Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Liberal Talk Coming to Waukesha

Mike Crute’s new talk radio station, WAUK 540 AM, will compete with local right-wing talkers.

By - Jan 2nd, 2022 01:02 pm
Mike Crute. Photo from Crute for Wisconsin.

Mike Crute. File photo from Crute for Wisconsin.

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.

Now Crute has purchased a more formidable station, WAUK 540 AM, which has been an ESPN sports station since 2008, with a signal centered in Jackson, WI that can carry from Chicago to Green Bay, including strong coverage of metro Milwaukee. “The lower the number for an AM station the better,” Crute notes.

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.

The station’s nickname is “The Sha.” Is that a popular term in Waukesha? “No, but it will be,” Crute predicts.

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.)

Certainly Crute believes it can and has invested a lot in the proposition. He has said he spent $2 million on his previous purchases of stations, including operating losses for the failed Milwaukee station. He originally made his money with a property management firm he sold for nearly $1 million. His purchase of WAUK 540 AM will cost him $650,000 and he is paying cash, he says.

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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4 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Liberal Talk Coming to Waukesha”

  1. NieWiederKrieg says:

    Nice to see the “Earl Ingram Show” back on the air at the 8:00-11:00 AM time slot. Earl had the best guests, the best interviews, and the most relevent information when he was on the Milwaukee airwaves on Brady Street.

    The station is going to be called “The Sha”? Is it too late to change that name? Am I the only one thinking of “Sha Na Na”?

  2. ringo muldano says:

    That’s awesome! Used to drunk dial the devils. Hope the waukesha station makes crutie some good bucks. He deserves it.

  3. Keith Schmitz says:

    Ringo — I think now that he has a much bigger broadcast range he should be getting more advertisers.

  4. Thomas Sepllman says:

    A note to Crute There are supporters who do not listen to the radio but could allow the station to use there e-mail address so that the advertisers could count on more coverage by accepting 1 to 3 e-mail ads a day or some such. Can also give notice to special quest etc.

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