Whatever happened in Milwaukee radio in 2010 is a prelude to what will be happening in the months to come.
The new Arbitron radio system, portable people meters, overshadows everything. They started measuring what we're listening to, presumably in a more accurate way than the old diary system, over the summer.
But 2011 will be the first full year under the new system.
The biggest impact so far has been on WTMJ-AM (620), where an old-style drive-time radio show hosted by Jonathan Green ended in December, to be replaced Jan. 3 by a newsier, faster-paced program hosted by John Mercure.
This won't just be trading "The Mercure House" for the old "Green House," but a different show. One of the things the PPM system requires is a faster pace, to avoid giving listeners an excuse to hit the button in their car -- a change in station is picked up on the new electronic ratings devices carried by a sampling of listeners.
You may have noticed that change in other radio shows, where hosts don't spend as much time with interviews or bits as they used to.
The coming change at WTMJ has also hit the morning show, sending veteran John Jagler out of the business before his role was changed from co-host to news reader. Jagler is the new director of communications for Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald.
Gene Mueller remains to host the morning show.
Some other changes this year: WMCS-AM (1290) went through some changes this year, dropping the morning show hosted by Joel McNally and Cassandra Cassandra in a cost-cutting move in January. By the end of June, veteran radio voice Eric Von was back at his old home station, hosting WMCS' resurrected "Morning Magazine."
- Tom Joerres ended a long run as general manager of Milwaukee's five Saga Communications stations: WJYI-AM (1340), WKLH-FM (96.5), WHQG-FM (102.9), WJMR-FM (98.3), and WZBK-FM (106.9.)
- As one of Joerres' last acts, the last station in Saga's list, WZBK dumped smooth jazz and ended up as a classic country.
- That happened after the station formerly known as "The Brew" flipped to a top-40 format called "Radio Now," with the new call letters WRNW-FM (97.3). That format change was sped up when WZBK (formerly WJZX) dropped its smooth jazz playlist, but didn't immediately switch to a new style of music.
- The biggest Christmas present from Milwaukee radio was an unusually late start to all-Christmas music. WRIT-FM (95.7) didn't make the leap into the holiday season until Nov. 18. Just a couple years ago, Christmas music began on Halloween. When the December ratings are compiled, we'll find out just how well Christmas music does under the new system.
Big noise from Chicago: One of the more interesting stories in radio has played out within earshot on Chicago's WGN-AM (720), easy to pick up around these parts.
The station has been in turmoil for a couple years, after program director Kevin Metheny was brought in by Tribune management to shake up the station's traditional homey feel. He changed morning and afternoon drive time a couple times each, and dumped a lot of its long-running programs, including the evening sports show (on a station that carries the Cubs and the Black Hawks.
By fall, Metheny was out, along with his big experiment to make an ex-con Chicago politician, Jim Laski, into a radio star.
While not everything on the station will return to it pre-Metheny mode, the station is again sounding familiar. And a nightly sports show returned last week to the 7 p.m. time slot.
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.