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  • OPINION: Our report card

    Posted by Chris Conley


    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Twice a year, radio stations in Central Wisconsin get their ratings. We got ours last week.

    And we are all smiles.

    I’m not allowed to quote specific numbers, but I am able to talk in general about how WSAU and our other Midwest Communications radio stations did. We did very well.

    The broadest ratings measure is 12+ audience (audience that’s 12-years-old and above). At Midwest Communications-Wausau, we have never had such a large share of the 12+ pie. We have one-third more of the audience than our nearest competitor. Midwest Communications also has the largest share of the 25-54 audience, the “money demographic” that most ad agencies request.

    As for WSAU, we have never had a larger audience.

    These are the first ratings since WSAU-FM began operations. Our most familiar hosts did best. Rush Limbaugh was #1 among Portage and Wood County adults; Sean Hannity was #2.

    I work with the most talented broadcasters in Central Wisconsin. When you put the best people on-the-air, you get the largest audience.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau

  • OPINION: Smokers sometimes push back

    Posted by Chris Conley

    A final train-themed blog. This time, a true story from the smoking car…

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) 1992. I was headed back to college at Syracuse on Amtrak Train 63. I almost missed it, climbing aboard just as she began to pull out of Grand Central Station. The train was full. The only seats available were in the smoking car. I don’t smoke… but I didn’t want to stand either. So I made the best of a not-so-good situation.

    Train 63’s final destination was Toronto. It was pulled by an American engine to Niagara Falls, where a Canadian locomotive took over. On this day’s run, the train was staffed by a Canadian conductor and his two assistants.

    Even in 1992, job rules in Canada require that all employees have a smoke-free work environment. The conductor got on the PA and asked all passengers to put out their cigarettes until all the tickets were collected. It would take about 15 minutes. Then they were free to smoke again.

    You would have thought the passengers were just told the train jumped the tracks. There was lots of grumbling. A few obscenities were heard. Some smokers refused. Others lit up as soon as their tickets were collected, when the conductor had moved just a few seats down the isle. For me, it was a first look at some of the ill-will that existed between smokers and non-smokers.

    This kind of over-reaching goes the other way too. Consider the smoking ban being considered for the UW-Stevens Point campus. Of course it includes an indoor smoking bad. That’s universal in Wisconsin come this July. But what about a smoking ban in the dormitories? While a student living in a dorm is not a traditional landlord-tenant relationship, do students have some limited right to smoke in what amounts to their home? What about smoking on the outdoor grounds of the campus? Is anyone harmed by a person lighting up in an open area?

    I don’t smoke. My five hour train ride to Syracuse was miserable… full of watery eyes and a headache, and a smell that seemed to linger on my clothes for days. But I was in the smoking car. The people sitting near me had the right. And it’s a right that has since been taken away. There are no smoking cars anymore. And a five-hour train ride to Syracuse is a long stretch for someone who has a smoking habit.

    Smokers have been pushed around, a lot. And I’ve seen there is a point when they start to push back.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau

  • OPINION: A quick word about high-speed rail

    Posted by Chris Conley

    Voters Approve High-Speed Rail for California

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) High speed trains have been in the news a lot lately.

    Your resident train buff has a thing or two to say about them.

    First, what trains are really good at: short to mid-distance trips between two highly populated cities. The only thing close to high-speed train service in the U.S. is the Acela, operated by Amtrak, that runs between New York and Washington. 125 miles per hour, 3 hours, downtown to downtown. When you factor in airport check-in time, and flights that take off and land far from city-centers, the train is faster. And cheaper. And has been well-received by riders.

    Are there other city pairs that make sense for similar high-speed rail service? Yes. Chicago-Milwaukee, Chicago-Detroit, LA-San Diego.

    Now, the bad news. Even our fastest trains are slow by European and Asian standards. Theirs travel at 200-miles-per-hour. At those speeds, trains need their own dedicated track--not shared with slower commuter or freight trains -- with gentle curves and super-engineered elevation, and no at-grade railroad crossings.

    So why do other nations have it, and we don't? Cost and necessity. Other nations have socialist-level taxes and stronger government power to seize land for projects like this. And other nations don't have domestic airline flights. Flying from Brussels to Berlin or Osaka to Toyko is the equivalent of flying from Madison to Milwaukee. In Europe and Asia, high speed trains have replaced short-hop air travel.

    If we could get trains that travel at 200-miles-per-hour rail would be competitive with air for other further-away city pairs. Los Angeles-to-San Francisco, Dallas-t0-Houston and Miami-Orlando-Tampa would be in play. But only at European speeds. And those projects, which are tremendously expensive, received federal funding.

    But politics clouds good policy. Florida, Texas and California couldn't get all the high speed rail money. It has to be shared with other states like Wisconsin. But Wisconsin's train projects aren't high speed. Upgrading the Milwaukee to Chicago line to 110-miles-per-hour means removing some railroad crossings, using heavier rail, and buying specially engineered locomotives. The Milwaukee-to-Madison proposal, with top speeds of 79-miles-per-hour, is little more than a spiffed-up commuter run. Federal funding will pay for laying new track, as the route between the two cities hasn't been finalized, and Madison still needs to pick a location for its train station.

    And regardless of how these rail projects pan out, they will not pay for themselves even after they're built.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau

  • Center Stage show notes - 01/29/10

    Posted by Raymond Neupert

    Wausau Area Events

    WSAU producer Raymond Neupert here with a return of the Center Stage News Blog. There's a bit of news to cover this week as Wausau Area Events gets a new director. Today Matt is speaking with Kari Rassmussen, who was appointed to the role at a Tuesday meeting for the Wausau Area events board, and the board for Main Street Wausau. You can find a link to all of the upcoming events this summer from their website at

    There's plenty to do out in the cold this weekend. Here's your weekend calendar of events.

    Despite official opening ceremonies next week, plenty of events run this weekend for Badger State Games. Tomorrow and Sunday, head out to Sunnyvale Park for the Snowmobile Racing Events. The Archery tournaments run this weekend at the Rib Mountain Archery Club in Brokaw. You can find a complete listing of events online at

    If you've got an urge to show everyone just how good of an ice fisherman you are, you'll have your chance this weekend with the annual Mosinee Ice Fishing Tournament. It's held this weekend at the Half Moon Bar in Mosinee. It's just 10 dollars a person for the event, with cash prizes for 1st through 3rd place. All proceeds will be going to Kippenberg Creek Kids. The tournament opens tomorrow morning. For more information, log on to

    If you're looking for the up and coming bright stars of comedy, you don't have to go any further than the Grand Theatre this weekend for Second City. For half a century, this Chicago troupe has been the crucible of American comedy, forging both the troupes that brought you Whose Line is it Anyway and Saturday Night Live. Join in the current generation of the Second Citizens as they mix hilarious classic bits and songs with timely satirical insights and the freshest of improvisation. Tickets to the show are just 19 to 39 dollars, and available online at, or by calling Artsblock at 842-0988.

    Next week, we'll head to the Woodson Art Museum and learn about 3 millenia of native art with their new exhibit Las Artes de Mexico.

    Raymond Neupert

    WSAU Production

    Center Stage 01/29/10

  • OPINION: One area to work together

    Posted by Chris Conley

    It was a highly partisan State of the Union address. There was only one area that had a true feeling of compromise. If the President was genuine, it could be the issue that Republicans and Democrats can work together on. It would also help with an urgent problem.

    First, what it wasn’t.

    • It was not health care. Democrats, by last week’s defeat in Massachusetts, know this issue is a political loser despite what the President said. Large scale health care reform will not be revisited. Republicans won’t give the Dems a victory; Democrats want to change the subject before Election Day.
    • It wasn’t on the spending freeze. Spending money is bipartisan in Congress. There will be little support on capital hill for freezing social programs, or for a commission to recommend cuts.
    • It wasn’t on the jobs initiative. Whatever stimulus comes next will be small by comparison, and won’t change the overall jobs picture.
    • It wasn’t on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. No matter how heart-felt the President’s feelings are, pushing this change in an election year is a political loser. Even the President’s supporters will wish he raised this issue in 2011, after the fall election.

    The area that holds the opportunity for true bipartisanship is energy policy. Obama offered a list of concessions to Republicans… lifting some limits on off-shore drilling, supporting ‘modern, safe nuclear power’, backing clean coal technology. These are issues the GOP will support. The President has also signaled something by what he didn’t say. The Cap and Trade energy bill is dead for this year. No energy company would engage in new oil drilling or build clean-coal power plants in a carbon-credit environment.

    What does the President get in return for these big energy concessions? Two things: First, he could have pro-drilling, pro-nuclear, pro-clean coal bills from Congress quickly. They would will bipartisan support and would show he can work with the other side. And Obama gives some political cover to Democrats in Congress who face tough reelection fights. He knows unemployment will be high and the economy will be growing slowly, if at all, by November. His political allies could not survive the added weight of being blamed for $4 gas this summer.

    Obama’s energy compromise tells us something else. The White House is not tone-deaf about the current political environment. The more-radical, more socialist parts of the agenda are on-hold at least until Election Day, and perhaps indefinitely. The Oval Office has received the message from the West Wing pollsters and number-crunchers. Dozens of seats are at risk, and right now the landscape looks bleak.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau

  • OPINION: The impossible cuts

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) The words haven’t even made it from the President’s lips, and already there is no hope of a true spending freeze in Washington. Even the modest proposal the President is offering isn’t a true freeze. “Frozen” programs would still be increased for inflation. Some programs would be exempt. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calls for a similar freeze on defense spending. The White House is pushing back on that.

    And when the freeze-that-isn’t-a-freeze list comes out, there will be a feeding frenzy in Congress to get more pet projects exempted. Farmers will want their programs exempt. Green energy – they’re a powerful lobby these days – they’ll argue for an exemption. The highway lobby, construction, aviation, science and education. They will all want to be spared.

    Discretionary spending, which makes up about $440-billion dollars of our federal budget, is about 10-percent overall spending. And there is no political will to make any meaningful cuts. Entitlement programs, the real ‘meat’ of our federal budget, are not on the table. The costs of servicing our national debt, which will be greater than discretionary spending in 10 years if we don’t reverse course, cannot be on the table for fear of throwing the world economy into a tailspin.

    Congress will do less than the President proposes. In fact, much more is needed.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau

  • OPINION: A Governor's Legacy

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) While listening to last night’s State of the State address, I began thinking about Governor Doyle’s legacy. He has 11 more months before the full story of his time in office can be written. But as of today, his successes will be magnified. His faults (and there is one big fault that taints my view of the Governor) will be minimized.

    Doyle’s biggest achievement right now is health care. With modest resources, our Governor has extended health insurance coverage to every child in the state. It’s a laudable achievement. Money isn’t available for universal coverage. Children are most vulnerable, have the least control over their family’s financial circumstances, and offer the best return-on-investment for health care dollars. Putting them at the front of the health insurance line makes sense. Allowing their families to buy into the same plan, while paying a premium based on their income, brings health insurance to a large swath of the state’s population. The proposed Badgercare Basic, extended to childless families that meet income requirements, will bring the state very close to universal coverage.

    The expansion of Badgercare has been expensive. It has already taken up more money that originally budgeted, and it has the potential to crowd out funding for other programs. Still, health care is a major issue of the day, and Governor Doyle has had more success on it than other universal coverage states like Massachusetts and Hawaii. He’s certainly been more successful than Barack Obama.

    And when Governor Doyle leaves the executive mansion, it will be interesting to see if his focus is on fundraising for The Wisconsin Covenant. He’s signed up students for the last three years, promising them enough financial aid to attend college within the UW system if they get good grades in high school. But the legislature has never funded the program. Doyle has talked of a private foundation that would raise the money to fund The Wisconsin Covenant. If that becomes Doyle’s focus out-of-office, and if he has success, his legacy will be secure.

    Doyle’s detractors will point to Wisconsin’s comparatively high tax rates, and the state’s disturbing budget deficits as marks against his time in office. Those issues will fade. The state’s finances have always shifted through good times and bad.

    My biggest problem with the Governor has been his abuse of the line-item veto. For much of his time in office, Governor Doyle rewrote state budgets to his own will, striking out parts of sentences and stringing unrelated numbers together to alter spending lines, tax rates, and percentages that impact any number of government programs. It took a constitutional amendment to reign in these excesses. It was not illegal. Other Governors before him have done the same thing, although not on this level. But Doyle’s thinking is revealed through the process: there is no respect for separation of powers. The legislature is marginalized. The executive power is swelled. In my mind, it stains his time in office.

    Time will be kind to Governor Doyle. His faults will fade through the sand of time. His successes will last beyond his time in office. His legacy will be largely positive.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau

    I will be away on Wednesday to attend the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association winter meeting in Madison. I’ll return to the WSAU Wisconsin Morning News on Thursday.

  • OPINION: The Balanced Budget Commission

    Posted by Chris Conley

    The U.S. Capitol Building

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) The closest thing to immortality is a federal government program.

    Every time the government creates a new spending program, it becomes someone’s sacred cow. Someone depends on that government service. Someone depends on that program for a government job. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich says when he was first elected to Washington he was surprised to get a visit from the ice man. Fifty years after the widespread availability of mechanical refrigeration, the ice-delivery contract to the Capitol building lived on. Every few days ice would be delvered to congressional offices. It was scrapped when Gingrich became speaker.

    The latest proposal to cut spending is to create a special blue-ribbon commission to hold hearings and recommend programs to be eliminated. The panel may also have the power to propose fee and tax increases. President Obama is likely to propose this idea during his State of The Union address this week.

    Because any individual cut would be unpopular with some constituency, the panel’s entire recommendations would have to be voted on as a package. No changes allowed. This would also be political cover. Democrats could say they voted for the committee report, instead of voting on specific cuts. Republicans could say they voted for the committee report, instead of for tax increases.

    What’s wrong with this picture? To start with, it shows that we are not governed by serious people. On the big issues, from health care, to social security, to the deficit, our leaders can’t make the hard decisions because they would be politically unpopular. There may also be Constitutional problems, since power to tax and spend rests solely with Congress – not with a blue-ribbon committee that Congress may create.

    Here’s an idea that will never happen: Democrats, even without 60-votes in the U.S. Senate, can use reconciliation to pass any budget they want. Dems control the White House and both houses of Congress. The chances they will propose a balanced budget are zero. Democrats, like the Republicans before them, know that voters are more interested in getting government services that we can’t afford than living within our means.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau

    Commentator George Will is also opposed to the Balanced Budget Commission, and proposes that member of Congress suspend their own pay while the Commission is doing their work. Read his op-ed piece here:

  • OPINION: Conan's goodbye

    Posted by Chris Conley

    Conan O'Brien, Late Night with Conan O'Brien

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Years ago when I worked for a very large broadcasting company one of my jobs was to ‘show people the door.’ This wasn’t the same as firing someone. My duties kicked in when an on-air person was resigning. They may have given two weeks notice… but they would never get to go on-air for their final show.

    Management decided it was too temping for radio personalities to say something disparaging about the company or their co-workers during their very last time on-air. So just before their very last show, it was my job to line-up a fill-in host, and greet the departing employee at the studio door. “Jim, I’ve decided you won’t be doing your last show today” is what I’d say. If they were well-liked: “many of us want to say goodbye to you. We have cake and a small going away party in the conference room.” If there were not well liked: “we’d like you to use these final hours to clean out your desk and sign your paperwork.”

    NBC television could have used someone like me. The Conan O’Brien departure has been one of the most messy divorces in the history of broadcasting. Every night he’s been on-air, pushing the envelope with criticism of his employer. Personally, I think it’s bad form… but NBC kept him on air. A foolish decision? Maybe, but the ratings have gone up as people tune-in for Conan’s nightly rant. And this is the same network that thought it was a good idea to shuffle Jay Leno and The Tonight Show in the first place.

    It all ends tonight, with Conan’s $45-million dollar severance and one final show. Unless someone meets him at the studio door… Would it be going-away cake, or clean out your desk?

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau

  • OPINION: McCain-Feingold

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) I like riding trains. The only cross-country trains in the United States are operated by Amtrak. Amtrak operates with a subsidy from the federal government.

    By its very nature, Amtrak is political. The size, type, and schedules of the trains Amtrak runs are dependent on the size of the government subsidy.

    Suppose that I would really like to see train service restored between Wausau and Chicago, as it was before 1972. What if I join four or five like-minded friends and we pool $500 each to begin running radio ads. Our message, “ask Congressman Obey to restore train service to Wausau.”

    Under McCain-Feingold campaign finance laws, we couldn’t run those commercials within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election. We’d have to register as a political lobbying group. We would certainly need an accountant and a legal advisor to navigate the Federal Elections Commission rules. And with our small budget of a few thousand dollars, we probably wouldn’t even bother.

    You may not care about whether passenger trains even run in Wausau again. But the same rules apply to issues you do care about: gun control, abortion, the environment, taxes, health care, term limits. Should you and your friends be prohibited from pooling your resources and expressing your political opinions?

    It is true that large corporations, national labor unions, and PACs worth millions are more likely to run issue ads than small groups of private citizens. But the size of your membership or your bank account doesn’t determine your free speech rights. And speech right before an election – when people are deciding who to vote for – is the most important speech.

    In plain, unambiguous language our Founding Fathers wrote: “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech.” McCain-Feingold doesn’t square with the Constitution. We should not mourn its passing after yesterday’s Supreme Court decision.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau

  • OPINION: How we covered Tom Barrett's campaign visit

    Posted by Matt Lehman

    Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett campaigns in Wausau

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) - Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett's goal in visiting Wausau's business incubator on Tuesday was to promote his vision for creating jobs in Wisconsin, if elected governor.

    That was the angle of the story I focused on in reporting on his visit as you can read here:

    The area's two TV stations took a different twist on Barrett's visit - zeroing in on an award he received from the Everest Men Respect group for his efforts to save a woman involved in a domestic dispute as he left the Wisconsin State Fair in West Allis last summer.

    Here is how WSAW-TV 7 covered it:

    And WAOW-TV 9 reported it this way:

    The award is a feel-good angle and Barrett is deserving of recognition for sustaining injuries in protecting a woman from an aggressive lover. But the TV stations failed in their duty to report on what a political candidate's views are on important issues of the day.

    Matt Lehman
    WSAU News Director

  • OPINION: A candidate in Wisconsin should learn the 'Massachusetts lesson'

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Candidate for Governor Tom Barrett visited Wausau yesterday.

    WSAU news sent a reporter to cover the visit.

    Nothing unusual happened. A candidate gave a stump speech about the economy and jobs. All typical campaign-trail stuff.

    But everything leading up to yesterday’s Barrett appearance was not typical.

    Barrett’s campaign never told us that he was coming to Wausau. His stop in Wausau was mentioned in a newswire story from his stop in LaCrosse a day earlier. No press release was sent to our newsroom. No campaign representative called us.

    Knowing that he was coming, we were looking for the time of Barrett’s arrival. We went on-line and searched for his web site. I’m sure he has one. But for you search “Tom Barrett for Governor”, his official campaign web site doesn't come up. A Facebook fan page does… but that’s maintained by his supporters, and doesn’t have a campaign schedule.

    We searched the on-line phone book for Barrett campaign headquarters. We couldn’t find it.

    We made contact with another news organization in Milwaukee. Could they share some contact information with us? All they had was the Mayor’s office in Milwaukee. Not a campaign office.

    Eventually, after a call to a reporter at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, we had a phone number where we could reach someone from the Barrett campaign.

    Isn’t one of the lessons from Massachusetts that you can’t run a lackadaisical, disorganized campaign and expect to win? Tom Barrett is the likely Democratic nominee for Governor. Many people consider him the front-runner. Barrett and his supporters should not expect a victory unless they get their act together.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau