Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

‘Truth Radio’ Network Now Statewide

Civic Media now has 18 stations covering state, to offer factual news and battle talk radio.

By - Feb 20th, 2023 03:06 pm
Map of Civic Media's coverage areas. Map courtesy of Civic Media.

Map of Civic Media’s coverage areas. Map courtesy of Civic Media.

“We’ve got the Death Star built.”

So says radio owner Mike Crute, using Star Wars terminology to describe the veritable empire of radio stations he has now built. Except that the Death Star was run by Darth Vader and the bad guys we movie fans loved to hate. Whereas Crute styles himself as the good guy, bringing some liberal talk and mostly a lot of factual news to a state that’s long been dominated by conservative talk radio.

“The network we’ve built far exceeds our initial plans,” Crute says.

Crute’s partner, Sage Weil, is a wealthy tech industry entrepreneur and big time donor to Democratic politicians who has financed the building of Civic Media, as their company is called. Their most recent purchases includes some $3.65 million to buy two stations in Eau Claire, one in LaCrosse, and one in Racine that has two different signals.

All told, Civic Media now owns 12 talk radio stations, three country music stations and three with other music formats, like ‘Oldies” hit songs. Its map of the state shows circles of coverage by its radio stations for every area of the state, save the little-covered northeastern area of the state bordering Michigan’s upper peninsula.

Many of those 12 talk radio stations were previously reliant on nationally syndicated conservative shows, with scanty news coverage and no local news coverage.

Now the stations will run a mix of ABC and CBS news every half hour, with programming that emphasizes local hosts and local programming: “We’re trying to be hometown Wisconsin radio,” Crute notes. “We will broadcast state news in every market we serve and regional stuff, too.”

There will be a state news broadcast at the top of the hour at 8 a.m., noon and 5 p.m. on all stations, including the music stations. “Our country music stations will air three hours of news a day.”

Terry Bell, who has worked for years in radio and as a journalism instructor at Madison Area Technical College, was brought on as news director for Civic Media in October 2022.

His first challenge was overseeing coverage of the November 2022 election. “We had 14 correspondents across the state,” Crute notes.

On his talk stations, “our goal is to have local voices in every market. We continue to add layers of local.”

That includes a morning show featuring Milwaukee’s Earl Ingram, which runs on stations in Milwaukee-Waukesha, Green Bay, Oshkosh and Racine-Kenosha. In western Wisconsin, on stations in LaCrosse and Eau Claire, the local host is Todd Allbaugh, a former Republican legislative aide with roots in the area who was critical of his party’s legislators for passing a photo ID law that was expected to suppress Democratic voters. And Wisconsin comedian Charlie Berens has been added as a state-wide voice.

But unlike right wing radio, this will not be hard-edged or ideological commentary. Ingram’s show, for instance, has added former Packer Gilbert Brown, who will do a one-hour show in the morning.

Indeed, sports is a big part of the network Crute is building. His stations have won bids to broadcast the games of the Green Bay Packers (two stations), Milwaukee Brewers (two stations) Wisconsin Badgers (three stations) and Marquette basketball (two stations). In addition three stations are broadcasting Friday night high school football games and Crute eventually hopes to broadcast high school football “in every market we cover.”

“It’s hometown Wisconsin, it’s an easy sell for advertisers,” Crute notes. And it reinforces the station’s local identity.

The Packers, Brewers, UW and MU games are all revenue generators. “You sell it at a premium and you have people waiting in line to buy ads,” Crute notes.

But the biggest boon to revenue is that he can now deliver coverage of the entire state for advertisers. “Buyers want to make one phone call and get 10 markets. We get bigger buyers. We are now competitors with the iHearts [the national radio chain that includes Milwaukee’s WISN, the conservative talk station]. But iHeart gets you only three markets in the state and we can get you ten.”

“The fact that it’s a network will make it profitable more quickly. We’re already profitable at a few stations,” he says. “I’m very encouraged by the trajectory.”

It was Weil’s idea to think much bigger and buy more stations, Crute notes. “This was his vision. He had the courage to put the money in the pot.”

Weil “gave $1.5 million to Democratic candidates last year,” Crute notes, and clearly sees this new network of radio stations as a way to reduce the Republican stranglehold on radio talk/news in Wisconsin. The irony, however, is that it’s being done by de-emphasizing the Democratic Party and selling ‘Civic,” the dullest of words.

“We’re not trying to beat the drum for the blue team,” Crute says. “We’re trying to tell the truth. Just trying to give them facts.”

7 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: ‘Truth Radio’ Network Now Statewide”

  1. Ryan Cotic says:

    So a wealthy white man bought up these radio stations as a toy to push a political agenda? Am I missing something, this can’t be good for our state.

  2. Jake formerly of the LP says:

    Ryan – Who do you think owns all the stations that poisoned the state with RW BS all these years? And who gives Belling and Icki and Dumb-O their scripts?

    Sounds like someone’s got a problem with an actual marketplace of ideas. Liberals in Wisconsin didn’t cause this system of rich people owning media, but thank God they’re finally adjusting to it and fighting back.

  3. Thomas Sepllman says:

    This is great Now the trick is that some/many progressives do not listen to the radio but if the station also send out the ads on the internet to folks willing to get them to support the Stations that might add some income as well.

  4. Polaris says:

    Rule #1 of the comments section: “Don’t feed the trolls.”

  5. ringo muldano says:

    🥰. Go Civic Media!

  6. TransitRider says:

    Ryan, are you concerned that a “wealthy white man” (your words) like Rupert Murdoch controls so much of our media?

  7. Ryan Cotic says:

    Yes transit, I really dont think its a positive thing when people who make massive sums of money use that money to manipulate the people of our state. It does not matter what your politics are I think this is just wrong although not ilegal so the man can actually do what hw pleases with his own money.

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