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Air America Station to Stay in Madison
Published on Friday, December 22, 2006 by the Associated Press
Air America Station to Stay in Madison
by Ryan J. Foley
 

After a backlash from this liberal city, Clear Channel Radio is keeping its Air America affiliate on the air instead of switching the progressive talk format to sports on Jan. 1.

Citing the overwhelming negative reaction to the planned change, the nation's largest radio station operator said it would keep The Mic 92.1 FM on the air as a progressive talk station.

The planned change to Fox Sports Radio, announced three days after the Nov. 7 election, had sparked outrage in Madison, a city long known for its liberal activism. Clear Channel said the station, WXXM-FM, had struggled to attract advertisers despite high ratings and a sports format would be more profitable.

But thousands of people protested the end of their favorite station through e-mails, phone calls and a petition delivered to station officials this week. A rally last week drew 500 people, and politicians such as Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., denounced the decision.

The two-year-old station is among the most popular affiliates of Air America, which launched two years ago as an alternative to conservative talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh. It is now undergoing a reorganization after filing for bankruptcy protection in October.

In addition to Air America personalities like Al Franken, WXXM features local shows that focused on progressive causes from city politics to animal rights.

"We are overwhelmed by the recent outpouring of support for our progressive talk format from the public, some of our community leaders and some dedicated local advertisers," said Jeff Tyler, Clear Channel's market manager in Madison. "We deeply appreciate the local business leaders who are pledging their advertising support. They are playing an enormous role in helping to keep progressive talk on the air in our community."

Tyler planned to announce the decision on the airwaves Friday morning. He said Clear Channel had to end an agreement with Fox Sports Radio to make the deal possible.

The announcement came just as the opponents of the change appeared to give up, staging a mock funeral procession from the Capitol to Clear Channel's local offices Wednesday to mourn the death of the station.

Valerie Walasek, a 28-year-old listener who organized the protests, said she had shifted her focus to other options, such as trying to buy a new station. She was shocked by the company's last-minute change of heart.

"It's evidence that as people stand up and demand what they want and demand they are going to take back the airwaves, somebody will listen," she said. "Maybe Clear Channel just came to their senses because it never made sense for them to get rid of it. They were making money."

Tyler said the station would aim to increase its share of the local market but it had no deadline to increase earnings, which were 14th out of 14 local stations that report them despite the station being rated second among the market's news-talk stations and 11th out of 25 stations overall. About 30,100 listeners tuned into the station during any given week, according to the latest ratings from Arbitron Inc.

Tyler said he hoped to improve the quality of the local shows and was encouraged that Air America would do the same for its programming when it emerges from bankruptcy. The radio network said this week that is close to a sealing a deal with an undisclosed buyer.

"We're here to make it work. We're going to put all of our resources into it," he said. "People have spoken out in Madison and said, `This is a great radio station and we support it.' We encourage them to prove it."

San Antonio, Texas-based Clear Channel Communications Inc., owns nearly 1,200 radio stations.

©2006 The Associated Press

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