Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

WTMJ Move Threatens Liberal Talk Station

“They’ve picked a fight with the wrong guy,” WRRD owner warns.

By - Jul 20th, 2017 12:57 pm
Sign-up for the Urban Milwaukee daily email
Dominic Salvia and Mike Crute. Photo courtesy of The Devil's Advocates Radio.

Dominic Salvia and Mike Crute. Photo courtesy of The Devil’s Advocates Radio.

It was back in January that entrepreneur Mike Crute shook up the local radio market by starting, of all things, a liberal talk radio station. Crute, who had co-hosted the liberal “Devil’s Advocate” show in Madison, purchased 1510 AM, a longtime Milwaukee radio station and rebranded it as WRRD-AM, “Resistance Radio.”

The station has done pretty well, and the afternoon drive-time show, which retains the “Devil’s Advocate” title, is still co-hosted by Crute and his libertarian colleague, Dominic Salvia, and is a lot of fun. (I’ve been an occasional guest.) “The Devil’s Advocates” program, in fact, is nationally syndicated by WYD Media Management and distributed by Westwood One.

But the station’s license is limited to daylight hours only — literally sunup to sundown — which is fine for long summer days, but in mid-winter means Resistance Radio must turn off its liberal beacon at 4:30 p.m., in the middle of afternoon drive time, and start its morning drive-time show later as well. Hardly an ideal arrangement.

But Crute had made contact with Frank McCoy, a Chicago-based businessman who has been involved with various broadcast and media companies since at least the mid-1990s. McCoy owned an FM translator, as it’s called, at 103.3 FM, and used it to broadcast a show in Waukegan, Illinois. Legally, it could also be used in Milwaukee to extend the hours of an AM station like WRRD. So Crute offered to pay McCoy to lease the FM translator and the two men jointly filed a construction permit with the FCC to construct an antennae in Milwaukee to facilitate a broadcast using the 103.3 signal.

But somehow, WTMJ radio has intervened and made a deal with McCoy to grab the FM translator. “McCoy says he was approached by people and got a big bag of money from WTMJ,” Crute says. Of course, it’s also possible it was McCoy who approached TMJ, offering a deal that would hamstring a talk radio competitor.

Either way, Crute contends, the FM translator isn’t something WJMJ really needs: “WTMJ already has the most powerful signal in Wisconsin. They don’t need an FM signal, there’s no upside for them.”

WTMJ, however, sees things differently. Tom Langmyer, vice president & general manager of WTMJ/WKTI-Milwaukee, told Talkers magazine its all about broadening the audience: “It’s important to make the station’s services available to listeners on additional platforms. The exclusive FM radio cume [cumulative audience] will now be especially well-served by our commitment to live and local talk – and our 24-hour newsroom.”

Of course, if buying that FM translator was such a good business move for TMJ, why did they only do it after Crute came to town and pursued a deal for it?

Crute believes this is all about taking out a competitor in the local talk radio marketplace. “This deal is insignificant to them, but it’s devastating to me. This cuts us off at the knees.”

While WRRD is aimed at liberal listeners and TMJ at conservatives, there’s always been some liberals who listened at times to hosts like Mark Belling and Charlie Sykes because they wanted to hear a discussion of politics and current events. Sykes retirement has clearly hurt TMJ, which has seen some decline in ratings.

And Crute and Salvio have over the years had on conservative guests like Wisconsin’s Republican Senator Ron Johnson and conservative talk show host Vicki McKenna. So there could be some competitive advantage for TMJ to kill Crute’s opportunity to increase his audience.

Certainly Crute sees this as a David vs. Goliath fight. “They’ve picked a fight with the wrong guy and the wrong radio station,” he warns.

Crute has hired Rebecca E. Jacobs of the law firm Womble Caryle Sandridge & Rice LLP to file an objection with the FCC to the construction permit for McCoy and the E.W. Scripps Co. (which has owned WTMJ since its buyout of the Journal Sentinel company, whose newspaper operation was subsequently sold to Gannett publishing).

Crute notes that the construction permit that was jointly taken out by him and McCoy stipulates the ownership “may not be transferred for four years.”

But in the complicated, cut-throat world of radio, and at a time when the FCC has a new leader and board members, it’s anybody’s guess whether Crute’s objection will be upheld. Crute argues his station helps “level the broadcast playing field” by providing the only non-conservative talk radio station in the Milwaukee metro area. But that’s not likely to concern the Trump administration.

Win or lose, Crute says, he intends to keep his station going. But without the FM translator, the station will likely have a smaller audience and less value in the marketplace.

Update 8:45 a.m. July 21: Tom Langmyer contacted me to make several points. He noted that most radio listeners listen to FM, not AM (just 21 percent according to Nielsen ratings), so adding the FM translator will strengthen WTMJ. He said that his company was “approached by a broker, working on behalf of McCoy, to see if we had interest in the ability to add FM service on his translator.” And he denied that his company wants to hurt a competitor, saying this: “Keeping radio strong as a choice for audio users is a good thing for our industry. If there are more restaurants on a street, there are more people who will visit that street. Think of radio that way.”

If you think stories like this are important, become a member of Urban Milwaukee and help support real independent journalism. Plus you get some cool added benefits, all detailed here. 

39 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: WTMJ Move Threatens Liberal Talk Station”

  1. Joe says:

    “The station has done pretty well”

    How does one define that? Because they aren’t showing up in the ratings.

    http://ratings.radio-online.com/cgi-bin/rol.exe/arb043

  2. fightingbobfan says:

    As for the point above, they don’t appear in the ratings because they have not yet signed up for the Arbitrons.

    What this blows apart is the notion that the reason why progressive talk radio doesn’t work is because it is not popular.

  3. Tailefer says:

    They don’t appear in the ratings yet because they been on the air for only six months, which is not long enough to appear in the ratings.

  4. Vincent Hanna says:

    What Tailefer said. You have to give them a little time. It isn’t easy trying to do this from scratch. Look at Air America. They had way more money and resources and some famous names and they still couldn’t do it. Of course, they also sucked. Is this any better?

  5. jake says:

    WTMJ is rotten to the core bullying their way to keep a monopoly. 1510 is a threat. They know it. Boycott them.

  6. fightingbobfan says:

    Furthermore Vincent, it took years for reich wing radio to take hold.

  7. Robert says:

    I’ve listened several times. It’s B-O-R-I-N-G!

  8. Jake formerly of the LP says:

    What the other Jake said. TMJ is SCARED. They know the racist Klan types are already listening to 1130, so they can’t get them and now they’re losing listeners to 1510 because the talk is real and not Wagner’s scripted BS. And what’s funny is if they put liberal talk on the Brewers/Packers/Bucks station, it probably would get the same ratings as they get now, with more integrity.

    The fact that they don’t recognize it, or refuse to do it regardless of the ratings proves one thing. “Liberal media my A$$!”

  9. Vincent Hanna says:

    Is WTMJ actually losing listeners to this station, or is this station appealing to people who normally listen to say NPR or 88Nine, or no radio at all?

  10. Thomas says:

    1510 is unque in this market in that he hosts actually let the callers talk for a while without forcing their points on them. The hosts acknowledge biases. Moreover, they do not rely on nationally shared talking points created in right wing think tanks.

  11. fightingbobfan says:

    There is no business reason for this attack by TMJ. Some of their listeners will tune into 1510 out of curiosity, but most of the audience is made up of progressives so they are loosing nobody.

    It’s pure politics.

    Thanks TMJ. You have showed that you and the rest of the right wing doesn’t have the courage to allow another side to air it’s views. What kind of country do you call that?

  12. fightingbobfan says:

    There is no business reason for this attack by TMJ. Some of their listeners will tune into 1510 out of curiosity, but most of the audience is made up of progressives so they are loosing nobody.

    It’s pure politics.

    Thanks TMJ. You have showed that you and the rest of the right wing doesn’t have the courage to allow the another side to air it’s views. What kind of country do you call that?

  13. Bob says:

    The station has done pretty well. What does that mean Bruce? How did you determine that the station has done pretty well?

    Sykes retirement has clearly hurt TMJ, which has seen some decline in ratings. Talk about the decline in the ratings for TMJ Bruce. Give us the numbers.

    But somehow, WTMJ radio has intervened and made a deal with McCoy to grab the FM translator. “McCoy says he was approached by people and got a big bag of money from WTMJ,” Crute says. Of course, it’s also possible it was McCoy who approached TMJ, offering a deal that would hamstring a talk radio competitor. All of this is speculation from someone who didn’t have the cash to pony up to but the transmitter. Libs pushing the great conspiracy theory one more time. Crute chooses to think that TMJ the biggest stick in the state is somehow threatened by his boring daytime radio station. Ha ha that’s funny!

  14. Paul Trotter says:

    One of his advertising sponsors just mentioned that his business has increased significantly since advertising on 1510. The sponsor has decided to run ads exclusively on 1510 because of the customers from the Milwaukee area coming to purchase his products. Compared to WISN and WTMJ the costs for advertising on 1510 are much lower.

  15. fightingbobfan says:

    Bob —

    The station is picking up advertisers. That’s a good metric. Bear in mind that during the dawn of reich wing radio, people patiently waited for it to take hold and there was some billionaire money to get it past the toddler stage.

    The timing of TMJ’s offer is pretty suspicious, but like in Putin’s Russia, dissent is not tolerated.

    Sorry you aren’t enjoying the guys. They have a damned funny program, unlike Beavis over at WISN who barks for three hours and features a parade of aggrieved callers. Maybe Dom and Crute hurt your feelings.

    At any rate, they are a breath of fresh air and it is sad that the FREEDUM! crowd wants to choke this off.

  16. Paul Trotter says:

    Spot on Fightingbob – perhaps Bob enjoys talk such as this from Beavis.

    https://youtu.be/KozFpzij5_c

    Or maybe Bob enjoys Beavis like this – maybe something that attacks women?

    https://youtu.be/q85MKco-ljg

  17. Duane Snyder says:

    The Thom Hartmann show is on from 11AM to 2PM, this would be the show to listen to. It seems Congressmen Mark Pocan and Keith Ellison are becoming weekly regulars on the Friday show, or so it seems. (Pocan is on for one hour taking questions from callers). It’s about time someone had a “meet the Democrats” to counteract the constant drone of “meet the Republicans” on corporate media.

  18. Daniel Golden says:

    Clear Channel killed the liberal station in Madison with the Devils Advocates programing the day after the November election, despite the fact that they were a popular program on one of the highest rated liberal talk stations in the nation in their market at the time. Over 90% of all media are owned by 5 corporations, all of whom are controlled and dominated by right wing conservatives. An example: when the Dixie chicks said one sentence while performing overseas, in which they expressed their chagrin at being from the same state as Bush, during the Bush Cheney Iraq war fiasco, they were pulled off 2000 radio stations within 24 hours. Rush Limbaugh continues on all the Clear Channel stations that can afford him, despite his toxic pus filled rants about “the halfrican” in the White House, etc. WTMJ is the mouthpiece for the Bradley Foundation, and they are adopting the classic bully approach: Because I have silenced you, I have converted you. I wish the best to the Advocates in getting specific performance against by court order against McCoy and WTMJ.

  19. Ed Wycozk says:

    WTMJ is not Clear Channel/iHeart. It’s owned by a company called Scripps. Apparently many people here think that WTMJ is controlled by right wingers. Actually, that company is a pretty good one.

    All the hardcore right wing nut job programming was taken off WTMJ under the new owner, Scripps. Charlie Sykes is gone, Michael Savage is gone, Laura Igraham was dumped and the rest of the right wing tripe was removed in favor of balanced local talk shows and news.

    I doubt that WTMJ or Scripps gives a rip about a tiny radio station in Waukesha. They probably just want to be on FM, since that’s where most people listen to the radio.

    If this McCoy owns the FM station that WRRD wants, he can sell it to whoever he wants to. Too bad WRRD didn’t just get their own FM station on their own. I can pick them up pretty good where I live and I also listen to them on the Internet. It’s pretty easy to hear them.

  20. I’ve forced myself to listen to local and national right-wing radio periodically just to know its content and tone. It’s mind-numbingly BORING if you are not into nonstop whining rants at various levels of volume. The Devil’s Advocates and other WRRD shows have a level of intelligent discourse, intelligence and creative humor–which is far less predictable and more energetic and engaging for anyone who wants to consider ideas and not just hear boring talking points.

    Hobbling the competition does sound like a TMJ M.O.

  21. Paul Trotter says:

    As an ex Citizen Action Of Wisconsin / Radio Active monitor who has listened to thousands of hours of Bellling, Sykes, McKenna, Weber, O’Donnell and Bader over the last year I can tell you I did not find it boring. Here’s the thing, for those who want to be fed a diet of lies, racism, sexism, fake news, attacks on public school teachers and education, attacks on local businessmen such as Bill Penzey ( owner of Penzey’s Spices ) this is where they go to satisfy that hunger. Their listeners simply don’t question what they are saying or if they do they are not allowed on the air. Belling for example rarely takes callers now. Weber the same way. O’Donnell takes callers and occasionally asks for liberals. Many of the callers on Weber just parrot back what Weber has said in the past. Belling, Weber and O’Donnell often reference sources that are fake news. Their thing now is to either discredit any negative news related to Trump or completely ignore it and attack liberals. O’Donnell begins his show with ” Liars, Cheats, Democratic Politicians, Liberal Media Types.. Instead listen to the Dan O’Donnell Show.” I helped produce well over 100 videos exposing these propaganda machines. We started off crude but became more sophisticated. If you wish to get involved with monitoring contact Radio-Active at Citizen Action. So if you have time to listen to a podcast on a consistent basis please do give them a ring, They need monitors.

  22. Vincent Hanna says:

    Paul do they cover therapy for people who listen to hours of that?

  23. Paul Trotter says:

    Good one Vincent. Are you referencing the people who listen to it to affirm their beliefs or are you talking about ex monitors like myself. Its certainly possible that a new classification could be developed by the American Psychiatric Association ( I made that up ) to allow coverage. Hmm – what would they label that code
    for billing? Suggestions Vincent? 🙂

  24. Vincent Hanna says:

    I am referring to the monitors like you. Good question. Need to think on it.

  25. Paul Trotter says:

    Well Vincent – so far abstinence is working and listening to the podcast ” On Being with Krista Tippett”. I would also recommend not overdosing like I did when I was listening to all of them while on long walks and road trips. Of course I would listen at 1 1/2 times the speed but do to a podcast format change that is no longer possible. LIstening at normal speed to right wing radio is tough. Skipping through Belling’s talk about baseball, football, horse racing and his general self admiration episodes makes it easier. I suspect if people like his talk about those subjects it’s also easy to sucked into his propaganda.

  26. Paul Trotter says:

    Oops –
    Well Vincent – so far abstinence is working and listening to the podcast ” On Being with Krista Tippett”. I would also recommend not overdosing like I did when I was listening to all of them while on long walks and road trips. Of course I would listen at 1 1/2 times the speed but due to a podcast format change that is no longer possible. LIstening at normal speed to right wing radio is tough. Skipping through Belling’s talk about baseball, football, horse racing and his frequent self admiration episodes makes it easier. I suspect if people like his talk about those subjects it’s also easy for them to be sucked into his propaganda.

  27. Vincent Hanna says:

    I would think listening in moderation would be wise.

  28. Tom D says:

    Scripps already has an FM frequency in Milwaukee: 94.5 on which they ALREADY broadcast WTMJ’s talk-radio programming (using digital “HD Radio”).

    Using HD radio, an FM station can broadcast up to 4 different programs at once. By law, one of those HD programs must be the same as the “regular” FM station, but the other 3 can be anything the station wants. In the case of WKTI, HD channel 1 carries the “regular” WKTI country programming, HD channel 2 carries exactly the same stuff as 620 AM, and channels 3 & 4 aren’t used.

    HD radio receivers are available for as little as $50 and come included on many cars (but most people seem unaware of this). Unlike Sirius/XM radio, there is no monthly fee to listen to HD radio.

    You can see all the local HD radio stations here:

    https://hdradio.com/stations

    In Milwaukee, five AM stations (620, 920, 1130, 1250, and 1340) broadcast on FM HD channels and there are also music stations simply not available on “regular” AM/FM radios.

    One caveat about HD radio: You need a fairly strong signal. If you’re in the city, you should have no problem, but if you’re in a distant suburb, you may not be able to pick up the HD signal (even if you get the “regular” FM signal just fine).

  29. Mark E. Bye says:

    They even want to gerrymander the airwaves we already own.

  30. Paul Trotter says:

    1510 is a refreshing change from WISN and WTMJ . For something WISN and WTMJ would never do or consider, watch 1510 live on Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/devilsadvocatesradio/

  31. RAFE says:

    This is refreshing?

    Have you ever listened to Earl Ingraham or Stephanie Miller? Both of their sidekick / cohorts seem to be fresh out of middle school. The lap dog, yes man mentality just seems to energize these hosts to spew more snarky, half-witted comments.

    Thom Hartmann? He’s definitely the pilot of the Looney bird Airline.

    By all means give them more power to broadcast more idiots.
    I don’t think WTMJ or WISN have anything to worry about.

  32. fightingbobfan says:

    Guess everyone has their own taste. Some seem to prefer Barking Beavis and Screaming Icky on WISN with their aggrieved callers.

    Enjoy!

  33. AG says:

    So I spent the end of last week and this weekend listening to WRRD… and my conclusion… is that it is the same thing as the right wing talk shows, but obviously much less polished. I’m sure they’ll get better at it though, I suppose. Either way, it’s just as biased, left me bored often times, cherry picked sources and arguments just like the right wing talk shows. Generally unimpressed but I’ll still put it into rotation since I enjoy talk more than the terrible music being played on the radio these days.

    As far as WTMJ being threatened by WRRD, I just don’t see it. They’re too raw, don’t show up on the ratings yet, but most importantly pull a generally different audience. The few people they’ll pull are people like me who like to hear all perspectives… but I doubt there are many of those.

    Side question… what are ratings like for AM radio stations after the evening commute times anyway?? I just can’t imagine it being very high. I’d imagine, because WRRD’s current signal strength being pretty good, they hit most of their listeners already. Does this FM repeater really do that much?

  34. Vincent Hanna says:

    I am also skeptical of WTMJ feeling threatened by an upstart, but as Bruce states the timing is awfully suspicious and raises eyebrows. Could be a matter of nipping it in the bud before it even has the chance to emerge as a threat.

    That’s how I felt about Air America AG. It was more or less the same with a different political bias. NPR is still the best radio out there. On Point and 1A are outstanding programs worth listening to daily.

  35. Paul Trotter says:

    AG – same thing as right wing talk shows? I beg to differ. 1510 does not resort to sexism, racism, propaganda, fake news and daily attacks on Milwaukee.

    Recently Weber was fact checked in this blog where his lies are exposed.

    https://radioactivecampaign.blogspot.com/2017/06/what-can-we-believe-from-jay-weber.html?m=1

    In this blog Belling did the same thing when he referenced Medusa magazine. Here is the blog.

    https://radioactivecampaign.blogspot.com/2017/07/self-righteous-wanna-be-journalist-mark.html?m=1

    Never have I heard Crute or Dom engage in disgusting crude sexist talk like this by Weber.

    https://youtu.be/ypvER0d4fGU

  36. Vincent Hanna says:

    AG is a right-winger so he ignores the incendiary rhetoric of right-wing hosts. He is fond of false equivalencies.

  37. AG says:

    Paul Trotter, of all the content these talk show hosts give you, those are the best examples? Come on, I could probably come up with better ones myself! You’re just being lazy.

  38. Bill Kurtz says:

    Ed Wycozk, how is Charlie Sykes, a steadfast Never Trumper, a right-wing nut job? And Jeff Wagner is every bit as right-wing as the WISN crew, just more personable, in the style of Mike Pence (a one-time talk show host) or Mike Huckabee.

  39. Vincent Hanna says:

    Maybe he meant ex-right-wing nut job re: Sykes. Also, isn’t Oak Creek’s former mayor on WTMJ now and isn’t he less of a right-wing nut job? Steve something.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *