Monday, August 29, 2011

Reclaiming Wisconsin's Airwaves

Several years ago, an unknown blogger using the pseudonym "Template" created Whallah!  The purpose of this blog at that time was to be a foil to then squawk radio host Jessica McBride.  Soon after McBride was fired by WTMJ, which used a racially charged gaffe as an excuse, but really just wanted to cut corners and bring in the cheaper syndicated squawkers Dennis Miller and the always offensive Michael Savage.

At that time, Whallah! expanded to take on all of the local right wing squawkers, from Charlie "Mr. Woodhouse" Sykes to Mark "Wetback" Belling to the now departed but not missed Republican regurgitst Patrick McIlheran of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel infamy.

But this is just one little blog. It can do so much.

The powerhouses such at WTMJ-620 and ClearChannel's WISN-1130, not to mention other stations around the state are still spewing their one-sided message in order to support Republican/Teahadist causes and agendas.

So how the hell did this happen?

Let me introduce you to my new friend, Sue Wilson, who has more than a passing familiarity with talk radio.

Sue has made a movie about this (which is probably why she is willing to come to Wisconsin and get us started) but her ideas have sound basis and reflect much of what #wiunion has done in the past several months on its own.  To describe how we got here and her plan on how to help us, I would refer the gentle reader to her post (which is unfortunately on Huffington Post - Side word to Sue: Daily Kos, dear, Daily Kos).  Here is a couple of key excerpts:

That's not to say the demise of the Fairness Doctrine did not have an adverse effect. I produced public affairs programming under that rule at KCBS-TV in Los Angeles, and found it very workable. I did not have to tell both sides of the story, I just had to try to do so. I also witnessed how, once it was abolished, TV programs that covered the local community just disappeared. And on the radio side, once the Fairness Doctrine went away, there is little question that Rush Limbaugh went hard right on a national microphone, attacking Democrats and anyone else who gets in the way of his pro-corporate right wing agenda.

Copycats soon moved in, creating an industry of right wing propagandists. In 90 percent of radio programming today, no real debate is allowed (unless a brave or committed few sneak past the microphone hoarders' screeners.)

But the Fairness Doctrine wasn't perfect. Part of the problem was it employed a top down approach, with Big Daddy Government putting broadcasters in the untenable position of being liable for lawsuits even over content in comedy programs. (CBS was sued under the Fairness Doctrine when the Norman Lear character Maude had an abortion in the TV show of the same name; opponents sued, saying CBS must do other shows where women did not have an abortion.) Rather than face such reprise, some broadcasters chose not to cover any controversial issues at all, which many argue chilled debate rather than engendered it.

In August, 2011, the final nail has been pounded into the coffin of the Fairness Doctrine.

Sue goes on to point out that the Federal Appeals Court made a clear and cut ruling that the airwaves, despite the demise of the Fairness Doctrine, are clearly the public's airwaves. They belong to us, not to the Koch Brothers or to Journal Broadcasting.  We only let them use them, via the government.  If they violate the public interest in using the airwaves, we, the people, can and must correct that, as they did in Sacramento:

This is not to say the only way to get broadcasters to serve the public interest is by filing legal challenges to their licenses. The Sacramento Media Group, affiliated with Common Cause, has successfully employed a model of knocking on TV stations' doors, asking for five minutes of daily political coverage on TV during election season. It took meetings with station management making that request, monitoring stations' coverage for three election cycles, writing several reports and releasing them to local newspapers (which caused the stations considerable embarrassment.) But today, SMG has found success. Their next goal is to ask local Talk radio stations for balanced political coverage, again during election seasons.

At the end of the day, the publicly owned airwaves are about public safety, about community and about ensuring First Amendment rights for everyone in the public square of broadcasting. Luckily, the Supreme Court is on our side.

So, what does this have to do with any of us?  Sue answers that question too:

That's the First Amendment Right of all the viewers and listeners, not the just ones who listen to the most profitable formats for corporations.
There is much energy around restoring the Public into the Public Interest. A grassroots movement started earlier this year in Florida, when the UU Legislative Ministry supported an 11 city media reform tour featuring Broadcast Blues.

But it is really finding its legs next month with the 2011 Wisconsin Media Reform Tour featuring Broadcast Blues. (Broadcast Blues is the 2009 documentary film I made which delves into issues of public interest obligations of broadcasters.) Thanks to the organizing efforts of local folks, I'll be traveling to eight cities in Wisconsin, showing the film, then surveying citizens as to their specific public interest needs. Next, we'll work on how to approach their local broadcasters, not just by email, but with personal visits, and convey to the broadcasters what they need. In some cases, friendly visits will get great results: heck, the manager of the station could be somebody you went to high school with. But other times, protests, boycotts, maybe even legal petitions to deny the stations' licenses may need to be filed.

We'll do whatever it takes to restore the public -- all the public -- into the public interest obligations of broadcasters.

But unlike the Fairness Doctrine, this is a bottom up approach. This is "We the People" holding both broadcasters -- and the FCC accountable to us. We are taking back that which we already own: our public airwaves.

Stay tuned as we get closer.  We will need to form teams to take on not only Milwaukee's broadcasters, but in cities all over the state, from Madison to Wausau to Green Bay.  The more hands that we have on board, the easier and the faster we can correct this problem which has plagued us for far too long.

Just as we are taking back our state, we need to take back our airwaves.

Are you with us?

Cross posted at Whallah!


  1. Thanks.

    What I don't know about radio could fill libraries.

    Within FCC regs, it seems to me an important part of the plan has to be taking advertisers away from WTMJ and WISN. One way to leverage a smaller initial listening audience might be in providing information about highly targeted, rifled boycotts.

    IMHO, progressives in WI have made a mistake in SE Wisconsin in not voting more in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's comments. Progressives don't have to comment in large numbers, but that's obviously helpful. The first page of comments and VOTES are imho what JS reporters and EDITORS review. As long as Sykes and the rest can direct their minions to those stories, the loop is closed. The "straddle" at the MJS reflects those skewed voting numbers. It wouldn't take many votes on the first page of comments to send a completely different message to the MJS about their readership.

    Along with a twitter feed of Wisconsin sources, the leftyblogs in Wisconsin would provide a ready source of intelligent and timely content. The transfer of wealth from the middle class to the top 1% buying American, buying Wisconsin, are other themes that would hurt Sykes, Belling,.... with their demographics.

    IMHO, it would be nice if the leftyblogs in WI could post audio transcripts to their readers. Humor and political satire both imho play an vital role in the success of radio. Leftyblogs in WI have a lot of creative, funny people. Showcasing that on radio makes sense.

  2. Oh, there are a lot of great things coming down the pike. Just grab your popcorn and enjoy the show.

  3. Your side cannot even provide sufficient listners to support your talkers, your folks will not bother with this.

  4. Perhaps, judging by your spelling, you have a certain difficulty with reading as well. Progressive media outlets, wattage for wattage, can meet any conservative outlet.

    The issue is simply that progressives doesn't have the advantage of corporate money supporting it, but more grassroots business.

    We will simply have the existing laws enforced and all will be well. Unless you're a conservative that is afraid that your agenda won't hold up against the voice of the people.

  5. Two Words: Air America

  6. Diversity is good.*

    Freedom is good.**

    *Except for diversity of thought.

    **Except for freedom to choose.

    OK, I get it.

  7. TerryN-

    No one is saying to take Sykes, Belling or the others off the air. We want them to just follow the law. You're the one afraid of diversity.

    And you always have the choice whether to listen or not.

    So what is your issue?

  8. "You're the one afraid of diversity."
    Opinion not fact.

    "we need to take back our airwaves."
    This is not saying what you say you're not saying???

    The FCC is a government entity whose is specifically chartered to regulate public airwaves. Are you saying the FCC is yet another inefficient government bureaucracy that isn't doing their job.

    Maybe they need to unionize:-) Oh Wait...

  9. Not opinion, merely an observance.

    We want to bring balance back to the airwaves. Nothing more. Nothing less.

    Spin it however you feel you must. Or you could help.