Turns the Atrium Building Inside Out
Courtesy: Tom Harris

“I walked in the first day and Chris is sitting there in one of the production booths during this thing called ‘studio time’ where you’d rent studio time to students so they can work on projects,” said Abdalla.

With shared interests in radio, sports, drinking beer and doing the stupid stuff 20-year-old college students do, the two began hanging out.

“We immediately became friends and it was like we had been friends our entire lives even though we weren’t really friends back in Libertyville,” said Bleck.

The two started doing radio shows together at Columbia’s student radio station WCRX and upon graduating in 2007, both began interning at ESPN Chicago.

When the internship ended, Abdalla was hired full-time while Bleck took a quick detour up Highway 94 to Kenosha, Wis., where he worked at 95 WIIL Rock before being called back to ESPN Chicago full-time in February of 2008.

At that time, Bleck and Abdalla were not only co-workers again, but they were also roommates, living in Wrigleyville, working the worst weekend shifts possible as board ops and as producers, yet having the time of their lives as young adults in a big city.

Having plenty of time to talk and bounce ideas off each other in the late-night hours, the two made a decision that would map out their next 15 years at the station – work hard to get better, get noticed and get on the air.

“We decided at that time, like, ‘hey, if we want to be on the air, we needed to actually do it,’” said Bleck. “Because what I think happens in our industry, is people just want to be on air, but they don’t want to actually practice being on the air.”

So Bleck and Abdalla practiced.  

“We immediately started recording podcasts even though we had no one listening to us and like podcasts at that time were still kind of new, but we made a point to hold ourselves accountable to do a show,” said Bleck.

They pitched an idea to Justin Craig, the program director at the time, and Adam Delevitt, the assistant program director.

“We went to them and we said, ‘hey, we want to do shows, but you’re not going to allow us to do shows, so what if we clip together the best segments throughout the week and it’ll be an hour-long podcast. We’ll introduce in and out of segments and we’ll keep it short, we’ll keep it really short,’” said Bleck.

They were given the green light and from there, “The Best of 1000” was born.

The two would intro clips from “Waddle and Silvy,” “Carmen and Jurko,” “Mike and Mike” – which ran on the station at the time – and any other shows they deemed worthy of being part of that week’s podcast.

For fear of doing or saying something that might jeopardize their opportunity, they kept each intro and outro simple and safe.

“This week, Mike and Mike talked to…”

“…alright, that was Mike and Mike, and this is “The Best of 1000,” and coming up, Waddle and Silvy talk to Charles Barkley.”

Best of ESPN 1000 Show - PodCenter - ESPN Radio
Courtesy: ESPN

As the two got more comfortable over time, the clips got shorter, and their banter got longer. They began to move from what they thought sports radio was supposed to sound like to just doing radio. Eventually, the show earned its own timeslot in the station’s lineup, Saturday at 5 a.m.

While continuing to produce “The Best of 1000” and other podcasts on their own, Bleck and Abdalla also began getting on-air fill-in opportunities for various hosts.

“They were thrown a bone every now and then, you know, to do a weekend show or late-night show or whatever and that was about the extent of it,” said market manager Mike Thomas. “And then they took that, and they parlayed it into a regular weekend show.”

Thomas joined the station in January of 2020, and eight months later, after years of waiting their turn, “Bleck and Abdalla” became its own branded show, airing weekdays from 6-8 p.m. local time.

“We started like in like ’08, ’09 recording stuff and doing ‘The Best of 1000,’ but really, to fill in for people for so long and then to have someone come in and support you means all the world to us,” said Bleck regarding Thomas’ vision for the show.

“They deserve a lot of credit for sticking with it and for always kind of trying to get the attention of management and not giving up and going, ‘you know what, I’m a producer in market No. 3 and I should just be happy with that and maybe someday I’ll be able to be on the air when Marc Silverman retires,’” said Thomas. “They didn’t do that.”

It’s important to know that throughout all the years they spent recording their own podcasts, filling in for people and working to carve out opportunities for themselves, they were, and still are, full-time producers at the station, currently producing for “Waddle and Silvy.”

“When I’m in the studio it’s really dedicated to “Waddle and Silvy” and then, you know, we have a quick commercial break in between the two shows and it’s like you just jump out of the plane and then you hope you land every night,” said Bleck.

Being able to balance producing a 4-hour show and then immediately jumping into hosting a 2-hour show goes back to the longevity of their friendship and the chemistry between the two.

“We know each other so well that when the conversation is happening or we’re doing something spontaneous, we just kind of know what the other person is thinking almost before we even say it,” said Abdalla. “Like we’ve known each other longer than we’ve known our wives.”

“I feel like the give and take between the two of us and the ability to kind of take any topic, and like if I said I need you to talk about this for 10 minutes, I feel like the two of us are pretty confident that we could talk about any topic for at least 10 minutes, so with that comfort, I don’t worry about what we’re going to do on the night show,” said Bleck without discrediting the fact that there is definite preparation that still goes into each show.

Part of what industry members have said makes “Bleck and Abdalla” so great, is that they offer fresh, creative ways of talking about things that separate them from other shows, both at ESPN Chicago and other sports stations in general.

“They look at things differently,” said Thomas. “It’s a lot more just guy talk than it is sports talk, and they have a ton of fun every time they do a show. And they’re naturally funny, which is a huge benefit because you can’t teach funny.”

From comparing Bears rookie quarterback Justin Fields and head coach Matt Nagy to taking a date to prom, to an ongoing bit about who’s using Abdalla’s hot sauce from the station fridge, it’s not just all sports all the time for the longtime duo.

“Mike has done a really good job of kind of instilling in us that you don’t have to be sports for two hours or four hours or three hours, however long your show is, like people don’t only talk about sports, people talk about what they do in life,” said Abdalla.

What Thomas saw in Bleck and Abdalla when he first started at the station is what earned them their spot on-air. What Thomas has seen from them since is what has earned them his…

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