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  • OPINION: The Radio Rant

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) From the Citizen Wausau web site comes a rant about local radio stations. (read it here: )

    "Radio stations are too repetitive" is a common complaint. Of course, music stations have no interest in being too repetitive. We have an interest in attracting the largest audience possible. And that means playing the most popular songs -- the ones people are most familiar with. Most people have only 15-20 songs on their personal radar screens at any given time. Those are the songs successful radio stations play. Frequently.

    How much is too frequently? How do we know when people are sick of a certain song? That's a research question. And we do music research, via internet-based music listening surveys, every week. One of the questions we ask about every song is 'are you tired of it?' Songs with the highest burn rates are rested or dropped from our playlist.

    Finally, there is the issue of music variety. Of course, everyone says they like variety. If people are asked if they want more choices or fewer choices, they always pick more. More is perceived as better than less. But reality is different. The Top 40 music format started when radio pioneer Todd Storz noticed that waitresses in diners would spend their tips playing the same songs on the jukebox that they'd heard the entire night during their shifts. The same is true today. Most people want to hear the few songs they like over and over again, rather than a wider variety of songs that they don't like as much. Since we're in the business of selling advertising, we can't tell our sponsors that a smaller audience is hearing their commercials in the name of variety.

    In the end, this radio rant aimed at Midwest Communications is targeted towards the wrong broadcaster. The Midwest Communications stations are the highest-rated, most successful stations in Central Wisconsin. If the writer is correct, then other radio broadcasters in our area should follow his formula and beat us in the ratings. They won't.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau

  • OPINION: B+?

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Politicians aren't expecting tough questions from Oprah Winfrey. She accidentally set up a land mine for Barack Obama during the ABC White House Christmas special.

    "Give yourself a grade for your first year in office," she asked.

    "Solid B plus" he answered. And that would improve to an A-minus if health care would make it through congress.

    Politically, the right answer to this question is not the grade Barack Obama thinks he deserves. Politically, the right answer is the grade the voters would give him. And the morning after the Oprah interview came as Rasmussen poll that puts the President's job-approval rating at 44-percent. Not B-plus territory.

    The problem with Oprah's question is this: grade yourself too high, and you look like an ego-maniac who's out of touch with Main Street. Grade yourself too low, something like a "C" or worse, and you're left vulnerable to the commentary of "even he concedes things aren't going well."

    The proper answer was, "I give myself an incomplete. I'm working on a lot of long-term issues, and a year hasn't been enough time to get the results I expect." Health care, the economy, Afghanistan, the environment... that answer would have been refreshingly honest, and an accurate first-year assessment.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau

  • OPINION: A long time on the bench

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) The federal stimulus bill from last summer included money to extend unemployment benefits for people who are classified as "long term unemployed". The money was released to the states six weeks ago. Those extended benefits begin flowing to the people this week.

    With this extension, it is now possible for people who lost their jobs at the end of 2008 or early 2009 to collect 99 weeks of unemployment benefits. That's a year and ten months. And that's outrageous.

    The standard unemployment package -- 26 weeks -- is already too long. The ideal job to replace one that's been lost may not materialize in 6-months, but anyone who is making a legitimate effort can find some kind of employment in a matter of weeks. And the system should be shifted toward the unemployed doing some kind of work, even if it's at a convenience store or a fast-food joint, instead of doing nothing. Those kinds of low-end jobs keep people active, and serve as motivation to find something better.

    The 99-weeks doesn't address the two biggest problems that keep people from finding work: difficulty in relocating and difficulty in retraining. People who are young and single can pack up and move to where the jobs are. They have an advantage finding work over people who are older and have families. Similarly, young people who can be easily re-trained and get new skills are better able to adapt to the changing job market. I'd like to see unemployment benefits tailored to give additional help to people who are willing to relocate. I'd favor longer unemployment benefits, perhaps folded into a student-aid package, for people who want to train for new careers.

    I'm frustrated that it's politically easier to extend jobless benefits than it is to make real changes to the system that would help the unemployed and help the economy. Most people who are without jobs want to become contributing members of our economy. We should focus more enabling them to do so, rather than paying them to do nothing.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau

  • OPINION: The No-Confidence Vote

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) One upon a time, I had a boss that I deeply disliked. He was loud, brash, and unreasonable. And, in my opinion, he was incompetent. We had fundamental differences about how to run the radio station. I was a mid-level manager. He was an absentee owner. I only saw him once a week. I hated Fridays. That was his day to visit the office.

    After six months, I quietly began interviewing for other jobs. Once I had a good offer, I gave notice and left two weeks later.

    I guess you could say I gave my boss a vote of 'no confidence'.

    That's my thought about the Wausau Education Association's no confidence vote in Superintendent Steve Murley. You choose your boss only when you decide to work somewhere, or if you decide to leave. There's no other way. A school superintendent is accountable to his or her board of education. The school board is accountable to its voters and taxpayer.

    Teachers and staff are employees. And employees have no inherent right to work for the Wausau School District. Just like me, if you find working for the Wausau School District objectionable, you can quietly look for other jobs and give notice when you find one.

    I have no opinion about the kind of job Steve Murley is doing. He is navigating difficult financial times. If I was truly disgruntled, as a taxpayer its hard for me to do anything about it. If I were a disgruntled employee, leaving should be easy.

    The Wausau Education Association's no confidence vote gives the illusion that they have some control over who their boss is. They don't.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau

  • OPINION: That's some good snow-plowing

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) It was a major storm. 11-inches in Wausau. And yet we've dusted ourselves off and continued on with our lives.

    The plowing and snow removal in Wausau has been excellent. We're not down to bare-pavement yet, but we will be by the end of the day. Our Department of Public Works, highway crews, and plow drivers have done an excellent job. And Wausau leaders made the right call by re-hiring the 10 DPW workers who were laid off earlier this month. They were needed for snow removal. With our big trucks, the amount of work we can get from 10 extra drivers is tremendous, and makes a huge difference in making a quick recovery from a storm.

    There is a cost-savings policy that some people object to that should be defended. Some municipalities are not doing major snowplowing during overnight hours, when travel levels are extremely low. This policy stands up well to cost-benefit analysis. The price in manhours and overtime to keep plowing the streets at a time when most people are asleep is tremendously expensive. Snow removal is a major part of most municipal budgets. That money is better-spent concentrating on snow clearing for morning rush-hour, when most people are on the roads. At the height of a bad storm, when people are advised to limit unnecessary travel, the cost of keeping roads clear at 1am is prohibitive. Focusing that effort during high-travel periods is the right decision.

    If you agree, give your neighborhood plow-driver a wave or a thumbs-up. They usually only hear complaints. Let them hear from you when they've done a good job, too.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau

  • OPINION: Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) I like a white Christmas. Looks like Norman Rockwell. Sounds like Bing Crosby. But after New Years Day, I'm ready for it to all melt away.

    I know, then I shouldn't live in Wisconsin. I need to stop being a grinch.

    Actually, today I'm thinking about the economic impact of the snow, and it's positive. We'll get enough snow in one shot to open our snowmobile and ATV trails. That's good for winter tourism. Granite Peak will go from a 'soft' opening to having all of its terrain snow covered with natural powder. Even the Badger State Games, soon to leave Wausau, will have favorable weather for a last hurrah.

    And we'll be dug out by the weekend, which is also necessary to keep the holiday shopping season rolling along. Suddenly it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Happy shoveling.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau

  • OPINION: Some sanity on Tiger Woods

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) It will be good to be back at work on Wednesday. I need to restore some common sense to the Tiger Woods story. It's gotten crazy while I've been away.

    It's only been two days, and I've lost track of the number of supposed mistresses who've come forward. It's either 7 or 9. And counting.

    The Clinton White House used to call these situations "bimbo eruptions". Tiger Wood's personal life is still spouting like a volcano.

    But now comes the craziness. Eugene Robinson, Washington Post columnist, notes that all of Tiger Woods' mistresses have the same 'look'. Specifically, Tiger Woods is attracted to the type of woman who has a different skin color than his. This drivel stops short of saying that the affairs would be somehow more acceptable if Tiger's women were all the colors of the rainbow. But aapparently its a double-negative to be a cheater and not to pick one for column A and one from column B. (Read it here -- but, I warn you, you'll be upset:

    And now comes something obvious that no one is talking about. While Tiger Woods may be guilty of very bad judgement, his wife may be guilty of domestic violence. Or course tempers run high with the 7th.... 8th.... 9th mistresses come forward. I'm sure Tiger's cellphone needed to be better-hidden from his wife. But the proper response, the legal one, is not to attack the cheater with a 5-iron, or glue his manhood to his stomach, or cut it off with a knife. That's illegal. If she caused the bruises on Tiger Wood's body, she's a criminal, and should face justice for it. The sisterhood-of-the-jaded cheers "serves him right!". Where are the voices of reason, saying "decide if you want to leave him -- and take a chunk of his money with you -- and don't break the law in the process"?

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau

    Many thanks to Tom King for filling in for me on The WSAU Wisconsin Morning News. I'm looking forward to returning tomorrow.

    Got cancellations. School closings are availble here:


  • OPINION: Under the tree

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Just about the only true statement about gift-giving is "Oh, you shouldn't have." When you hear it, the recipient is probably expressing their exact, true feelings. You shouldn't have bought me that sweater with the Christmas tree on it, or the new kitchen-knife set.

    George Will writes that Christmas shopping is inefficient -- and he's right. The gift-giver invariably pays more for most gifts than the receiver thinks it is worth. And, as he writes in his op-ed piece, our economy works best when there is full-value on both sides of a transaction. Read it here:

    The best deal - in any situation - is when both sides feel that they've gained something of value. It's not a good deal when one side overpays, or gets less value or enjoyment than they expect. To put it in simpler terms, any retailer will tell you that returns and exchanges are bad for business.

    But enough of the economics of Christmas. My more immediate need is to manage floor space under the tree.

    As anyone who's ever given jewelry for Christmas can tell you, a diamond may take up the entire gift-budget, and the area underneath the tree looks empty.

    This year my two oldest kids want I-pods. Those are big-ticket items in our house. My two youngest want leap-pads, which are also expensive. These are compact electronic items that take up very little under-the-tree real estate. I don't want to risk "Christmas looks smaller this year, daddy." For now I'm searching for the lessons. Good things come in small boxes. Many people are having a smaller Christmas this year. And there's a reason for this holiday that goes beyond stimulating the economy by buying stuff.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau

    I'm off-air today. Some emergency oral surgery (Wisdom tooth had to come out. Very painful - before and after.) I will be out again Tuesday, and will be back on Wednesday morning.

  • OPINION: A Midwest Christmas

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) My favorite event each year is the Wausau Holiday Parade. It's the perfect start to a midwest Christmas.

    It's kind of hokey -- a chance for businesses to parade in front of the townsfolk. But it's also a chance to wish large numbers of people a Merry Christmas.

    My impression of a midwest Christmas is "A Christmas Story" -- where Raphie wants a BB gun and is told that he'll shoot his eye out. During the holiday parade, I can image the trip to the department store to visit Santa, sticking your tongue to a flagpole, trying to find a restaurant that's open on Christmas.

    I'll be driving the WSAU Trailblazer. Give a big wave and say "hello" tonight.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau

  • OPINION: College basketball

    Posted by Chris Conley

    Dome3-5-06.jpg Carrier Dome image by spmcevoy

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) I was up too late last night watching the Duke-Wisconsin basketball game.

    But consider the student-athletes for a moment. College basketball, hands down, is the most demanding sport for the students to actually study and earn a degree. And, unfortunately, basketball is also the sport with the longest odds for a college star to play in the NBA. (The NBA has 12-man rosters -- and there are hundreds of colleges that play basketball. By comparison, NFL has 56-man rosters, and there are fewer colleges that play football.)

    College basketball spans both semesters. Football is confined almost only to the first semester.

    Basketball plays any day of the week, with many weeknight games. Football has a regimented schedule, with almost all games on Saturday.

    Basketball schedules include many cross-country trips, sometimes during the week, with only one-night on the road. Many football games are in the same part of the country, and some are weekend bus trips.

    I support college athletics, and I still think its a good way for students who might not otherwise go to school to get an education. But I wonder if there's a breaking point, when we tilt too much towards far-flung games that are scheduled more to fill up ESPN's broadcast schedule than to meet a player's academic needs.

    During the Badgers game, scrolling across the bottom of the TV screen, was the Georgia Tech-Siena score. A tiny school from Albany, New York travelled 950 miles to Atlanta for a Wednesday night basketball game two weeks before fall-semester finals. I think the Siena players lost more than just the game.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau

  • OPINION: A go-small strategy for Afghanistan

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) It's a stretch to call Afghanistan a country. Even in times of peace, the reach of the central government has never extended far beyond Kabul. Think of Afghanistan as a collection of loosely affiliated tribes and sects that live within man-drawn boarders drawn on a map.

    As a starting point for evaluating President Obama's speech, discount anything that sounds like 'nation building'. We would be building something that isn't there. Something that's never been there.

    Train the Afghan army? They would only be considered central-government invaders when the go into the tribal-dominated southern region or the mountains near Pakistan. Create a national police force? Outside of the large cities, there is no need. That's not where our national interests lie.

    President Obama was correct when he said our national interest is to make sure Afghanistan is not a training and planning-ground for future attacks on the United States. Is that a job for 100,000 U.S. troops? That's how many boots-on-the-ground we'll have after the build-up that was announced last night. If the true goal is to hunt down terrorists, that's a job for a smaller. lighter, special-ops type force. Perhaps 500 or a-thousand navy seals or specially-forces soldiers to track and kill terrorists -- to give them no rest. This would have been the strategy-choice that had the best chance of success. Instead we went big, when we should have gone small.

    The special-ops option has some problems, most of them political. The left would howl about creating American death-squads to roam the Afghan countryside. The right could have painted the President as cutting-and-running or not giving his generals what they asked for. Last night's speech should have focused on managing those arguments, instead of trying to justify the biggest, longest, most-expensive policy choice...which may not work.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau

  • OPINION: He won't ever be President

    Posted by Chris Conley

    Maurice Clemmons in a photo released by the Pierce County Sheriff's Department.

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) When a judge sentences a man to 106 years in prison, the message is clear. This person is not supposed to walk the streets ever again.

    That was the sentence for Maurice Clemmons, a violent rapist with a long rap sheet. 106 years.

    The reason why he is no longer behind bars 10 years later is why Mike Huckabee will never be President. As Governor of Arkansas, Huckabee issued an unusually high number of commutations. He commuted Clemmons' sentence to 45 years, making him eligible for parole. When he came up for parole, he was eventually put on supervised release. He was obviously not supervised enough, as he traveled cross-county to be with family members, was in possession of a firearm, and was able to kill four police officers in cold blood in Washington State.

    Huckabee faces two problems here. The first is arrogance. He substituted his judgement of this case for that of the trial judge. It was the trial judge who reviewed the criminal indictment, weighed the evidence, listened to the witnesses, weighed the defendants remorse, and considered the jury's verdict. It's that judgement that should have controlled Clemmons' sentence. The governor, on the other hand, has no first-hand experience from the trial, and relies on the outside opinion of his pardon board.

    Huckabee's second problem is religion. As an ordained minister, he has talked often about redemption of the human spirit.He believes that God touches souls and changes mens' hearts. There's little doubt that these personal beliefs are behind Huckabee's use of power as Governor concerning crime and punishment. While Huckabee is entitled to his beliefs, they are not balanced with his other duties--to uphold the rule of law and protect public safety.

    Four cops are dead at the hand of a man who was supposed to be in prison for the rest of his life. The public will find this unacceptable, and they are right.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau