Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Full house of listeners, advertisers on hand to save The Mic

Check out Kristian Knutsen 's articles at The Isthmus for more extensive detail on the rally and the grassroots drive, as well as pictures from the event.

In the crazy business known as radio, it seems like not a day goes by that at least one of several thousand radio stations across the country change formats. Quite often, change happens with hardly any protest. In some cases, listeners are more vocal about the loss of their favorite station. But it's highly doubtful that any format flip in recent memory has garnered the attention or the grassroots protest that the pending flip of WXXM (92.1 The Mic) in Madison has.

A crowd of roughly 490 listeners and advertisers gathered at a rally Tuesday night at the High Noon Saloon. Speakers consisted of various advertisers, activists, a former mayor and Madison native Terry Kelly, an original Air America investor. Statements from Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and Rep. Tammy Baldwin were also read. The hour-and-a-half event was organized by Valerie Walasek.

The events of the last few weeks have been a tour-de-force of activism in support of the format. Since WXXM announced its intent on November 9 to change the station's format from progressive talk to sports (via FOX Sports Radio, a network operated by Premiere, the syndication arm of Clear Channel) on Jan. 1, 2007. Many listeners and advertisers were displeased with this change, voicing protests to Clear Channel and pointing to the station’s relatively healthy ratings in the market, particularly when compared to other progressive talk stations around the country.

As it became apparent that Clear Channel was going through with the format change, Walasek, a disabled veteran and fan of The Mic, set in motion a campaign that has grown massively in the last four weeks. She launched an online petition on Nov. 10, to present to Clear Channel Madison market manager Jeff Tyler. Over 5,000 signatures later, the impact has made news across the nation.

Walasek and others organized ad hoc committees over the next few weeks, including not only listeners but station advertisers as well. The group is pushing forward an advertiser-based campaign to convince a local broadcaster to pick up the progressive talk format. Also under consideration are the filing of complaints with the FCC and in entries to the station's public file, as well as possibly working to pool money to purchase a station. In the meantime, the group, known as "Long Live Progressive Radio" have started a website to draw attention to their cause.

Barbara Wright, a local restaurant owner, is one of the key organizers of the drive. "I'm upset I'm losing the best vehicle for advertising I ever had," says Wright. Other local business owners have echoed the same sentiment. They have gone so far as to criticize station management and their advertising reps.

The decision to change the format came from Clear Channel's regional manager in Cincinnati, which oversaw the flip of their own local progressive talk station, WSAI, to a different format last week. The regional manager has claimed that attracting advertisers to the format has been difficult, and some advertisers haven't realized the full potential of their ad buys. Clear Channel/Madison, however, claims to be looking into broadcast options to placate listeners and sponsors of the station. Even with the success of the rally, Clear Channel still plans on changing the station's format.

Dane101 captured video of the rally last night, including this one of Walasek speaking to the crowd at YouTube. More speeches from the rally are available as well, and can be seen linked from the LTR group page.

Thanks again to Kristian Knutsen and the gang at The Isthmus for the information (and the emails). You can read more about the rally and the grassroots effort here and here. The Capital Times also has an article about the event.


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