Two more casualties of Nov. 8?

Isthmus reports two pieces of radio news:

John “Sly” Sylvester’s daily call-in program has been booted from 93.7 WEKZ-FM.

Sylvester, a longtime liberal commentator, announced on his Facebook page that he learned of the change Friday. WEKZ is part of the southern Wisconsin/northern Illinois Big Radio regional chain of eight stations, based in Monroe. He will remain a DJ for the station.

The change comes at a bad time for Madison listeners of liberal radio. On Nov. 9, 92.1 The Mic, WXXM-FM, dropped its progressive talk format and replaced it with Christmas music.

“The last two years I’ve been pulling double duty for Big Radio,” Sylvester wrote on Nov. 13. “In addition to my talk program, I’ve been hosting the morning show on sister station 105.9 The Hog [WWHG-FM, “Everything that Rocks,” based in Janesville]. Big Radio felt that in order for me to continue long-term with the company, it was best to make this change.”

Sylvester declined to comment to Isthmus about the change. Scott Thompson, owner of Big Radio, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A station official says that Sylvester’s show will return to WEKZ-FM next week, but as a music program.

“So Trump triumphs, and progressive radio gets unplugged on 92.1, and Sly gets canned? That doesn’t make any sense at all,” says Matt Rothschild, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, formerly editor and publisher of The Progressive magazine. He had been a guest on Sylvester’s program many times, as recently as Election Day.

“We need progressive voices on the airwaves now more than ever,” says Rothschild. “And there’s a real hunger for them, too. But the corporate media owners are reducing our outlets, making it more difficult for us to reach a mass audience.”

“I’m shocked to hear about Sly,” says Mitch Henck, a veteran Madison broadcaster whose program aired on The Mic until last week. The station is one of several owned by iHeartMedia, which also owns Madison’s WIBA-AM and FM, WTSO-AM, WMAD-FM and WZEE-FM (Z-104). Henck and Sylvester had previously worked together, and Sly was a frequent guest on Henck’s program.

Sylvester’s program aired from 3 to 6:30 p.m. on WEKZ since early 2013. Before that, it ran for 15 years on talk radio 1670 WTDY-AM (now WOZN sports radio, “The Zone,” owned by Mid-West Family Broadcasting). In November 2012 that station laid off its entire news and talk staff and temporarily replaced it with Christmas music. …

Does progressive radio have a future in Madison?

“It is hard to sell advertising on a lefty talk station,” says Henck. “NPR attracts millions of listeners every week. It is hard for more militant lefties to compete with that. It is rapidly becoming a podcast world. That is now my world.”

The media world is a business, which people tend to forget. If something doesn’t sell, it’s not going to survive long-term. That is particularly the case with big media companies such as iHeartMedia.

There have been numerous attempts to make liberal talk work on commercial airwaves. Almost all of them have failed, probably because there are a lot of would-be advertisers who don’t want to be on liberal programming, though many are fine being on conservative programming. The latter obviously exceeds the former given that Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and others are still on the air, while Air America is not.

I have difficulty believing those two decisions were made in the immediate wake of Nov. 8. I think 92.1 hadn’t been doing well financially far longer, or perhaps manage to decided to run as far as possible until the well ran dry, which was Election Day. If the problem was Sly, Sly would have been terminated, not just his show. (Perhaps his Social Dilemma will now appear afternoons.) They may have been casualties of the abomination that was the 2016 election, but the decision to end 92.1’s format and Sly’s talk show was made, I believe, well before Election Day.

 

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