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In Movies & TV Commentary

The author believes WTMJ would be better served with Trenni Kusnierek hosting "Sports Central" solo

In Movies & TV Commentary

WAUK's Dan Needes is knowledgeable, but sometimes gets bogged down with sophomoric humor.

In Movies & TV Commentary

WTMJ's Jeff Wagner has been at the talk radio game for a long time, but doesn't provide anything new or different to his audience. (Photo: David Jackson Studio)

Milwaukee talk radio's (mostly) barren landscape


I spend a lot of time in my car and I spend a lot of time listening to the radio.

I love radio. I especially like all talk radio. I find if I'm listening to music I'm changing stations all the time to find a song I like.

Lately I've been listening to radio carefully, trying to take stock of what we've got in Milwaukee. And it's a decidedly mixed bag.

I don't pretend to know a lot about the business of radio. But I have a friend I call my Radio Rabbi. His name is Steve Wexler and I've known him for over two decades.

More than 30 years ago he rode his bike from his home to the studios at WTMJ and told the lady at the desk he wanted to be on the radio. What he got was the unpaid job of getting coffee for Jonathan Green. Now he's the highly-respected Executive Vice President of the Journal Broadcast Group.

Now he's a big wheel and he knows his radio, both here and around the country. He also fired me once, which was one of his few mistakes but he's one of the nicest and smartest men I've ever worked with.

"There are a couple of surprising things about radio in Milwaukee," Wexler said. "Since Arbitron started its new metering system, we've found out that more people were listening to the radio than we thought. Plus the audience for certain day parts, like evenings and weekends, are much bigger than we thought."

Radio stations used to dump infomercial and church programming in those slots, but now they actually try to provide programming and make money.

In my talk radio I'm looking for a few things. I want someone smart. Someone unique. Someone brave. Someone who can be funny without being sophomoric. Someone who brings something to the conversation or debate. Someone who has some breadth and can intelligently talk about a lot of different things.

That's in short supply in our town. In straight talk we've got two giants, Charlie Sykes and Mark Belling. And in sports, the hardscrabble field is almost empty, with the exception of the D-List with Drew Olson and Dan Needles.

I can hardly remember the last time I ever agreed with Sykes or Belling on any major issue. They are diehard conservatives and hang their affections and affectations on the line for all to see.

But they do outstanding radio.

Conservative talk radio dominates this market. About the only place you can find somewhat liberal talk is on NPR, and hardly anybody listens to that. The conservative AM radio wave was a tsunami that has soaked markets everywhere in the country.

Wexler calls himself a "free market guy" and says that conservative talk radio sprang up in the '80s to meet a need from the radio listening audience. I assume that if he's right, there is no market crying out for liberal talk radio.

This is one place he and I kind of disagree. I think conservative talk radio was born in the early '80s when Rush Limbaugh started out in Sacramento.

He created the model. Find something and make it "the enemy." The enemy he picked was the "mainstream media" and he fought against this enemy like a rottweiler fights over a slice of filet mignon.

Before too long, people all over the country started to talk about "the enemy" and a whole slew of conservative political talkers were born. You can't have conservative talk radio unless you have something to hate and battle against. If you listen closely, most conservative talk radio isn't "for" many things, but it's pretty clear what they are "against."

After Sykes and Belling the remainder of our talk radio field falls off badly.

The rest of the wannabes are pale imitations and bring very little to the game. People like Jay Weber and Jeff Wagner just trod over already tilled ground and never make me sit up and take notice of anything either new or important.

Sports talk in Milwaukee is almost more barren than political talk.
Needles and Olson have experience, humor and a toughness that I appreciate. Sometimes their humor gets the best of them, but it's hard not to get giddy sometimes over the world of sports.

Sadly, I think Steve "The Homer" True has lost his edge. At one point I agreed with my late colleague Tim Cuprisin that Homer did the best local radio show in town, sports or otherwise. But he's either slowing down or missing something, but his show doesn't have the same kind of "must listen" quotient he used to have.

Jason Wilde who used to cover the Packers for the Wisconsin State Journal, is a jewel of a reporter, but he is almost over-exposed. I hear him several times per day on 540 ESPN, but it's hard to keep the news fresh, even when it's the Packers. But at least you at least get the idea that Wilde is giving you something you can't get it anywhere else.

I continue to be turned off by the collection of mad hatters at WSSP. They are the version of the worst kind of conservative talk radio. They never tell you anything new. They are always "against" something. And their hosts don't impress me with anything remotely approaching credibility. I mean have you actually heard Gilbert Brown on the radio? Please.

My final foray into sports talk is the marriage of Trenni Kusnierek and Greg Matzek on WTMJ every evening. I'm not sure about this. I think putting two people together requires intimate compatibility and I don't think these two have it. The impression I get is that rather than listen to each other, they are busy preparing what they are going to say next.

That makes for very confusing and boring radio. I think the station would be much better off with just Kusnierek on the show.

That's about it. The little bit I like, and the whole bunch where we could improve. Not enough diversity and not enough quality. But if you search, you can find something.

Talkbacks

usa_all_the_way | April 24, 2012 at 12:35 p.m. (report)

Dave is correct in many areas of this piece. I like Belling&Sykes but also appreciate Weber and Vicki. That being said. The rest IS garbage. Wagner is a wuss. Trenni is a dim bulb. Sports talk? Please! I would rather listen to Chicago sports radio than this bunch. If a station took the model of "The Score" 670 in Chicago and used it here, ratings would follow.

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Brien Farley | March 7, 2012 at 4:46 a.m. (report)

Posted a rebuttal to Mr. Begel's post. See "Milwaukee Talk Radio's (Rather) Fertile Landscape" at http://www.onmilwaukee.com/myOMC/blog/show/5821. Enjoy!

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local_yokel | March 4, 2012 at 12:41 p.m. (report)

Talk radio in Milwaukee is really terrible. I believe we are a much better city than what we hear represented on the radio, especially AM. WTMJ is just awful, except for their excellent afternoon news show. Most often, I listen to WHAD (90.7 AM) or WUWM (89.7) UNnike Mr. Begel, I do not appreciate Sykes or Belling, because I do not find them to be honest, or fair. I don't expect balanced, of course. Belling? Who wants to be yelled at? For sports talk, I am very glad to have WSSP in the market. WTMJ's Jeff Falconio has to be the worst sports voice in town. I just cannot listen to him. To me, he sounds like he is doing a parody of a sports talk guy. Nothing insightful. Nothing original. Just the obvious repeated ad nauseam. Thanks, Dave THIS is a converstaion we as a community need to have.

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ffsteve | March 3, 2012 at 2:51 p.m. (report)

I love Milwaukee's talk radio genre! Im 26 and find myself tuning into Radio news 620 and 1130 rather than listen to the crap they play on the FM channels. Conservative or not, its entertaining, and insightful.

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Captool73 | March 1, 2012 at 3:35 p.m. (report)

The "D List" is good? It's likel listening to a show produced in someone's basment. Needles make Limbaugh sound sophisticated.

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