Liberal Talk Coming to Waukesha
Mike Crute’s new talk radio station, WAUK 540 AM, will compete with local right-wing talkers.
When we last left radio entrepreneur Mike Crute, he was shutting down his Milwaukee radio station, WRRD “News Talk Radio” (1510-AM), located on Brady St., in September 2020. This was after trying to make it a viable liberal talk radio station and finding little advertiser support, as Urban Milwaukee reported.
Crute faced a huge obstacle in that the license for this station required him to shut down at 7 p.m. every evening. And so he sold the station to concentrate on his Madison station, Talk 92.7 FM, which has no such limitations and has been a success, taking away some listeners from competitors. “Right-wing radio in Madison is way down,” Crute crows.
He plans to locate the station in downtown Waukesha, at 217 Wisconsin Ave. “We will be the only news station operating out of Waukesha,” Crute notes. Launch time for the new station is tomorrow, January 3, at mid-day.
If the location seems counter-intuitive for liberal talk radio, here is a factoid to consider: Waukesha has the third most Democrats of the state’s 72 counties, behind only Milwaukee and Dane counties. In 2020, Joe Biden got just over 104,000 votes and Donald Trump got slightly more than 159,000 votes. “We need only a third of the liberals in Waukesha County to succeed,” Crute says.
But it also will be clearly accessible to the more than 317,000 voters who supported Biden in Milwaukee County. Crute intends to make his show an alternative to WISN and its lineup of conservatives like Mark Belling and Vicki McKenna and to hosts like Jeff Wagner on softer-right-styled WTMJ.
But Crute also wants his station to have a connection to the Waukesha community and its local businesses. Waukesha alderman, Don Paul Browne, will be doing a weekly talk show focused on local community issues. The top-of-the-hour newscast will start with a Waukesha news story. And the station will give away $50,000 worth of free advertising (advertising “grants,” he calls it) to Waukesha businesses who apply during the station’s first few months.
While Crute got into radio (as co-host of the Devil’s Advocate show) with ideological goals, he came to realize he is first and foremost a broadcaster and businessman. His show has featured some conservative guests (like Republican operative Bill McCoshen and Rep. Joe Sanfelippo), and the emphasis is on entertainment first and politics second.
That said, the Monday-Friday lineup for the new station looks pretty liberal: longtime Milwaukee Democrat Matt Flynn from 6 to 8 a.m., veteran Milwaukee talk radio host Earl Ingram from 8 to 11, nationally syndicated Thom Hartmann, billed as “the #1 progressive radio talk show host in the nation,” from 11-2, “Dueling Tangents” from 2 to 3 and the Devil’s Advocate from 3-6. Much of the night-time programming will be syndicated fare, including a show devoted to cannabis. Some of these shows also run on Crute’s Madison station.
The question of whether liberal talk radio can succeed has often been raised, but based on the success of Rachel Maddow‘s radio show, which ranks ahead of every conservative talk show in popularity, the answer would seem to be yes. (She also ranks far, far ahead of Hartmann.)
Talk radio might seem old hat, with aging demographics, but it continues to be a cash cow for radio stations, as streaming services like Spotify take away the audience for music on the radio. Radio now has only half the share of music listeners that streaming has. Music fans don’t want to bother with ads, Crute notes, but “people will listen to ads to hear talk radio.”
Radio still reaches more people in the nation than any medium, including TV. And in Milwaukee conservative talk radio at WISN and WTMJ reaches as much as 19% of the total audience, making it one of the leading cities in the nation for right-wing radio. This has been a boon to Republican politicians in Wisconsin and Crute hopes to take on that juggernaut, offering a different and more liberal view of the world. And all from one of Wisconsin’s reddest counties, in downtown Waukesha.
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