By Cassandra Lans
On Tuesday, Feb. 26 radio talk show host Eric Von expressed condolences to the family of Ray Harmon, who passed Monday night, and then he signed off as usual. Following Von’s show, Elvis Presley music began playing. One probably thought it was a intro to a commercial, but as it continued, maybe it was a crossover in radio signals? Not so, it was soon learned from other media outlets, and social media such as facebook that the format had changed.
The official word from the station came piece by piece, and the official spokesman for the station was Bill Hurwitz, vice president of the Milwaukee Radio Alliance, a partnership of Willie Davis’ All Pro Broadcasting and Times Shamrock Inc. The format change was a “business decision” Hurwitz stated. He added that the station has been losing money for a decade. He also stated, “Stations like this, basically super serving the African American community especially AM, don’t exist in this country.”
“If not for Willie, the station would have been gone a long time ago,” Hurwitz said. Yet he said it was also “the hardest thing I’ve ever done in 40 years in broadcasting.”
As a result of the format change, 15 full and part time employees now find themselves without jobs. The format change was formally announced at a 10 a.m. staff meeting. Four individuals are remaining, Blues show host Phil Anderson, Tj, operations manager and on air host, R & B host Terry Love and Erica Hayes, a member of the sales staff.
Tj posted a message on her facebook page expressing her thoughts on the changes, “It is with great sadness that I say that 1290 WMCS as we have known it for over 30 years has changed. The days of ‘Talk of the Town’ are over. Thank you all who have supported the station.” She did not mention that she was remaining, but she also added, “Business is not personal, its business and we must support one another financially”.
Von stated in an interview that Times Shamrock, which reportedly owns 50 percent of the station “was not part of this community and never had an interest in what we do.”
As the saying goes, its not so much what you do in a situation that speaks the loudest, but it is the manner in which you do it. Yes, the decision is a business one, and many understand that concept. Yet, the manner, the way it was done was not thoughtful nor does it reflect any type of gratitude for the listeners, or the hosts and other employees that poured their hearts into their jobs.
Radio hosts including Von were not given an opportunity to give their own farewells, and the choice made to play Elvis Presley music demonstrates the lack of understanding that the owners of WMCS have for an African American audience.
Now, African Americans in Milwaukee have to begin to learn, if they have not already, that if you want to maintain a voice and remain relevant, you must step up. You must support the businesses that support and reinvest in you and your community. We still have a couple of Black formatted and/or owned radio stations. We still have Black owned newspapers, magazines, and websites. African Americans must support these businesses not just with reading them and listening to them but also reinvesting their money into them.
Because, at the end of the day, it all comes down to finances, and businesses cannot operate based on it being the “right” thing to do alone.