The owner of a liberal talk radio station in Milwaukee claims the owner of WTMJ-AM is attempting to kill the format in the city. But the general manager for the highly rated heritage talker denies the allegation and the evidence would seem to support his position.
Michael Crute purchased WRRD-AM earlier this year, after a Madison station dropped his liberal talk show. Crute added his show and an all liberal talk line-up to the station, positioning it as “Wisconsin’s Resistance Radio.” Crute says his efforts to add an FM signal to the station are being stymied by E.W. Scripps stepping in to grab the signal translator from Crute to re-broadcast WTMJ’s programming. WTMJ GM Tom Langmyer tells Media Trackers that the only dispute that exists is between Crute and the owner of the translator signal, Frank McCoy.
For his part, Crute says he filed a joint application with McCoy at the FCC to move the translator into Milwaukee and that a construction permit was granted to McCoy on June 22. But last Tuesday McCoy had a change of heart, Crute says, emailing him that Scripps “came at me hard with more money and an agreement to build the translator at their expense and give it a rent free home on the WTMJ-TV/WKTI-FM tower.” Crute says McCoy told him, “It was just too good a deal to refuse.”
One day later (July 19) Crute filed with the FCC an Objection to the Amendment to the Construction Permit. Crute says the CP specifically states that McCoy, as permittee, is bound to rebroadcasting WRRD on the translator for four years and can’t assign or transfer the CP to another party. Crute is positioning WTMJ’s move as an “attempt to crush lefty competition” and a battle between a corporate-owned 50,000-watt Class A vs. an independent Class D that has to sign off at night. In a Facebook posting, Crute accuses WTMJ of “making an unscrupulous, hard-ball effort, to crush my efforts to level the broadcast playing field” and vows to “fight like hell.”
Crute argues that WTMJ’s powerful AM signal makes pairing it with a low-watt FM Translator virtually useless. Crute’s AM station, on the other hand, is daytime only and the FM signal would give it solid 24-7 coverage over the metro Milwaukee area. From a Crute Facebook post:
It is a sad day when corporate giant WTMJ feels they can “steal” from me and my family business, by buying off a legally granted FCC construction permit. Is WTMJ so challenged by WRRD, or by the Devil’s Advocates, that they need to crush the little independent operators of the world? Is a surprisingly good Brewer season the only thing propping up WTMJ’s diminished line-up since Charlie Sykes left?
Langmyer told Media Trackers in an email Monday that there are business reasons for acquiring an FM signal for WTMJ that have nothing to do with “Resistance Radio.”
“Having WTMJ on an FM translator, in addition to AM, would allow us to provide service to those who primarily listen to radio on FM.” Langmyer said. In fact, the trend of heritage AM talk stations picking up an FM signal is one in which WTMJ finds itself years behind the curve.
86 percent of radio listening is on the FM band. Cox Enterprises added an FM signal to heritage talker WSB, Atlanta and actually moved news/talker WDBO, Orlando to the FM band entirely. Midwest Communications has partnered its three Wisconsin news/talk stations with FM signals: WTAQ, Green Bay, WSAU, Wausau and WHBL, Sheboygan.
Radio companies who add an FM signal to a news/talk station have often seen younger audiences as a result. Radio industry observers have been surprised that WTMJ didn’t jump on the FM trend earlier. As for Crute’s contention that E.W. Scripps moved in to steal the FM signal, Langmyer told us:
“The issues between the owner of the translator and the owner of WRRD, are between them. We were approached by the owner of the translator, who offered the opportunity to us – and others. We’ve been hoping for a place on the FM side, for some time. We agreed to terms and signed an agreement with the owner of the translator. We learned after the fact, that there were issues between the translator owner and the owner of WRRD.”
As for Crute’s Facebook question about whether WTMJ feels challenged by WRRD, the answer is almost certainly no. While WTMJ’s ratings have dipped a bit, it remains a radio power in Milwaukee. It was the third ranked station overall in the Nielsen ratings for the market in the latest ratings. Meanwhile, a Milwaukee radio industry insider tells us that WRRD, since adding a liberal format, hasn’t generated enough listeners to even show in the Nielsen market ranking. Those ratings realities make it unlikely that E.W. Scripps would concern itself with trying to stymie Crute’s station.
It’s likely that “Resistance Radio” is facing a challenge from another front, National Public Radio. As Media Trackers pointed out in January:
NPR, is in fact, a very successful format that caters to liberals. According to Talkers Magazine data quoted by Wikepedia, NPR’s “All Things Considered, draws more listeners than conservative Talk King Rush Limbaugh and it’s “Morning Edition Program” came in just behind Limbaugh and ahead of conservative talker Sean Hannity. And while progressives may argue that NPR isn’t a liberal format, there is no question it’s audience skews very leftward. A Pew Research Center study shows that 67% of NPR’s audience identify as left of center politically. NPR’s government-subsidized dominance of liberal ears creates a substantial barrier to success for commercial progressive talk ventures. It also is a persuasive argument for NPR to lose its government subsidy and become a completely commercial venture itself.
The station Crute has purchased in Milwaukee has a 25,000-watt signal, which is impressive on the AM band. But it is also in a market where two stations airing NPR programming can be heard and garner some 225,000 listeners, according to the most recent Nielsen data. And with government funding and pledge drives, NPR stations aren’t concerned with turning a profit to survive; a reality Crute and his new station face.
Further, in branding his station as “Resistance Radio,” Crute has defined it as part of a political movement, not an entertainment vehicle. The failed Air America proved to the radio industry that such a business model is a recipe for failure.
UPDATE: After this story posted at Media Trackers, Crute provided the following email response:
My only issue is the claim virtually no listeners. As a Nationally syndicated product we (Devil’s Advocates) are on several platforms including Stream www.NewsTalk1510AM.com. I can measure this in real time.
One of our commercial sponsors, Crazy Len E-Bikes,formerly Crazy TV Lenny at American, called on Saturday to tells us our commercials have people from the 414 driving to Madison to buy $2000 ebikes. We were the only station running his ads. That is an engaged audience, per Lenny.
I also have commercials intact FB live that bolsters our definable audience by hundreds of thousands per month.
Nielsen just registered our station last week, they were registering the format change through listeners.