Saturday, November 18, 2006

Madison: WTDY sticking with their local approach

Don't look for WTDY (1670AM) in Madison to pick up any programming being abandoned by WXXM (92.1FM) in January. They've been down that road before and are a bit sore from the experience. Seems they've been burned once too often by radio syndicators. WTDY program director and afternoon host John "Sly" Sylvester explains:

There has been much speculation on whether or not another Madison radio station will pick up some of the syndicated programming that is being abandoned by Clear Channel.

The Capital Times recently urged Madison radio stations to consider picking up the Ed Schultz and Stephanie Miller programs, which are distributed by Jones Media, a national syndicator. These shows will NOT be returning to Madison 1670 The Pulse (WTDY) for a number of reasons.

First, and most importantly, our prime-time programming is dedicated to live, local talk radio, and employs local announcers who live in Wisconsin. We pay them a living wage, and provide decent health care insurance. We also give Madison listeners a chance to talk about what is going on in our community. We feel this is the primary responsibility of our news-talk station in Madison.

We're very lucky that many of our owners are behind the microphones and in the offices at our Rayovac Drive studios. Our programming decisions are made right here in Madison at our employee-owned company.

Another very important factor in not re-taking Schultz or Miller is this: Jones Media, the syndication company, did not act in an ethical manner when they removed the programs from The Pulse and buckled to Clear Channel pressure. Here is the story.

In 2003, Jones contacted us and asked us to carry this talk show host, Ed Schultz, whose program originated from North Dakota. As WTDY's program director at the time, I figured that Schultz would make a good addition to our lineup, as he was a Midwest voice. Such talent comes second to our local hosts during prime time, so Schultz was delayed from his live afternoon broadcast to an evening slot, certainly not an uncommon tactic.

Not long after that came Clear Channel's decision to change the format of WXXM to progressive talk. I received a phone call from Jones Media and they said that if we wanted to keep Ed Schultz, we would have to run him live, and also run Stephanie Miller's show in the evening. Since we were running Sean Hannity in the afternoon, it made sense to capitulate to Jones' wish. This did not make Clear Channel very happy. They had picked up Air America for many of their stations from around the country, and supplemented Air America's product with Jones' Schultz and Miller. So they put pressure on Jones to take Schultz and Miller away from us.

At that point, I decided that we had been betrayed by far too many syndicated programmers. You may remember that Clear Channel also used corporate clout to move Rush Limbaugh and eight hours a day of other programming from WTDY back in 2001. WTDY was one of Rush's first 80 affiliates in 1988 - we didn't just run the syndicated programming, we spent thousands of dollars promoting it, and running their inventory of commercials.

With a good portion of our programming being live and local already, we decided we'd make a full-time commitment, and make all of our prime time live and local. It is for this reason that we will not reward Jones or any other syndicator that operates in this manner. Progressives in Madison and other cities should be pushing for more local programming rather than trying to mimic the Limbaugh-Hannity model. As a proud reader of The Capital Times, a locally owned newspaper, I hope that its readers will appreciate our identical commitment to Madison.

Neither Schultz nor Miller ever lifted a finger to say no to the corporate greed that caused their downfall in Madison. They "talk the talk" about being for progressive causes, but when push came to shove they decided to gorge from the Clear Channel trough.


Frasier Crane said...

Can't say I blame WTDY.
I've never heard their local shows and don't know what of slant their shows have but a local, employee-owned business sounds inherently "progressive."
Local is the only thing radio does better than satellite, especially for political talk (because all politics is local).
Jones should be ashamed of themselves.

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