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.
Eugene Kane is veteran Milwaukee journalist and nationally award winning columnist.
Kane writes about a variety of important issues in Milwaukee and society that impact residents of all backgrounds.