Monday, January 12, 2009

Big losses for progressive talk radio in Madison

I am thoroughly bummed. Madison's only progressive talk radio station, the Mic 92.1FM, is undergoing some sort of strange programming flip. This change has already resulted in two terrible casualties of the airwaves: the loss of Thom Hartmann's show, and more recently, that of Madison's own Lee Rayburn.

Some of you may be aware that I had a standing date with Lee every Wednesday morning at the end of the show. It was always a pleasant way to start my morning, chatting with him about whatever was going on around town and beyond.

But after reading his small note about leaving the station (nothing more has been released about it), I'm not bummed about his departure because it means less me on the radio. I'm bummed because Lee's show was one of the few with a heavy focus on local issues, events, and organizations. He routinely had interviews with area community activists, artists, politicians, and more. The show became an invaluable resource for progressive people and ideas (and beyond, really) in Wisconsin.

The Mic has not yet released its new lineup (but are apparently planning to do so next week), so I don't know who or what will replace Lee. I hope that, at the very least, it's locally-based, but we'll have to wait and see.

I am somewhat concerned to learn that the show jumping into Thom Hartmann's old time slot appears to be hosted by Fox News media regular and financial advice-giver Dan Ramsey, a rather conservative fellow and a strange pick to replace Hartmann.

Already, a group of interested citizens are having a meeting with the station's operations manager, Mike Ferris, to discuss these changes and to hopefully give their input about the future of progressive talk in Madison. I encourage you to attend if you have any interest in this subject:
Friends of Progressive Talk Meeting
6:30 p.m., Tuesday, January 13

Dardanelles Restaurant
(853 Monroe St., Madison)

Discussion on format changes to The MIC 92.1 FM.
Operations Manager Mike Ferris to speak.
Lee Rayburn leaves the Mic.

Ramsey, Hartmann and Progressive Talk
At the meeting Tuesday, Clear Channel Operations Manager Mike Ferris, who brought the progressive talk format to WXXM, The MIC 92.1 over four years ago, will speak on his decision for the format switch Mon-Fri, from 2 to 5 p.m. The Fox News media regular Dan Ramsey is now broadcast in the slot in which Thom Hartmann had been delay broadcast. Mike will talk about the issues, his decision and his intention to keep progressive talk on The MIC. We will then have a discussion on the program changes.

Lee Rayburn Leaves The MIC
Unfortunately, Lee Rayburn quit his job, according to his post on his Facebook page Friday afternoon. Nothing more is known, nor has been announced. On Saturday his name was removed from the station's hosts list.
I know that I'm massively saddened by the loss of both Rayburn and Hartmann on the Mic. They made up a good 50% of what I ever listened to on that station (Rachel Maddow and Madison's own Stu Levitan being the other 50%). Still, I have to admit that I'm on the fence about the changes overall. I don't know what the operations manager's plans are for the station. I don't know if they have new, good things in store. I will say, however, that the addition of Ramsey's show sets off warning bells in my mind. I'm skeptical, and I'll be keeping an eye on developments as they happen. Hopefully, tomorrow night's meeting will shed some light on the subject.

Having a wide variety of opinions and political affiliations represented on the airwaves is an important part of our democratic society. At the moment, it strikes me that there are far more conservative voices being broadcast than not, and any such inbalance is bad. The Mic is pretty much the lone voice in the wilderness for progressive/liberal viewpoints in our area (outside of more localized stalwart, WORT), and I'd hate to see it disappear.

29 comments:

M Big Mistake said...

Whadda ya mean? What about the "liberal media"...isn't it everywhere? (sarcasm)

Alan said...

The removal of Thom Hartmann's show to make way for Dave Ramsey's 3-hour infomercial... I mean, show is a disturbing omen for the future of 92.1. But I feel the bigger loss for the station, as well as Madison as a whole, is the loss of Lee Rayburn. In my opinion, Lee's program was the single best voice on the radio for groups in the Dane County area. WORT still has excellent services but each program usually only serves a niche interest in the community. With Lee, I felt that as long as a group was trying to help the community, they had a voice on the program no matter who or what they are. Because of the wide community base featured on the program, Lee Rayburn's show introduced me to new experiences in town through activism, arts, and better sleeping (I love my Golde's mattress). For now, I'll just hope that Ramsey is an experiment during this economic crisis and they will add a new local host to the mornings.

Though I'm buying satellite radio if Stu Levitan goes off the air.

Emily said...

Alan - Here here.

Stu Levitan said...

Thanks for the props, friends. As far as I know, I'm not going anywhere. I agree that Lee's resignation is a big loss, and I'll try, within my existing format, to pick up a little of the slack on local issues.

Anonymous said...

I woke up to Ron Kuby--again? Thom Hartmann is leaving? I can get Thom's podcasts, or listen online at Air America or his web site. What about Lee Rayburn? Will you please let us know when Lee lands elsewhere. Let's hope it's local.

Madison deserves to have all good liberal radio, not just a couple of shows. The wrong wing propaganda radio doesn't work in Madison. Guess I'll listen online or to my iPod until it gets better.

Anonymous said...

Do what I did - Email the station and the local station advertisers letting them know that they have lost a listener. Be sure to stress that the "expect" that they are now broadcasting is telling people to save money by not buying green, local, or renewable products. I'm sure that sponsors will love to know that they are paying to have some jackass tell people not to buy their products.

fondyman said...

I liberal talk was so popular don't you think there would be more of it on the radio? A profit driven corporation (no matter how evil you think that might be) should not be forced to put things on the air that do not add to the bottom line. If liberals want to ensure their views get out on the radio waves maybe they should create their own alternatives to the successful conservative gabbers. Oh yeah, that has been tried and failed.

Emily said...

Fondyman - The airwaves are technically public property, and leased out to corporations under the agreement that they will be used to the public's benefit. That means allowing equal air time for opinions of all political leanings.

It's not supposed to be about those corporation's bottom lines exclusively. To believe and/or otherwise is downright cynical and does everyone a disservice.

I don't have access to specific ratings, but I get the impression that these two shows brought in good ad revenue and drew in a pretty large audience. So, unless Clear Channel just doesn't want The Mic around at all (entirely possible), then this just doesn't make sense.

Emily said...

To believe and/or otherwise is downright cynical and does everyone a disservice.

Argh - that's supposed to say, "To believe and/or tolerate that p.o.v. is cynical..."

Anonymous said...

If we were talking about two sides of the same coin, then I'd agree with you. But you're never going to have culture war balance in each mass communication medium because the two sides are far too different. The left wing is condescending, instead of crude. It's snobby, instead of bigoted. It's passive-aggressive, instead of confrontational. It's sarcastic, instead of angry. It's verbose, instead of dismissive. There are all kinds of differences in the ways that these two groups communicate, because there are major differences in what their audiences respond to. That means that one side is usually better suited to a particular medium than the other. Screamfest radio isn't appropriate for the blues, and satirical comedy isn't going to work for the reds, as hard as they each might try to copy the other side's successes.

Left wing culture war pep rallies are best held on blogs or the printed page, with lots of hemming and hawing, and copious footnotes to obscure any strong assertions. Right wing culture war pep rallies are perfect for radio or TV because they're mostly about self-congratulation, bitching and name calling, with little regard for nuance or detail. Neither one of them are talking about actual poltics, but they're both talking about the personalities involved in politics, broad public policy philosophies, and (most often) the idiots on the other team and why they're so stupid and wrong. So it makes sense that each side can take the same general script and same general medium, but fail to resonate in the same way with their targets. The audience is different so the message must be different, even if it's saying the same thing (ie, aren't we smarter than those people), and the medium is the message.

Emily said...

Anon - I won't argue with you that what you describe, unfortunately, makes up far too much of the discourse these days. And you're right, the scream-fest, shouting-down-the-other-guy format does seem to work well on talk radio.

But it sucks, and it's only harming the quality of important debates in this country. I'm not saying we should just ban it outright, because that would be ridiculous. What I am saying is that I wish more programmers would simply forgo those hosts who relied on that style, and instead went with people willing and able to conduct thoughtful, insightful, interesting debates and discussions.

Would that sell as many ads? I don't know. I'd certainly like to think that advertisers would be more comfortable paying for space during a show that didn't pander to or denigrate entire swaths of the community.

We owe it to ourselves to hold higher standards for the people and discussions held in our public, broadcast spaces. I refuse to fall into cynicism on this issue, though I completely understand the temptation.

Corry said...

'Fondyman' and 'Anon 2:22' seem to miss the key point here. The Mic (perhaps misnamed, given the problems we've been having) IS popular. We Madisonians DO want it and support it. Clear Channel thought they could pounce on a market that was eager to listen and we have supported the programming. But the huge, corporate, oligarchical Clear Channel is a natural enemy of progressive ideas and has thought better of providing a venue for us since they first opened the station. I'll grant that we might not be some massive, financial juggernaut, but we are listening in numbers great enough to continue with the station except for the fact that they DON'T WANT to support this sort of programming. If only it was just the market... Media owners have social and political points of view and seek to broadcast them...

Anonymous said...

Are you serious Corry? Clear Channel Communications is a publicly traded, for-profit corporation. If they were playing childish ideological games with one of their owned and operated stations they would be facing a sharholder derivative suit. There's a tendency among die-hard culture warriors to assume that a lot of people care about their little pissing contest because they're so immersed in it, but that's not the case. Clear Channel is motivated by money. The "liberal media" is also motivated by money. Just because they're willing to broadcast the pap, doesn't mean they believe in, or even care about it.

The Mic's ratings suck and it's not making as much money as it could, so its content, and eventually maybe even its format, will change. Simple as that.

Corry said...

Oh, 'Anon @ 3:29' are you another one of those people who really believes that the 'market' operates blindly and without bias? Do you really think that corporations don't work for their own political, as well as financial, goals? Do you think it is a coincidence that Fox News is owned by the arch-conservative, Rupert Murdoch? I don't question whether RM or CC want to make money or whether they have been good at it. But how much money would 92.1 have to make before it was enough to outweigh the political considerations of Clear Channel? Would that be more or less than other radio stations it controls? It is you who is naive here.

Anonymous said...

Fine, the conspiracy is real, I'm naive, Clear Channel shareholders are all idiots, and you're the only one who really knows what's going on. Way to go.

Dave Wilcox said...

I'm a big fan of The Mic, and other than a little NPR and Triple M, it is all I listen to. I am totally bummed that Lee quit and Hartmann was dumped for Ramsay.

I gave Ramsay a listen today, and it wasn't exactly compelling progressive radio.

The hing is, I am sorry to say, The Mic does NOT draw decent ratings. I've seen, and tracked, the ratings, and they unfortunately suck. A lot of the ads the station carries are there because they are slipped into larger Clear Channel buys as bonus units. I wish that wasn't true, but it is.

As for making the claim that these are "the public's airwaves," well, yeah, I suppose. But "the public" (our government) leases them to for-profit companies. Carping that we deserve better because somehow. we are entitled to program "our airwaves" is a nice thought, but one that has to be addressed in a much larger way than protesting and complaining to the few advertisers that do directly choose to support the station.

I say as a liberal, progressive person who is also professionally an advertising media strategist, that talk radio in general is incompatible with progressives for the reasons anon listed above. The Mic and the few other stations making a go of it are rare exceptions. Talk Radio as a medium plays to a less educated, more conservative audience. As much as one might despise Clear Channel, one should recognize that they are all about money, and not making some kind of ideological decision about the station IMO.

All this doesn't mean that I am not mad and disappointed, or that I don't fear the worst for The Mic. But I am being reaslistic. I'm not betting on the station's long-term survival.

Anonymous said...

I thought the bargin was that local supporters would advertise on The Mic and we, the loyal listeners, would support the advertisers.

If that bargin isn't working, please let us know.

If it is working, why can't I have liberal talk radio in Madison? And yes, the local angle on Lee or Stu's show is a very important part of a successful mix, in my opinion anyway.

Emily said...

Dave - Thanks for your input. It's nice to have some information about the actual ratings statistics.

I guess my big issue with how Clear Channel does business--regardless of their motives--is that it leads to one giant organization owning a majority of media outlets in a given area. And that, I feel, is downright dangerous for any number of reasons. So maybe the real debate should be about limits (or lack thereof) on media consolidation.

Anonymous said...

Clear Channel doesn't have any shareholders anymore. It went private and is controlled by a company that Mitt Romney used to run.

Jay M. said...

Lee Rayburn is gone?

Good, I could not enjoy his program because of his dumbass giggle/laugh. I couldn't take him seriously and it was distracting.

And Thom Hartmann was disturbing in his advertisement for owning gold.

Some progressives!

Anonymous said...

Clear Channel Media Holdings is still a publicly traded stock (CCMO), and it still has a board of directors who would have to abandon their personal and professional ethics, violate their fiduciary duties, and break the law to favor a particular ideology over profit maximumization. The apoplectic reaction to Bain Capital becoming partner in the management side of Clear Channel was typical misplaced culture war hysteria based on a cursory glance at the situation by uneducated, inexperienced bloggers.

Analogizing this to Fox News is inappropriate. The Fox News business model demands partisan hackery. Rupert Murdoch doesn't give a shit about abortion, but he is a genius for anticipating how ridiculous the culture war would become and serving one side of that emerging market. Not at all the same thing as suggesting that a for-profit corporation would allow ideology to interefere with money making. If the Mic were making tons of money for Clear Channel, it could be broadcasting treason for all they care. They're happy to exploit the culture war, but they're not participating.

Aaron Rodriguez said...

Fondyman - The airwaves are technically public property, and leased out to corporations under the agreement that they will be used to the public's benefit. That means allowing equal air time for opinions of all political leanings.

Emily,

Yes, the airwaves are a public commodity, but radio corporations are no longer expected to provide equal time for opposing opinions. This was actually called the Mayflower Doctrine that lasted about 10 years before it was replaced by the Fairness Doctrine in 1949.

Aaron Rodriguez said...

My apologies, the comment is supposed to read like this:

Emily said: "The airwaves are technically public property, and leased out to corporations under the agreement that they will be used to the public's benefit. That means allowing equal air time for opinions of all political leanings."

My response:

Yes, the airwaves are a public commodity, but radio corporations are no longer expected to provide equal time for opposing opinions. This was actually called the Mayflower Doctrine that lasted about 10 years before it was replaced by the Fairness Doctrine in 1949.

And finally, the Fairness Doctrine was put to bed because radio frequencies are no longer a scarce resource as it was in the 40's.

Emily said...

Jay M - Really? His laugh? It's hard to imagine that one trivial thing being enough to turn you off from everything that was good about his show, especially its local, community focus. Oh well, I guess.

Aaron - I'm confused by your response to Fondyman as opposed to your response to me. Which is it? Are radio broadcasters supposed to provide something of benefit to the community and equal time for differing opinions, or not?

I'm honestly not entirely sure what current legal policy is on the subject. I know that a lot of politicians have a very knee-jerk, anti-Fairness Doctrine response when asked about it, and I'm not entirely convinced that they're wholly right or wrong.

For instance, I don't believe that the news should be forced (or even encouraged) to present "two opposing opinions" on every subject, because that can lead to complete quackery being given equal time next to more solid theories (think Holocaust deniers). But I'm also not a big fan of corporations dominating the broadcast landscape, deciding that one view-point is the best money maker, and then filling their airwaves with only that p.o.v.

That's dangerous and undemocratic. But it certainly is a tricky balance to strike, I'll grant that.

Aaron Rodriguez said...

"Aaron - I'm confused by your response to Fondyman as opposed to your response to me. Which is it? Are radio broadcasters supposed to provide something of benefit to the community and equal time for differing opinions, or not?"

That should have been cleared up in my second post.


"I'm honestly not entirely sure what current legal policy is on the subject. I know that a lot of politicians have a very knee-jerk, anti-Fairness Doctrine response when asked about it, and I'm not entirely convinced that they're wholly right or wrong."


I wrote an article on the Fairness Doctrine that can be found here The Hispanic Conservative.

Emily said...

Aaron - Ah, I see.

I read your post on the Fairness Doctrine. Once I got past your use of "Democrat" instead of the proper "Democratic" (seriously, can we all please cut that out?), I thought you made a pretty good argument. I certainly don't agree with all of your points, but you present some interesting ideas.

I do have to take issue with your claim that there are no monopolies in broadcasting. The three companies you name--Clear Channel, CBS Radio and Citadel--own large swaths of both media and advertising mediums, some of which dominate entire listening areas. I would argue that having just one company running all of the media in a specific market is bad for everyone. I don't care whether they're more liberal or more conservative, I don't want any one corporation deciding all content for my local radio, newspaper, and TV stations.

The FCC, Congress, and Clinton fucked up royally when they allowed for that to happen.

Aaron Rodriguez said...

Emily,

"I thought you made a pretty good argument. I certainly don't agree with all of your points, but you present some interesting ideas."

What points did you disagree with?

Emily said...

I laid out one of my biggest points of contention in my previous response. I'm also not convinced that print and television media are more "liberal" than not, as you seem to suggest. I wouldn't call them overwhelmingly more "conservative" either - I think both descriptions are inaccurate and disingenuous.

Anonymous said...

Even if you don't like the guy, the least you could do is get his name right: it's DAVE Ramsey, not Dan.

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