Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Can Liberal Talk Radio Succeed?

A new Milwaukee radio station with a unique approach is about to find out.

By - Jan 31st, 2017 12:44 pm
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.

As Donald Trump rose ever higher as a Republican nominee, liberal entrepreneur Mike Crute offered a prediction: “I told my wife, if Trump ever gets elected, I’ll become rich and famous.”

Crute, the successful businessman and co-host of the “Devil’s Advocate” talk radio show in Madison, has just purchased 1510 AM, the longtime Milwaukee radio outlet, most recently a Spanish language station. Crute aims to make it the city’s first liberal talk radio station, with the new programming starting tomorrow.

“We often pulled an average 7 share (seven percent of the metro radio audience) in Madison,” Crute notes. “If we pulled that in Milwaukee, I’ll be a rich man.”

But there are reasons to doubt he’ll do that well.

For starters, attempts to succeed with liberal talk radio have repeatedly failed in America. Even in the nation’s biggest markets, liberal colossuses like New York City and Los Angeles, the format failed. Not to mention in uber-liberal San Francisco, Portland and Seattle, Miami and other cities. For that matter liberal talk radio failed in ultra-lefty Madison, where 92.1 FM dropped the format, which meant the end of the Devil’s Advocate show.

The four-county metro area of Milwaukee, as Crute points out, is three times as big a market as metro Madison, with a total audience of 1.5 million. But three of the four counties are very red, which significantly cuts back the potential listenership, though it’s still much larger than in Madison.

Then there’s the National Public Radio factor. While studies have shown its coverage is even-handed (with an equal to greater number of Republican politicians interviewed), its listenership skews very liberal with 67 percent having left-of-center views, according to the Pew Research Center. In metro Milwaukee, as Green Bay conservative radio blogger Jerry Bader has blogged, “two stations airing NPR programming can be heard and garner some 170,000 listeners, according to the most recent Nielsen data.”

Meanwhile the success of Mark Belling and Charlie Sykes has meant higher numbers for talk radio. Crute cites numbers that 91 percent of all Americans listen to radio at least once a week and 10 percent listen to talk radio. But that number is 12 percent in metro Milwaukee.

But Sykes’ retirement might leave an opening for Crute’s station, he believes. Crute notes that in Madison, his program included some listeners who were Republicans and Trump supporters. One reason is Crute’s co-host Dominic Salvia, a libertarian and fiscal conservative who voted against the recall of Gov. Scott Walker. “It’s very easy for government officials to spend other people’s money,” Salvia likes to complain.

Crute and Salvia were college roommates at UW-La Crosse and in later years developed a bantering style of debating the issues that seemed to go over well at bars where they hung out. “We thought it might work on radio,” Crute notes.

Crute, 46, is a Madison native while Salvia, 45, grew up in Wisconsin farm country and attended high school in Appleton. Crute got a degree in mass communications, Salvia in marketing, followed by a Masters in Business Administration from Oakland University.

Both went on to become successful entrepreneurs. After getting a job in journalism (production and photography) at the local ABC affiliate in La Crosse, Crute decided he couldn’t live on that lousy salary. He eventually got involved in real estate and over time created CCL Management in Madison, which he has built into a $1 million business, “with no debt.” He continues as sole owner, but says “I turned the business over to my employees.”

Salvia helped grow a staffing company called Cadre, located in Appleton, and later sold out his interest to two siblings. He now lives in Milwaukee (“I met girl at Summerfest” and they married, he notes, adding “I love this town.”) Both Salvia and Crute did so well that they no longer have to work, which gave them plenty of time to try a new career in talk radio.

Crute made a deal in 2012 with 92.1 FM to do a one-hour Saturday talk show with Salvia as co-host, and Crute’s CCL Management as the advertiser and supporter. But the Devil’s Advocate show soon became a hit, drawing more advertisers and growing over time to a two-hour show, then to a daily one-hour show, Monday through Friday, which by 2014 had become a three-hour daily show.

One incident drew attention to the show. Salvia was taking photographs of the Solidarity Singers, the daily protestors at the state Capitol and he was arrested by the police. “They falsely accused me of participating in the protests,” Salvia recalls. “I told them I was with the press.” Salvia later sued the state and won a $75,000 out-of-court settlement.

“That was a real motivator for me, to be arrested for no reason by the administration of a guy I voted for,” Salvia says.

Crute and Salvia worked hard to get Republicans on their show, to get contrasting points of view, and soon developed a rapport with Republican U.S. Senator Ron Johnson, who began appearing monthly on the show.

“I enjoy going on Devil’s Advocates to talk about the issues of the day,” Johnson tells Urban Milwaukee. “The dialogue is always thoughtful and often sprinkled with good natured humor. I look forward to continuing our discussions on their new station.”

Crute and Salvia attended Trump’s presidential inauguration with tickets supplied by Johnson.

Johnson also helped the duo connect to other Republicans. And Crute and Salvia would broadcast live from some of the presidential debates, as a way to get politicians to come on their show. Among their guests have been Republicans like Ted Cruz, Trump and Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, and Democrats like Bernie Sanders, Wesley Clarke, Jesse Jackson and Cory Booker.

The two also had their competitor, conservative radio talker Vicki McKenna, on their show. I like Mike and Dom personally,” she says, “and I had a blast on the radio with them! “

McKenna is among many conservatives who argue that liberal talk radio has failed because it is cause-oriented first and entertainment second, which is boring. The problem, you see, is those do-gooder liberal hosts are “lecturing” us to be compassionate towards the needy while Rush Limbaugh or Belling make fun of such compassion. Ha, now that’s entertainment!

But McKenna found the Devil’s Advocate was a lot of fun. (That’s been my experience; I was a guest on the show several times.) And the bantering disagreement between Crute and Salvia, along with the range of guests, leaves room for listeners to disagree and draw their own conclusions. (Of course, Limbaugh’s dittoheads seem to enjoy being told what to think. Is that entertainment, too?)

The fact that Crute is a successful businessman may also help the station. One radio insider tells me Crute has paid less than $1 million for a station that had previously sold for $2 million. Crute believes the station only needs to average a two- percent share of the radio audience, (compared to six percent for WTMJ and 5.5 for WISN, the city’s talk radio leaders). “We don’t have to beat them to make money,” he says.

Besides the Devil’s Advocate, the station will run veteran black talk radio host Earl Ingram (who had a show on 1290 AM for years) in morning drive time, 6-8 a.m., followed by syndicated host Stephanie Miller (known for her Sexy Liberal Comedy Tour) from 8-11 a.m. and the syndicated show of Thom Hartmann from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Crute believes liberal talk radio always failed because it never had a strong afternoon drive time show, which he hopes Devil’s Advocate can be. (They two have begun attempts to syndicate the show.) But Bader has already predicted the new station will fail.

Business-wise, Crute probably can’t lose. “The upside if we succeed is tremendous.” he says. “The risk is it doesn’t work, and I have to sell the asset,” a station that will always have value.

As for the cause of liberal talk radio, Crute says, “it’s not me. It’s we. For the station to succeed,” he notes, “liberals will have to embrace it.”

And If they don’t? “Then I guess we are a red state.”

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. 

Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

35 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Can Liberal Talk Radio Succeed?”

  1. Vincent Hanna says:

    I’d be shocked if this succeeds. Air America had tons of money and resources and household names when it launched, and they couldn’t make it. I’d rather listen to NPR, which isn’t liberal unless you think liberal is anything to the left of extremely hardcore right. NPR’s new 1A show is fantastic, plus On Point and To The Point and On The Media and Fresh Air and on and on.

  2. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Why would anyone listen as the Left cannot do anything right.
    IE Milwaukee worst managed city in country, top ten, most violent, top ten etc. Then in Calif, in deep doc with deficits pension shorts ah a Halfast train that is going to bust the states. will nto run in our lifetime.

  3. Vincent Hanna says:

    Hey you remembered to capitalize all of WCD today! Progress!

  4. fightingbobfan says:

    Bob, please stop it. Every time a Republican gets in as president people vote in Democrats to clean up the messes, which are usually so horrible that it can’t be done fast enough, and then the crowd stupidly brings in a Republican.

    Lather, rinse, repeat.

    And the notion that “Democrat” (the racist southern term) mayors run cities into the ground is ludicrous. They are struggling with problems that go way beyond the city’s borders. Yet, Madison is run by a progressive, and they are doing damned well.

    You would think that someone like you who supports the disastrous Scott Walker would want to hit the mute button.

    Besides, who’d want to listen to someone whose posts are rife with typos.

    As for the topic, this is the right thing at the right time. The forces are coming together — both Trump and Walker are fanning an uprising and this will be a vehicle to express this outrage.

    Plus, the boys put out an entertaining product. In addition, this effort is being backed by Citizen Action Wisconsin, which means there will be all kinds of promotional efforts to back this up.

    And, Sykes is gone. Though I couldn’t stand his voice, at least he didn’t sound like wiggled out of a strait jacket like Mark Belling.

    So who know. Anyways, it is a good shot.

  5. Murph says:

    I’m a long time fan in Madison and these guys are worth a listen. Disagree with them if you will, at least they will entertain a respectful conversation.

  6. Justin Sallows says:

    Love the boys, wish them success. 🙂

  7. Orville says:

    I am looking forward to listening to Earl Ingram but he will be up against his friend Jay Weber and Jay already has a very dedicated audience.

  8. blurondo says:

    As a member of Citizen Action, thank you for the perfectly timed piece.
    See you on the radio.

  9. Matt says:

    Some more goddamn rich kid white guy Madison “liberals” coming to Milwaukee to tell us about what they saw on MSNBC the night before. Local talk needs to be local. The limo kids from Mad Town going to come and lecture us about diversity? Maybe hemp? Thery throw kids from this toen in solitary confinement. I couldn’t be less interested in listening to some trigger warning Democrats whinie about taxpayer funded stadiums.

  10. fightingbobfan says:

    How about rich kids from Madison coming to Milwaukee, giving you lessons on how to write?

    That was hilarious.

  11. Eileen says:

    So glad you are back on radio…The Greatest Radio Show Ever is needed now more than ever.

  12. Jason says:

    Bruce , you have me really looking forward to listening to these guys. A left wing radio station that lets conservatives on and gives them a voice. This might work. In the case of Mark Belling, I would surmise that a quarter of his audience is left leaning.

  13. Michael Wolkomir says:

    Will they be available on internet archive or streaming?

  14. V says:

    The Devil’s Advocates have real appeal as a thought-provoking, non-dogmatic duo. The station will also have one of the smartest and funniest people in talk radio, who happens to be progressive AND a woman (Stephanie Miller). And a respected African American long-time voice in Milwaukee (Earl Ingram). Sounds a whole lot more promising–and entertaining–than milque-toast-y Jeff Wagner and whiney Mark Belling.

  15. WashCoRepub says:

    I’ll certainly give it a shot. I’d love to hear some alternative viewpoints, and all the better if it’s entertaining to boot.

  16. Jake formerly of the LP says:

    LOOONG OVERDUE in a market that is dying for anything resembling balance in media. Add in the fact that these guys have a built-in audience already, and I have little doubt this will work, especially in these next 2 years of Walker/Trump screwing things up.

    Bader is simply scared that liberal talk will go to Green Bay and call out his unchallenged BS.

  17. Andy Umbo says:

    Good Luck, Air America proved that the higher education you have, the less likely you’re going to listen to ANY diatribe on the radio. I have stuff to do. What makes Rush and the rest of right wing radio successful is the limited capacity of the mouth-breathers to entertain themselves, and the ability of the limited in intelligence to listen to the same stuff over and over again to make themselves feel good.

  18. Billy Bob Dunn says:

    Matt says “Some more goddamn rich kid white guy…” Stereotyping is such a timesaver isn’t it, Matty? FYI, Crute was raised by a single mom and had no dad in his life, went to college on his own, served a hitch in the military and worked his a** off to get where he is. So you should maybe, with all due respect, put a sock in your drooling piehole.
    Yes, the show streams, Michael Wolkimir, at

  19. fightingbobfan says:

    The difference between right wing talk radio and progressive radio is that righties tune in for affirmation, not information. With progressives, the other way around.

    AM1510 is on air now. The boys are having a good time, unlike Beavis in the afternoon who is angry always.

    Good chance this is going to work.

  20. tim haering says:

    It hurts to think for yourself. That’s why folks listen to talk radio. Funny, though, listeners seem to choose stations that agree with their own painful thinking, proving the old Carson axiom, “YOu can lead a horse to water, but you can’t lead a horticulture.” I hope they make a regular segment for you, Bruce.

  21. fightingbobfan says:

    Um, Dorothy Parker —

    Talk radio is that, but it’s not that.

    Right wing radio was their means of whipping up the troops and getting them out to the polls. It was also the way they got lies out into the public discourse — voter fraud, blacks are lazy and violent, government is wasteful, minimum wage doesn’t work, tax cuts for the wealthy work, etc.

  22. Virginia says:

    Dorothy Parker’s quote was actually “You can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her think.” She reportedly made it up as part of a word game at a party. Then it was shared more widely as years went by.

    Back in the “good old days” of the Algonquin Round Table Era, thinkers and drinkers sat around entertaining each other in bars and salons. But wit and challenging thought can be compelling on the radio too. Madison certainly has more progressives than most towns so if the DA’s drew an audience there’s hope for it here. And it is nationally syndicated.

  23. Steve G says:

    OMG Andy!
    “the higher education you have, the less likely you’re going to listen to ANY diatribe on the radio. I have stuff to do. What makes Rush and the rest of right wing radio successful is the limited capacity of the mouth-breathers to entertain themselves, and the ability of the limited in intelligence to listen to the same stuff over and over again to make themselves feel good.”

    I wonder if it made you ‘feel good’ to have said that.

    Best Regards, a 20+ year ‘mouth breather’. 🙂

  24. Vincent Hanna says:

    Is he wrong Steve? Fox News viewers, for example, are more uninformed than people who watch no news whatsoever. Is there a correlation between listening to the radio and level of education?

  25. Andy Umbo says:

    Steve G.

    …as a person who’s been in media related businesses for 40 years, it made me feel good to pass that bit of information on from the statistics…

  26. Andy Umbo says:

    BTW, from Forbes Magazine:

    “What’s the future for the conservative radio hosts?

    Their demographic is aging. It’s the 70-year-old, white, Protestant farmer in a small town Nebraska who’s listening to these guys because he’s driving in his car. Or it’s the listener driving a lot in the suburbs. And it’s a shrinking demographic. For every white farmer in the heartland who dies, he’s being replaced by a 25-year-old Hispanic living in the Bronx. It’s just the way America is going right now.”

  27. Virginia says:

    Here’s the trailer for a great documentary called “The Brainwashing of My Dad.”

    Lots of insights and stats about who listens to and watches right-wing media.–and how it affects those consumers. Traces it back to mastermind Roger Ailes during the Nixon era.

  28. Kevin says:

    Isn’t it special listening to these pompous “educated” leftists dripping with their usual arrogance as they stroke each other into another liberal frenzy insulting the unwashed masses of the “right-wing”…?
    They STILL don’t have the slightest idea what has just happened in this nation.

    Since you’re all so sure that THIS time liberal talk radio will succeed, please invest your life savings in this endeavor. Like Al Gore, I’m sure he’ll be glad to take your money.

  29. Vincent Hanna says:

    Have you listened to the station Kevin?

  30. Bradley Geyer says:

    Dom and Crute are great! Independent points of view. They do not suck up to any party line.

  31. Andy Umbo says:

    Kevin you’re very funny, you’re actually disparaging the idea that because the educated have accurate information and do the research, that somehow makes us arrogant over people who don’t do the research? The truth of the matter, is that the educated DO know what is happening in the nation. As per your statement, I wouldn’t invest in liberal talk radio, because as I stated before, it isn’t successful because the smarter you are, the less likely you are to listen constantly to media pundits, so where’s the market?

    Have spent a life-time looking at media stats, i WOULD invest in media outlets that pander to the most uneducated, under-educated and inflammatory segments of our society. It’s a gold mine! I don’t have to believe in their ridiculousness to make money off the poor saps!

  32. Kevin says:

    Ummm… Andy… I strongly suspect that the folks you consider to be “educated” would be the same ones who twice voted someone into the highest office in the land based on nothing more than skin pigment.. and then tried to do the same once again based on nothing more than what was… or wasn’t between her legs.
    That’s the extent of that “research” done by your vaunted “educated” folks.
    And those “mouth-breathing” “uneducated” folks you simpering leftists insult and mock…?? They’re the hardworking taxpayers that so many of you “educated” folks feed off of.

  33. Jake formerly of the LP says:

    Kevin- You really don’t know who you’re talking about, do you? But we know who we’re talking about, which is why your precious snowflake feelings get hurt when people like you are called out.

    Kevin, you are nothing. Which is why you need to be led by right-wing talk radio. We have jobs, lives and interests (and likely pay more taxes than you), which makes left-wing radio a little more difficult to be successful, since you need an easily led shut-in audience.

    But because jealous jagbags like Kevin have elected destructive leaders like Trump and Walker, we’re now very disgusted and angry, and are glad to have an outlet like the Devil’s Advocates, and to finally have a station in the state’s largest market that actually gives voice to the REAL silent majority in Wisconsin.

  34. Vincent Hanna says:

    Skin pigment? Between her legs? And you seriously wonder why people think you’re an idiot?

  35. Andy Umbo says:

    Ha Ha Ha…thank you Vincent: Kevin: open mouth, prove point!

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us