Madison’s WTDY made headlines after it laid off all its staff last Wednesday, and the University of Wisconsin’s young-journalists-of-the-future shared a collective moment of panic. Additionally, because there seems to be no programming plan in place, J-schoolers and professional journalists alike are unsure about the future of radio.
But it’s not just WTDY. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported WISN and WTMJ radio gave Gov. Scott Walker supporters free airtime during the recall election, which is in violation of the Federal Communications Commission’s regulations.
According to the Sentinel, the Media Action Center noticed WISN and WTMJ were airing shows that gave a pro-Walker bias, whereas the FCC decrees that in the 60 days leading to an election, radio stations must provide both candidates with comparable coverage.
Now, months after the recall, the MAC is legally challenging WISN and WTMJ in an effort to pull their licenses, saying each gave away approximately $1 million in airtime. A press release stated supporters of Walker were given 80 minutes of airtime per day from May-June, whereas supporters of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett were only given about 30 minutes.
Specific complaints include shows hosted by Vicki McKenna and Charlie Sykes. McKenna frequently refers to liberals on Twitter as “blue fist thugs,” and she told The Badger Herald, “I make a joke about Madison conservatives a lot, that we are the political equivalent of battered women. … We just wanted to keep quiet and say we were sorry, and maybe they would be less mean to us.” Sykes, on the other hand, recently decried an “elaborate and long-running campaign laundering scheme by former leaders of the Wisconsin firefighters union” and has recently published a book titled A Nation of Moochers: America’s Addiction to Getting Something for Nothing.
Let’s face it: Talk radio is its own form of media, and whether the hosts are John “Sly” Sylvester or Vicki McKenna, the format is going to get some kooky characters. While I do so appreciate the MAC ensuring the public doesn’t get too big a dose of any one viewpoint, talk radio is the wrong medium to be imposing the will of the FCC for anything less than hateful speech or inciting riots.
The interesting thing, though, is the message radio execs are sending listeners. From liberal hosts like Sly to conservative ones like Sykes, talk radio is getting the business end of journalism reforms. It seems as though the talk radio format is becoming much less valued in Wisconsin, although I can’t point to exactly why. But take notice: With recent events, it’s plain to see both liberals and conservatives with extreme viewpoints are being pushed out of the nest that is talk radio.
Taylor Nye ([email protected]) is a senior studying human evolutionary biology, archaeology and Latin American studies.