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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Clear Channel to Madison: 'You Win'

To be honest, it wasn't the result I was expecting. Call me a cynic, but my knee jerks away from optimism when it comes to corporate America, media conglomerates, and progressive voices. My assumption was that Madison's Air America Radio affiliate, The Mic 92.1, was dead.

In November, Clear Channel Radio announced that the station would switch to a FOX Sports format. Clear Channel pointed to low ad revenues for the station and, although The Mic's ratings were good, the ads weren't selling. Jones Radio host Ed Schultz, who the station also carried, pointed out that the station had no dedicated sales staff -- they weren't selling because they weren't trying.

The audience for the station collected more than 4,000 signatures, held a rally, and delivered the petition to Clear Channel in a mock funeral procession yesterday.

"We are hearing your voices, and your voice has been heard. We appreciate you coming out and supporting this," WISC TV reported Clear Channel FM Operations Manager Mike Ferris as saying as he accepted the petition. Ferris wouldn't comment further and would make no commitments at that time.

As they say in the movies, hold the presses. This just in:

Associated Press:

Clear Channel Radio says it will keep its Air America affiliate on the air instead of switching the progressive talk format to sports on Jan. 1.

Citing the overwhelming negative reaction to the planned change, the nation's no. 1 operator of radio stations said it would keep The Mic 92.1 FM on the air as a progressive talk station.

The planned change to Fox Sports Radio, announced three days after the Nov. 7 election, had sparked outrage in Madison. Clear Channel said the station, WXXM-FM, had struggled to attract advertisers despite high ratings and a sports format would be more profitable.

Thousands of people protested the end of their favorite station through e-mails, phone calls and a signed petition delivered this week. A rally last week drew 500 people and politicians such as Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., denounced the decision.

I'd have to say that a big player in this has been Madison's progressive newspaper, The Capital Times. I suspect The Nation writer and TCT Associate Editor John Nichols to be behind a very vocal string of articles and editorials in favor of keeping the station's progressive format. Nichols has long been a critic of big media monstrosities like Clear Channel.

The Capital Times:

The executives cannot claim that the format is not popular. It has maintained strong ratings - recently the second highest in the market for the news-talk format - and this week's rally has confirmed that it also has passionate support from listeners.

They cannot claim that the format is unpopular with advertisers. There is now more than enough evidence to confirm that Clear Channel's sales staff failed to recognize the potential of 92.1, let alone capitalize on it. As former Madison Mayor Paul Soglin says, "We didn't fail - we did our jobs as consumers. It was the station that failed in its ability to find advertisers for that market."

Clear Channel cannot, in fact, make any more excuses. It should either restore the progressive talk format or admit that they really are not interested in serving listeners in Madison.

I'm glad they chose the former.

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