Friday, November 10, 2006

"The Mic" to shut off in Madison, flip to sports talk

From the "Stupidest Radio Decisions Ever" department, WXXM (92.1FM) Madison has announced a pending flip to sports talk, right after they had one of their best ratings periods yet (3.7 overall, 11th place).

This means that Air America Radio programming, Stephanie Miller and Ed Schultz will make way for, ummm... The Madison Mallards.

Local programming, including the weekday morning The Pro Show with Lee Rayburn and Jodie Shawback has been dropped. The Forward Forum, a weekend show, was cancelled last weekend.

Here's the official statement:

November 10, 2007

Statement: The change in formats on WXXM 92.1FM to FOX SPORTS RADIO 92.1:

"Our programming decisions are based entirely on audience research and our knowledge of the communities we serve. We have built and established a strong brand for broadcast sports. We are the market’s source for everything professional sports including the Packers, Brewers, Bucks and their league’s playoffs and championships. We are the local flagship for the Wisconsin Badgers offering our listeners football, men’s and women’s basketball and hockey. We provide coverage of NASCAR and High School sports including the WIAA State Championships in football, boys and girl’s basketball and hockey.

Our research indicated that listeners want more coverage of local high school and collegiate sports, not currently carried on local radio. We have only been able to provide limited exposure for UW Badger Volleyball. We have had listener requests and interest in High School Baseball and our local Northwood’s League Baseball team (The Madison Mallards). We have also had requests to air some programming currently carried on our WTSO AM [ESPN RADIO 1070] live and not time shifted. The need and the appetite for sports in the market have only grown stronger in the past few years. The addition of FOX SPORTS RADIO on WXXM FM 92.1 starting January 1, 2007 will allow us to carry more of what sports fans in the Madison area want, more programming that highlights the local sports scene and more top sports programs live.”

- Jeff Tyler, Vice President / Market Manager for Clear Channel Radio-Madison

All programming carried on WXXM FM through December 31, 2006, can also be streamed via the internet at,;

Clear Channel Radio owns and operates six Madison area radio stations including, WIBA AM 1310, WIBA FM 101.5, WZEE FM 104.1, WMAD FM 96.3, WXXM FM 92.1, and WTSO AM 1070.

So, in essence, Clear Channel-Madison is blowing up one of the most successful stations in the market, as well as in the progressive talk format, for yet another sports talk station. And Madison already has a FOX Sports affiliate in rimshot station WTLX (100.5FM), though their ratings are crap in the Madison market. The station's signal is weak in some parts of the Madison market. WTLX does have plans to change its city of license to neighboring Monona, which will allow them to become a full-fledged Madison station.

Many have wondered why Clear Channel-Madison is making this move, with some even donning the proverbial aluminum foil helmet. Most Clear Channel station decisions are made at the local level, particularly with a market as small as Madison. My theory is that they have sponsors lined up to finance high school baseball, UW Volleyball, intramural basketweaving and whatever other crap they want to put on WXXM. Believe it or not, advertisers are actually willing to sponsor stuff like this, and while the conventional wisdom is that nobody will listen, companies will throw a lot of money at it nonetheless.

It doesn't look like this is based on ratings, and with the new format for 92.1, I don't think Clear Channel-Madison will really care about ratings so long as they can line up sponsors to pay for it.

Clear Channel also owns ESPN-affiliated all-sports WTSO, in addition to news/talk station WIBA, the Madison-area flagship for the Green Bay Packers, Milwaukee Brewers, and Wisconsin Badgers football. WXXM's switch could be a sales re-emphasis toward selling male-dominated sports programming, rather than trying to sell talk radio.

It is likely that station management is making a pre-emptive move to protect their modestly successful sports station WTSO and strong franchise WIBA from WTLX's pending upgrades. It is unknown how WTLX will react to the introduction of a new competitor and the likely loss of its station identity (they currently ID themselves as "FOX Sports 100.5 Madison"). They could pick up Sporting News Radio if they remain sports, or they may even look at picking up The Mic's format, as a way of attracting much-needed listenership via a locally-established format.

Another possibility is rival Madison radio station owner, Mid-West Family. They own several area stations, including WTDY (1670AM), which in 2004 was involved in a skirmish with Clear Channel when they started calling the station "Progressive Talk 1670". They also carried Ed Schultz and Stephanie Miller at the time. WTDY has since gone to a mostly-local format with talk shows spanning the political spectrum. However, Glen Gardner, program director at WTDY, said his station would likely continue to focus on locally produced shows.

"We now have the opportunity to court the audience that is going to get chased off that station," Gardner said. "We want to be live and local. We can talk about Madison."

Another wildcard could be Terry Kelley, one of the founding members of Air America and a longtime Madison businessman. "I find it puzzling as to the timing given the election results," said Kelly. "There is no business reason that is apparent to me (for the change), therefore, one wonders what the real reasons may be." Whether he may have an influence in another station picking up The Mic's programming remains to be seen.

I'm sure other station owners in the Madison market are looking at the success of The Mic, and wondering how they can fill the void. Remember, most of the stations in the market rank lower than WXXM.

You can email the program director here.

The Capital Times in Madison has an article up, as does the Wisconsin State Journal.

And you can sign a petition to keep progressive talk in Madison here.

Daily Kos linkback here.


Schroeder said...

Another bad decision promulgated by the gospel ratings race into the sewer as uninspired commercial profiteers compete for the same low-quality listeners.

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