Today's is my final daily column for OnMilwaukee.com. For those of you that don't know, I have been hired by Yahoo! Sports Radio to host their nighttime show (7-9 p.m.) and will be moving out of the Milwaukee radio market.
This is not a reflection on OnMilwaukee.com in any way. Far from it. I have nothing but admiration and respect for everyone associated with what I will go to my grave believing is the most dedicated and passionate news, sales, and behind-the-scenes staff in Milwaukee media. Publisher Andy Tarnoff is a masterful visionary and President Jeff Sherman is as dynamically plugged into the business community as anyone I have ever met.
My partners in the editorial department, working in the Tim Cuprisin Memorial Newsroom, are top shelf. All of them; Bobby, Molly, Renee and Damien know this city inside and out and have been a joy and an honor to work alongside. Editing Dave Begel's sports columns have been a joy, as well, inasmuch as I have agreed with many of them and vehemently disagreed with others.
But the chance to again host my own national radio sports show and everything that went along with it was a pull that I could not resist. Again, it isn't a knock on Milwaukee in any way. I love this city more than I ever thought I could love a place and have been blessed over the last five years to talk sports with you again.
That having been said, since last June many have asked me what I would change about our sports-talk radio scene.
The No. 1 thing I would do is to actually add another station to the already crowded mix. It seems counter-intuitive but this would be no ordinary sports station. This would be Milwaukee's sports superstation: 94.5, WTMJ-FM.
One trend we are seeing right now in radio is spoken-word formats invading the FM dial. With all of the different ways we can now listen to music, it still baffles me why anyone would listen to FM radio for music. Granted, I have a lot of friends that work in the industry as FM music-format personalities, but this is not a reflection on them in any way. Particularly morning shows have their own unique content that you cannot get anywhere else.
That having been said, when they are not talking but rather playing a song, I can't help but feel that can get that content from almost anything. An iPod, YouTube, CD, iPhone, you name it. Consumers know this too. Why wait seven minutes for your favorite song on "Radio Now" when you can hit three buttons and get it immediately?
Eventually, just as newspapers are facing extinction, so will music on the FM band. Don't believe me? Kodak didn't believe film would ever become obsolete, either. Look at where that got them.
In certain markets, smart radio programmers have been taking underachieving FM music formats and spinning off sports and/or news programming onto them, using the heritage they have built up over the years.
In Phoenix, their heritage news-sports-talk station, much like Milwaukee's, was situated at 620 on the AM dial. In fact, the similarities between KTAR and WTMJ do not stop at their identical position on the dial by a long shot. In fact, the similarities are staggering.
KTAR first signed on in 1922; WTMJ in 1927. KTAR's call letters stand for "Keep Taking the Arizona Republic" as it was owned by the local newspaper. Similarly, WTMJ's call letters stand for "The Milwaukee Journal" (the W has no meaning other than its designation east of the Mississippi River).
Like WTMJ, KTAR owned all of the sports properties broadcast rights in town. The Suns, later the Cardinals and Diamondbacks, along with Arizona State University were all heard on KTAR. But the burden of constantly moving conflict broadcasts from one station to another got management to figure out a way to use the existing properties they have to all have one home.
After a couple of failed experiments with low-power stations, in 2007 they simply decided to take all of their news and talk programs that had been on 620 KTAR and move them to their underachieving FM station, the newly re-named 92.3 KTAR-FM. AM 620 in the Phoenix market is now the dominant all-sports station, broadcasting all of the games they always had, while using 92.3 FM solely as a conflict station.
This has created consistent programming on both stations, and has been extremely successful in making KTAR the most influential and listened-to information brand in the area.
Similarly, Bonneville Communications (who also owns KTAR) made the same switch in Seattle with their heritage KIRO station, which like WTMJ, was launched in 1927. Whereas AM 710 was once the dominant news-sports-talk station in the market, it is now the most successful all-sports station in the market, and is the flagship station for both Mariners and Seahawks games. Like KTAR-FM, KIRO's news and talk programs are all now heard on 97.3 KIRO-FM.
In Dallas, the legendary brand KRLD got a new partner in 2008 when CBS flipped their underachieving music station KLLI "105.3 Free FM" to "105.3 The Fan" and piggybacked Texas' most respected radio station's call letters to reflect the synergy.
All of the pieces are right there to dominate the sports-talk format in Milwaukee. In Seattle and Phoenix, the radical switch to put all of the news and talk properties on FM may not be the appropriate thing to do here, just as it was proper in Dallas to leave KRLD's traditional programming on the AM band. In WTMJ's case, like in Dallas, it probably is better to just leave Charlie Sykes, Jeff Wagner, and the rest of the crew on AM 620.
Meanwhile over on FM 94.5, you could have magic. An all-sports station that has all of the broadcast play-by-play properties AM 620 has right now without the interruption of the talk schedule we see almost every day in summertime. Instead of having Sports Central on for just 30 minutes (which is really just 18 minutes after news and commercials), you can have Greg Matzek and Trenni Kusnierek on every day from 3-6 on 94.5 leading into Brewers baseball. That would give both talented performers a bigger stage on which to discuss the issues of the day; rather than the silliness of having Greg come back from his split shift (he also anchors sports during WTMJ-AM's current morning show) for what amounts to 18 minutes of airtime at night.
Next, craft a local morning show that can talk about the games the night before. On the FM dial, the new Sportsradio 94.5 WTMJ-FM can reach places the other sports radio signals simply cannot. Again, this isn't an indictment on the talent at either station, but rather a simple fact of both of their signal patterns and strengths.
Something I have been saying for years is for WTMJ management to somehow convince Jeff Falconio to become a bigger part of the radio station. I realize he has another "day job" but he is far too knowledgeable and talented to be relegated to weekends. He would be a perfect lead morning host.
Jay Sorgi is the best straight-sports anchor in the market. He should be on every day doing top and bottom of the hour updates.
I have always believed that a great sports station has as many local shows on during the daytime as possible. There are, contrary to at least a few programmers' opinions, several talented, up-and-coming sports-talk personalities right here in Wisconsin. Justin Hull, who works afternoons on 1570 WSCO in Appleton is one. Phil Dawson on WTSO in Madison is another. Team them together for midday's and Milwaukee could have something it is also in dire need of: fresh sports voices.
Teaming Sportsradio 94.5 WTMJ-FM with the sports department of Channel 4's Lance Allan, Rod Burks and Jessie Garcia also provides synergy and credibility in-house. Having your permanent sister television station literally down the hall is a luxury no one else has. WTMJ-AM already does this masterfully with Mike Jacobs on Wisconsin's Afternoon News; why can't Lance or Rod drop in on Greg and Trenni every day at a certain time to chew on stories they are working on?
Selfishly, I would also love it if a local station were to pick up Yahoo! Sports Radio at night so my new show could be heard here in town. But I've been around long enough to know that these decisions are based on a lot of different factors; far more than just one guy who happens to hail from a certain hometown.
But no matter the network affiliation, a station on the FM dial that has all of the major sports play-by-play properties would be successful. This is undeniable. Would it put the other two stations out of business? Doubtful, especially considering how committed I know Craig Karmazin in particular is at 540 ESPN. He has built his entire business on the powerful ESPN brand in several different markets. But thriving against what is a national market trend on the FM dial would be daunting.
As I move on, I would like to thank you, my readers. Many of you were listeners to my old radio show; even some of you remember me from my days at WTMJ in the mid to late 1990s. But no matter what the state on my driver's license is for the rest of my life, whether it's Texas, California, Alaska, Arizona or anywhere else doesn't mean I won't be plugged in to Milwaukee. Far from it. The world has shrunk. I can and will listen to Milwaukee radio and read OnMilwaukee.com on my iPhone every day to stay plugged into the community I care most about. My community. Our community. THIS community.
With Andy Tarnoff's blessing, I will continue to contribute articles to this publication; one that I have truly come to love even in the short time I have been honored to be here. And who knows, perhaps our paths on the radio will cross again? For as I have told anyone who will listen over the last year: the only constant in radio is change.
So I won't say goodbye. That is much too final. And Milwaukee means too much to me to simply go away and never look back. I will simply say what I have said countless times to friends when ending a conversation either in person or on the phone.
"I'll talk to you soon."
Doug Russell has been covering Milwaukee and Wisconsin sports for over 20 years on radio, television, magazines, and now at OnMilwaukee.com.
Over the course of his career, the Edward R. Murrow Award winner and Emmy nominee has covered the Packers in Super Bowls XXXI, XXXII and XLV, traveled to Pasadena with the Badgers for Rose Bowls, been to the Final Four with Marquette, and saw first-hand the entire Brewers playoff runs in 2008 and 2011. Doug has also covered The Masters, several PGA Championships, MLB All-Star Games, and Kentucky Derbys; the Davis Cup, the U.S. Open, and the Sugar Bowl, along with NCAA football and basketball conference championships, and for that matter just about anything else that involves a field (or court, or rink) of play.
Doug was a sports reporter and host at WTMJ-AM radio from 1996-2000, before taking his radio skills to national syndication at Sporting News Radio from 2000-2007. From 2007-2011, he hosted his own morning radio sports show back here in Milwaukee, before returning to the national scene at Yahoo! Sports Radio last July. Doug's written work has also been featured in The Sporting News, Milwaukee Magazine, Inside Wisconsin Sports, and Brewers GameDay.
Doug and his wife, Erika, split their time between their residences in Pewaukee and Houston, TX.