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OPINION - When given a choice...

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU)  From time to time you’ll hear a debate within the broadcast industry about whether conservative talk radio is dying. My answer is, “it isn’t”. In recent years WSAU has grown from a second-tier Wausau radio station to the most-listened-to station in Central Wisconsin.

We have many advantages: three years ago WSAU added an FM signal (99.9) and expanded our coverage area to the south. We have the best morning show and best news operation in the market, which is why we have the largest audience during morning drive, radio’s prime time. The Brewers, Packers, and Badgers are all very popular programs that boost our audience at night and on the weekends.

But the backbone of our radio station is opinion-based political-talk programming. As our coverage area grew, more people sought out the opinions of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Mark Levin. The amount of new listenership in Portage and Wood counties has been very gratifying. These were listeners who couldn’t hear us when we were only WSAU-AM.

I bring this up because every once in awhile I’m asked about whether our programming should be more “balanced”. Couldn’t we add just one or two liberal talk hosts? It begs the question of who we should take off-the-air to free up the time. All of our programs have large audiences. The answer to "the balance question" has been provided by one of our competitors.

For the last two years WXCO radio has programmed liberal talk against us. During that time listeners in the Wausau area had a choice between conservative-talk and liberal-talk. You could listen to Stephanie Miller instead of Seth Mela’s WSAU Feedback. You had a choice between Ed Schultz and Rush Limbaugh. Can’t stand Sean Hannity? You could try Thom Hartman or Randi Rhodes instead.

The playing field isn’t level – WSAU has a much bigger coverage area and a substantially larger promotions budget. And the biggest advantage of all, Rush, Sean, and Mark are more talented hosts than Stephanie, Ed, and Randi. Even if you disagree with their views, they’re better broadcasters. Talk hosts need to inform and entertain. Today’s conservative hosts are more compelling to listen to.

This week our liberal alternative radio station folded its tent; they’ve gotten out of the format and have been playing old, sleepy music for the last few days. Radio stations always change formats for the same reasons: low ratings, and audiences that aren't large enough to attract advertisers. When given a choice, listeners pick us. We thank you for it.

Chris Conley