Wisconsin will be home to a new liberal-leaning radio station starting today. Devil’s Advocate Radio is buying WRRD-AM (1510) from Craig Karmazin’s Good Karma Broadcasting. Devil’s Advocate Radio is owned by college roommates Dominic Salvia and Michael Crute, who also host a show which will be part of the new lineup.
Crute says he’s not really ready to flip the switch on yet, “But time stops for no man. We will introduce the format and the morning host, Earl Ingram up to the syndicated Stephanie Miller at 8 a.m. We still have engineers installing K-1 and K-2 tones for our national show tonight.” His Devil’s Advocate show goes live at 2 and national from 3-5.
Crute, who wears the liberal label very proudly, says the station will be more progressive-leaning. The station lineup will include Bill Press, Miller, and Thom Hartman. As radio executives know, liberal radio has been tried many times, and has never really caught on, as conservative talk radio has. We spoke to Crute about his new station and how he plans to make it work.
Radio Ink: How long have you been doing your show and what does your content focus on?
Michael Crute: The Devil’s Advocates Radio Show is a partnership of college roommates, Dominic Salvia and myself. We loved to argue politics late at night over Rush Limbaugh, Sports Center, and Beavis and Butthead viewing. We remained close friends as Dominic completed his MBA and moved into the business world, where he helped start and built a successful staffing agency, which he later sold. I gave up dreams of broadcast after two poverty-stricken years working in sports, and later as a news videographer/producer after graduation for small-market WXOW-TV 19.
I entered business through sales, and eventually sales management. I purchased a property management firm in 2008 and worked there happily and prosperously until the Wisconsin Uprising. Mass political protests erupted in reaction to anti-union legislation, ram-rodded into place by the newly elected Republican majority. The issue divided Wisconsin. Dominic and I still enjoyed the end of the bar political arguments we always
had prior, but found ourselves being shushed Friday night in a bar. Wisconsin was so partisan and polarized, politics could no longer be discussed publicly. We sensed an opportunity to restart a dialogue, and approached the local iHeart affiliate where I advertised, WXXM 92.1 FM, “The Progressive Mic” about renting studio time. They offered us a Saturday block program, we wrote the check.
The show “soft” launched in February 2012, as a one-hour Saturday noon, block program, with a single sponsor (my own property management company). On our first show, we took approximately nine callers including a sitting Wisconsin State Assembly Representative. We were hooked immediately. Within five weeks we had found sponsors and expanded to two hours. By the following January we had a weekday, one-hour show, still with brokered time. By the end of that year we were a two-hour show, and by June of 2014 we had carved out a whole day-part, the 3-6 p.m. CT afternoon drive.
Our Wisconsin-centric political show took a national turn when Governor Scott Walker ran for President. Walker went to Iowa and we chased. His official candidacy faltered after just 71 days, but the Devil’s
Advocates stayed on the road, traveling and broadcasting from primary states across the country. Live shows from six debates, the RNC and DNC. We live-broadcasted dozens of campaign rallies from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. In October of 2016, we signed a National syndication deal with WYM Media Management, and thought we were well on our way.
Radio Ink: How has the recent election impacted your daily content and what feedback are you getting from listeners?
Michael Crute: The Mic 92.1 terminated our brokered relationship, effective the day before the Presidential election, November 7. It would seem they bet on Hillary Clinton, and did not think the left would need talk radio, in light of her expected electoral victory. We cried in our beers at an election night bar event, we hosted as a last celebration with our local fans. The audience, like I, felt doubly punched in the stomach by the election of Donald Trump.
Our audience, overwhelmingly opposed to Trump, felt silenced, mislead by the polling, and stunned that #NeverTrump Wisconsin Republicans had come home, pushing Trump to electoral victory in a state that had been Presidential-year blue since 1984.
Radio Ink: How did you come across a radio station in Milwaukee to purchase?
Michael Crute: We now had a profitable show and loyal local sponsors, but no local station willing to air our show. We also had a syndication deal to keep. We scrambled calling radio ownership groups seeking a partner to flip or lease a format. Craig Karmizin, Good Karma Brands, said no. But he offered to sell me his Waukesha/Milwaukee 23 kHz class D daytimer, currently formatted ESPN Deportes.
Radio Ink: Why purchase a radio station rather than continuing to do your show they way you are doing it now?
Michael Crute: Lacking means to generate or retain local ad revenue, lacking an established national audience to drive fair national rates, the additional cost of ongoing studio rental, and technology investments required for syndication, all suggested we were headed toward a slow financial bleed ending in eventual failure.
Radio Ink: Are there enough liberal broadcasters to put together a full-time liberal station and succeed at it?
Michael Crute: We don’t label the Devil’s Advocates show as liberal, although I personally wear the term with honor. Most Wisconsin media outlets pigeonhole our product as lefty, discounting my contrarian/Libertarian partner, and the many conservatives and Republicans that appear as guests. We don’t intend to make our hosts or sponsors declare a team or a political party. We don’t intend to brand the station as liberal, just fact-driven news/talk.
Liberal radio has gotten a bad rap since the failure of Air America. The loss of the Nationally syndicated progressive talkers, Ed Schultz and Rhandi Rhodes, in rapid succession, further shook up listening habits, spooked some PDs into flipping formats, and made it difficult to plug in a 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., live progressive format. Many liberals love and support NPR through pledges, but are sometimes ideologically resistant to supporting commercial or corporate endeavors. Couple that with some sponsor resistance to back any divisive talk radio product after the damaging words of Rush Limbaugh regarding Sandra Fluke, and the boycotts that were triggered. Financial success will not come from a narrow idealogical echo-chambering.
The L.A.-based Stephanie Miller Show has earned a loyal following, with her humorously toned “progressive” morning show, which will appear on News/Talk 1510 AM between 8-11 CT. The cerebral Thom Hartmann 11-2 p.m. CT, features honest, respectful debate, and appeals beyond the echo-chamber left. Both are well established and have earned their respective successes.
We feel like the Devil’s Advocates show is entertaining, informative, funny, and broadly appealing. We will help “progressive PDs” nationwide round out their afternoon drive with a strong, dynamic product, not available until very recently. News/Talk 1510 will have the best of both worlds, a local Milwaukee favorite in morning drive 6-8 CT; The Earl Ingram Show. Ingram has an established local following, from years on 1290 AM, a formerly African-American talk-formatted station.
News/Talk will have a pair of established, talented, popular national products, and a Wisconsin-centric, local hour of the Devil’s Advocates, before turning to national politics and welcoming our national audience.
Radio Ink: Why do you think advertisers will support your format?
Michael Crute: Because the Devil’s Advocates has consistently provided ROI to our sponsors, many of whom have committed to come back on-board from day one. The Devil’s Advocates show will contain 40% of all local daytime inventory on sale. In the Winter 2016 book, our strongest quarter last year, when the show was constantly on the road, the Devil’s Advocates finished second in AQH in the #100 Madison market 520k population.
The Devil’s were second with Men 25-54, second with women 35+ (beating Top 40 in afternoon drive), and fourth with all people. The Devil’s doubled the AQH of our head-to-head conservative talk competition, left successful sports talk products far behind, and had the highest TSL of any station in the day part.
Milwaukee is the #41 media market at approximately 1.5 million population. Initial, high-frequency ad rates are at just 50% of the per unit cost of what the Devil’s Advocates average per-minute local ads sold for in Madison. Selling out the day prime inventory, calculated on the shortest broadcast day of the year, still creates an acceptable margin of profit year one.
The Earl Ingram Show has it’s own loyal sponsors in the wings.
Because we strongly believe in connecting with community and incorporating the sponsors into the broadcast format, endorsing sponsors during on-air segments, and allowing them to demonstrate products and services on air, in show, reinforced with host-voiced spots and live reads.
Radio Ink: Liberal radio has been tried many times before. Why do you think your station will succeed?
Michael Crute: The Devil’s Advocates succeeded locally because Wisconsin was so thirsty for what we began to offer during a rancorous political time, we simply provided the state a drink. In the current political times, with Trump as President and Scott Walker preparing to run for Governor again, reasonable Wisconsinites from the far left, to the great political middle are dying of thirst…a thirst for facts, a voice, and a station and hosts courageous enough to speak truth to power. We are fully prepared to give the entire Milwaukee metro (and even distant-signal-covered Madison) another drink of sanity.
Reach out to Michael Crute at [email protected]