DJ Hostettler
Radio Milwaukee

Championing Milwaukee Music “Like No Other?”

By - Apr 27th, 2010 08:20 am
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Radio Milwaukee’s Scott Mullins

Departing 88.9 Radio Milwaukee music director Scott Mullins raised a few eyebrows yesterday when he dropped the following quote in an interview with OnMilwaukee.com’s Molly Snyder Edler:

“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!).

However, yesterday’s head-scratching remark by Mullins betrays an overall philosophy at Radio Milwaukee that rubs a lot of local musicians and music media the wrong way— an attitude of arrogance and unnecessary competitiveness that stems from running a non-commercial station like, well, a commercial one.

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.

WMSE’s Ryan Schleicher Photo by Nicole DeLio

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.

Categories: Fan-belt, Other-views

0 thoughts on “Radio Milwaukee: Championing Milwaukee Music “Like No Other?””

  1. Anonymous says:

    Good article, Denis-

    While I’m not the biggest Scott Mullins fan for exactly this kind of junk I’ve heard in the past, I still love both Radio Milwaukee AND WMSE. I think they each represent different sides of Milwaukee’s music scene and could work very well together. I’d like to see more collaboration and less competition.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I can linger on 88.9 for about as long as I can linger on any commercial station in town, about thirteen bars. Radio Milwaukee’s format is milquetoast in a dave matthews-y kind of way.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I couldn’t have said it better myself, and I’m glad that someone has publicly said something to take Radio Milwaukee off of its pedestal. Don’t get me wrong, 88.9 is great, and there are few stations in the Midwest where you can hear much of what they’re playing. Still, if the people at the station are unaware of the limited scope of the music they play, they’re not fooling anyone but themselves.

    I know a fair share of extremely talented, local musicians who will never be played on 88.9, but that’s fine. They know their music doesn’t fit the mold at Radio Milwaukee. But I’d be willing to wager that most of these musicians would also be offended by the assertion that 88.9 is the only game in town when it comes to local music.

    Scott Mullins’ quote was unfortunate, and I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t mean to come across as a pompous windbag. If anything, this incident makes me realize that WMSE will NEVER lose its place as the number one radio preset in my car.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Thanks Allyson! Like i said, we totally agree with Ryan at WMSE when he says there’s room for both stations in town. More collaboration–amen.

  5. Anonymous says:

    For some reason it will not let me make a “stand alone” comment so I just hit reply to the first one.

    I would give him the benefit of doubt on this also. If this was the first time he had said something like this or if 88.9 didn’t plaster this sort of BS all over its site and on air. Plain and simple Radio Milwaukee claims to present “diverse music for a diverse city” yet caters to the soccer moms of the alterna set. You can’t have it both ways, and you can’t claim to give Milwaukee artist “significant, meaningful airplay” when you are ignoring 80% of the bands who make music in Milwaukee, esp when there is another station giving everyone else TONS of air play.

    Also DJ, Damn you pulled no punches with that picture up there, Scott Mullins you have unfortunate facial hair.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Sounds like this article was written by a bitter band dude who’s band is not getting airplay on 88.9!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Wow, it took 2 hours for someone for finally make the “oh he’s just mad because they won’t play his band” argument. I had 60 minutes in the pool.

  8. Anonymous says:

    The Good – 88.9 has shifted its programming over the years to the point of being completely aimless. But it has supported local music throughout its broadcast day versus selected time slots. The Bad – the insistence of playing warmed over funk from the 70s I can hear on 94.5 or mediocre local groups. Was someone in market research a big P-Funk fan and demand, “we want the funk?” The Ugly – Melissa Etheridge … really? really!? You are no longer allowed use the words “independent” or “diverse” and have chosen to be the harbinger of Triple A, soccer mom ear swill. For Midwest music alternative I suggest Minneapolis’ “the Current” http://minnesota.publicradio.org/radio/services/the_current/

  9. Anonymous says:

    hey! validation of things i’ve thought since 88.9’s inception! and more coherent and less offensive than anything i would be capable of! what a great day! but yeah, 88.9 is a joke. since getting all kinds of shit for trashing that station on the av club i’ve been playing that station to out of towners, the typical response is “so, really, THIS is your alternative radio?!?!?” and i’m usually like “not really….(hangs head in shame)”

  10. Anonymous says:

    … the true bud of local music recognition (minus college radio) started with Terry Havel in the 90’s with the Sunday Night Music Revolution on 102.1. 88.9 is the stepchild of the basic ground work that Terry laid. As for Scott Mullens leaving, the true back story from employess is that he felt slighted on not getting the vacant PD post. When it comes to radio, never believe what any party to the situation puts forth.

  11. Anonymous says:

    A lot of the Milwaukee bands 88.9 plays wouldn’t exist without WMSE: that station has long been crucial to the musical education of curious musicians in their teens – the kind of people who go on to form bands.

  12. Anonymous says:

    There is nothing like the token immature guy to ruin a rich conversation on the Milwaukee music scene. What does facial hair have to do with anything? Grow up.

  13. Anonymous says:

    amen… god forbid 88.9 has the same influence on kids. yuck. we’ll be up to our necks in dave matthewsish rich kids with food allergies and vacant political philosophies. like the UWM campus, but city wide. (shudder)

  14. Anonymous says:

    It has nothing to do with music except I can’t take anyone seriously if they look like Jim “the anvil” Neidhart. Feel free to dis-credit that last sentence but everything else I wrote stands.

  15. Anonymous says:

    diversity is actually one of the thing 88.9 lacks. sure, one minute they’ll play the rolling stones and the next whatever vanilla hip hop crap they want to play with a little phish tossed in, but how is that diverse? it’s just a bunch of ugg boot wearin, hemp clothes buying, patchouli heads. it’s ran very similar to a commercial radio station, like the article mentioned, that just wants to toot their own horn and talk about how great they are. those d.j.’s never shut the hell up and ramble mindlessly about the most mundane crap, like wow that black eyed peas song was sooo amazing. don’t they have some world music festival to go promote?

  16. Anonymous says:

    Now that I’ve seen his comment in context, I have to say Mullins has a point. As someone whose been involved (one way or another) with the local hip hop scene for over a decade, I’m well aware of the YEARS that WMSE spent completely dubious to hip hop and rarely (if ever) played any outside of Aaron Wade’s late night hype block. It wasn’t even until 88.9 launched and began to carve out a niche in Milwaukee by playing the types of hip hop that weren’t being played anywhere else in the city that WMSE took note and began to diversify its own play list.

    Since then, 88.9 has gotten into a rut and WMSE is actually closer to what 88.9 was when it first began, but the fact remains it took the possibility of WMSE losing money and listeners to 88.9 to finally take notice of the people they’d been slighting.

  17. Anonymous says:

    “Secret” Bill?

  18. Anonymous says:

    I’d like to compare the listener-generated revenues of the two stations. It’s pretty clear that RM and MSE compete on what’s essentially the same (slender) Milwaukee donor market. Not sure where the other $ comes from for either station, that’s also something I’m also curious about. The reason for the (non)acknowledgments between RM and MSE is essentially the same reason the Hog and WLUM don’t collaborate. It’s strictly a $ thing,a scrap in the same pot of revenue.

    Sucks that it has to be like that. I’m confident there’s room for both of the listener-supported stations to fulfill their own (separate and different!) NONETHELESS UBER-IMPORTANT ROLES in the Mil Music scene. So F-b, it might be kinda superficial to call “douche” on Mullins for trying to push his product. I mean, that’s his job, right? What else would he say?

    That’s my initial impression.

    Adam Lovinus

  19. Anonymous says:

    Scott Mullins AND the DJ Madhatter can take a ride out of town.

  20. Anonymous says:

    “Pushing your product” is not the same as saying “your product” is something it is not.

    If you say things like we play “diverse music for a diverse city”. Then you should play diverse music.

    If you say “88.9 has championed Milwaukee music like no other station in town.” then that should be true.

    And neither of those things are true at all. As a matter of fact they are completely false.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Terry Havel was great! Where did he end up?

  22. Anonymous says:

    It seems to me that the amazing WMSE and interesting newcomer Radio Milwaukee promote Milwaukee music in very different and complementary ways (broad exposure vs. concentrated support). I think we’re better off having both stations alive and well. I would never argue that 88.9 plays a more diverse selection of music than WMSE, but I appreciate that they brought a new game to town. Both stations have introduced me to new bands and I am grateful for those gifts. What disappoints me is the ruthless stereotyping and elitist nonsense many of these comment authors are spewing. I didn’t realize that there were only a few types of people who deserve to be exposed to new music they might enjoy – or that YOUR music taste is superior. Your intolerance, Plumber, reflects your lack of understanding of or appreciation for diversity.

  23. Anonymous says:

    “we’re better off having both stations alive and well.”

    Couldn’t agree more. I just wonder, when 88.9 refuses to acknowledge the other local music champion in town, if they feel the same way?

  24. Anonymous says:

    plumber is the best. that very fact should make you want to make his opinions your own.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Scratch that, Terry Havel just walked through our front door! Too weird…

  26. Anonymous says:

    Wow! I love it when that happens.

  27. Anonymous says:

    I’d like to go out of my way to defend Plumber on this one. I’ve seen his ipod and it he’s no stranger to diversity. I’d also like to applaude anyone who is willing to express their opinionated retorts to the entirely off-base comments that Mr. Mullins has willingly put on public display. What’s the difference? I definitely think we’re better off having both stations alive and healthily promoting whatever they choose to, but I think we can all agree that having hacks like “Mullins” around is not going to be beneficial to anyone. In his defense, he may have chosen his words less carefully then he’d meant to, but that’s not really my problem. Good riddance.

  28. Anonymous says:

    When 88.9 says things like that, they obviously aim to make them true (yuck, wouldn’t want to live in that world.) They have a vision for this city, they push it, and it’s horribly fucking lame. I’d be content to just ignore it like so many other things in the world, but Milwaukee’s my city and I’ve worked hard to make it more interesting (to me.) Why should something as bland and influential as 88.9 be allowed free pass without it’s fair share of criticism? …and criticism includes well thought and diplomatic down to obnoxious and incoherent. it’s the internet!

  29. Anonymous says:

    wow, that’s actually a really good point. makes me re-think a few things… but just a few.

  30. Anonymous says:

    actually, i remember marilyn mee had a show on 102.9 before 102.1’s. i’m sure there’s someone older than i who knows about another commercial station with a local segment before all of this.

  31. Anonymous says:

    if you were around a little longer you would have remembered the cold blooded six pack…wmse use to have a hip hop show every day just like the blues drive. as far as late night hype being the only slot to play hip hop thats not true. beats working, boogie bang, and alien andre have all been playing and hosting hip hop artist way before wyms crossed over. this is not to mention the everyday shows that really play what they want on wmse. i understand you must turn out when there’s not a hip hop program on, but that doesn’t mean hip hop isn’t being played.

  32. Anonymous says:

    a funny thing is that many of the local bands/artists that wyms sweat, really dislike 88.9 and favor wmse.

  33. Anonymous says:

    I think his comments were misconstrued. To me it seemed that he’s comparing 88.9 to the regular market like, ‘The Brew’ and ‘The Mix’ and whatever the heck else. I don’t think he was lashing out at WMSE at all. I mean, WMSE is college and they cater to a specific crowd. Yes it could have been worded better, but really…

  34. Anonymous says:

    It’s possible that it was misconstrued, but as was pointed out in the OMC comments section by Ryan S. and by Steve Hyden at the AV Club, Mullins isn’t the first 88.9 employee that’s dropped a quote like that. From the AV Club: “Back in the January 8 edition of the Milwaukee Business Journal, RM executive director Mary Louise Mussoline was quoted as saying, ‘How would you find new music or Milwaukee musicians if this station didn’t exist?'”

    Because of that, it’s a little harder to see the comment as misconstrued. Granted, maybe Mary Louise is also comparing their station to the commercial stations in the area and not WMSE…but 88.9 is a non-commercial station. That seriously clouds the issue and forces comparisons to WMSE whether they like them or not.

  35. Anonymous says:

    I’ve been a DJ at WMSE for the last 18 years and have always mixed in hip hop with the other genres of music that I play.

  36. Anonymous says:

    I think calling Scott Mullins “a hack” is out of line. I think he clearly made a mistake with his statement – I hope he clarifies what he meant. However, referring to him as “a hack” based on one event is over the top. Anyone that is familiar with 88.9’s format knows that the djs over there are limited in what they can play. The Dave Matthews and Coldplays are going to sneak in there no matter what the djs want – that is the nature of AAA radio (although I would agree that there are AAA stations that do a better job – such as the Current). I have heard Scott Mullins spin records as part of his Dirty Soul set (or whatever it is called) and he has a deep and diverse musical awareness. I am sure that if he were given a set on 88.9 to play whatever he wanted and you listened, you would not be referring to him as “a hack.”

  37. Anonymous says:

    yeah, it’s really out of line because he once played a song you liked when he was employed at a station you sort of like.

  38. Anonymous says:

    On the contrary, Luke, I regularly tune in for Scott’s 5 o’clock shadow where he plays what he likes and they are almost always excellent and informative. I also tune if for Scott and Marcus’ “top or best of” show, which is regularly quite good. When I saw Scott spin his own records, the selection was mind-blowing. Taking all of these things into consideration, I would argue that he has a deep knowledge of music. I would agree with the majority of those who have posted that his words were out of line and that 88.9’s notion of diverse music is somewhat limited. However, calling Scott Mullins “a hack” implies that he is bad at his job and knows little about music. This is clearly not the case.

  39. Anonymous says:

    I agree with GL. Calling Scott Mullins a “hack” is totally ridiculous. He’s an encyclopedia of musical knowledge, which unfortunately cannot always be on display on the radio. As a DJ, he’s about as professional as it gets.

  40. Anonymous says:

    The original quote calls him a hack in the context as music director, not dj. only a hack would say those things and mean them. plus, as yale pointed out, that big, bad voodoo facial hair. hack=2, not hack=1 (i’m giving him one for his apparently good taste in music.)

  41. Anonymous says:

    Ryan Schleicher — trouble is thy name. The dude does nothing but stir things up.

    Scott Mullins’ comment aside there is room for 2 non-commercial stations in town — one edgy and one less-so.

    Now if someone would do the math and quantify how much local music each station plays and how many shows they sponsor, all this will be settled.

  42. Anonymous says:

    mah, you’re missing the whole point. it’s not a “88.9 vs. 91.7” thing, it’s the fact that 88.9 acts like it’s the only game in town. not only that, but how is any of this ryan’s doing?

  43. Anonymous says:

    “Ryan Schleicher — trouble is thy name. The dude does nothing but stir things up” —- That was meant to be a joke at the expense of Ryan’s nice guy personality.

    As far as which station covers local music, I still think quantifying airplay will answer the question.

  44. Anonymous says:

    DJ, right on! I really can not find anything here that, to the best of my knowlege, is not true here. Thanks for the mention,btw! I’m really glad to see a text like this highlight the bullshit and set the record straight. Let’s hope it results in some possitive change with 88.9 – obviously the ball is in their court. Until then, shine on you hmmm you red atom!? (seriously, WMSE rules).

  45. Anonymous says:

    that makes MUCH more sense. sorry, humor detector must be out of whack…

  46. Anonymous says:

    DJ – Kudos. I truly do agree with you.

  47. Anonymous says:

    Me, I don’t much listen to radio, local or otherwise. I’m simply rarely both home AND conscious for all too long, and I don’t have a transistor radio or Walkman or iPod or whatever These Kids Today are packing. But then again, I only ever actually hear even my own collection when I play any of it out, and that’s only the vinyl, so …

    … but that being said, while I do have NPR going at the moment (clock radio, it’s all I have at the moment), the only place in town I much hear anything I might not possibly have heard otherwise is either at one of the many cozy neighborhood bar record spins this city doesn’t quite realize it’s fortunate to have, or on WMSE …

    From what I’ve heard of 88.9 (in restaurants, coffee shops, laundromats, friends’ cars, et al.), it’s all been Time Life hits of the 80s, not-even-Nuggets-deep oldies, and “alternative” hits (but hits nonetheless, meaning, even I’ve inevitably heard them despite my general insulation from 21st century music) …

    Meanwhile, I’ve ALSO yet to hear tell of anyone ELSE’S DJs surreptitiously recording ANOTHER DJ’s set and passing it off as his/her (no clues where none intended …) own, so …

  48. Anonymous says:

    My name is Adam Carr and Producer at 88Nine RadioMilwaukee. I’ve made it publicly known a few times before, but I’ll start by saying that I love all the public radio stations in town, contribute money to all of them, and feel like there is definitely enough space for each of our unique approaches radio. In addition to the the stations themselves, I think all the people involved in our radio stations are phenomenal. A city couldn’t reasonably ask for more. That being said, let me do a little responding to the dialogue that’s bubbled up this week.

    I’ve waded through what I think to be every posted comment as of the moment I’m writing, and I’d like to start by contributing a general remark — I like oranges better than apples. In fact, I love oranges so much, I think everybody that prefers to grow, sell, and eats apples has bad taste.

    Also, on a non-sarcastic note, I prefer skeptics to cynics, but that’s a different food group.

    With that out of the way, I’d like to quote a few things:

    “88.9 has championed Milwaukee music like no other station in town”
    -Scott Mullins

    An important contextual point that I feel is very important to clarify — 88Nine is a formatted radio station. That means we have a playlist balancing currents, Milwaukee music, catalogue material, and various other categories. Being formatted means our on-air product is relatively consistent, so our listener can know what to expect when they turn on the station at any given time. An important distinction — outside of a handful of specialty features, we are not designed as a destination-listening station. This means our audience does not keep appointments with particular shows whose music they gravitate towards. If you like the format, you probably like us most of the time. If you don’t, then you probably won’t.

    I think you can see where I’m going here. We spin Milwaukee music in rotation, playing at least one Milwaukee song every hour, which translates to at least 24 spins a day. And as Scott said in his interview, “When we find a Milwaukee song that works for us, we put it into the mix alongside the big boys…” In this way, we can make some version of a “local hit,” which in the current media landscape is rare these days. Integrating a focused group of artists into the playlist gives them a different kind of on-air presence than a spin here or there for a wide range of artists.

    As things go, in this market, our approach is unique. It is a commitment that we take very seriously. From a listening standpoint, there is an inclusive accessibility to local music that comes with this approach. Even for a listener who is not an avid blog-reader or music-seeker or concert-goer, this format allows for them to connect with Milwaukee music. Of course this means that only artists that fall into our format will be represented in the playlist, but that holds true for non-local music as well. We are willing to live with this. Our format is about building a relationship between listeners and artists, and while we do our best, everybody and everything cannot be included.

    Another important contextual point — Scott was instrumental in creating this model for Milwaukee music at 88Nine and his comments were in a “thanks for the memories, Milwaukee” interview. Rightfully, he’s proud of his unique contributions to the city’s music scene and I think it’s fair for him to focus on his legacy at the station and in the city. If anybody from any station were leaving town and they were asked a question about what their station has contributed to the city, we would never expect them to say “RadioMilwaukee is supporting Milwaukee music really well but in a different way than us…” In fact, if that person were asked a question by the interviewer and included “we started up something new in town and it was successful,” more power to them. Their success does not diminish what we’ve done.

    And please notice something in my statement of all this — I have not made any value judgments about whether a formatted or free-format station is better than the other. I am simply explaining our approach and its impact, which is difficult to meaningfully compare to a free-format approach.

    “…we are the only [station] that gives Milwaukee artists significant, meaningful airplay…”
    -Scott Mullins

    I completely understand how the wording Scott used would offend Ryan and other WMSE devotees. If “we are the only station that gives Milwaukee artists significant, meaningful airplay,” we imply that what everybody else does is insignificant and without meaning. Yes, an indelicate choice of words there. For my part at the station, I am sincerely sorry about that.

    However, I know Scott pretty well and I know he did not intend this disrespecfully. I cannot speak for him, but considering these comments came from a professional who’s worked in the radio industry for a good number of years, the term “significant, meaningful airplay” probably just means that the songs and artists have a recurring and regular existence in the playlist. For a formatted radio station, playing a song here or there doesn’t really have much of an impact on that artist’s presence in a listener’s consciousness. By the standards that formatted radio stations judge airplay, Scott isn’t making a radical statement — it just sounds bad when isolated. And I’d like to add that the remarks he made immediately after this quote in the original interview actually explain his standpoint quite well.

    “How would you find new music or Milwaukee musicians if this station didn’t exist?”
    -Mary Louise Mussoline

    Of course there are a number of answers to her rhetorical question, but for the readership of the BizTimes, this is still a reasonable question. Why? The “you” in that sentence is not really “us,” folks who slog around in the comments sections of local alternative press. For folks who are not destination-listners, music-blog-goers and devoted-concert-goers, Milwaukee does not cross their path very often. If they do not seek, it will not come. However, if there’s a local radio station whose playlist they enjoy and leave as a preset in their car, the Milwaukee music will seep into their listening habits de facto.

    We take the same approach to our community stories. We try to make it easy as possible for a person on their commute or in their kitchen to connect to the creative community, other neighborhoods in town, Milwaukee youth, etc. by not separating that content from our general musical mix. This is an effective way of easing listeners into something with which they may not be familiar.

    “…they insist on running their non-commercial station with a distinctly commercial, competitive attitude…”
    -DJ Hostetler

    Since the dialogue has been framed as a semi-radio industry conversation, I think I can take this kind of commentary to task. The language’s vagueness makes it unproductive and misleading. What does it mean to be “distinctly commercial?” If the implication is “88Nine is competitive like a commercial radio station,” that’s way off the mark. If the implication is “88Nine is run like a commercial radio station (i.e. by a bunch of people who don’t care about anything but keeping their job),” I’d think the assertion is equally off base. I assume there’s a basis for this choice of words, and because it’s used in a way that slights our station’s character, I’d expect that journalistic standards would demand a clarification of terms.

    And I’m not sure how we somehow become bullies in all of this. We swallow a lot of public criticism and direct digs without firing back. I mean, if I were to rewrite my last paragraph invoking sentiments similar to the original markedly-uncompetitive and Midwestern-folksy WMSE statement, it might look like this: “I respect what you do here at Fan Belt, but your use of ‘distinctly commercial’ is willfully ignorant and disingenuous.” Geez. With language like that, sounds a lot more like I don’t want to get along now.

    “…Continue to pretend that WMSE doesn’t exist in interviews”
    -DJ Hostetler

    Between the much loved “88.9 has championed Milwaukee music like no other station in town” and fan favorite “we are the only one that gives Milwaukee artists significant, meaningful airplay,” you can find Scott’s much over-looked, “I’m not saying that we are the only station that ever plays it.” The question was about how 88Nine has impacted radio in the city of Milwaukee, not about who’s playing local music in Milwaukee.

    If Ryan were to give an interview and said “we’ve created a platform that gives a voice to the most diverse range of music in town,” he would be entitled to that opinion. He’d be right too. While we probably have the most diverse playlist of formatted radio stations in town, WMSE is a different platform for music and they’ve more than earned every one of their superlatives.

    And let me just quickly add that many media outlets in town have gone out of their way, almost to the point of absurdity, to avoid putting our name in stories. We keep our feelings about that internal. Nobody owes us mention, even if we are proud of what we’ve done.

    “The station consistently presents itself as the city’s chief avenue for local music, implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) taking credit for the gains Milwaukee musicians have made in recent years.”
    -Steve Hyden

    Not sure what’s being referenced here. Which consistent presentation are you talking about? Around the office, we frequently have conversations about how we are a resource for Milwaukee musicians, but not king-makers (and if you’re talking about us taking credit in any way for Kings Go Forth’s recent success, while we are incredibly proud of our early support of the group, we have no misgivings about their self-propelled path to national attention. Yev heard them in a BMX youtube video and their music took it from there. We know.). Even in our on air branding, we don’t use the obvious “Your home for Milwaukee music” in our imaging — we use the much less aggressive “Milwaukee Music. Everyday. Every hour.” or simply “Milwaukee Music.” In fact, Scott included this point in his interview, “[Our air-play] can translate into actually selling come CDs or downloads for the band, better attendance at gigs and maybe even some better paying gigs. But a lot of that is up to the band to hustle and try to capitalize on the exposure.”

    “Radio Milwaukee doesn’t need to constantly trumpet how unique it is to be seen as unique. The good work it does speaks for itself. Radio Milwaukee just needs to stop drowning itself out with all the self-applied back-slapping.”
    -Steve Hyden

    Drowning out? Really? Is a colorfully worded dig worth making an unfair dig at our reputation? A claim this strong needs to be substantiated. Again, Scott did not write this in a press release. This is the exact question he was asked: “How has 88.9 changed Milwaukee radio? Or has it?” So really, in this context, I don’t understand Ryan’s comment: “Just play the music and stop talking about how much you play the music and how important you are.”

    Publicly, 88Nine’s staff refers to itself on the following two occasions: (1) appeals for donations and (2) when answering a question about ourselves in an interview. Like every other station in town, we will not stop doing (1) or (2). If there are other cases that I’m missing, please let me know.

    And as a conclusion that I’d hope wouldn’t be necessary amongst adults but has proven to be needed, character attacks on Scott Mullins are completely out of line. If you want to bring that ugliness into a conversation, take it up with him directly. Seriously.

  49. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for the well-thought response, Adam. And i actually answered some questions for Molly that might run soon and i think some of my answers run partially concurrent with some of these thoughts. I’ll definitely say this, i really wish the conversation would stay on point rather than becoming a versus issue. And yes, “willfully ignorant…” was harsh. “disingenuous” i’ll stand by. this is explained further in the interview, so ’til then. But seriously, thank you!

  50. Anonymous says:

    Good stuff Adam. Thanks for joining the conversation. I think it’s an important one to have (otherwise i wouldn’t have written my post), and i’m glad you’ve stepped up to provide some important context. Since you asked for some clarification on a few of my quotes, let me give you some in an effort to keep the conversation flowing in a respectful manner (which i did my best to maintain in the original post, but i’ll be honest–i’m full of snark by nature, and more cynic than skeptic, so i can see how i may have rubbed you the wrong way with a few of the things i said. Sorry about that. 🙂 )

    “…they insist on running their non-commercial station with a distinctly commercial, competitive attitude…”

    What i mean by “distinctly commercial and competitive” is that many of the things you guys say in public seem intended to represent yourselves as something you’re not. Which i suppose isn’t necessarily limited to commercial entities, but statements like “we’re the only station that gives Milwaukee artists significant, meaningful airplay” and “diverse music for a diverse city” sound like the empty “more rock, less talk” kind of slogans one would hear out of a corporate, commercial station. I mean, what meaning does “diverse music for a diverse city” have when the station doesn’t represent fully the diversity of Milwaukee? Now, i suppose you could say that 88.9’s format is “diverse” compared to your typical commercial station, and that to your typical “casual music fan” in Whitefish Bay, 88.9 does sound diverse. The more i think about where your station is coming from when compared to where your critics are standing, this all sounds more and more to me like a clashing of perspective.
    I appreciate your clarification of how you guys decide what’s played at your “formatted” radio station. I have some (very brief) commercial radio experience myself from my time in the Fox Valley, so it wasn’t exactly new, *but* i appreciate the refresher and clarification of what your mission regarding Milwaukee music is. To my ears, it sounds like you’re doing your best to sneak local music into the consciousness of the everyday Milwaukeean who isn’t necessarily a music nerd who would appreciate stuff that lies a little more on the fringes of, for lack of a better word, “listenability.” That’s totally cool, and totally awesome for the bands that fit into your format. Hey, i’m good pals with Quinn Scharber–if your station playing the hell out of and giving an award to “Latest Flame” has gotten him any more notice than he would have had otherwise, i’m stoked.
    It comes down to this–like you said yourself when explaining Mary Louise’s quote: “The “you” in that sentence is not really “us,” folks who slog around in the comments sections of local alternative press. For folks who are not destination-listners, music-blog-goers and devoted-concert-goers, Milwaukee does not cross their path very often.” To those people, maybe you are “diverse,” and maybe you are their only source for Milwaukee music. And that’s great for you guys, and you’re doing a real service. But meanwhile, the more passionate fans, musicians, and writers who slog away making Milwaukee an amazing (and TRULY diverse) town for music, see you guys presenting a sliver of what Milwaukee music has to offer, wrapped in quotes, slogans, and positioning that seem to imply that the 80% (note: not an empirical figure) of Milwaukee music that doesn’t fit your format doesn’t exist. If that’s not your station’s intention, that’s fine (and since you apologized for Scott’s quote being seen in that light, i’ll assume that it’s not), but intended or not, it’s causing a lot of passionate “doers” around here to roll their eyes. You say you’re willing to live with not playing the local music that doesn’t fit your format. That’s cool–no one inany of these comments has said you have to do otherwise. We just don’t appreciate what, until your clarification, has been the appearance that you’re pretending to represent all of Milwaukee. Maybe it’s a minority of Milwaukee musicians and writers who feel this way, but unfortunately, we’re the loudmouths with blogs. 🙂
    I hope that clarifies my point. Again, much thanks for posting Adam, and i hope you feel welcome to keep the conversation rolling. I’ve said over and over during this discussion that there’s room for tons of noncommercial stations in town, and they don’t all need to operate in the same manner. And i honestly believe that. Overall, I respect 88.9 and what you guys do.

  51. Anonymous says:

    I’ll echo Ryan and DJ and say that I really appreciate you taking the time respond, Adam. You mentioned that RM often “swallows a lot of public criticism and direct digs”—I really wish you guys wouldn’t do that. Some of the more hyperbolic comments aside, this is a conversation between members of the community, not a bitchfest at your expense. Speaking up every now and then would really do you some good, especially when you sound as well-reasoned and smart as you do in the post above.

    That said, I stand behind what I wrote. I love what RM has done for the city, and it obviously has a place in the community. Thousands of people tune in and enjoy your programming every day. Please understand that these comments are meant to be constructive. While you make great points arguing against the criticisms made of RM, there’s obviously a perception out there among some people that you are, intentionally or not, building yourselves up at the expense of others. That might be worth addressing at some point.

  52. Anonymous says:

    I left a really long comment on the follow-up OnMilwaukee piece just now, but Adam, i think i have to say at least one more thing. Focusing 1st on the Mary Mouise comment, it took you a lot of words to explain the meaning behind her station, and it still seems like kind of a stretch and relies on the parsing the word “you”. I’m not saying that you’re being dishonest and revisionist, i’m more talking about perception and interpretation. what i mean is (back to Scott for reference) after i initially responded, a number of people who are fans of your station also chimed in with dissatisfaction over Scott’s remarks. I can’t imagine that being the image associated with your station. Again taking me, DJ or Steve (or any other local media folks) out of the equation, if listeners are taking issue, station positioning might be getting in the way.

    I know it’s hard to avoid criticism, and it sucks having to worry or care if people take offense to public statements. But it sounds like you guys DO put a lot of thought into how you are perceived by the general public (a necessity). But there are people out there right now who are publicly unhappy about how they perceive you are presenting yourself. And as i said on OnMilwaukee, at some point intent doesn’t even matter, especially if you have to write lengthy explanations about that intent, because intent gets lost in perception.

    All that said, you’d have every right to position yourself as you see fit, and if you think the current messages being put out there benefit the station more than hinder the station’s progress, that’s fine, too. It really is.

  53. Anonymous says:

    Steven –
    You write “…there’s obviously a perception out there among some people that you are, intentionally or not, building yourselves up at the expense of others.” Obviously there is this perception; you express it in the excerpt Adam quotes from you: “Radio Milwaukee just needs to stop drowning itself out with all the self-applied back-slapping.” You then say that this perception “might be worth addressing at some point,” which — as far as I can tell — is exactly what Adam was doing in his post. He made his argument for why he thinks that perception is off-base, what’s your defense of putting it forth?

    DJ –
    I could be way off base here but I always assumed that, given 88.9’s demonstrated interest in Milwaukee — not just as a music scene, but as an amalgam of social groups delineated by neighborhood, race, class, interests etc — the slogan “Diverse music for a diverse city” was less in reference to the styles of music they play and more about the “inclusive accessibility” Adam references, across diverse groups. To that end, playing more “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,” might not achieve the goal. And if I’m being perfectly honest, I don’t think that playing all those bands (many of whom I like) would achieve the kind of diversity you are demanding from 88.9, seeing as they’re all basically some variant on underground rock.

  54. Anonymous says:

    “behind her station”

    i meant her comment.

  55. Anonymous says:

    WD –
    Good points, and i agree that my list of bands wasn’t the most diverse in and of itself; while music nerds see infinite diversity in the many different rock sub-genres, it’s just splitting hairs in the grand scheme of things (i like both kinds of music–country and western). But i’m not demanding diversity from Radio Milwaukee–i’ll reiterate yet again that they are free to program the way they see fit. My issue is with the positioning, not the format.

  56. Anonymous says:

    Hey WD: What I mean is that RM might want to address this in a forum a little higher profile than Fan-Belt’s message board. Also, as eloquent as he is, I’m not sure Adam is the proper spokesman here. Shouldn’t that responsibility lie with the executive director, or someone else in a leadership position? Mullins’ decision not to respond to OMC’s followup story is disappointing; for a station that relies on public support, RM’s leadership ought to be a little more accessible to the public.

    While Adam tries valliantly to put what other people said in the context of insider radio-speak, I’m not sure he completely explains the statements away. So, like I said, I stand behind what I wrote.

  57. Anonymous says:

    But what about the facial hair? have you spoken to Scott about it?

  58. Anonymous says:

    Yeah, that trumpet player from John the Savage is totally a dick!

  59. Anonymous says:

    All joking aside Adam I think there are people here who would listen your station if you pushed the edges of what you play a bit more. When I first found out about Radio Milwaukee I was excited, thinking the format would be more like WOXY (rip) or KEXP, both are great stations, that will play pop altera stuff but then can also play more experimental/harder stuff. I guess I feel that RM panders to a kind of low denominator, I mean yeah it might turn some people off to play some Milwaukee Free Jazz/Harder hip hop/or Metal/punk. I think it needs to happen if you are advertising RM as a diverse station.

  60. Anonymous says:

    Why does Radio Milwaukee owe Steven Hyden or Dr. Awkward/Hostettler an explanation about anything? Hostettler takes 88.9 to task? How about someone taking him to task? Let’s address the obvious conflict of interest that these two have with this issue. Awkward/Hostettler plays in a band (IfIHadAHiFi) that 88.9 does not play. This is a major conflict of interest that would prevent him from ever writing anything about 88.9 were he an actual journalist instead of some dude with a blog. He obviously has an axe to grind with 88.9. If he had a shred of journalistic integrity he would remove all of his comments pertaining to 88.9 from this site. If ThirdCoastDigest had a shred of jounalistic integrity they would not allow him to write about the station. I doubt either will happen.

    Steven Hyden appears regularly on the WMSE airwaves. He has an interest in tearing down the competition. Again, this is a MAJOR conflict of interst and he should refrain from writing about the station. Why has no one brought this up?

  61. Anonymous says:

    Because frankly, Bayview Bob, i think it’s a lazy dismissal of valid points that several people have expressed agreement with. Yes, i play in a band that 88.9 doesn’t play. Big whoop–we’ve gotten plenty of coverage in town from other outlets. As i have said constantly and will repeat again for your benefit, Radio Milwaukee are free to play whoever they want and format their station as they see fit. I really don’t care that they don’t play us. You’re free to not believe me, but whatever.
    I’m afraid that people in town just need to get over the fact that people in Milwaukee’s music community wear several hats at once. It’s a small town. Writers play in bands, band members book shows, band members/promoters have radio shows. If every writer in town had to recuse themselves from stories where they know the people involved or could be perceived as having a “conflict of interest,” nothing would ever be written.

  62. Anonymous says:

    Really Bay View Bob? Tearing down the “competition”? Have you noticed all the NICE things I’ve said about Radio Milwaukee over the years? We’ve covered the station throughout its history at AV Club Milwaukee. I interviewed the original executive director, J. Mikel Ellcessor, back when the station started in 2007. (The first media outlet to do an RM story, by the way.) I’ve run stories on RM DJs like Tarik Moody and Jordan Lee. I’ve run stories during RM pledge drives encouraging people to donate. I would gladly appear on the station if they ever invited me. (And, no, I don’t hold that against them!) For the record, no one owes me an explanation. We’re have a discussion here about radio, fer crissakes! Why make it personal?

  63. Anonymous says:

    No. You. Didn’t!

  64. Anonymous says:

    BV Bob – You can’t call hack journalism then offer hack journalism. do you really REALLY think DJ is trying to tear someone down for not playing his band? I know the dude can be a real ass sometimes (hi DJ!), but that’s a really unfair statement that assumes pretty petty, immature behavior.

    As for Steve, i can honestly see your issue there. It’s pretty hypocritical of me to talk to Adam about perception then not consider perception. I can assure you there’s no evil plot happening here, and if you read everyone’s comments, including Steve, DJ, myself and many others, almost everyone mentions respecting 88.9 and our belief they they are, in fact, doing good for milwaukee. I’m not vouching for anyone turning this into an us vs them debate because that’s not what this entire conversation is about. That goes for people talking good and bad about both stations.

    But just because i can understand why you are saying something doesn’t mean i think it’s at all valid. I’ll only say this once: Contrary to what many people often think, there are no grand conspiracies happening with milwaukee media people. We don’t play or talk about or write about bands because they are our friends or not play/write/talk because we don’t like people. Hell, if we wanted to, i’d like to see you try to tell Melissa or Erin or Drew what to play. I can assure you that you would not have much luck.

    Hey, wait a minute…come to think about it, they’re not playing my band either (Scott – real sorry, man. Um can you, like, get my cd in rotation before you leave for Baltimore? We’re still buds, right?).

  65. Anonymous says:

    For the record, I’m with GL on this. Scott knows his shit.

  66. Anonymous says:

    “I’m afraid that people in town just need to get over the fact that people in Milwaukee’s music community wear several hats at once. It’s a small town. Writers play in bands, band members book shows, band members/promoters have radio shows. If every writer in town had to recuse themselves from stories where they know the people involved or could be perceived as having a “conflict of interest,” nothing would ever be written.”

    True dat.

  67. Anonymous says:

    huh, another puke drunk. i like the older one better. this one sucks.

  68. Anonymous says:

    Radio Milwaukee is like an astro-turf response to a grassroots movement — it takes the shape and color of a natural community-driven institution in order to keep its supporters feeling all warm and fuzzy about it, but its driving force and intentions are clearly manufactured; differing little from mainstream institutions.

    Mullins and Mussoline’s comments basically tell you this much — The reason Radio Milwaukee functions like a commercial station is because the powers that be at Radio Milwaukee don’t THINK of their station in the context of other truly listener-supported independent stations. Rather, they borrow certain ideas from stations like WMSE or WUWM, but more likely think of their peers and direct competition as the commercial radio stations in the Milwaukee market. Or at least, that’s the best rationale I can think of for why these two representatives of Radio Milwaukee would not mention WMSE in discussing the support of local music.

    With that said, I think part of what Radio Milwaukee does is show you what WMSE *could* be. Now, I won’t dig into WMSE too hard because I have complete and utter respect for everything they do. But part of what WMSE does is deliver a vast and endless on-air eutopia of musical variety in 3-hour increments. And that variety, in my opinion, is part of WMSE’s downfall.

    The problem with a lot of independent music institutions (venues, festivals, publications, radio stations, etc.) is that they try to be everything to everyone. As if, being super open-minded and all-inclusive to all types of music is going to bring in a sizeable audience proportionate to that variety, and doing so is the only way an independent body can compete with mainstream counterparts.

    WMSE has operated on this type of format for nearly 30 years. And while this format may have been necessary for WMSE to garner support through the first 20 years of its existence, at this point that method is outdated. In 2010, your general audience isn’t going to support something that only appeals to their tastes 3 hours out of the week on the premise of how *cool* and *vital* it is to the artistic community.
    Because really, NOBODY wants to hear Cattle Decapitation played right after Cat Power. NOBODY wants to hear Dr. Sushi’s Free Jazz Barbeque. Ideal and various, yes. But that shit’s just annoying!

    Thus, Radio Milwaukee proves it’s not necessary to be everything to everyone anymore. What they do works specifically BECAUSE they choose to thin out the herd when it comes to who they give exposure to.
    And so what if they do? It’s hardly kin to the Special Olympics refusing the REALLY retarded kids (you know what I mean…) and only letting the marginally good-looking retards compete. It’s just music! And in 2010, musicians have more ways to get exposure than they know what to do with.

    So, for as disingenuous as Radio Milwaukee seems in comparison to other listener-supported radio, a) it doesn’t matter. and b) it’s almost like they’re playing the same sport as WMSE but in a different league and with a slightly different set of rules. Or at least they think they are. So, yeah, back to a)… it doesn’t matter.

    Regardless, what they’re doing works on some level. Late 30’s Alterra Soccer Moms all over this city feel really hip for having those 88.9 window clings in their Toyota Priuses. Maybe WMSE should be taking notes and cut out some of the crap.

  69. Anonymous says:

    “NOBODY wants to hear Dr. Sushi’s Free Jazz Barbeque.”

    Hey! Not true! I do!

    As someone who loves experimental music of all shapes/sizes, I guess what you are claiming as the downfall of WMSE is the only way I will get to hear this stuff on the radio. Only when a station really pushes itself to find really messed up stuff, often (I’m guessing/assuming here) for the purpose of being messed up, will they find the music I listen to on a daily basis.

    So it probably alientates 99.99999999999999999999% of the population, but for the record, there are a few of us out there who drool over Dr. Sushi and Wietlispach and Rammel whenever they come on the air.

  70. Anonymous says:

    I’m clearly making light of experimental music here in order to sell a larger point. Are you challenging that larger point, or simply taking issue with the genre I chose to mock?

  71. Anonymous says:

    Just the genre. Im sensitive about these things.
    On the whole I agree with you, but I still question if its bad that WMSE is all over the place. Tricks people into listening to stuff outside of their comfort zone, which might lead to a diversified palette, as opposed to 88.9 which merely gives people new bands in the same small set of genres. Not to say that what 88.9 is bad (don’t like the music they play, but thats a matter of taste), just that what WMSE does isn’t necessarily bad either.

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