Ahead to the past on your radio dial

Channel 3000 reports:

John “Sly” Sylvester is returning to Madison radio after five years, according to a news release.

Sylvester will return to 101.5 WIBA-FM, the radio station announced Tuesday. He starts immediately.

“Even years after I left WIBA-FM, listeners come up to me and say I miss you on 101.5,” Sylvester said. “It is such an honor to be back home.”

Sylvester was among those laid off in November 2012 when 1670 WTDY-AM and 106.7 WTDY-FM switched to a sports talk station. Sylvester then joined 93.7 WEKZ-FM in February 2013.

Sylvester’s Madison show, “Afternoons with Sly,” will broadcast weekdays from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. on the classic rock station. It will offer a “mix of classic rock music, Wisconsin sports, humor and Sly’s unique spirit and unmistakable Wisconsin attitude,” according to the news release.

Long-time readers know I have past experience with Sly. Bl0gger Steve appeared on his WTDY show a few times. Newspaper editor Steve appeared on his WEKZ show after my encounter with Madison Catholic Bishop Robert Morlino.

Sly started at WEKZ (now WBGR, which means Big Radio, not Booger, to Dr. Johnny Fever’s likely relief) doing his old WTDY liberal talk show. After that didn’t go anywhere, Sly switched to a more conventional oldies music show, while also doing a morning show on WWHG (105.9 FM) in Janesville.

The reason Sly’s liberal talk show in it didn’t go anywhere in it’s Monroe version is because liberal talk continues to not succeed on commercial radio in a commercial sense. The number of advertisers willing to advertise on liberal talk (and I wonder how many of those advertisers grasp how anti-business liberals are) is more limited than liberal talk’s audience, which is limited as it is.

Sly’s new employer, iHeart Radio (for now given its financial problems), also owns WXXM (92.1 FM), which was liberal talk The Mic until its format changed to “Madison’s Greatest Hits.” With WTDY moving to sports talk, that reduces the number of liberal talk stations in the Madison market to zero. If liberal talk can’t succeed in Madison, where can it succeed long-term?

Sly is a legend. Of course, one can be a legend for less-than-positive reasons. His liberal-talk persona is great for winding up liberal listeners. But consider that just in the last two years Sly was on WTDY, the Democratic-controlled Legislature switched to Republican control, Gov. Scott Walker was elected and survived a recall election, Act 10 became law, and liberal saint U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold (D–Wisconsin) was de-elected from office. The only positives during that time for Democrats were the replacement of one Democratic senator, Herb Kohl, with another, Tammy Baldwin, and Barack Obama’s becoming the seventh consecutive Democratic presidential candidate to win Wisconsin.

He had a, shall we say, interesting on-air persona:

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.

McKenna and Sly will work in the same building, and they will be on the air at the same time — McKenna on WIBA (1310 AM) and Sly on the FM. Ponder that for a moment.

Liberal-talk Sly wasn’t necessarily a parrot, however. He wasn’t a fan of the last Democratic gubernatorial loser, Mary Burke. Remember this?

A day after RightWisconsin reported some of liberal radio host John ‘Sly’ Sylvester’s critical comments comments about Democratic candidate for governor Mary Burke, Sly took to the airwaves to report that Democratic Chairman Mike Tate was unhappy with him.

“I got a text today from the Chairman of the Democratic Party. And it went kind of like this: “Dude, what are you doing here? You’re not helping us win here brother.”

Tate was reacting to the RightWisconsin piece that quoted Sly’s Friday comments on Burke at length. RightWisconsin’s story read in part:

“I’m not getting on this train,” said Sly on Friday. “I couldn’t live with myself.”

“This woman and her brother are responsible for putting people out of work and shipping the jobs to China,” said Sly. “When she went on the snowboard sabbatical do you think she thought about those unemployed people?”

Sly, a stalwart progressive and protectionist who has championed the labor uprising in recent years taps into the serious hypocrisy of the Democratic Party’s choice of Burke and why grassroots progressives are not thrilled.

“She’s Mitt Romney in a red dress,” explains the Monroe radio host. “Look at how much money was spent to paint Mitt Romney as an out-sourcer. The hypocrisy here. I don’t know if I could live with myself.”

Expressing his belief that Mike Tate and the Democrats chose Burke for her personal fortune, Sly called Burke “a wallet.” And as for her promise to not make any promises, particularly on a pledge to repeal Act 10, Sly called Burke a “coward.”

Sly didn’t apologize or retract any of his statements about Burke emphasizing, “when someone does something contrary to my core beliefs, I can’t let it go.”

Sly is also a demonstration of my observation that unless you commit a felony, no one is ever permanently fired in radio. Sly worked at WIBA-FM in the 1980s, on afternoons and then mornings, with such segments as “Vinyl from Hell” and “Social Dilemma,” before he left (not, I believe, on his own volition, though I may be wrong about that). Hopefully he brings those back upon his 101.5 return.

The thing Sly brings that radio doesn’t have enough of now is original personality. His personality may be analogous to a cactus for those who don’t agree with his political worldview. But radio is far too non-local and non-live now, even in bigger markets (including Sly’s new employer, which has the non-Madison-based Bob and Tom mornings), so a live body personality is a welcome addition to the airwaves.

My experience from listening and being a guest is that Sly sort of took after sports talk host Jim Rome, whose mantra in the 1990s was “Have a take, and don’t suck.” The callers who got into a shoutfest were generally those who did a poor job disagreeing with Sly. Radio being entertainment, the “don’t suck” part is the most important part regardless of what side of the microphone you’re on. I do those sorts of appearances (plus, of course, Wisconsin Public Radio) because I don’t believe in echo chambers of any ideological sort.

After one of my appearances on his show he mentioned off the air that he felt a lot of Wisconsinites were conservative because of long-time Milwaukee hosts Bob and Brian. If Right Wisconsin does a podcast of you, you’ve had influence. He also occasionally called in to, of all people, Charlie Sykes’ late show on WTMJ (620 AM) in Milwaukee, with a considerably different persona than when he was on the air.

The great thing about the First Amendment is that if you don’t like a TV show, radio host or print publication, you need not watch, listen or read. I will not be listening. WIBA-FM doesn’t come in very well in southwestern Wisconsin.


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