The after-Sykes effect

Right now, Jerry Bader is supposed to go on the air on WTAQ in Green Bay, WSAU in Wausau and WHBL in Sheboygan.

But not today, and not anymore. WTAQ announced on its website:

WTAQ has announced that Jerry Bader will no longer host the Jerry Bader Show, which aired Monday through Friday from 9-11 am.

In addition to WTAQ in the Green Bay/Appleton market, Bader’s show aired on WHBL in Sheboygan and WSAU in Wausau/Stevens Point.

Bader joined parent company Midwest Communications, Inc. when it purchased WHBL in 2000, transferring to WTAQ four years later to become the station’s brand manager and mid-day talk host.

He transitioned to a part-time role in 2016, when he took a full-time position with MediaTrackers.org.

Operations Manager Jason Hillery says “we wish Jerry nothing but continued success with his career at MediaTrackers.org, and we are thankful for his years of service to the Northeast Wisconsin community and others in our state.”

Bader says “I appreciate all of the opportunities that Midwest Communications has given me, and I wish them all the best.”

WTAQ has begun its search for a replacement.

Interested applicants can apply via midwestcareers.com or jason.hillery@mwcradio.com.

The Green Bay Press–Gazette adds:

Conservative radio talk show host Jerry Bader was let go by Midwest Communications on Thursday. Bader said in a email it was because of his coverage of President Donald Trump.

Bader’s show was broadcast on WTAQ-AM from 8:40-11 a.m. daily in Green Bay. The station also carries conservative hosts Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin and Sean Hannity, none of whom are as critical of Trump as Bader sometimes was.

Bader recently changed the tagline of his program from “Close captioned for the reality impared” to “Truth over tribe.”

“Following my show today, management at Midwest Communications informed me that I was being let go. It was made clear to me that the reason was the manner in which I covered President Trump,” Bader said in his email.

“I have always tried to tell what I believed is the truth and more recently to comport my behavior, on and off the air, with my Christ-following faith, after I was saved in 2016. I’ve always known it was MWC’s microphone that I used each day. I have no regrets on how I’ve handled the show the past two and a half years.” …

Bader also is communications director for MediaTrackers.org, which its website says is “dedicated to media accountability, government transparency, and quality fact-based journalism.” He will continue in that role, which is not related to the radio job.

Charlie Sykes, who hosted a longtime conservative radio show in Milwaukee and who also has been critical of Trump and the far right, tweeted about Bader Thursday.

“Bader was a courageous, principled voice, who refused to join other talkers on Trump train despite threats from management. #Respect,” Sykes wrote.

Bader joined WTAQ in 2004 after Midwest Communications parted ways with Bill LuMaye, who joined the station in 1998. Bader’s show also was broadcast on Midwest Communications-owned stations in Sheboygan and Wausau. He worked in Sheboygan before coming to Green Bay.

Midwest Communications suspended Bader for two weeks in 2009 after an inaccurate report about Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton dropping out of the governor’s race. Bader took responsibility for the mistake and apologized. “One person is responsible for what happened here, and that is me,” he said when he returned to the air.

The WTAQ press release said the search for a replacement is underway.

No, it’s “under way.” And if you’re interested, this may be the position, though Bader’s time slot is not really “morning drive” in the radio world.

Bader and Sykes were two of four conservative talk hosts who committed flagrant acts of journalism by not treating Trump with kid gloves during the 2016 Wisconsin GOP primary. Thanks to those four (including Clear Channel’s Mark Belling and Vicki McKenna), Trump lost to Ted Cruz, though he won the state in November.

I confess to not listening often to Bader largely because when I was living in Northeast Wisconsin I’d listen to Sykes when I was driving somewhere during their shows. I do recall Bader being criticized over his saying something complimentary over the Oneida Tribe of Indians or tribal gaming. (Bader’s predecessor, Bill LuMaye, previously had a rock morning show with his son on a Midwest FM station before the station (regrettably) started carrying Bob and Tom, which I have found funny exactly once.)

The radio industry fires people all the time for reasons that would not be acceptable in the non-media world — you do good work but we’re changing formats so goodbye — but it’s not clear that that’s the case here, though Midwest may plan on replacing Bader with a non-political show, though that would be illogical if they plan on keeping Limbaugh and Hannity.

I did a story on Midwest Communications 22 years ago in my previous life as a business magazine editor. I met CEO Duke Wright, and I’ve known some other people with that company, and it seemed like a good place to work for radio. (Media workplaces rarely make those Best Places to Work For lists.) Midwest also has expanded significantly since I did that story in 1996.

What if Bader was fired for being critical of Trump? That would mean, presumably, that Bader was having a negative effect on WTAQ’s ratings and/or advertising dollars. That is not the same thing as listeners being critical of Bader’s being critical of Trump. If listeners are listening to someone they disagree with, the point of radio is to get advertisers through listeners. If they aren’t listening because of that disagreement, that’s a problem.

Conservative talk radio dominates the talk radio world because it sells better than liberal talk. One might find liberal talk show hosts in specific markets, or a radio station in the case of Resistance Radio in Milwaukee. But consider that Sly lost one station (the late WTDY in Madison) when its owners changed formats, had his liberal talk show replaced with a non-liberal music show (WBGR-FM in Monroe), and now is back in Madison, but doing a non-liberal music show. Madison’s former liberal talk station at 92.1 FM now does oldies. If liberal talk can’t survive in the People’s Republic of Madison, what does that tell you?

One wonders if the conservative divide between Trump zealots and NeverTrumpers cost Bader his job. There is speculation over whether Sykes quit or was going to be fired and allowed his own exit over his anti-Trumpness. Belling and McKenna appear to have taken the position I hold, that Trump should be praised when warranted and criticized when warranted. (Oftentimes in the same day.) If Bader is right about why he was fired, he is another victim of the regrettable national trend of unwillingness to be exposed to viewpoints with which one does not agree.

It is also possible that conservative talk has less interest, paradoxically, when Republicans are in charge. Rush Limbaugh got to beat on Bill Clinton and Barack Obama for eight years each as did Sykes; it’s something else to have to defend your own side, particularly when your own side does something it shouldn’t have done.

One also wonders if a de-politicization of talk radio is under way, or if Midwest plans on, after looking for a replacement for Bader, to insert a national show. The latter would be a negative move, because the best radio is live and local. As for the former, Sykes was succeeded by Jeff Wagner, who previously followed Sykes on the air weekdays, but reportedly in Sykes’ spot now is rather unpolitical. The most recent Milwaukee radio ratings placed WTMJ fifth, which is subpar for a heritage AM station that carries the Packers, Bucks and Brewers. (Even more unbelievably, WTMJ and its FM WKTI, formerly linchpins of the Journal Communications broadcast empire, are for sale.)

Or, as long as we’re discussing theories, one wonders if talk radio is on the way out, given the ability of listeners to access podcasts whenever they want instead of on a radio station’s schedule. (Sly has a website, of course.)

I confess that from time to time this has seemed interesting to do, until I think about how much content one would need to do three or four hours on the air every day. A friend of mine did that (his show was nonpolitical, though I did occasionally make an appearance), and it can’t be easy. For one thing, one probably has to be inundated in the world of pop culture, which I generally deplore. (Do not get me started on NBC’s “This Is Us.”) I don’t even have time to do a podcast, let alone talk on the air for four hours outside of whatever sporting event I’m covering. (Basketball tonight, weather permitting, and wrestling Saturday, by the way.)

The good thing about this blog is that it represents my views, whether readers agree with those views or not. I have never written something I didn’t believe when I wrote it. I have never written or said anything for the sole purpose of generating outrage or clicks. That’s probably why, even though Sykes was correct when he called me a media ho, I wouldn’t do well in full-time radio talk.

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One thought on “The after-Sykes effect

  1. It was ratings. Apparently MWC is cleaning house. Two days before Bader got the boot they fired Vanessa Ryan of WDEZ fame for low ratings. Your blog post was written before this video clip, but he concedes that ratings dropped by nearly half. https://www.msnbc.com/am-joy/watch/jerry-bader-criticizes-trump-then-has-conservative-show-cancelled-1164138563519 Was that due to his position on Trump? Probably. I used to listen to him 3-4X a week. After awhile his constant berating of the president got old, and I’d tune in very sporadically – maybe catch half the show once a month. A friend of mine did the same. Evidently many, many more did as well.

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