Last week, OnMilwaukee.com posted an interview with 88.9's Scott Mullins, who has accepted a program director position at WTMD in Baltimore and will leave WMYS on May 5.
In the interview, Mullins made a comment that raised eyebrows locally and inspired columns by Fan-Belt's DJ Hostettler and The AV Club's Steve Hyden.
Mullins' statement in question was:
"88.9 has championed Milwaukee music like no other station in town. I'm not saying that we are the only station that ever plays it, but we are the only one that gives Milwaukee artists significant, meaningful airplay."
Hostettler says this comment exasperated the folks at Fan-Belt.
"Make no mistake: we're fond of what 88.9 has done for the Milwaukee music scene," writes Hostettler. "However, yesterday's head-scratching remark by Mullins betrays an overall philosophy at Radio Milwaukee that rubs a lot of local musicians and music media the wrong way -- an attitude of arrogance and unnecessary competitiveness that stems from running a non-commercial station like, well, a commercial one."
Hostettler says the station markets itself as the city's only community-minded media outlet and, in turn, squelches the possibility of collaborating with other organizations and media outlets.
Hyden says this attitude contradicts the station's diverse image.
"It's possible that Mullins misspoke, but he's not the first Radio Milwaukee official to essentially say that the station is the only independent game in town in recent months," writes Hyden.
Both Hyden and Hostettler mention 88.9 Executive Director Mary Louise Mussoline's comments in The Business Journal on Jan. 8. She wrote, "How would you find new music or Milwaukee musicians if this station (88.9) didn't exist?"
This comment sprinkled salt on the existing wound festering because of the perception that Milwaukee media overlooks smaller stations like WMSE.
WMSE's Ryan Schleicher agrees that 88.9 is doing positive things for the city, but at the same time, soaking up the limelight.
"I think the main issue most people have, and I think it is a legitimate one, is that their branding and positioning initiatives quite often show disregard for other people doing important things," he says. "Even if you completely take WMSE out of the equation, there are still a lot of people in Milwaukee who've been doing, and continue to do, great things for Milwaukee music."
The question that must be asked, however, is whether or not Mullins' comment is taken slightly out of context? Mullins makes a sweeping statement with his "we are the only one that gives Milwaukee artists significant, meaningful airplay" remark, but he goes on to describe perhaps what he really means: that 88.9's process of promoting local music is different, not necessarily better.
"When we find a Milwaukee song that works for us, we put it into the mix alongside the big boys, so it had better be up to par. We could play every single local track that comes in once on the air and then forget it, but we have taken a different approach. Live with the song, build some familiarity with listeners and raise the general public awareness of the band. This can translate into actually selling some CDs or downloads for the band, better attendance at gigs and maybe even some better-paying gigs. But a lot of that is up to the band to hustle and try to capitalize on the exposure."
Mullins chose not to respond to OnMilwaukee.com's follow-up interview request. However, it's fair to say that WMSE plays more Milwaukee bands on air, whereas 88.9 focuses on fewer, but, in some ways, does provide deeper exposure.
Both stations have their strengths and provide opportunities for local music, but in different ways. And both deserve equal attention from the media. The bottom line for Schleicher is that the stations should be working together more.
"I believe we should and could work together more effectively. I talk with Tarik (Moody) and Adam (Carr) all the time about working together. It is incumbent on all of us to find out how to make that happen," says Schleicher.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.