Michael Horne
Plenty of Horne

Liberal Group Seeks Talk Radio Voice

Claims AM conservative talk radio is "racist" and "hateful." Is liberal talk radio possible?

By - Feb 10th, 2016 01:29 pm
Louis Fortis. Photo by Michael Horne.

Louis Fortis. Photo by Michael Horne.

The Citizen Action Organizing Cooperative launched a bid on Monday evening, February 8th, to “Take Back Milwaukee’s Airwaves From the Right Wing.”

According to a flyer promoting the Radio-Active! Launch Party and Fundraiser, held at Karma Bar and Grill, 600 E. Ogden Ave., “with your support, we plan to hold right-wing radio hosts and their corporate sponsors accountable for their deceptive, hate-filled content, and work towards starting up a community-owned progessive talk radio station!”

The event drew over 75 people to the lower level of the sports bar to hear presentations directed by Robert Kraig of the organization. The organizing cooperative was formed last year with a consensus that “after years of damaging attacks on our state, it was clear that what Progressives had been doing wasn’t working anymore.” A co-operative approach, it is thought, would give members ownership in the issues, and perhaps in a radio station someday.

Kraig said that after the 200 initial stakeholders met, they self-organized and voted on issues of interest. “The big issue was the right wing domination of election media,” he said.

Kraig said there was “no progressive or moderate opinion on the top two radio stations” in the Milwaukee market, referring to WTMJ [620AM] and WISN [1130AM]. Yet “the idea that these … hosts represent the area is absurd,” he said.

Just how devilish is conservative talk radio, Charlie Sykes, Mark Belling and the rest? “The fact is, without the right-wing talk radio monopoly, there would be no Scott Walker,” the group argues on its website. “There are 5 conservative radio hosts in Milwaukee who, with unfettered access to our public airwaves, spew racist, hateful content and are the bulwark of Walker propaganda. Their radio monopoly is responsible for splitting cities and suburbs, shifting public opinion to the far-right, and is largely setting the extreme agenda at the state Capitol.”

The Citizen Action strategy: Hire a full-time organizer for Radio-Active! to monitor the broadcasts for two months and to recruit more members, and maybe later to start the group’s own terrestial broadcast station.

According to a brochure distributed at the event:

1.) We will monitor right-wing radio programming, call out their racist and hateful rhetoric publicly, and demand accountability from their advertisers and the media corporations that own their stations.

2.) We’ll continue exploring what it would take to start up a community-owned progressive [commercial] talk radio station!

The radio station, or some form of broadcasts, would allow the group to “talk to all the people the right wants to divide,” Kraig said. He then played a clip from national talk show host Thom Hartmann endorsing the idea. Progressive talk radio exists, but you have to go to Chicago or Madison to hear it. Jeff Santos, another radio host who supports the idea of a progressive outlet in Milwaukee talks to Kraig all the time, Kraig said, “but he is not heard in Wisconsin.”

Kraig invited Shepherd Express Owner/Publisher Louis Fortis, PhD., as he loftily titles himself, to take the floor for a few minutes. Fortis, armed with a thick prepared script, largely ignored the document and extemporized on his efforts to buy a radio station in Madison after serving as a Democratic member of the state Assembly. He put in multiple offers for a station in Platteville, he said, which were never countered. The owner was using Fortis as a negotiating tool. The nerve! He then told us just as well, as Platteville would have been quite a commute from Madison …

Fortis was cautioned by host Anna Dvorak that he had already spoken for two minutes, yet he continued with his story about his efforts to build himself a new radio station in Madison, when the existing one in Platteville fell through. Not much of a story, as he never did build the station, but was able to accept a buyout for himself as part of a deal with the entity that did build a station there.

Not a bad “failure,” Fortis went on. Warned again that he had exceeded his speaking limit (radio is very particular about clocks, and timing) Fortis finally gave some advice that it would be best to rent time on a station and to learn the business along the way, and to forget about buying a station for now. He said a non-profit model might hinder the station’s ability to advocate for candidates and other issues.

Better to take it slow, and be cautious of those with whom you deal. “Maybe the son of a Boston billionaire who is a pathological liar could be involved,” Fortis said, in an allusion to his history with County Executive Chris Abele and the Milwaukee Film Festival, which Fortis founded and Abele funded. Fortis later sued Abele for allegedly stealing the film festival, but the suit failed and the festival has become a huge success once freed of Fortis’ oversight.

A Word from a Host

The next speaker was Earl Ingram, Jr., who hosted a talk radio show on WMCS 1290AM for years until one day in February 2013 the format was changed without warning, leaving a void in the community, and a new outlet for the music of Elvis Presley. Ingram called himself an “ordinary citizen,” but brought considerable gravitas to the gathering.

“I’m tired of what is happening in the country, the city and the state,” he said.

“The 1 per cent has taken over the country. I am concerned about the future and our children. I don’t care who you are, or who your family is, there is no security.

“If we don’t speak, we will continue to have Scott Walkers and Donald Trumps.

Ingram concluded, “This is not a sprint. It is a protracted struggle.”

Among the Attendees

Supporters of Radio-Active! at the event included Atty. Mark Thomsen, the Citizen Action Wisconsin 2016 Board President;  Rep. Jonathan Brostoff; judicial candidate Jean Kies and her husband Lew Wasserman; former Judge Chuck Kahn and his wife, Urban Milwaukee landlord Patti Keating Kahn; Wallace White; Chris Gramling; Dennis Neuenfeldt; Erik Kirkstein; Keith Schmitz; Robert Whitney; Milton E. Findley; Bert Kreitlow; Peter Abbott; Candice Owley; Chris Walton and Kerene Findley among others. Tom Spehert did the doors and welcomed guests to the event. James Causey, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter who has appeared with Ingram on the radio, was also at the event.

More information can be found here: http://www.citizenactionwi.org/radio_active_launch_party

Photos from the Event

27 thoughts on “Plenty of Horne: Liberal Group Seeks Talk Radio Voice”

  1. Vincent Hanna says:

    I tried listening to Air America back in 2008. It was just as off-putting and problematic as right-wing talk radio. The hosts engaged in very similar behavior (overly broad and simplistic generalizations, angry shouting, demonizing the opposition, etc.) and I couldn’t stomach it. If this takes off hopefully it’s better than Air America. In the meantime, we have WUWM and WHAD.

  2. j says:

    We have plenty of talk on WXRW-LP 104.1 FM – just not a big coverage area.

  3. Mark G says:

    Around eight or ten years ago, I would listen to AM 1290 during my drive home. I think the hosts name was Eric Von. I enjoyed it. It was informative. No yelling or hype to get ratings, just good discussions. A format like theirs would be great. Discussions on local subjects that were thoughtful and had multiple participants

  4. fightingbobfan says:

    Vincent Hanna, what ever you do never tell Joy Cardin or Kathleen Dunn that WHAD is liberal. The Republicans might think so because it is not all right wing rant, but it isn’t.

    This is not some fuzzy-headed liberal idea, but has looked at in depth and is doable. The progressive audience is a good demographic for advertisers and if done right, can has actually is in some markets successful.

    As for 104, they do great work but we need a station with greater reach and hate to say it, more professional production.

  5. AG says:

    I never understood why they would want to copy the model. It has proven to be quite challenging and difficult to find people who are interested in this format. NPR does their thing, plus many newspapers, magazines, websites, television news channels and more have their angle which has been quite popular. Why not accept that some things work for one side but may not be the best fit for the other?

  6. blurondo says:

    The title of this article contained the words “liberal group”. It would be just as appropriate that any article which mentions any arm of the state government be titled “radical right wing group”.

  7. Vincent Hanna says:

    I do not think WUWM or WHAD are liberal. Nor do I think NPR is liberal. It is my absolute favorite source for news and I think it’s as fair and impartial as news gets. I am always sticking up for NPR every time my Fox News loving father-in-law claims that it’s just another biased media outlet. Just the other day I heard an interview with a Koch brother. Republican politicians, pundits, writers, etc. are frequent guests on Morning Edition and All Things Considered, among other programs. You get all sides of issues on a daily basis. NPR is as good as it gets. (No I do not work for them or know anyone who does.)

  8. AG says:

    I do appreciate the dialog in some of their shows, but they are still left leaning. 620 is another good example, they are right leaning but still bring on opposing views and have a dialog during most shows (Charlie Sykes not withstanding).

  9. Vincent Hanna says:

    What do you mean by left leaning AG? I don’t think there’s any truth to that, so if you have some solid evidence and not just a gut feeling, I’d love to hear it.

    NPR isn’t comparable to 620. The hosts don’t hide their political views, even if they have guests who don’t agree with them. The NPR hosts are nothing like the WTMJ hosts.

  10. Kent Mueller says:

    I’d like point out that while WTMJ is still at the top of the ratings where it usually is, last I saw of ratings in this market had WISN 1130 in a 3-way tie for 9th place. Looks like all-hate talk is killing that station. The fact that everyone there hates this city shows, and is returned in kind.

  11. Dave says:

    “620 is another good example, they are right leaning but still bring on opposing views and have a dialog during most shows (Charlie Sykes not withstanding).”

    Lol. You forgot Jeff Wagner’s show. He’s only “moderate” compared to his am counterpart. The two of them compromise 8 hours of extreme right wing radio and view points. Furthermore, they literally give away free air time to GOP candidates. Jeff Wagner has repeatedly encouraged his listeners to vote for Chris Abele next week just as he has urged his listeners to get out an vote for David Clarke. If that’s not illegal, it should be.

    Regarding “left wing radio”, no thanks. I see no point in duplicating the vile, vitriolic filth spewed forth from the right wing on am radio. It hasn’t worked well for TV and hasn’t worked well in the past for radio. Us on the left generally like our news unbiased which is why you’ll find us listening to NPR and watching PBS or perhaps BBC.

  12. Edward Susterich says:

    While WTMJ and WISN do all their verbal tap dancing in support of Walker, tea-bagger “conservatives”, and other regressive republican causes, you can seek out alternative “Proud to be Liberal” voices.

    Look into and listen–

    Locally WNOV AM-860 offers Eric Von and Sherwin Hughes– both provide a voice for citizens of Milwaukee. It is real community service instead of the republican propaganda ministry offered by WTMJ and WISN. Both are on in the AM (on the AM)– unfortunately “Rev” Al Sharpton (of Tawana Brawlay infamy) is on in the early afternoon. WNOV ought to evict and replace him with someone like Earl Ingram Jr. So listen– WNOV AM 860– easily covers all of Milwaukee.

    WCPT 820 AM out of Chicago does offer “Chicago Progressive Talk” that does cover Milwaukee marginally (but crystal clear on the internet).

    WXRW LP 104.1 FM is a recent entry into local radio. Unfortuantely it covers just the River West area of Milwaukee. (But also on the internet for everywhere coverage.)

    However, it is a good idea to spot-check the villains on WTMJ and WISN– just to know which sponsors or products to avoid. You might even be entertained by Sheriff Clarke, Scott Walker, Bob Donovan and others of that ilk who are offered unlimited free air time to pimp for their causes while collecting tax-paid salaries.

  13. M says:

    I wonder why Eric Von is such a big fan of Rebecca Bradley, with her ties to the Federalist Society and being Walker’s three-time judicial appointee. Not looking for a “liberal” litmus test here, but does anyone have a clue about her appeal to him? She barely has three years judicial experience and thinks birth control is akin to abortion (no kidding)…If birth control is bad, what’s the alternative? Rhythm method or “an aspirin”?


    “At her standing-room-only investiture ceremony Wednesday, Bradley won praise from speakers who ranged from Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and 7th U.S. Circuit Judge Diane Sykes, radio personality Eric Von and County Executive Chris Abele.”

    Not sure if “liberal” radio is a solution, but more fact-based journalism and reasoned opinion would be great. We’re lucky to have 2 public-radio stations here, though they can’t make up for what’s spewed on talk RW talk radio all day.
    But in our Trump and Limbaugh Era, people like to be entertained and outrage sells.

  14. AG says:

    Wow, lots of hateful talk right here. I hope none of you (save Vincent) think you’re any better.

    To Vincent, do you think it’s better if a host hides their views (while it still affects their show) or comes right out and says what their views are so listeners are readily aware of them? 620 brings on plenty of democrat and other liberal guests and they have civil discourse. Again, not referring to Sykes.

  15. Vincent Hanna says:

    Is Sykes the only right-wing host on WTMJ? I don’t think that’s the case, but you know better than I do.

    How does it impact their show? I listen on a daily basis and there’s no bias present whatsoever. It’s one of the reasons I listen. They have guests from across the political spectrum and conduct fair and balanced interviews. Or produce fair and balanced news segments. I’m not interested in a rabid partisan interviewing the opposition. That’s nothing like NPR. That’s like watching Fox News or MSNBC. No thank you.

  16. AG says:

    It is probably because you align with her beliefs. You can tell in how she (Joy) broaches questions and does follow up. To her credit, I believe she does the best job at attempting to bring all points of view. But worse than her show, the news segments are far more bias. Both in the stories they decide to cover and how they cover them.

  17. M says:

    AG, not sure what you mean by “hateful talk here.” Mostly comments are comparing and contrasting various media outlets, hosts and formats. Seems more like crowd-sourcing and critical thinking than hateful talk. Not liking something or disagreeing with a statement does not equate to hate.

    I wonder what millennials think about all this. It’s often said they prefer other media outlets and are less into labels– politically and otherwise.

  18. Vincent Hanna says:

    I listen to WUWM more than I do WHAD or Joy. I don’t know her or what her beliefs are.

    How exactly are the news segments biased in terms of what’s covered and how it’s covered? I just can’t understand how anyone who regularly listens can believe that. I have to think that you either don’t listen very regularly or you believe that anything to the left of “far right-wing” is liberal.

  19. julilly kohler says:

    I am a fan of and follow Urban Mke, but really don’t like snippy attitudes and swipes at competitors like above when obviously the author has a personal antipathy against Louis Fortis.
    I am a fan of the Shepherd Express, as well , and think we are lucky to have more than one independent new source in MIlwaukee.
    We need it.
    PS He was giving sound advice. Wanting a radio station is fine– but physical upkeep and 24 hour programming could be a killer. I thought his advice to “buy time” was pretty practical.

  20. Hey says:

    Mike – I was there that night but I don’t remember seeing you. Where were you hiding?

  21. Bruce Murphy says:

    regarding NPR and whether it has a “liberal bias.” a long-term analysis of its news showed it actually interviewed more Republicans than Democrats on its show. Morning Edition and All Things Considered seem quite balanced, the gold standard for new coverage on the radio

  22. TJP says:

    The truth is we have a monopoly in WI of right wing talk radio. Their sole purpose beyond making money is to promote the right wind agenda. If you are a regular listener you will know that if a law needs passing every station will have the same talking points. Nearly every station will have the a right wing policitian on thieir show to promote the law or themselves. It is NOT fair and balanced. When was the last time you heard a Dem on their radio stations. When Walker was campaigning he enjoyed the many visits to Beling, Sykes and McKenna. These radio shows are nothing but right wing propaganda machines. There are several goals for Radio-Active. The radio station is one of them. Holding the right wing propaganda radio shows accountable in a systematic and consistent manner is the other. Consider joining our campaign.

  23. AG says:

    Vincent- NPR is most guilty of bias by omission or story selection. I listen to NPR probably 30ish% of my radio listening time. Still, it makes sense, they cater to the stories their listeners want.

    M- I take exception to comments that include “tea baggers,” villains, vitriolic filth, etc. Not all comments went there, but some did and ends all desire for real conversation on my part.

    My point from the beginning was simply that the right has AM radio, the left has the Shepard express and many other outlets. What works for one doesn’t have to be the answer for others. It all gets out there.

  24. Vincent Hanna says:

    What stories do they not cover and what stories do they cover that combine to demonstrate a liberal bias? Part of the reason I like NPR so much is the wide variety of issues they cover. I have a hard time buying your argument.

  25. M says:

    As is often the case here, comments are providing much good info as well as opinion (with only a sprinkling of over-heated rant).

    How might the”herding cats” meme about liberals/progressives apply to potential “left-ring” radio?

    It could offer more interesting and thought-provoking programming than the repeating of a few top-down-crafted talking points.

  26. M says:

    Make that “left-wing” radio…

  27. I think a good step would be to help the riverwest small power radio station expand its reach. I also agree with the idea that they need a higher production level. Perhaps the Citizen Action folks could work with them.

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