Monday, November 26, 2012

Some Comments on the Death of WTDY

Last Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, 8 employees of MidWest Family Broadcasting who worked in news and on-air on WTDY-AM, including my friend and long-time radio partner, John “Sly” Sylvester,  were summoned to a meeting and fired by General Manager Rick McCoy.  The station now broadcasts continuous Christmas music, and indications are that sometime after the holidays it will switch to a sports-talk format.

While last Wednesday’s mass firings signal the death of WTDY as a local talk station, it also signals the death of any credible news effort on the part of MidWest’s group of radio stations in Madison, leaving Clear Channel’s cluster of stations (WIBA-AM, the sole surviving active radio newsgathering operation in town. Without news and traffic reporters, MidWest has ceded local coverage of winter storms, tornados, floods, and other such events to the other stations in the market.

WTDY’s death actually was a long, drawn-out drama that began in July of 2003 with the death of William R. Walker, who took his father William E. Walker’s small radio operation and turned it into a thriving group of more than 40 radio stations in 4 states.  His death was a blow still resonating in the group, which departed from his template for success that involved serving the community with a strong news presence and local on-air personalities.

I was a shareholder, manager, consultant, and on-air performer in the group that employed me for the better part of three decades, until November 18, 2008, when Glen Gardner and I (we were doing the WTDY morning show at the time) were thrown under the bus.  Glen’s analysis of the death of WTDY is better than anything I could write.  This is what he posted Sunday:

In my opinion there are two types of (commercial) broadcast operations; those that are sales-driven and those that are programming-driven. In a sales-driven operation the sales department in effect runs the station. If they can’t or won’t sell a particular product it goes away. In a programming-driven operation it’s the product side of the company that drives the business model. The Sales Department is given a product to sell and they sell it. MidWest family used to be a programming-driven organization with people like Bill Vancil, Dick Record, Jonathan Little, Tim Morrissey and many others calling the shots.

Then superior sales people like Robert Lewin would go sell it and be compensated well for their craft. At MidWest the tables have turned and that is bad for local radio. Sometimes good programming takes a much higher skill level to market. It takes product knowledge and passion. It takes more work. Lazy sales departments are much more comfortable selling large chunks of commercial matter across many frequencies because it takes virtually no skill, which means a bunch of low-paid flunkies can sell it by the truckload. That also drives ad rates down which provides less resource for local programming. It’s a truly vicious cycle.

The other major problem with a sales-driven model is a lack of regard for the real implications of the loss of solid local programming, news and personalities. In these times radio is really not needed as a music delivery medium. I’ve got 60 gig of my favorite songs on my Galaxy III. It’s 24 hours of WGLEN. Every song I ever wanted and about 20 gig of songs I can’t even tell you why I have. I just don’t need radio for music anymore (that’s coming from a 56 year-old guy, can you imagine what the 25-year-old-thinks?). So, what goes between the songs on a music station is critical and the real future for radio is the spoken word format as music importance fades.

What MidWest did with these and other firings is got rid of not just people, but local product. All those news people not only supplied WTDY with product, but all the other music stations in the building. When the weather got bad it was Tim and I and other newspeople who broadcast across all the signals to supply the local content that people depend on. I can’t wait to see what happens the first time there’s a blizzard, tornado, flood or other disaster. That’s what they fired! They fired their local product and will be left with a bunch of jukeboxes that will be worth less and less as music becomes less important to the radio listener. They fired what goes between the songs!

They also fired their best shot at survival.

Let me give a quick example of sales-driven versus product-driven that you may be old enough to remember.  During the gasoline crisis of the 70’s, gradually Americans shifted to smaller and more fuel-efficient cars.  Cadillac sales personnel whined to GM that they had no small, fuel-efficient cars to sell. As a result of the constant din from the sales folks, Cadillac put the Cimarron into production in 1981.  It was one of the biggest failures in auto marketing annals, right up there with the Edsel.  A mere 132 thousand Cimarrons were sold during its 7-year production run.  What the sales people didn’t realize was that Cadillac buyers didn’t give two hoots in hell about fuel economy or smaller cars.  They loved those big gas-sucking barges with the giant V-8 engines and tons of chrome.  That was Cadillac’s market niche, and they dominated it.  This is why sales people don’t make good organizational leaders.

Former MidWest Madison Vice President and General Manager Bill Vancil agrees wholeheartedly with what Glen says above:

You are spot on Glen! The scenario you've described is the reason I retired from the business. But, hats off to the determined programming pros like Pat O'Neill, Tim Moore, Jim McGaw and others who keep a flow of relatable programming finding its way to the remaining listeners despite the encumberance of the sales driven forces you've so well described. The convulsions that have taken place within broadcast management have opened "Pandora's" box even wider.

Here are some additional very articulate and insightful words about the demise of WTDY from Deana Wright, who was a news and traffic reporter for WTDY until last Wednesday.  Her statements will have real broadcasters shaking their heads in amazement.

I was often amazed when I would speak at events or attend community functions, that so many people had never heard of WTDY...didn't even know where it was on the dial. You can have the best product but if nobody knows it exists your audience will not grow. And, if folks were listening to Sly...the emphasis on 'If"...then what was being done to recycle those listeners and keep them listening to Kurt's "Forward" show and beyond? I was there for the last 3 years and none of us in the newsroom were ever asked to do a personal appearance for a least to my knowledge. That's another way to attract folks who don't currently listen.
 The way I see it several things needed to happen including more focused positioning of the station (positioning statement was non-existent), the creation of promotions aimed at increasing station awareness, much more community involvement, goals should have been set with the staff involved...and a plan implemented to reach those goals, and the station should have been more concerned with servicing our core listener...hard to do, though, when that either hadn't been identified or we just weren't privy to that information. You know I once asked our PD what the station's cume was...I wanted that info to include in a talk I was giving at the state capitol and later at UW-Madison...he replied, "what do you mean, cume?...smh. And I followed that question with another, "who is our core listener?"...the answer?..."I'm not sure, you'll have to ask Randy". As you know, I've worked in major market radio for more than 15 years...and syndication and voice tracking is now the norm at most stations, which contributes to the demise of local programming.

Deana is the daughter of the late Reverend James C. Wright, the Madison civil rights pioneer, and her radio credentials are top-notch.  She came back home to Madison a few years ago to join the WTDY staff after a successful career in some of the largest radio markets in the nation.  What her post so dramatically illustrates is that people who were clearly out of their depth in running a news-talk operation had been appointed to positions of power by a management core that had so clearly abandoned the concepts that Bill Walker used to build MidWest.

Many former MidWest employees posted on social media sites after hearing the news of the death of WTDY comments like “Bill Walker is rolling over in his grave”.

Best of luck to all the people, including my friend Sly, who are now looking for work.  Trust me, better days are ahead for all of you, but the same can’t be said for the company that fired you.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Voter Fraud Take Two

A few days ago I posted a rant concerning  State Senator Alberta Darling’s claim that Mitt Romney might have won Wisconsin, had there not been such extensive voter fraud.  To refresh your memory, President Obama won Wisconsin by well over 202 thousand votes out of 3 million cast, which is a margin of victory of about 7%.

The post got a lot of pageviews, because I linked it to my Facebook page.  I got some pushback from friends on the right, who insist voter fraud is real and it’s hard to track down.  And yes, I do have plenty of friends on the right.

I shouldn’t call it “pushback”; I should call it discussion.  Because that’s what it is.  In discussion among adults, civilized people don’t try to bully someone into accepting their point of view.  We don’t “push back” when others disagree with us.  And that’s one of the things that’s gone so wrong in American politics.  It’s ALL pushback.  The politicians don’t discuss; they argue.  And way too often, they ridicule, just as I ridiculed Senator Darling in my prior blog post on this.  They seem unable, or at least are certainly unwilling, to sit down and discuss.

In the polarized political world of 2012, politicians and political parties work against each other, rather than for the people.  They don’t finish a day of work at the Capital – either in Madison or Washington DC - and have a beer together at the Avenue Bar or wherever.  They retreat to their own enclaves, where they plot and scheme on how to get the advantage on the other party.  They live in their own echo chambers.  Lefties have MSNBC and righties have Fox News.

Friends and colleagues discuss differences and work them out.  Anyone in a successful marriage knows how this works.  We learn that there are certain things where our partner will not compromise –and in a good marriage, the list is short – and we don’t try to make our partner abandon a core value by shouting them down or ridiculing them.  Since Adam and Eve, that hasn’t worked, and it never will.  We learn to work together for the betterment of our marriage and our family.

To me, the simple fact is, the Republicans need the Democrats, and the Democrats need the Republicans.  They have different core values and different principles and different outlooks, but they used to work together pretty well, back in the days when Tommy Thompson was a Republican Governor with a Democratic Legislature, back when we had great leaders like Tip O’Neill and Bob Dole in positions of power.  They used to balance each other.  And they still could, if they’d stop the posturing.

So, should I have toned down the harshness in my post about Senator Darling?  Probably.  I could have simply made the case that voter fraud to the extent that she alleges seems highly unlikely.  Is there fraud?  Probably.  Is it hard to prove?   Yes, by its nature.  But 202 thousand cases of it?  When no one in Wisconsin has ever produced a single, tangible, prosecutable piece of evidence, it’s difficult to take seriously an allegation of the magnitude Darling alleges, particularly when one considers that she is more than likely advancing an agenda.  Had she said one percent of the votes cast were fraudulent, I would still ask for evidence, not allegations or hearsay.  We take our elections seriously in Wisconsin, and undermining confidence in our vote-counting system is a serious charge, one that needs to be backed up with, at the very least, ONE specific incidence.

If Senator Johnson saw a vanload of what he called “illegal voters”, I want a description of the van, the exact time and place that he saw it, and – if possible – a license plate number or partial plate number.  In this day and age of smart phones surreptitiously capturing everything – from a spouse’s indiscretions to a candidate’s speech to donors – you can’t tell me there are 202,700 instances of voter fraud unless you back it up with something tangible.  Mistakes in the tally?  Of course.  Deliberate manipulation of vote totals by election officials?  Seems possible.  Ask Kathy Nickolaus some hard questions.

We face very serious issues and have to make some hard decisions as a nation.  Someone needs to remind Paul Ryan that the very reason Medicare came into existence – and this is within most of our lifetimes, friends: July 30th, 1965 - is that insurance companies refused to sell health insurance to people who were old or sick. Giving vouchers so we can go to the insurance companies is NOT the answer.  It’s a lesson of history we should have already learned.  But we can’t continue to allow the cost of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security to grow as it has been, without doing SOMETHING about it.  Both sides need to work together to find the best solution.

Kind of like that “sifting and winnowing” phrase on that plaque on Bascom Hall that embodies “the Wisconsin idea”.

We need to tone it down, pay less attention to Chris Matthews, Rush Limbaugh, Keith Olbermann, Charlie Sykes, and the other players in the media/entertainment complex, and start listening more to each other.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The 7-second Commute

Today marks the beginning of my fifth year of being self-employed.  Four years ago yesterday, my former business partners stabbed me and my friend Glen Gardner in the back and threw us under the bus in a palace coup.  I’d put in a total of 30 years with the company, the last 20 here in Madison;  Glen had 14 years; we were both partners/shareholders in the company; both of us had held senior management positions within the company.  Our lawyers went to work, and Glen and I won separate settlements, which were “sealed” at the request of our former partners, who didn’t want anyone to know how costly a lesson it was for them.  A few days after the lawsuit was settled, my wife and I went to Spring Training in Arizona for 12 days, crossing another item off the bucket list.

The bus moved on, Glen and I remained friends and business partners, we stopped getting up in the middle of the night to go to work doing a morning radio show, became our own bosses in the “gig economy” of 2009, where, like a freelance musician, you stitch together “gigs” (jobs/assignments/engagements) to keep money coming in, create new enterprises (in our case, online enterprises), and if you’re lucky, like we were, you end up running your own show with no one to answer to but yourself.  You’re rewarded appropriately for your hard work, and if you screw up, you’ve got nobody to blame but yourself.

In my case, during the transition, I had a wonderful safety net and unwavering support from my wife, who had just begun an exciting new career with UW-Health after a couple decades in broadcasting, a position which not only paid the bills but provided the critical element of a health insurance benefit.

A few days ago, Glen was joking about his “four-second commute to work” – from his home in suburban Boston to a client’s office in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, via Skype.  Glen does spend a fair share of his time on airplanes, travelling from Massachusetts to Iowa to be face-to-face with clients in the Hawkeye State, but a lot of business can be handled these days with a dependable and fast internet connection. Both of us do a great deal of work in the virtual world, online.  I’m a producer for a national news service with 24 million weekly users based in Boulder, Colorado, 977 miles from my home in Madison, and do free-lance writing.  Glen figures it took about four seconds for him to establish the Skype connection with one of his clients; I figure it takes me about seven seconds to go down half a flight of stairs (we have a multi-level home with half-staircases) to my office and be “at work”.

It wasn’t always a 7-second commute, that’s for sure.  Years ago when I worked in the Fox Valley, I did morning radio – EARLY morning radio – which for years meant getting up in the middle of the night, at 3 AM, and driving to the studio.  I never lived that far from any of the stations I worked at, but the early commute often happened before the plows were out in the winter.  If the snow was really bad, I’d be picked up by a Winnebago County Sheriff’s Deputy and taken to work.  In the days before cell phones, police wanted the radio people on-the-air, to pass along travel information.

During my year-and-a-half stint in New Orleans in the early 80’s, the commute was a breeze – about 10 miles from Metairie to downtown New Orleans, most of it on I-10, which always seemed to move briskly, and weather was never a real issue.

When I lived in southern California in the mid-and late-80’s, my home was in Palmdale and my office was in Woodland Hills – 58 miles down the Antelope Valley Freeway to I-405 to the 101 Freeway, and then up Topanga Canyon Boulevard.  The photo at the top of this post shows a typical morning commute in southern California. On a good day, I could do it in 2 hours and 15 minutes – one way.  On a bad day, 3 hours.  That’s a lot of time in the car every day.  And 4 or 5 days a year, there was snow to deal with, something California drivers are NOT good at.  Palmdale is at about 2,700 feet; but to get to LA, you have to go up and down the Escondido Summit, which is at about 3,200 feet, and it will snow readily at that altitude.  I still have some videotapes of news broadcasts, where the CHiPs (California Highway Patrol) would actually have to drive frightened motorists cars down the Escondido Summit, because they were paralyzed with fear and refused to drive after skidding a few feet.

During my last few years in radio, I lived about 8 miles from the radio station, would rise at 2:20 AM and be at work a little after 3 AM.  6 of the 8 miles were on the Beltline, and many a wintry morning I was on the Belt before the plows.  So I bought an all-wheel-drive SUV and had Tom Holmes put on the best snow/ice tires money could buy.  Never once did I get stuck, and often Pam Jahnke (The Fabulous Farm Babe) and I were the only people who could actually navigate the parking lot at work at 3 AM, which tended to harbor huge drifts.  Back in those days, she had a big, black “Ag-Wagon”, a Chevy Suburban with huge mud/snow tires.  Either one of us could bust through anything mom nature could throw at us.

I don’t miss the commute to work, and now I roll out of bed at the sinfully late hour of 5:30 AM.  Instead of a mad dash through the shower and jumping into my clothes and heading right off to work, I now let the dogs out for a while, have a leisurely cup or three of coffee, have breakfast with my wife, check the morning news on TV, read the paper, and then make the 7-second commute down to my office.  I have disciplined myself to be behind my computer and at work no later than 7 AM.  After 90 minutes or so (depending on what the day’s schedule is), I head off to the health club (4 miles), come home and shower and change, and deal with whatever has to be dealt with.

As far as I’m concerned, the old George Herbert quote is true: living well is the best revenge.  And – Glen got married yesterday, so it’s a whole new reason to remember November 18th!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Senator Darling and the Huge Lie About Vote Fraud

Last Sunday, on Milwaukee TV Newsman Mike Gousha’s weekly public affairs program (“Up Front with Mike Gousha”), the veteran broadcast journalist’s guest was State Senator Alberta Darling, who represents one of the more right-leaning areas of the state, including such wealthy enclaves as River Hills and Fox Point, and communities including Germantown, Mequon, and Thiensville.

When Gousha  (pronounced “goo-SHAY”, in case you’re not familiar with him) discussed the election results with Senator Darling, she said if Wisconsin’s Voter ID law had not been blocked, Mitt Romney might have won the state.


This campaign season will almost certainly go down as the one marked by the greatest number of lies ever told, but Darling’s assertion is patently absurd.  President Obama won Wisconsin by over 205,000 votes .  In other words, by a number of votes just a bit smaller than the number of people who live in Madison, and about twice the population of Green Bay.  So Senator Darling wants us to believe that there were over two hundred thousand fraudulent votes cast in Wisconsin’s Presidential election.

This is complete and total horse-puckey.

And yet, Darling and her fellow travelers continue to assert massive voter fraud in the state, offering absolutely no evidence of any. Earlier this year, Senator RoJo The Clown told tall tales – never supported by one iota of evidence – of busloads of illegal voters in Racine.  It’s a right-wing meme: voter fraud is everywhere!!!!  These people are delusional.

It disgusts me not only that people like Senators Darling and Johnson can spew this manure essentially without challenge from any “reporter” or “journalist”, but that so many people, even those with IQ’s above room temperature, will repeat it.  An insignificant percentage of people watch shows like Gousha’s, but I still think he – and others who practice this art – should pursue a far more aggressive line of follow-up questioning when pols like Darling spew this utter nonsense.

Mitt Romney lost Wisconsin for many reasons, but one of them is NOT voter fraud.  His running mate Paul Ryan, caught in the lie about the Janesville GM plant (among many other huge untruths), was a drag on the ticket.  Obama won Wisconsin by seven percentage points, but every reliable poll showed  Obama’s lead smaller before Romney picked Ryan.  Every poll showed Wisconsinites clearly supported the auto bailout, and even Ryan’s emotionally-choked speech about the boys he went to high school with losing their jobs at the hometown GM plant couldn’t be sold to Wisconsinites, who have a clear recollection of how, when, and why that plant closed.  Lyin’ Ryan was re-elected to his seat in Congress, but he and Mitt did not carry Janesville or Rock County.

Mitt Romney lost Wisconsin for a myriad of other reasons, not the least of which is he had almost no appeal on social media, which made him look even more old-fashioned than his ideas about women.  President Obama had more than 31 million “likes” on Facebook, contrasted with Romney’s 11 million.  Obama had 21 million followers on Twitter, contrasted with Romney’s 1.6 million Twitter followers.  This is a crystal-clear sign that the Republican campaign strategy was defective.

The list of reasons Wisconsin went for Obama and not Romney is long, and it’s difficult to explain an electorate that votes Ryan back into Congress, but against sending him to the White House; selects Tammy Baldwin over Tommy Thompson, but also strongly supports Governor Walker (who is the REAL up-and-coming Republican star, not Paul Ryan); and gives the Republicans even more control in the legislature.

But one thing is certain to any person capable of rational thought: voter fraud had NOTHING to do with it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Folly of Secession

To hell with Texas.  There have been rumblings of secession down there in the Lone Star State for years, ever since President Obama was first elected, but now the secession noise is even louder.  There are rumblings and petitions in other states, to be sure; even here in Wisconsin a number of dweebs have signed some sort of petition calling for the “orderly” withdrawal from the U.S., but the most consistent noise has come from Texas.

The devil’s advocate in me says the rest of us – I mean the other 49 states – should encourage the Obama administration to take the Texans up on their request.  I mean, this is the state where idiotic crap like “Obamacare will force all Americans to be implanted with a microchip” is taken seriously.  The state Bill Maher said was afraid “Barack Obama’s secret Negro army was going to invade them”.  The state where a significant number of people believed President Obama would institute Sharia Law in the U.S. if elected to a second term.

So I say we call their bluff and take them up on it.

After all, what is Texas known for – The Alamo?  Nice piece of history, but it’s really a crappy little old building that you’d barely notice in San Antonio if somebody didn’t point it out to you.  Oil?  Hell, we got plenty of that stuff in other states.  Cattle? Same thing.  Texas Instruments? What has that company innovated lately?  Wool? More of it comes from Texas than any other state, but we’ll be OK without their contribution.

Three of the nation’s top ten population centers (Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio) are in Texas, and the Lone Star state is big – second only to Alaska – but it’s still only about 7.4% of the area of the U.S.

When we allow Texas to secede, we’ll need to shut down all the federal installations there.  All the Army bases, all the V-A Hospitals, all the Federal Courthouses, Federal Administration Buildings (Social Security, IRS, shut down; all the U.S. Post Offices; shut down all the NASA stuff;  anything connected with the Federal government – gone.  Shut down.  All Federal assets – military hardware of all sorts, NASA computers, Postal vehicles, all that stuff will be removed as quickly as possible, and what’s left one year from the date of secession you can have.

We won’t take any more Federal Tax out of Texans’ paychecks, nor Social Security nor Medicare or any of that stuff.  And as for what Texans have already paid in for Social Security, – well, we’ll just consider that liquidated damages for the cost of closing all Federal institutions in Texas.  Y’all can figure out your own retirement plans and medical coverage, just as so many of you Texans have been yammering about.

We’ll take Puerto Rico as the new 50th state.   Their flag looks like yours anyway.

And, since Texas receives more funds from the Federal government than it sends to Washington, the rest of us will enjoy the small economic boost we’ll get from that.

Good luck, and good riddance.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Dat’s How Dey Talk In ‘Sconsin, Inso?

Last night I had a fun Facebook exchange with my friend Dick Alpert, erstwhile morning host on WIBA-AM in Madison who now masterfully handles traffic reporting duties for the all the Clear Channel radio stations in Wisconsin, from their Milwaukee hub.  Dick is from Sheboygan, but you couldn’t tell from hearing him speak.  Like most broadcasters, Dick has that neutral diction that sounds the same all across America.

The exchange started when Dick posted that he had heard someone on the police scanner say “Highway One Hundred” – which is one of the many main thoroughfares in the Milwaukee metro area.  The reason for his post is that those of us who have been around the state for a while know that people in Milwaukee – which, by the way, is usually pronounced with two run-on syllables - mwokee –by the natives, invariably say “Hiway a hunnert”.  Not “Hiway one hundred”, but “Hiway a hunnert”.

That post kicked off a sting of follow-up comments from folks who appreciate the true Wisconsin accent, as heard in communities like Milwaukee, Sheboygan, the “holy land” between Lake Winnebago and Lake Michigan, and pretty much everywhere above HiWay 8.

Part of this unique regional speech is characterized by a more “German” syntax, where you hang the vowel on the end of the sentence; part of it is reflected in the “th” sound being replaced with a “d” – as in dese/these, dem/them, does/those, and so on.  And a part of it is unique articles which ‘sconnies innately understand – like “inso”, which I believe is a contraction of “isn’t it so?”, which you would hear in any conversation, like “dem Packers really are playin’ good now, inso?”

And, of course, you have to drop your g’s to speak proper ‘sconnie .  It’s “playin”, not “playing”.  And the popular new nickname for Wisconsinites – ‘sconnie – comes from the way so many people who live here pronounce the name of the state: ‘sconsin.

The area around Sheboygan and the holy land (the communities of St. Anne, St. Nazianz, Holy Cross, etc. in Calumet, Manitowoc, and Sheboygan Counties) speaks an intensely pure form of ‘sconnie, and to navigate the area, you’ll need to know things like to those folks, a cook-out is a fry-out (they have frequent brat-fry events), a barbeque sandwich is a hot tomale, and scores of other terms which are really not part of mainstream ‘sconsin speech.

For years, I worked with a young woman from Hilbert, who had learned to adapt her speech to the neutral broadcast inflection, but hearing her on the phone speaking with a friend from back home, she’d slip into the native tongue, and say things like “Yah, den, I gotta work Friday ‘till five, but den I’m comin’ back over by yous for dat big brat fry dere havin’ by Johnny’s ma’s place, ya know, so you guys should meet me dere, inso?  Yah, den, we’re gonna get all loopy, inso?”

You don’t go over to someone’s house; you go over by their house.  “Yah, hey, I heard Jim is stayin’ by Frank’s place fer a while – guess da old lady got fed up wit his drinkin’ and carryin’ on, and went to work and trew him outta da house.  He says ta her, he says, dat was just da Leinie’s talkin’ da udder night when I come home and called ya a bitch, but she din’t buy dat story, so out on the street he went.” (Notice how the past tense verb is hung onto the end of the dependent clause.)

If you can follow that long sentence in the paragraph above, you know that “went to work” doesn’t mean “went to work”, but that it’s just a common filler phrase indicating any sort of action, such as “went to work and bought another round for da whole bar, yet”.  And no one in the Badger state calls it Leinenkugel’s; it’s Leinies.

Verbally indicating agreement with a friend during normal conversation might sound something like “Yah, too yet, once, I’m da same way, inso”.

Please don’t think this post is meant to belittle or make fun of the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Wisconsinites who speak this unusual language.  I thoroughly enjoy hearing it, just like I enjoy hearing a good Minnesota accent, or a good Canadian accent – although “accent” doesn’t really do it justice.  It’s really another dialect, and part of what gives us character – inso?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Nastiest, Costliest Election EVER

Finally, in a couple days, the damnable ads will be over.  The Baldwin-Thompson race will go into the history books as the nastiest political election ever, the most expensive election in Wisconsin history, and the second-most expensive U.S. Senate race in the nation.

The final tally is not yet in, but we already know a few things with more than a fair amount of certainty.  The race between Tammy Baldwin and Tommy Thompson will be recorded as the meanest, nastiest, most disgusting political race in our lifetimes.  99% of the ads run in this race were negative.  That’s not a figure from some think-tank or foundation that’s really a front for conservative or liberal money.  It’s the figure released by a number of university-based research groups, like the Wesleyan Media Project.

Week after week, we heard Tommy question Tammy’s patriotism and Tammy question Tommy’s patriotism.  Tommy said he wasn’t questioning Tammy’s patriotism, he was questioning her judgment.  But that’s not the image that was portrayed in the attack ads he ran about one of Tammy’s 12 votes concerning the 9-11 victims.  Tommy’s ads were filled with visual symbolism (like the constant presence of the U.S. flag on screen) and rife with patriotic platitudes, mouthed by people who were boldly identified as members or former members of the armed services, if not actually in uniform.  Those images say “patriotism”, not judgment.

Tammy’s ads were equally obnoxious, using pictures of Tommy looking old and haggard, a clear visual implication that Tommy is no longer an energetic cheerleader for the state, but an old, wrinkled white man who cashed in on his connections.  And there was Tammy’s ad implying that Tommy was fully invested in Iran’s quest to build a nuclear weapon, complete with some boyish announcer who constantly mispronounced “Iran” – which I’m not sure was an act of stupidity on the announcer’s part, or a deliberate attempt by the Baldwin forces to use the popular mispronunciation “eye-RAN” to invoke another emotional tug from low-education low-information voters.

And will any of us ever forget Tammy yelling “You Damn Right” several hundred times a week in Karl Rove’s attack ads?

According to reliable, reputable non-partisan research groups (like the Annenberg Foundation’s Public Policy Center) two Wisconsin TV markets – Madison and Green Bay – were among the top five in the nation for political spending.   The Baldwin-Thompson race accounted for more than 35 million dollars in TV ad buys – the most in Wisconsin history.  As of the end of last week, Wisconsinites were exposed to an average of 763 ads a day in the Presidential race (counting the ad buys in Wisconsin’s five largest TV markets – Neilsen breaks WI into 8 markets) and a stunning 852 ads a day in the Baldwin-Thompson race.

Most of these TV ads (in the 80% range) were paid for by a very small group (fewer than 100) of extremely wealthy people.  As the graphic at the top of this rant illustrates, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision opened the floodgates for essentially unlimited funds from essentially anonymous donors.  And don’t kid yourself:  both sides have cashed in on the Citizens United decision.

Had the entire nation been exposed to the incessant drumbeat of “You Damn Right” and “He’s Not For You Any More” that Wisconsinites have had to stomach for the past month or so, it might have been enough to create the tipping point of revulsion that will motivate an aroused citizenry to force meaningful change in the crooked game of money and politics.

But I’m afraid that it’s going to take a couple more election cycles and another round or two of disgusting, misleading, nasty TV ads to finally motivate the people of this country to demand change.

After all, it’s time for us to start “enjoying” the Black Friday ads again.