... analyzing Milwaukee Conservative talk radio as a microcosm of the genre’s impact on American politics, media and culture.
Mobilizing Wisconsin's Conservative Revolution
images/stories/videos/part1_home.jpg"The reason I’m a U.S. Senator," explained Ron Johnson in a Wall Street Journal editorial, "is because Charlie Sykes did that." What did Charlie do?
Rules and Roles in the Great Debate
images/stories/videos/part2_home.jpgUnchallenged Conservative perspective on the news of the day, free air time for Conservative candidates and politicians, and a cavalcade of callers voicing their accord with virtually everything they hear;
Hate Regulation and the Public Interest
images/stories/videos/part3_home.jpg"Speech that advocates or encourages violent acts or crimes of hate."
Vanguard of the Fifth Estate
images/stories/videos/part4_home.jpgWith the lifting of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, regulation of the broadcast media was now largely in the hands of the free market. Radio programmers were free to give the people what they wanted.
The Democratization of the Media
images/stories/videos/part5_home.jpgNewspaper subscriptions are plummeting. Network television news ratings are in a tailspin.
Ears, Hearts, Minds, and Wallets
images/stories/videos/part6_home.jpg"Stay tuned. More hateful, racist, homophobic, sexist misinformation and lies straight ahead!" What kind of person would listen to such a thing? Evidently, fans of Conservative talk radio, according to critics.
Blindsided - that’s how many Wisconsin Liberals said they felt when Governor Scott Walker revealed his planned changes to collective bargaining privileges for state workers. Had they but listened to Milwaukee Conservative talk radio, they would have known that the need for these changes has been the topic of conversation for years.
In Milwaukee, government officials and public opinion leaders vex over what to do about growing poverty, increasing out-of-wedlock pregnancies, decreasing quality of public schools, fleeing businesses and brain-drain. Were they to listen to local Conservative talk radio, they would hear a plethora of proposed solutions to these and other problems identified, scrutinized and discussed each and every day.
But they don’t listen. And no wonder; for years they have been telling themselves - and everybody else - that Milwaukee Conservative talk radio is little more than a forum for a fringe few who revel in hateful, racist misinformation doctored to reinforce their own extremist beliefs.
Yet outside the city proper, Milwaukee Conservative talk radio has grown and thrived for over two decades. In fact, though only a medium-sized media market, Milwaukee’s talk radio scene is one of the most robust in the country. And many observe that the emergence of local Conservatives of national stature - Paul Ryan, Scott Walker, Ron Johnson, Reince Priebus - is due in large measure to the abundant time and support they have received on Milwaukee Conservative talk radio.
Epicenter of a revolution or fringe cabal? Free market advocacy or hate speech? Liberty or lies? In September of 2010, heading into one of the most volatile electoral seasons in modern American history, I grabbed a camera and started asking these questions.
I got a lot more than I bargained for. See what you think.
- Brien Farley, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, October 2011