When I moved from Los Angeles to Madison in 1988, the group of radio stations I worked for, and bought an ownership stake in, had an 8-person news gathering operation. So did two other Madison radio companies. And Wisconsin Public Radio had a large and active radio news gathering operation. All told, about 30 people were involved in gathering news for Madison radio.
Those days, of course, are long gone. Now, a handful of radio news people are left, including folks like my friend Teri Barr, who now works alongside my former colleague Jimmy McGaw in the morning on WOLX-FM. And former colleague Robin Colbert, who’s still doing the news thing for the WIBA stations.
Radio news. The first department to be cut when radio broadcasters have to tighten the belt another notch.
Lest I be accused of painting with too broad a brush, there are still radio groups, outside Madison and Milwaukee, that underwrite a decent, if less robust than a decade ago, local news gathering operation. One of them was the Woodward Broadcast Group, headquartered in Dubuque, which owns a half-dozen radio stations including WHBY-AM in Appleton.
WHBY (which stands for “Where Happy Boys Yodel”, a story for another time) was the station I grew up listening to in the 50’s and 60’s. When a blizzard would hit the Fox Valley, I had my little transistor radio set to WHBY in the early morning, hoping to hear the money phrase: “Hortonville Schools will be closed today.”
Mom still lives in her lakeside home in Hortonville. So when I drive from Madison to visit her, after I get through the speed-trap in Rosendale and leave Highway 26, just south of Oshkosh, to pick up what’s now called Interstate 41, I tune in WHBY to find out what’s going on.
At least, I used to.
But not last week Thursday, when I went up to visit mom – who is now 89 – and take her to lunch. I didn’t tune in WHBY because I’m mad at them. A few weeks ago, in their latest purge, they handed walking papers to an old friend and former colleague, Rick Schuh. Downsized. Expense cutting move. Whichever euphemism you prefer.
This is Rick, his wife Melissa, and their young family. I expropriated this picture from Rick’s Facebook page and I hope he doesn’t mind. But I wanted to put a face on this rant, to show you the kind of people who are now becoming extinct: radio news people.
With Rick's untimely exit from WHBY go years and years of knowledge and experience covering Wisconsin news,not to be replaced. Rick’s covered everything from the Teresa Halbach murder case (the trial of Steven Avery and his nephew) to city council and school board meetings all over the Valley to severe weather outbreaks to bad car wrecks. All in a day’s work.
And, I’m happy to report, Rick landed on his feet quite quickly after being thrown under the bus after his many years of exemplary work at WHBY, and is now in the financial services industry. No more 16-hour work days, long nights of covering council and board meetings. Rick traded that in for a regular, predictable schedule and a reliable paycheck. Rick’s a smart and personable guy. He’ll do well.
I grew up relying on morning radio news to tell me what was important, whether it was a news story, a sports score, or a school closing. My kids got that info from the TV set in their bedroom. And now we get it from our smart phone or iPad. Who knows what my grandkids will be using.
Another mile down the road, another page of history turning, another nail in the coffin. Pretty soon all we’ll be left with is “fake news” and “alternative facts”.