Wednesday, July 22, 2015

This Guy Is One Courageous Broadcaster

My friend Jim did a radio show yesterday. He’s done thousands of them, and he’ll do another one today. And tomorrow. But yesterday’s show was significant because it was the first show he’s done in many, many days. The first one since Jim’s wife Lisa suddenly died of a pulmonary embolism.

Jim Leach is News and Program Director at WMAY-AM in Springfield, IL, and he’s always done his talk show with plenty of heart and passion. Yesterday, as I listened in, I heard a few tears, too. From Jim and from his incredibly supportive callers.

Although I have a vivid imagination, I can’t imagine how I’d deal with such a circumstance, but it likely would not involve “going back to work”. We all deal with grief in our own ways, and it is a fool who judges how anyone else picks up the pieces and resumes their life.

We haven't had any contact for years, but I sent Jim a note of support and encouragement yesterday, including a few words of praise for his ability to pull off a show under such hugely emotional circumstances, not expecting any sort of response. But he thanked me for reaching out.

Years ago, in my days as a broadcaster, Jim and I had essentially parallel jobs at stations owned by the same company – Jim in Springfield, me in Madison. Similar markets, capital cities, similar programming, similar staffs, similar problems, yada yada. We’d see each other maybe a couple times a year at news and program management seminars put on by the company.

I’d been at WMAY several times in the 90’s in a minor role as a consultant – the guy from the “home office”- and it was on one of those trips that I first met Jim. The last time we were actually in the same place at the same time was in a different Springfield – Springfield, MO, where the company also owned several radio stations, and the site of one of these get-togethers for the news and programming folks. That was in February or March of 2007, as I recall.

One of the many national resource people the company brought in to address the group and encourage our further professional development was the nation’s top talk radio consultant, my friend Holland Cooke. Holland had a contract with our Madison news-talk station, but didn’t work with any of the other stations in the group of several dozen radio stations.

Holland was speaking about the importance of total community service in news and talk programming, and he was giving some examples of stations across the nation that excelled in serving their community of license. He talked about the importance of severe weather coverage, and began to play an audio file of an award-winning promotional announcement done by a news-talk station after a tornado devastated part of their city.

Holland’s setup was that we were about to hear a station that truly knew how to serve its community, a station which really distinguished itself before, during, and after a horrible tornado. The announcement featured the voice of a woman talking about how the station – HER station, as she called it- helped her get through the scary night, with constant updates and non-stop information.

As soon as the announcement started, several of us in the group exchanged glances. We knew the announcement was about Jim Leach’s tornado coverage on WMAY. I looked at Jim and his face was turning a bright shade of red.

The announcement went on with the woman saying something like “and all night long, Jim Leach kept telling us what was going on, where the danger was, where the power was out, what the emergency responders were doing, where we could go if we needed shelter. I wasn’t alone in my home, scared, because Jim Leach was there with me on WMAY, and I will never forget how Jim Leach and WMAY helped me get through that horrible night”.  It was an extremely powerful and emotional radio spot.

Holland noticed the group was all looking at Jim. Holland didn’t know that Jim Leach was sitting a few feet away. He thought he was just demonstrating to a group of radio people how our listeners count on us during emergencies, and giving us an example of the best of the best.

When the announcement ended, we all turned to Jim and applauded. We demanded that he stand, which he reluctantly did. Holland said “so you’re Jim Leach. Nice to meet you. Congratulations. I didn’t know. You’re the one who should be giving this presentation.”

Real radio professionals make solid connections with their listeners. Jim’s connection to his listeners is legendary. And yesterday they showed Jim their love and support in his time of darkness and turmoil. And I know they’ll continue to support Jim as he moves forward in his grief.

I’m honored to know you, Jim. My thoughts and prayers are with you. Strength and Godspeed, my friend.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Scott Walker Is Running For Vice-President

I’m not the first person who’s suggested this is what’s really going on. Dave Cieslewicz, to name one fairly well-known Madison political commentator, has been saying it in public for a while. Walker can’t possibly be elected President, with his Tea Party politics of division and regression. The election will be decided, as it usually is, by the voters who live in the urban areas of our nation, and they won’t pull the lever for Walker. And the party officials know it.

So, what I (and a lot of others) think is going on here, is that Walker for the past few years has been polishing his bona fides as an arch-conservative fundamentalist Christian politician, so that when the party picks its nominee, that nominee will name Walker his (or, unlikely, her) running mate, in an attempt to pick up some of those who oppose abortion, immigration, gay marriage,

That moves Walker up another rung, and positions him for a real run for the Oval Office.

One thing seems pretty certain: Walker has no interest in governing Wisconsin. Long after he’s gone from the state’s political scene, there will be no public buildings named after Scott Walker. No state parks will bear his name. No endowed chairs of higher education will be established in his name. His legacy won't be much.
As he proved during the recent budget battle, he had no interest in helping his state party – which holds the majority in both houses – do the work of shepherding the document. He just inserts the far-right language that boosts his Presidential run, and then heads off to another state for a fundraiser or campaign event.

Please understand, and this may shock you, that I’m closer by far to being a Tommy Thompson Republican than a Jim Doyle Democrat. Not the Tommy Thompson who ran that horribly ungracious campaign for U.S. Senate against Tammy Baldwin, where an openly gay Madison liberal thoroughly trounced what was left of Tea Party Tommy. (That’s Wisconsin: we elect a progressive liberal lesbian to one of our U.S. Senate seats, and an arch-conservative Tea Party darling to the other one.)

I’m talking about the Tommy Thompson who so clearly loved his home state, governed effectively, built roads, presided over the expansion and improvement of our state’s public education system from K-12 public schools to the great UW System, championed mass transit, and expanded health care options for his fellow ‘sconnies.
Among many other things which today would be viewed as very un-Republican.

I'm talking about the Tommy who openly wept when the Republican bosses told him he had to move to Washington DC to serve in Dubya’s cabinet.  Tommy before he changed into a partisan hack. Tommy who loved to govern, before he started barking the Tea Party lines about how government is bad in his last run for public office. Tommy the Wisconsin cheerleader-in-chief.

Now, I’m in that large, middle-part of the electorate which is essentially politically homeless. Mike McCabe talks about this segment a lot in his new Blue Jean Nation movement. I’m disappointed by the Democrats and disillusioned by the Republicans. I can’t stand people who preach about how bad government is, while running for government office; I can’t stand those who do nothing but denigrate those who hold public office and talk about how horrible those people are.

I want somebody with ideas to make government BETTER.

Which brings me back around to Walker. He has always had his sights set on the next rung of the political ladder. Not that others haven’t, but it seems to me Walker is more intent on moving up, than really establishing a record or accomplishing a common-good goal. I don’t think he wants to make anything better. I think he wants to improve his lot, not help other people improve theirs.

My former colleague, the irascible conservative commentator and frequent Rush Limbaugh fill-in host Mark Belling, says when the campaign for President is done, Walker has no reason to hang onto the job of Wisconsin governor. Belling points out Walker is not yet wealthy, has two kids in college, and that there’s a ton of money to be made on the lecture circuit. Since he’s not shown any discernable interest in being Governor other than as another notch on the belt, it’s entirely conceivable Walker will pull a Sarah Palin and just quit the job of Governor, leaving, omigod, Becky Kleefish in charge - to make bank as a talking head.

Unless, of course, the nominee picks Walker as a running mate.  Then, when the Republicans lose the national election again, Walker won’t be like Paul Ryan and just return to his political job. No reason to.

So whether he ends up as a Vice Presidential candidate, or as just another face on Fox News, or a hot air machine on the lecture circuit, or whatever, I’m confident this is his last term as Wisconsin governor, and that he’s not going to be our next President.