As many of you attentive Miltown residents know by now, the upstanding clan at WMSE 91.7FM Frontier Radio premiered three new mid-day talk shows last week: No Revisions, The Tiny Film Invasion, and Art City. We'll blog up details and critiques of the first two on a later date, but that last one should certainly sound familiar to ya as it bears the same name of the online journal adeptly penned by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's art and architecture critic Mary Louise Schumacher, assisted by a plethora of artsy contributors.
Because we love to offer opportunities that engage your brains and your headline readin' skills at the same time, can y'all guess which one of the above three shows got the unceremonious ax after just one episode? That's right, Art City! Heartless executives, give each one of these astute readers a lollipop wrapped in a few scathing notes on how they could improve their correct answer based on focus group responses.
Now, to be clear, this abrupt cancelation was the result of a decision made by the leadership of the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE)--owner and operator of WMSE 91.7FM--and NOT by the very knowledge and passionate staff who actually work at the listener-supported station. Every indication is that both station manager Tom Crawford and promotions director Ryan Schleicher were completely committed to the Art City radio show and had no desire to see it get canned after only one, 30-minute airing.
As Schumacher related in her post announcing the cancelation:
On Saturday afternoon, Tom Crawford, station manager at WMSE, told me that the leadership of the Milwaukee School of Engineering did not want to air Art City. He assured me that the cancelation had nothing to do with the quality of the show. He could provide no futher [sic] explanation, he said, referring me to media relations or the school's president's office.
Classy, no? Absolutely not. In a world that could definitely use more class, MSOE has provided us with a perfect example of the extreme opposite--a.k.a. the über-déclassé move.
Now, I did listen to Episode One, hosted by Schumacher, contemporary art and architecture historian Jennifer Johung and Portrait Society Gallery owner Debra Brehmer, which finished with a focus piece on artist and curator Fred Stonehouse by Adam Carr. While I would suggest a few tweaks in terms of content organization and pace--like maybe limit each topic to 5 to 10 minutes rather than gobbling up a full 22 on one--it was what I would call a never-done-this-before-but-we've-got-real-potential success.
So why is the MSOE leadership making radio programming decisions? Isn't that why they have professionals on staff? Don't they have their own, super important, suspender-hookin' jobs to do? In independent radio circles, Crawford is one of the most respected station managers in the business, and the listener loyalty he and his staff have painstakingly developed over decades at WMSE is the envy o' many. So what's with the interference from the top, huh?
Well, I went ahead and contacted MSOE's JoEllen Burdue, Director of Media Relations, and this is the school's official response:
We evaluate our programming on a regular basis. From time to time, it involves adding or removing a show. As a matter of standard practice we don’t engage in public discussions about our programming decisions.
Okay, now we're getting, uh, nowhere. Sure, fine, good, I don't think anybody has a problem with a station evaluating its programming, in fact it should. But one episode of a new show is hardly the basis for a thoughtful evaluation. And, again, why is MSOE leadership poking their sticky fingers into WMSE programming at all?
Seems we won't be getting the answer to that central question any time soon, so in the absence of that let me just point out what this action looks like from the outer circle, and that is a raging case of organization-killing micromanagement. It also looks like a big blow-off from MSOE leadership to a dedicated, highly active art journalist with a devoted readership and a good deal of influence within the local arts community. Put simply, it's bad, bad behavior.
And here's a little something else: When an organization's leadership micromanages the decisions of the professionals who know what the hell they're doing 'cause it's their job to know, damage is bound to occur. When done publicly, that damage can have major consequences, which are extremely difficult if not impossible to undo. Folks talk to other folks, and some of those folks have money, know what I mean? At least in this case we know who the damage makers are--a true rarity when there are plenty of wily leaders out there willing to let the people who work for them take the fall for what are their own misguided and poorly thought out decisions.
Phew! So, is there any good news for Art City in this weird, all-around sucky turn of events? Well, they've got more material lined-up, so they'll be transitioning to that new-fangled thing called the podcast. Stay tuned to the original, word-based Art City for details.
Despite all this ickiness, I want to make clear that WMSE 91.7FM remains one of the best stations in town and I encourage you to stick it to the MSOE man by continuing to support Frontier Radio. Remember, we're all in this together.
UPDATE: Episode Two is now up on Soundcloud.
UPDATE: Well, looky here. Seems Erik Gunn over at Milwaukee Magazine Pressroom got some intel that the Art City radio show was canceled 'cause Mary-Louise Schumacher hurt MSOE's feelings in 2007 just by doing her job. Welcome back to 7th grade, y'all!