It’s not hard to come up with the most surprising news of the day from Monday. David Blaska did:
John Sylvester, better known to Madison radio listeners as “Sly,” will be back on the air, but not in Madison. The controversial radio talk show personality starts Monday, Feb. 4, at WEKZ 93.7 FM, based in Monroe.
His show will air weekdays from 3 to 6:30 p.m., confirmed station operations manager Kent McConnell.
After 15 years, Sylvester lost gig at WTDY 1670 AM in Madison just before Thanksgiving Day due to a format change. The station also released its news staff and earlier this month went to syndicated sports radio.
McConnell said of Sylvester, “He reached out to us. We’re always looking for ways to connect with our listeners. It is a bit of a change for us.”
Sly’s Office says:
Sly is pleased to announce that he has joined 93.7 WEKZ-FM, and starting February 4th, his distinctive talk radio program will air across south central Wisconsin and northern Illinois. WEKZ’s listening area includes Monroe, Beloit, Freeport, Rockford, Platteville, Janesville, Dubuque, and Madison. …
Sly will take to the air from 3:00-6:30 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 WEKZ. His show will also be streamed live on the the internet and on a smartphone app. The success of slysoffice.com will continue with a redesigned website that will feature Sly’s on-air interviews, and choice segments from his show on 93.7 WEKZ.
It should be pointed out that Blaska is not a fan of Sylvester, to whose nom de air Blaska usually adds the letters M and E. (And this Bob Dole-like referring to himself in the third person seems strange to Steve Prestegard. YouknowitIknowitandtheAmericanpeopleknowit.) But Blaska isn’t the only n0n-fan; in fact, Sly’s detractors aren’t limited to the right side of the political aisle:
Sylvester took a stridently pro-union, anti-Republican stance at WTDY. Although he could engage in intelligent political commentary, albeit from a progressive perspective, he also engaged in attempts at low-brow humor that some, including former Madison mayor Dave Cieslewicz and this author, said amounted to misogyny.
Most notably, he called then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice an Aunt Jemima. He suggested that Wisconsin’s lieutenant governor performed sexual favors to win election, rejoiced at her diagnosis of cancer, and made fun of her children. And he seemed to stalk rival talk show host Vicki McKenna.
I got an email disputing Blaska’s characterization of Sly’s commentary about Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch’s cancer. I didn’t hear the original, so I can’t say whether Blaska is correct or not, but you can listen and decide for yourself …
… while realizing that making fun of someone’s cancer diagnosis really isn’t funny.
As someone connected to southwest Wisconsin in one way or another (in chronological order, family, job and in-laws) for most of my life, I can attest that satire doesn’t always go over well in this part of the state. (If that’s what you want to call what Sly said, or what Blaska said Sly said.) The term “progressive” really doesn’t apply either, as a political or nonpolitical word (i.e. as opposed to “traditional”). For that matter, people in this part of the state are not as lacking in manners as Sly’s WTDY on-air persona was in Blaska’s description. (Try that in person in this area, and you had better have a good plastic surgeon and dentist and health insurance.)
For that matter, while there certainly are Democrats in this part of the state (this area is represented in Congress by either U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D–Madison) or Rep. Ron Kind (D–La Crosse), and Democrats do better in legislative races than they did 25 years ago), Democrats here aren’t as completely lacking in common sense as Democrats in the People’s Republic of Madison. Monroe’s state senator is mine too, Sen. Dale Schultz (R–Richland Center), though the Senate districts of Sen. Tim Cullen (D–Janesville) and Jon Erpenbach (D–Middleton) are within view of WEKZ’s stick. The list of Assembly representatives whose constituents will be able to hear Sly ranges from Rep. Sondy Pope (D–Middleton) on the left to Rep. Travis Tranel (R–Cuba City) on the right. (Politically, not geographically.) That means a significant percentage of Sly’s listeners will be people who believe every pejorative statement about the People’s Republic of Madison, as well as Milwaukee.
My opinion may be different from others since I occasionally popped up on Sly’s former show on the late WTDY. I listened to him more often (due to reasons of geography) when Sly was the morning man on WIBA-FM, where he interspersed classic rock with a daily segment called “Social Dilemma,” in which he debated an issue with listeners. He disagreed with listeners more conservative than himself, but not necessarily disrespectfully. The listeners he argued most with where those who (1) were more conservative with himself and (2) couldn’t communicate their views very well. (That was before sports talk host Jim Rome communicated his two rules of calling into his show: “Have a take, and don’t suck.”)
The amusing comment to Blaska’s story is:
I lived in Green County–among the most well-armed counties in the state, if not the nation. On this stand alone, Sly in Green County will go over like a fart in church.
The thing you must realize is that radio is a business, and it is more of a bottom-line business than many. WEKZ is not owned by one of the radio giants like Clear Channel (owner of Sly’s former employer, WIBA-FM in Madison) or Cumulus (which owns several radio stations within Wisconsin ears). WEKZ’s owner also owns four other radio stations in the area. That’s all. So first, obviously Sly came for the right price in WEKZ’s opinion. Secondly, Sly didn’t last as long in radio as he has without knowing his audience and what he’s doing. The egregious violations of taste Blaska chronicled could have been stopped by Sly’s most recent employer, the former WTDY, by telling him to knock it off or firing him. Sly was fired as the result of a decision to switch from news–talk to sports talk, not because of anything he said on the air.
This seems like a departure for WEKZ. While some of its stations have some talk programming, which is typical for a market that size (as is local news and sports), the company’s stations play oldies (WEKZ-FM), rock, country and easy listening. So I’ll be curious about whether Sly’s new show is all talk, or talk and music, or less political over the air with the website for more overtly political bonus content. One wonders how many of the advertisers on Sly’s WTDY show will migrate south-southwestward given that few of their current or potential future customers seem likely to be that far away from Madison.
The other issue Sly will have to deal with is that outside of the Madison–Milwaukee axis, politics is not the be-all and end-all of life as it is in the People’s Republic of Madison. Unions aren’t very popular here, even among their supposed beneficiaries, blue-collar workers. It may well be that, as someone I know in radio predicted, his WEKZ job is something to do on his way to a bigger market.
Which doesn’t mean it won’t be interesting listening:
“He knows his audience may be a little different,” McConnell told me. “He may have to tone it down a smidge. But as he says, he’s still got to be Sly.”
Fasten your seatbelts, radio listeners.