It's not news to say that the radio business is a mess.
Consolidation of radio stations into the hands of a few major corporations means that the short-term bottom line is driving decisions. Add to that the general economic situation, which has hit radio advertising hard. Then there's the technological revolution that's affecting all media. For radio, there are increasing listening alternatives, from iPods to satellite radio to the Internet.
The latest whammy hits Milwaukee in the second half of 2010, when a new ratings system from Arbitron, the Portable People Meter, begins measuring listening in this market.
You can look southward to Chicago, the nation's third largest radio market, to get a measure of the possible impact of what's designed to be a more accurate way for Arbitron to measure the listening audience so advertisers have a better idea of what their dollars will buy them.
The most recent victim of changing times in Chicago radio was Jonathon Brandmeier, who got his start in radio in his native Fond du Lac back in the 1970s. He was canned by Chicago's WLUP-FM last month, the victim of a big salary and ratings that no longer justify the expense.
Late last year, Steve Dahl was fired from Chicago's WCKG-FM, thanks to numbers measured by the people meters, WGN-AM (720) dumped mid-day veterans Kathy O'Malley and Judy Markey earlier this year in a bid to bring in younger male listeners, and other big Chicago radio names have reportedly accepted cuts in their big salaries to keep their jobs.
On the national level, Howard Stern had money thrown at him to jump from terrestrial radio to Sirius Satellite Radio -- reportedly $500 million in cash and stock. His contract is up next year and he's talking about walking -- which is probably a tactical move. But he's likely to have to accept a smaller salary and he's likely to stay at Sirius, since he doesn't have the value that he had in 2006. As for a return to terrestrial radio, the syndication money that existed just a couple years ago would be harder to put together to recreate his network of traditional radio stations.
As happens ever year, Milwaukee radio lost a couple familiar names this year. Morning veteran Jane Matenaer was axed by WMYX-FM (99.1), and Phil Cianciola was dumped from his supporting role on Jonathan Green's WTMJ-AM (620) afternoon.
There aren't a lot of radio opportunities for veterans like Matenaer and Cianciola these days. And there's a strong possibility that the ranks of the unemployed veterans will grow in 2010, especially after the new measuring system hits.
Cianciola's trying a route pioneered by Chicago's Dahl, trying to keep his radio voice alive via podcast (Cianciola's is hosted by OnMilwaukee.com). That's a very personal way to link personalities with their audience, but there's no proof yet that it can sustain itself through advertising.
As for the commercial radio business, its long-term survival will have to mean a rediscovery of the concept of local radio.
Music's available from an expanding number of sources, but a strong, local personality is necessary to connect with the audience.
If the new ratings system means an end to some of the familiar local voices in Milwaukee, it will make it even harder for stations here to rise above all the competing noise.
Loads of "Community": NBC offers four back-to-back episodes of "Community," starting at 7 tonight on Channel 4.
In a week filled with reruns, here's a chance to get hooked on the funny sitcom created by ComedySportz veteran Dan Harmon and featuring Marquette alum Danny Pudi.
Tim Cuprisin is the media columnist for OnMilwaukee.com. He's been a journalist for 30 years, starting in 1979 as a police reporter at the old City News Bureau of Chicago, a legendary wire service that's the reputed source of the journalistic maxim "if your mother says she loves you, check it out." He spent a couple years in the mean streets of his native Chicago, and then moved on to the Green Bay Press-Gazette and USA Today, before coming to the Milwaukee Journal in 1986.
A general assignment reporter, Cuprisin traveled Eastern Europe on several projects, starting with a look at Poland after five years of martial law, and a tour of six countries in the region after the Berlin Wall opened and Communism fell. He spent six weeks traversing the lands of the former Yugoslavia in 1994, linking Milwaukee Serbs, Croats and Bosnians with their war-torn homeland.
In the fall of 1994, a lifetime of serious television viewing earned him a daily column in the Milwaukee Journal (and, later the Journal Sentinel) focusing on TV and radio. For 15 years, he has chronicled the changes rocking broadcasting, both nationally and in Milwaukee, an effort he continues at OnMilwaukee.com.
When he's not watching TV, Cuprisin enjoys tending to his vegetable garden in the backyard of his home in Whitefish Bay, cooking and traveling.