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The mural at WMCS-AM (1290) building on Capitol Drive.
The mural at WMCS-AM (1290) building on Capitol Drive.

WMCS 1290 silences the talk

It was a shock to hear that Milwaukee's home for black talk radio had decided to change formats Tuesday.

It was even more a shock when the station started playing Elvis Presley this morning just to make sure listeners got the point.

The Milwaukee radio station WMCS-AM (1290) has served the city's African-American radio audience for more than two decades with a variety of popular on-air hosts and personalities.

Black talk radio is a vibrant force in town, particularly during local elections, but the city's two black-owned radio stations have always been challenged by economic realities that made the going tough. (The other station is  WNOV-AM 860, which still offers talk radio.)

The general manager at the company that runs WMCS chalked up a drastic decision to end the all-talk format on most days to strictly business. "Radio stations have to make money and serve the community," said Bill Horwitz, vice president and general manager of the Milwaukee Radio Alliance.

Nobody can argue with that.

Co-owned by Packers great Willie Davis, it's always been perceived as a struggling radio station that lacked the ratings and revenue to survive in a competitive market. But over the years, the talk radio on WMCS did serve the community with passionate discussions of issues and often combative discourse between listeners and on-air hosts and guests.

Listening to the most popular talk shows on WMCS – Eric Von in the morning and Earl Ingram in the afternoon, along with syndicated shows including Al Sharpton – was often akin to being part of a raucous debate in a black barbershop. 

The radio audience for WMCS is largely made up of older African-Americans who don't listen to hip-hop 24/7 and prefer more serious discussions about politics and society. It's also not an audience drawn to another popular feature on Milwaukee radio, right-wing conservatives who often speak a different language than most African-Americans in Milwaukee.

WMCS was always racially inclusive, with white guests and experts on a regular basis and even a white male morning co-host – Joel McNally – for a time. I've been a regular guest on WMCS programs for most of my time in Milwaukee and recognize it as a valuable forum that's not provided by other mainstream radio stations.

Through most of its existence, the radio station's "Talk of the Town" talk format proved to be a place for serious discussions all listeners could enjoy but aimed specifically for black people; Elvis notwithstanding, one can only wonder what happens now. 

Talkbacks

fetlarpo | March 1, 2013 at 6:44 p.m. (report)

Any body no what a paid pod cast site is. I am sure this audience could pay for good diverse content. Otherwise, this audience seems like a good fit for government radio. God for bid they listen to those evil right wingers. There love for a pro life God and a strong defense of country would be alien to this audience.

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Otto | Feb. 27, 2013 at 10:11 a.m. (report)

It would seem that not enough listeners were tuning in to MCS to make the station viable. Logic would have it that the remaining two stations will have an increase in listeners and will be in a position to be more profitable. How about Your Milwaukee Schools WYMS as an outlet for 'the community'. Perhaps they can fill the void with black centric programing as well.

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mikeb | Feb. 27, 2013 at 6:02 a.m. (report)

In reading the comments it's always a bit unnerving to see people see racism in everything. WMCS is owned by Willie Davis. The reason they are changing formats is that for whatever reasons they couldn't make any money with the current format. It's not because Willie Davis wanted to "slap black people in the face". Radio stations change formats all of the time, it's nothing personal.

I would also say that if the assumption that this type of radio format is supportable it should open up a business opportunity for someone.

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