The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

22 December 2006

Madison's Liberal Talk Station, Clear Channel, AP


After Station's Change Of Plans, Theories Abound

*** With Updates Below ***

After last night's surprising announcement that Madison libtalker The Mic FM would stick to its format, many are wondering what led to the move. And with the planned January switch to sports programming now on ice, many questions remain.

Did the recent protests have an effect? If the station couldn't make money before, how will it do so now with scaled- down Air America programming?

And was this from the beginning a mere stunt designed to generate publicity?

One thing is for sure: the Frankensanta has arrived early this year!

On this end, your Radio Equalizer enjoyed the emails "daring" us to write about this change of plans, as though we were afraid to report on it. Actually, we were among the first to note it when the news first hit last night.

Since then, it has become a major story, with a Drudge Report link and an AP story carried today in most major newspapers. For his part, Drudge seems surprised that anyone would keep Air America's shows. After all of the recent bad news for liberal talk, perhaps this headline is a bit shocking.

From the AP's Ryan J Foley:

Air America Station to Stay in Madison

Associated Press Writer

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- After a backlash from this liberal city, Clear Channel Radio is keeping its Air America affiliate on the air instead of switching the progressive talk format to sports on Jan. 1.

Citing the overwhelming negative reaction to the planned change, the nation's largest radio station operator said it would keep The Mic 92.1 FM on the air as a progressive talk station.

The planned change to Fox Sports Radio, announced three days after the Nov. 7 election, had sparked outrage in Madison, a city long known for its liberal activism. Clear Channel said the station, WXXM-FM, had struggled to attract advertisers despite high ratings and a sports format would be more profitable.

But thousands of people protested the end of their favorite station through e-mails, phone calls and a petition delivered to station officials this week. A rally last week drew 500 people, and politicians such as Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., denounced the decision.

The two-year-old station is among the most popular affiliates of Air America, which launched two years ago as an alternative to conservative talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh. It is now undergoing a reorganization after filing for bankruptcy protection in October.

In addition to Air America personalities like Al Franken, WXXM features local shows that focused on progressive causes from city politics to animal rights.

"We are overwhelmed by the recent outpouring of support for our progressive talk format from the public, some of our community leaders and some dedicated local advertisers," said Jeff Tyler, Clear Channel's market manager in Madison. "We deeply appreciate the local business leaders who are pledging their advertising support. They are playing an enormous role in helping to keep progressive talk on the air in our community."

Tyler planned to announce the decision on the airwaves Friday morning. He said Clear Channel had to end an agreement with Fox Sports Radio to make the deal possible.

The announcement came just as the opponents of the change appeared to give up, staging a mock funeral procession from the Capitol to Clear Channel's local offices Wednesday to mourn the death of the station.

Valerie Walasek, a 28-year-old listener who organized the protests, said she had shifted her focus to other options, such as trying to buy a new station. She was shocked by the company's last-minute change of heart.

"It's evidence that as people stand up and demand what they want and demand they are going to take back the airwaves, somebody will listen," she said. "Maybe Clear Channel just came to their senses because it never made sense for them to get rid of it. They were making money."

But the truth is that The Mic wasn't making money, a point station management had emphasized in the past:

Tyler said the station would aim to increase its share of the local market but it had no deadline to increase earnings, which were 14th out of 14 local stations that report them despite the station being rated second among the market's news-talk stations and 11th out of 25 stations overall. About 30,100 listeners tuned into the station during any given week, according to the latest ratings from Arbitron Inc.

With no indication that revenues will increase anytime soon, however, what could be Clear Channel's real reason for the change of course? From the New York Radio Message Board, here's one theory:

Posted by Harvey Rice on December 22, 2006 at 08:28:27:

In Reply to: Clear Channel Changes Its Mind posted by Allan D on December 22, 2006 at 00:09:29:

>>I'm curious about what they were and why their owners reversed themselves.<<

They're in the midst of selling the company. They are probably avoiding a public controversy.

One last point: our real agenda at the Radio Equalizer from the beginning has been to counter the mainstream media's pro- Air America hype, not to celebrate libtalk's collapse.

If Clear Channel or anybody else wants to run libtalk on their stations, it's not an issue to this site. They should, however, expect us to provide an alternative to the Frankenfluff reporting that even now permeates the mainstream news media.

UPDATE: The Capital Times adds this:

'Mic' fans celebrate decision
Clear Channel kills plan to pull progressive radio
By Judith Davidoff

The timing of Clear Channel's decision to keep its progressive radio format on the air couldn't have been better for Maggie Thomas.

"Yesterday was my birthday, and that was the best present I got," said Thomas, who turned 45.

Thomas, who lives on Madison's east side, was one of thousands of local listeners who urged Clear Channel in recent weeks to reverse its decision to replace "The Mic" at WXXM/FM 92.1 with Fox Sports Radio on Jan. 1.

Activists delivered a petition with 5,466 signatures to Clear Channel on Wednesday, and hundreds of listeners rallied against the move last week, with U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and Air America co-founder Terry Kelly also denouncing the move.

Local advertisers also organized to show their support, and Clear Channel, in a move that is being watched nationally, listened.
"Madison is really a microcosm of what could be taking place around the country," popular radio host Ed Schultz said this morning. "There is a mindset with the progressive format that it's shaky territory for advertisers, and it's simply not true."

Schultz, whose show reaches 2.25 million listeners nationwide, said he was excited about Clear Channel's move and "how it all came to work together."

"It's really encouraging to see listeners so passionate for the radio industry and to be so vocal and organized."

Activist Valerie Walasek, who spearheaded the petition drive, said she hoped Madison's experience would inspire activists elsewhere.

"The other communities facing a similar loss of their progressive talk radio stations can do this," Walasek said.

Boston and Cincinnati lost Air America programming recently and Gary Tipler, who also helped organize opposition to Clear Channel's move, said other cities are facing similar threats.

The problem is that Madison simply isn't typical of the rest of the country, instead, it's a hotbed of radicalism. By contrast, there has been almost no outcry at the loss of libtalk stations in Boston and Cincinnati and certainly no protests or petition drives.

And talker Schultz is also wrong here: we have not seen a strong advertiser interest in libtalk at any level. He knows this as well as anyone else. Could it happen down the road? Perhaps, but after three years, one wonders what would make that happen.

Frankensanta: Pete at IHillary, Protest image: Channel 3 Madison, Madison libtalk rally dancers: Michelle Stocker, The Capital Times

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  • what pro-media hype? Only time AA is in the media is when a staton gets canned, or talking about the poor financial situation of the company.

    You are using the playbook.
    I know the playbook, I worked in real radio, I'm familiar with all the strawman right wing arguments

    The biggest one
    "blame the liberal mainstream media". you use a variation of the playbook, spun around for an Air America.

    some of the other famous playbook suggestions for right wing media
    'attack the ACLU, as anti-Christian'
    " always dig up something about Bill clinton"

    more recent ones to defend the Iraq war
    " remember 14 out of 17 providences are peaceful (removing the fact that 40% of the population lives in the 3 war torn areas)

    Evan Rich Lowery of National review admits that these tatics are weak

    The old pundits are stale, worn out and tired, hardest job, convincing people this failed administration is "lib medias fault", Im glad to see people like Lowery and Scarboro, comming clean. Scarboro was incredible the other night (I never thought i would say that)

    By Blogger Minister of Propaganda, at 22 December, 2006 13:50  

  • MOP,
    These are the same idiots that like to hold up red colored maps of the U.S. ignoring where the major population centers are located.

    By Blogger none, at 22 December, 2006 14:14  

  • I love it when they talk about "successes" in Iraq (as if American soldiers raping Iraqi women and shooting them in the back of the neck were some sort of vaunted success...)

    By Blogger hashfanatic, at 22 December, 2006 16:33  

  • In Boston, the left-leaning Globe and right-leaning Herald had articles about Air America when the network debuted (4/1/04), when Boston picked it up (10/4/04), and when Franken and Miller did their shows from Boston. The Globe naturally seemed more charmed with the idea of libtalk.
    In addition WBZ-TV did a news feature on Steph Miller (it was linked to
    the AAR site for awhile)...More than a bit of free publicity from the mainstream media.

    Usually conservative talkers don't get covered unless it's an embarassing situation (Rush's
    oxy problem, DePetro's comments...
    btw rumor has it he's talking to
    CC about returning to WHJJ in
    Providence--see Prov board at

    By Blogger raccoonradio, at 22 December, 2006 16:42  

  • As if you were in a position to tolerate or not tolerate anything, loneweakling....

    That's okay, dumbass.

    Blame your lousy life on President Carter! It's all the rage!

    By Blogger hashfanatic, at 22 December, 2006 23:24  

  • Brian,

    Here's hoping that you and your family have a very Merry Christmas!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 23 December, 2006 02:09  

  • I e-mailed the station manager of the Air America affiliate in Los ANgeles recently to complain about TOO MANY commercials. One break had seven commercials: Audi, May Company, Las Vegas Hilton, Carls, Jr. (twice), South Bay Repertory Co., Southern California Edison and Pro-Flowers.

    The Madison and Boston affiliates had NO sales personnel whatsoever. Advertisers who called in to place ads never had their phone calls returned. One even tried to place an ad with a receptionist.

    Yet the pasty doughboy keeps lying away about how unviable Progressive Talk radio is, telling us how they have no ratings even as every media report on Ed Schultz recent schedule change pegged him as the #10 talker (out of 500). The Clear Channel President quit to form a management company for the Ed Schultz Show. Curb your lies, rightist scum.

    By Blogger gregrocker, at 23 December, 2006 03:20  

  • News about WPTG 1230 in Columbus Ohio:

    "1230 will become a sister talk station (without the current liberal lineup) to 610."

    The lineup, starting 1/8/07, will be: Quinn and Rose (out of Pittsburgh; recently added
    to WHJJ in RI), Laura Ingraham, sports guy Jim Rome, money guy Dave Ramsey, and
    Michael Savage. Call letters said to be changing to WYTS (Your Talk Station?)

    By Blogger raccoonradio, at 23 December, 2006 04:41  

  • There actually is an effort to
    "save prog. radio in Boston"
    with this
    yahoo group
    and they're trying to organize--maybe buy a station (but who?)...?

    Contact C.C.? Who knows.

    A quick look at the posts there shows that many were blindsided by the format change; they
    "missed the article in the Globe"
    about it. (To be honest these days many articles about radio format
    changes, etc., seem to turn up in
    the BUSINESS section of the Globe
    or Herald...rather than TV-Radio-Arts.

    By Blogger raccoonradio, at 23 December, 2006 05:19  

  • Lonewatchman wrote:
    "Hashfanatic yet one more pile of liberal human waste that enjoys the blessings won by the military but then slanders them in a bigoted, irrational rage. This is why liberalism cannot be tolerated, it is unpatriotic, hateful, and ultimatly suicidal. Liberalism is more than a mental disorder, it is open treason."

    Do you have any historical knowledge or consciousness? Do you know what sorts of actions typically accompany these sorts of sentiments about your fellow humans? Far be it from me to use the "H" word--that always loses--or even the "F" word (and I don't mean the four-letter one. But dehumanizing your politcal opponents and accusing them of treason is the beginning of a slippery slope that I would hesitate to go on...

    Oh, and it strikes me that the people who are committing suicide these days are not the "treasonous" liberals, but the "patriotic" people who enlist in the military and go to Iraq to pay the debts for Cheney's and Rumsfelds' failed, megalomaniac gamble. I do note that the army has had to reduce seriously its standards to find such souls--often today people without other options after years of Republican economic misrule. Requiescant in pace. Lord knows, I don't want them to die. I want them live and be happy in peace. How about you?

    By Blogger John, at 23 December, 2006 10:52  

  • We've arrived at the point where any boots on the ground knew full well what this government was up to (and who for) when they signed up.

    If they oppose the Bush regime but just are desperate to feed their families for inability to find any other gainful employment, I empathize with that horrible dilemma.

    If they support George Bush and the "mission", screw 'em.

    I'm serious. They get what they deserve.

    They're NOT fighting for us....

    By Blogger hashfanatic, at 24 December, 2006 00:06  

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