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  • OPINION - Myth confirmed

    Posted by Chris Conley

    I've been out sick, and should be back Thursday morning.


    [South Korea Cellphone]

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Since I’ve been sick, I’ve been watching some daytime television. If you are not a regular daytime TV viewer, you’re missing fine programming like MTV’s “16 and Pregnant” and TLC’s “Marriage Counseling”. You’ve also probably missing commercials for the SmartPhone.

    The commercial says you may qualify for up to 200-free minutes a month, and up to 1,000 free text messages. And the commercial goes on to tell you just how you might qualify – by being on food stamps, Medicare, and several other welfare programs.
    This is the Obama Phone.

    The LifeLine program is funded by a special fee on everyone else’s phone bill. It used to be for land-lines only to provide emergency 911 services. Now it’s been extended to cellphones. Many phone companies take part in the program, since they have a chance to upsell their welfare-customers if they go over their usage levels.

    The rumor you heard, that the phone companies and their customers get to ‘self verify’ for the program is also true. That is supposed to be changing soon.

    Well, at least you know it’s not an urban legend.

    The good news is that the Obama Phone wasn’t created through legislation; the change from land line to cellphone eligibility is a rule change from the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington. When someone else is in charge at HHS, the rules could be changed back. Of course, that means someone else must be in the White House. And the people who get Obama Phones seem to be very aware of where this largess is coming from. And they vote accordingly.

    Chris Conley



    The DC Everest hockey team’s season came to an end last night.

    This team has provided more memorable moments in their season than any other I’ve followed this year. They had a 4-3 triple overtime win over Antigo, and a 3-0 win over Wausau-West. The Everest players will remember those games for the rest of their lives. Congratulations on a very nice season.

  • OPINION - "Too Soon"

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) You’ll hear the phrase “too soon” associated with Mindy McCreedy over the next few days. 37-years-old is too soon for a life to end.

    “Too soon” also applies to people who are too young to have fame, fortune, and stardom pushed upon them. She left high school at 16 to pursue her music career. Her number-1 song ‘Guys Do It All The Time’ topped the charts when she was 18-years-old. Her career would never reach those heights again.

    She’d been dropped by two record labels in the years that followed. Her personal life would make far more headlines than her recordings over the next decade. Future comback albums failed. Her more recent releases were distributed by her own web site -- no label would touch her. She was infamous for her bad choices with men and for admitted problems with booze and drugs.

    For every Taylor Swift, who seems to be well-prepared for success at an early age, there are many, many more Mindy McCreedys who crash and burn. The saddest part is that someone with her talent never needs to be down and out; she could have toured the casino and secondary-show circuit for as long as she wanted (and made good money at it) if she could have put her demons behind her.

    On Sunday Mindy McCreedy was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on the front porch of her home in Arkansas. It was the same porch were the ex-boyfriend, David Wilson, took his life a little more than a month ago.

    Chris Conley

  • OPINION - Alternative school

    Posted by Chris Conley

     Alexandra Naba teaching students

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) I have some positive things and some not-so-positive things to say about the Storefront Learning Center, the alternative high school program in Wausau that has run out of money and is about to shut down.

    First, it’s a very positive thing to help kids get through high school who’d otherwise drop out. And it’s unconscionable that the school might shut down before the school year is done. The community needs to come together to keep the school running so this year’s Seniors can earn their diplomas. When a school opens and enrolls students for the academic year, the minimum expectation is that it stay open until the year ends.

    The newspaper has been running special profiles on Storefront Learning Center success stories. These are all cases that are worth celebrating.

    Now, the not-so-good. Schools need economies of scale, and that doesn’t exist for a small storefront school. A few dozen students can’t have their own teachers (3 of them), their own building, curriculum and support staff to be financially viable.

    There’s also a mixed message that we’re sending to these kids. All of us are expected, to some extent, to conform to society. We’ve created a school program that conforms to them. That may be a better alternative than having these students drop out or funk out of regular high school… but it’s also the last time in their lives that such a situation will be built around them. Beyond the Storefront Learning Center we expect these kids to do what everyone else does: wake up on time, go to work, obey the law, be productive members of society.

    I hope students at Storefront Learning Center all graduate. But getting into the routine of a regular school, and having the skills to succeed there, are better lessons to learn in the year ahead.

    Chris Conley

  • OPINION - A statement from the Associate Justice

    Posted by Chris Conley

    Justice Ann Walsh Bradley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) The timing was unmistakable.

    The now-infamous state Supreme Court choking happened in 2010. Justice Ann Walsh-Bradley, the alleged victim at the hands of fellow-justice David Prosser, had said nothing publicly about the case – until yesterday, 6 days before the primary.

    Even more curious than the timing is the way the statement was made. It was a four-page opinion about why Walsh-Bradley decided not to take part in the ethics investigation against Prosser. She could have issued a sentence statement: “because I have direct personal involvement with the case, I am recusing myself from the David Prosser ethics investigation.” Instead the Walsh-Bradley missive rebuts the comments made at a candidate forum by Pat Roggensack, the justice who’s up for reelection. Roggensack offered the opinion that the justices are getting along much better now, and that she wouldn’t run for reelection if there was a high level of acrimony on the court.

    Walsh-Bradley “discloses” three items that were not widely known: First, before the incident she and Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson had gone to capitol police about Justice Prosser’s temper. Second, that she was indeed choked – not some accidental stumble and hands-around-the-neck accidental touching. Third, that she and Abrahamson still lock their office doors when they’re working at night, fearful for their safety.

    Much of this seems like a red herring. Surely Walsh-Bradley knows that justice Prosser’s anger is the most-monitored-temperament in state government. Since the allegations against him are so public, he must be nothing short of ‘Gentleman David’ in public, on the bench, and in private. Indeed, it is Justice Prosser who needs to keep his office door locked. There’s too great a risk that false allegations might be made if one of his rival-justices ever created a situation where they were alone with him.

    Former capitol police chief Charlie Tubbs deserves special criticism. Tubbs is most-often associated with losing control of the capitol building and grounds during the Act 10 protests. Tubbs failed the test of basic police skills in the Prosser case. When Walsh-Bradley first came to him with safety concerns, he set up a personal security plan – giving her a special cellphone, briefing her on what to do if she was threatened, and arranging for security escorts to her car. This is a tremendous miscalculation by the police chief. Every good cop knows that for every ticket, citation, or arrest they made they can diffuse many more situations by talking. Imagine if Tubbs went to Prosser right after the initial complaint was received. “Justice Prosser,” he might say, “one of your colleagues says you have a temper. If you get out of line, I’ll have to do something about it.” That would be good policing. Prosser would be on-notice. The problem, most likely, would have been solved.

    There are several difficult personalities on our highest court. The Chief Justice goads and mocks people… she’s done it to lawyers from the bench, and to other justices on the court. Walsh-Bradley is a passive-aggressive juvenile. Those qualities are likely to push the buttons of someone who has a quick-trigger temper, like Prosser. It’s frustrating to work with child-like people.

    Chris Conley

  • OPINION - Why we should worry about the zombie attack

    Posted by Chris Conley

    Nationwide EAS TEst 

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) It’s been a busy 72 hours for the FCC. The origin of this investigation seems funny, but it’s serious. Hundreds of radio and TV stations aired a false EAS test on Monday – warning of a zombie apocalypse. The emergency message that aired said “… the dead are rising from the graves and attacking the living.” Well, no, they aren’t. The emergency message is a hoax. The EAS system was hacked into.

    How did this happen? A flaw in the technology, and, probably human carelessness.

    Radio stations switched over to new EAS equipment a year ago. The goals behind the new technology was to make it easier for government emergency managers to access the system. (Yes, in a time of emergency, the government can take over radio and TV stations and broadcast messages directly to the audience.) The new system also is designed to accommodate the growing number of smaller stations that aren’t staffed 24/7. The system can relay emergency messages even when no one’s on-duty.

    Some radio and TV stations are ‘originating stations’. That is, emergency messages go there first. Other stations listen for alert tones from those stations. The long beep that you hear automatically trips their EAS boxes, and that’s how the message spreads throughout the system… usually state-wide. In our area WIFC is an originating station, which is why our Midwest Communications studios in Wausau are staffed 24/7. Our EAS box was not hacked into, and we did not air the false zombie apocalypse message.

    In the last year hundreds of new EAS boxes were installed at radio and TV stations around the country. They’re connected to the internet. They came with factory-installed passwords that were supposed to be changed. They’re also supposed to be installed behind a broadcaster’s firewall. All the hackers had to do was find an originating station that didn’t change its factory-password and didn’t have its equipment firewall-protected. If they could get one EAS box to activate, their hoax-message could be relayed to dozens of others. And that’s apparently what they did.

    Yesterday the FCC sent out an urgent message to broadcasters around the country. The instructions: change your EAS password and make sure you’re firewall is working and up-to-date. Radio stations that couldn’t make those changes were told to disconnect their EAS equipment until they could.

    The concern was that hackers could have sent an emergency message during President Obama’s state-of-the-union speech.

    While the zombie warning sounds like a funny, harmless hoax – it isn’t. Rogues who have access to the emergency alert system could send out all kinds of false messages and set off mass panic.

    Chris Conley

  • OPINION - Tougher drunk driving laws

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Wisconsin will consider tougher drunk driving laws again this year. Again the status-quo has the upper hand in a state that has higher-than-average alcohol consumption.

    Currently Wisconsin has the most-lax drunk driving laws in the nation, where a first time offense isn’t considered a criminal matter.

    There’s a new twist in the argument that should be examined further. Assembly speaker Robin Vos says one reason against mandatory jail time is the cost: about $11-million to lock up drunk drivers who are third time offenders. Vos says we need to have a debate over the best way to use our financial resources to fight the problem.

    He’s wrong. Spending money to incarcerate repeat drunk drivers is one of the highest uses of state tax dollars. It keeps me and my family safe from people who are so reckless, and who refuse to change their behavior, that they’re likely to kill or injure someone. People like that – who are a clear danger to others – need to be incarcerated.

    Here’s my drunk driving proposal, which are ideas that are already in place in many other states: For first time offenders: a mandatory fine and a 30-day license suspension. The drunk driver can pay an additional fee to be reinstated. Special penalties should be in place for driving without a license because of drunk driving – 90-days in jail. For second timers: a triple-damages fine, and a one year suspension. For third timers: mandatory jail time.

    Remember, every drunk driver who gets caught has driven drunk before and gotten away with it. It’s not a situation where they deserve leniency.

    If you don’t like my proposal, fine. Pick any other state at random – from Maine to California, Texas to Illinois – and make Wisconsin’s law the same as theirs. I’m certain that it’ll be an improvement over what we have now.

    Chris Conley

  • OPINION - The American pope?

    Posted by Chris Conley

    Milwaukee Catholic Archbishop Timothy Dolan celebrates a mass with prison inmates in Waupun, Wisconsin in this November 21, 2007 file picture. Pope Benedict has named Dolan, 59, as the next archbishop of New York, the Vatican said on February 23, 2009. Picture taken November 21, 2007. REUTERS/Allen Fredrickson/Files

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) The idea of Timothy Dolan as the next pope is a product of the American media. We must find an angle to every news story. So news producers and reporters set out to find ‘the American candidate for pope.’ Those who know the Catholic church understand that there will never be an American pope. Our American culture is so awash in materialism that our view of the spiritual world is skewed. The American clergy swims in that same ocean. That’s not where the College of Cardinals goes fishing for the next pontiff.

    None of this is to say that Timothy Dolan isn’t a fine Cardinal and an able leader of his flock. But the American media circulating his name drowns out the more important questions surrounding the story. The traditionalists within the Catholic church will be more insistent than ever that one of their own be their next leader. To go more than 25 years without an Italian pope is unheard of. There will be strong arguments that a leader who models traditional catholic values will cause people to look to faith as the secular world seems to spin out of control.

    There are other equally strong voices who say a progressive, perhaps from Africa or South America, is the best way to attract new followers to the church. A younger leader, perhaps in his 50s, could solidify the church as a potent force in the developing world.

    The debate, which will take place entirely behind closed doors, will be fascinating.

    Chris Conley

  • OPINION - Shameful exploitation after an unspeakable tragedy

    Posted by Chris Conley


    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) This is exploitation that needs to stop immediately.

    If you watch Sunday night’s Grammy Awards, you’ll see a musical performance by a children’s choir from Connecticut: the Newtown Music Project. They’ve already performed at a benefit concert, sung the National Anthem at Madison Square Garden, and have released an iTunes single. But most of them are not from Sandy Hook Elementary School, or even from Newtown; they’re from surrounding communities. A New York promoter - Tim Hayes - is handling the group. And the only reason anyone pays more attention to these children singing, as opposed to, say, the 6th grade chorus at your local elementary school, is that this group took the name of a community where an unspeakable tragedy took place. And that is an outrage.

    Tim Hayes organizes a music festival in New York City, and runs a company that creates commercials and promotional videos. The music director for this group is Sabrina Post, who runs a private performing arts academy in Connecticut. According to a 2005 newspaper report she lost her job as a music teacher at Newtown High School for bogus expense reports submitted to the school district.

    Imagine for a moment that this children’s choir is authentic. It would still be disturbing that eight weeks after a school massacre, students who lived through it are touring the country giving performances. Instead we have adult opportunists manipulating tragic circumstances.

    Please note, the Newtown Music Project that I write about is different that the group that performed with Jennifer Hudson during the Super Bowl pregame show. They indeed were students from Sandy Hook Elementary School, and their travel expenses for that one-time-only appearance was paid for by an anonymous donor. And I’m uneasy about that, too. Can a grade-schooler possibly comprehend this? How, when they’re older, will they process that their young friends were blown away in November, and in February they were on national TV at the year's biggest football game. Imagine the complicated emotions as their thoughts mature from the child-mind thinking that good things come from bad things. Yet that's the message thekids are getting from the actions of the adults in the music and entertainment industry who have surrounded them.

    Nothing good comes from the killing of 20 young children. Nothing. These kids need space and time and quiet – not whirlwind celebrity. What’s happening here is disgusting. I’m supposed to feel uplifted by children’s’ voices raised in song. Instead, I’m sad and angry.

    Chris Conley


    The Washington Post reported on the Newtown Music Project:

    And here’s the 2005 newspaper article about the group’s music director Sabrina Post:

  • OPINION - The Star Spangled Banner

    Posted by Chris Conley

     click to enlarge

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) If you’re up early tomorrow morning (or any weekday morning), you’ll hear the National Anthem played on WSAU right before the 5am news. The version we’ve used for years is from the U.S. Marine Band, a traditional, upbeat, brass-laden instrumental.

    Shortly after arriving at WSAU, Seth Mela asked if he could, from time to time, pick an alternate version of the National Anthem. I agreed. And now on Friday mornings we air a rock & roll electric guitar version of The Star Spangled Banner.

    You’d be amazed at how many complaint calls I’ve received. Some people think that it’s disrespectful.

    They’re wrong.

    If our National Anthem is somehow being mocked or ridiculed (think Rosanne Barr at the Padres baseball game from 1990), I’d be offended. But that’s not what’s happening here. On Friday mornings, a rock band is honoring our country. To me it’s no different than an all-strings orchestra, or an organist, or an acapella singer performing our national song. Since covering high school sports this year, I’ve heard dozens of National Anthem performances, from trumpet solos, to marching bands, from country crooners to soulful R & B belters. I’ve heard high schoolers struggle in their performances, and grade-schoolers who were excellent.

    We all have our favorites. I prefer the traditional arrangement of the music. I also prefer it to be sung up-tempo, symbolizing America on-the-march, instead of as a mournful hymn or funeral dirge. But this is a kind of diversity that I celebrate. If our country is being saluted by a Mexican mariachi band, or a German um-pa band, or Jimi Hendrix on his Fender Stratocaster, I’ll still stand up, remove my cap, and place my hand over my heart. I wonder why others are offended.

    Chris Conley

  • OPINION - Consumption tax

    Posted by Chris Conley

    San Fransisco 5.00 US FRN 1950B Var Slabbed

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU)  The Walker Administration is talking behind the scenes about eliminating the state income tax. It would be offset with an increase in the state sales tax. The proposal is revenue-neutral if the sale tax rises from 5-cents to 13-cents.

    This is the classic shift to a consumption tax. We pay when we consume something (by making a purchase), instead of when we create something (through or work and labor).

    There’s nothing wrong with the change – but there is one challenge. State government needs to recognize what it is, and how to deal with it. Then the proposal gets my ‘green-light’.

    Sales tax revenue swings wildly from week-to-week and month-to-month, whereas the income tax doesn’t. There’s a psychological component to making purchases. When people aren’t feeling good about the economy, they don’t buy as much. If I think the economy is lousy and my hours might be cut back at work, I may not buy a new computer. I’ll hold off on remodeling my kitchen or buying a new car if I don’t feel financially secure. The most stable purchases – food – is generally exempt from sales tax. The big-ticket items, which bring in the most sales tax, ride up and down on the waves of consumer sentiment and the overall economy.

    The income tax tends to be a more-stable revenue stream. Either you’re working or you’re not. Indeed income tax revenue does go down when unemployment is high, but the tax collection hinges on only one event: whether you’re hired or fired.

    So, under a sales tax model there will be times when state government will be flush with cash and other times when the treasury will be bare. The solution: the state needs a larger rainy day fund, and the disciple not to use it for unnecessary spending. Government has a mixed record on things like that. If we can get that level of fiscal discipline from our leaders, there’s no reason why Wisconsin’s income tax can’t be thrown on the scrap heap.

    Chris Conley

  • OPINION - Change... and our ratings

    Posted by Chris Conley

    Antique radio microphone.

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU)   If you’ve listened to WSAU for many years, you know that our radio station has seen a lot of change in the last year. Pat Snyder decided to run for office, and Seth Mela took over our morning show. Michael Savage won his lawsuit, took his program off the air, and was replaced by Mark Levin. Our long-time news director Matt Lehman is in Minnesota. Andy Dean and Clyde Martin are hosting late night programs.

    For a radio station that’s been very stable over the years, this is a lot of change for six months for WSAU. And those six months covered part of the annual fall ratings period.

    And now the ratings are in. They are up – a lot.

    WSAU is now the most-listened-to radio station in Wausau-Stevens Point. We’re also number one in Marathon County, and in Portage-Wood counties.

    The WSAU Wisconsin Morning News is the most-listened-to morning program in Central Wisconsin. Rush Limbaugh continues to win his time slot.

    There are a few things at work here. The fall elections put ‘the wind at our backs’ as many people tuned to WSAU for political coverage. All those negative political commercials probably hurt music stations and helped news/talk stations. We, indeed, hired well. Seth Mela has been popular morning host. Packers and Badgers football games are also ratings winners.

    As we continue to have ratings success, I want to make sure to say ‘thank you’. Change is inevitable. We’ve been through a lot of change recently, and I’m glad that you’re among our many loyal listeners.

    Chris Conley

  • OPINION - Beyond my attention span

    Posted by Chris Conley

    Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (C) raises the Vince Lombardi Trophy as he celebrates victory over the San Francisco 49ers in their NFL Super Bowl XLVII football game in New Orleans, Louisiana, February 3, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Young

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Everyone knows that our attention-spans are getting shorter. This isn’t just a younger-generation phenomenon. In this high-speed-internet driven on-demand world, we tend not to focus on one thing for very long.

    While watching the Super Bowl, I realized the game is entirely too long. It pushes the boundaries of my attention span, and I’m an older and generally-patient person. Even without the partial black-out and the 34-minute delay that followed, the biggest event in sports doesn’t hold my interest for four-hours. I'm sure that there are very few younger fans who can sit still and watch the entire game.

    A regular NFL game has 6 commercial breaks in each quarter, and a break between each quarter. They last 90-seconds, plus a 15-second network promo if it’s a national game. The Super Bowl puts 8 commercial breaks per quarter at two-and-a-half minutes each. A ‘normal’ NFL halftime is 12-minutes; Super Bowl halftime runs 38-minutes (shortened from 42-minutes last year).

    Obviously the Super Bowl transcends sports. It’s an entertainment and advertising extravaganza. It is also a cash-cow – there’s no four hour block of broadcasting that makes more money.

    But the game itself is altered. The quality of play is not as good when there are more and longer stoppages. It’s impossible for there to be “game flow” within the Super Bowl broadcast format.

    There’s nothing like the Super Bowl. But the football is better during the preceding three weeks of playoff games.

    Chris Conley