I'm taking a few vacation days but last week's announcement that WTMJ-AM (620) has picked John Mercure to "anchor" its 3- to 6-p.m. time slot starting Jan. 3 gives me a reason to take a quick break from my time off.
The comments on my Facebook page, and elsewhere, have generally been negative about the move.
But I have to say that the re-branding of the post Jonathan "Green House" into a mirror image of "Wisconsin's Morning News" is a smart way to hold on to listeners and, potentially, increase the audience for what Green likes to call "the biggest stick in the state."
First of all, it presents an alternative to the dominant radio voice at that hour, Mark Belling on WISN-AM (1130). There had been rumors (I always thought they were unfounded) of moving Charlie Sykes to the slot. That didn't make sense.
While Sykes is successful in his time slot, he doesn't have the radio chops of Belling. It would have been entertaining to watch that battle, but the outcome is clear: WTMJ would have been perceived as a the loser.
Second, In the current ratings environment -- with the portable people meter changing the way audiences are measured -- a fast-paced, information-based show could do well. Long segments on single topics tend to lead a chunk of listeners to hit the button and move to another station. So I'd expect this to be a quick-moving program, which also recognizes the changing nature of an audience driving home from work. People listen, get home, and turn off the radio, and a new audience switches the radio on for the drive home.
There is a lot of that already in "The Green House," although Green is more opinionated traffic cop than anchor. His personality drives this show.
That leads to my final point: Mercure.
I wasn't a big fan of the thuggish investigative reporting style that was his trademark as a Channel 4 reporter. And his blog was way over the top, with one post suggesting that a sex offender "should be castrated . . . or strung up." He peppered that post with 28 exclamation points and proclaimed, in all-capital letters, that "THERE IS A COZY PLACE IN A DARK CORNER OF HELL" for the guy.
It was a childish and amateurish rant for a reporter. But it works for a talk show host.
If WTMJ's management is to be believed, Mercure won't be a talk show host. He'll be an anchor. I would expect that his anchor role will be looser than the television model, and that he'll be allowed to comment here and there.
But as long as that over-the-top version of Mercure is held in check, and a rapid-fire format will help with that, WTMJ could have a formula for success in afternoon drive-time. Mercure is, by training, a news guy, after all.
One last point. I've been hearing from people who wonder how a news show can fit into WTMJ's right-wing talk format.
Well, WTMJ has never been a conventional conservative talk station (WISN fills that niche in this market). For years, it has had three distinct formats: the morning and afternoon shows pushed the "news and information" format, the evenings (and daytime game coverage) is part of the sports format, and the Sykes-Jeff Wagner tag team is a format that I like to call WGOP.
The new way to market the afternoon's only increases its symmetry with the morning show, ably led by Gene Mueller and John Jagler. It's not really new, although, without an old-style radio host in the mold of the retiring Jonathan Green, it'll seem new.
If you don't remember, or are feeling nostalgic, here's a little bit of the TV version of John Mercure:
Then there's Keith Olbermann: Also breaking while I'm trying to do a bit of fall cleanup around the house is the two-day suspension of MSNBC's Keith Olbermann for donating to Democratic political candidates.
I'm a fan of Olbermann's wit, but he did violate the rules of his employer.
That's the bottom line here. This has nothing to do with what Fox News or its parent company does or doesn't do. All media folks are subject to the rules set by their employers about political activism. Olbermann has no constitutional right to be on cable TV, and at his level, he has a responsibility to know and understand the rules.
This has nothing to do with NPR's boneheaded firing of Juan Williams. That was a blunder because the reason wasn't so specific and so concrete. NPR's handling of the matter was a blunder that made it look anti-Fox News Channel, rather just trying to enforce a code of ethics.
MSNBC says Olbermann will be back on the air Tuesday night, which is good news for his viewers. His show is an entertaining hour of political commentary, and the fill-ins just don't cut it.
Now, back to raking the leaves.
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.