Championing Milwaukee Music “Like No Other?”
“88.9 has championed Milwaukee music like no other station in town. I’m not saying that we are the only station that ever plays it, but we are the only one that gives Milwaukee artists significant, meaningful airplay.”
Some of the eyebrows were raised by the staff over at 91.7 WMSE, who’ve only been giving artists significant, meaningful airplay since 1981, a solid quarter century before Radio Milwaukee went on the air in 2006. WMSE promotions director Ryan Schleicher was none too pleased, leaving a comment calling the quote “over the top” and “willfully ignorant and disingenuous.”
Frankly, we at Fan-belt were exasperated as well. Make no mistake: we’re fond of what 88.9 has done for the Milwaukee music scene. It’s given a specific segment of Milwaukee’s music scene significant airplay, which has benefited the artists that have gotten the rub. 88.9’s Milwaukee Music Awards have spurred lots of positive and critical debate about the local music scene (even if local music awards strike us as kind of silly). And the air staff is top notch — morning show host Jordan “DJ Madhatter” Lee is a Milwaukee music workhorse (and a longtime supporter of Fan-Belt, for which we’re grateful!).
Mind you, Radio Milwaukee is free to run their station the way they see fit, and it’s worked very well for them so far. The station runs an adult-alternative format that is fairly vanilla and easy listening. The idea is to appeal to as many listeners as possible while retaining its “independent” image. As a result, the only local artists that are played on 88.9 are bands that fit into their format—a group that essentially boils down to three genres that Mullins himself references in the interview: radio-friendly power-pop, Americana and non-hardcore hip-hop. Again, this is all well and good, and we salute the station for championing the local artists that fit into their format. The problem lies with the station’s positioning.
“Diverse music for a diverse city.” This is the slogan plastered across the top of Radio Milwaukee’s website. But any student of local Milwaukee music knows that it’s woefully inaccurate. Milwaukee’s hardcore, punk, noise-rock and metal scenes all produce excellent, radio-ready material, but you won’t hear it on 88.9. Bands like Get Rad, Elusive Parallelograms, Disguised as Birds, Brief Candles, Sticks N Stones and even the recently-on-a-national-label Call Me Lightning, all bands with quality recorded material, go unheard. How exactly is Radio Milwaukee “diverse” again?
Combine this with willfully misleading assertions like “we are the only [station] that gives Milwaukee artists significant, meaningful airplay,” and the perception that Radio Milwaukee is trying to aggressively market their own definition of Milwaukee music, to the conscious exclusion of everything else, takes focus.
Fan-belt feels that this is directly contrary to the prevailing atmosphere of Milwaukee’s music scene.
While Fan-belt believes that blunt, honest critique is a vital component of a healthy scene (as this blog post can attest), we also believe that everyone in Milwaukee shares the same goal—to make the Cream City the best music town it can possibly be. Local publications, while always striving to be at the top of the heap, can be constantly seen referencing each other, engaged in a dialogue of mutual respect and support. The same goes for local bands; while it would be foolish to say that every band is a fan of every other (hell, I’m not), Milwaukee is hardly a bastion of cutthroat competitiveness. Despite our differences, we’re all on the same team.
This is even the case at WMSE. In a follow-up comment on the Mullins interview, Schleicher added, “there’s room for both stations and the city is better off if we all get along (including WUWM and WLUM). I am simply replying to Scott’s very deliberate posturing of [88.9] WYMS. Just play the music and stop talking about how much you play the music and how important you are. It’s our job as radio stations to lift the community in various ways, not to be self-important in doing so.”
Fan-Belt agrees with Schleicher’s comment 100 percent. Radio Milwaukee is free to run their business any way they see fit; however, if they insist on running their non-commercial station with a distinctly commercial, competitive attitude, they need to be aware that their philosophy chafes at a lot of people because it flies in the face of our folksy Midwestern collectiveness. By all means, continue to pretend that WMSE doesn’t exist in interviews, and keep on claiming to play “diverse music for a diverse city;” the rest of us will be here to call shenanigans every time it happens.
What do you think about the job Radio Milwaukee does promoting local music? Do you agree with us, or do you agree with their business model? Who do you think does the best job of promoting Milwaukee music? Let us know in the comments. Let’s keep this conversation going.