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A Harsh Lesson to Learn

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I am grateful and want to thank all of those who have called, emailed or sent text messages to Eric and me expressing your support, dismay and shock at learning of the shut down of 1290 WMCS.

On Tuesday, February 26, 2013, in the final days of Black History Month, an institution in Milwaukee, radio station 1290 WMCS abruptly closed its doors. ‘The Talk of the Town’ began playing Elvis Presley music approximately one minute after Eric’s final words were spoken, his trademark close, “Be good, be careful, bye bye.”

Those would be my husband’s final words as the host of the wildly popular, Morning Magazine, the show he created and led for more than 15 years.

I chuckle now as I think about how things work out. I find it oddly amusing. After working to develop Brain Brawn & Body – a three year odyssey - Eric and I finally launched the website on February 21 at the UWM Zilber School of Public Health. We’re so appreciative of the tremendous support from the mayor, the city’s Health Department, Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare, the American Cancer Society, our friends and the community.

 

Eric was accustomed to getting up at 4:30 in the morning to prepare for his show.However, he wasn’t sleeping through the night, rising around 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. to write stories and research information for the website.

It was noticeable that his level of excitement for his work in radio was waning. It was being replaced by a new passion for this project, Brain Brawn & Body; a paean of sorts to Black men. You could say he had renewed pep in his step.

The Friday morning after the launch, we finally slept in – it was 4:30 a.m. Still a crazy hour to awaken, but it was good to get back to our routine at least. We woke up and began moving about our day, still pumped from the excitement and success of the launch.

Eric shared with me that he wanted more time to dedicate to the website. He said it’s been a long time since he was excited about the direction of his radio career.

I was happy to hear what I believed was the discovery of yet another passion, almost as deep as his love for talk radio. Eerily, he shared with me he believed the closing of 1290 would be announced at what would be a ‘mandatory’ staff meeting.

He said interior and exterior repairs; painting and a general sprucing up had been taking place around the building. His suspicion was that the owners were getting it ready for sale.

When you’ve been working someplace for as long as Eric has and you begin to see attention being paid to things that had long gone unattended, a red flag pops up and you become acutely aware of your surroundings.

Still, to him, the demise of 1290 seemed far fetched. But I guess that with Eric’s many years in the business, having seen former colleagues in the industry in other cities experience these things, his antenna was up. He said to me that you always keep your head on a swivel. “You never know when it’s your turn.”

I had scheduled a couple of meetings for Eric to take place at 1290 following his show on what would be that fateful day. On the Thursday before, he was informed of a mandatory staff meeting that was to take place on that same day. At 9:35 that morning, during the commercial break, he called me to ask me to postpone the meetings I’d scheduled and to move them to another place.

An engineer and a disc jockey had arrived and he didn’t like the feel of things at the station. He told me if what he suspected was going to take place in the mandatory meeting occurred, he didn’t want to be in the building after the announcement.

Little did he know he wouldn’t be there much longer.

Five minutes after the close of his show, he called me back to say, they’ve made the announcement - WMCS was no more. Those who were let go had less than 15 minutes to leave the building.

He left and called me back, telling me that even though he expected it, it’s very different when you hear the words and it’s happening to you. He didn’t clean out his office, he just left the station and his things, got in his car and drove home to what would turn out to be an even more busy media day.

At 10:15 my cell phone began ringing and the text messages were flowing. Calls and texts from friends in the media, community leaders and family began asking me what was happening with 1290 and did I know Elvis was on the air?

Funny, as a child I used to enjoy the black and white films and Elvis music, but now as an adult, it felt like a slap in the face that the owners would play his music as they exited the staff and legacy of 1290 out the door.

Why not at least sign off with Motown? After all, Elvis, over his career had exhibited disrespect for Black people. Now, the station seemed to be sending a similar disrespectful message to the Black community that had grown accustomed to the Black talk and soulful sounds that emanated from 1290 WMCS for more than 30 years.  

I told those I spoke with, including the editor of the Milwaukee Courier newspaper, that 1290 had shut down and 860 WNOV was in a pretty good position to take the lead as Milwaukee’s only African American centered talk show in the market now.

Thinking to myself and later in discussion with Eric, I expressed my hope that 860 WNOV would provide the best of both worlds: talk that is intellectually stimulating and radically provocative – kind of their trademark presentation.

It was, in a way, all on them now. I can only hope they go for it.

WNOV, in the minds of many, has the obligation to fill the void left by this rude act committed by the owners of the former WMCS, now known as “Martini Radio”.

Musically, while sticking to it’s playlist of Rap and Hip Hop, they now could provide more mature listeners with the hits and oldies that they adore.

It’s a tall order, but I believe they can handle it. They have to. But the Black business community must step up and support WNOV or whatever African American centered radio station comes into being or we’ll remain where we are now with the loss of WMCS.

Media swamped Eric for comments and thoughts about the station’s demise. When they couldn’t reach him, they called me. I stopped answering my phone after I could see I would get no work done if I kept responding to calls and texts all day.

He was a great ambassador for 1290 in its glory days and remained so in its aftermath. He told reporter after reporter that it was a “business decision”, (the line the owners used to justify their actions).

But he acknowledged that the powers had never given the level of support to the station commensurate with their expected return on investment. His ideas for promoting the station were routinely disregarded.

Fourteen people, including my husband lost their jobs. They joined the ranks of the many Americans who have become unemployed over the last decade.

I don’t think I’m out of line saying that Eric’s was the most prominent personality on 1290. His voice and impact will be sorely missed in this community. Our radios at home and in the car, stayed at 1290 WMCS until Eric signed off each morning. I’ll have to find other sources of information. But nothing will be quite the same.

I’ve been a talk show junky for quite some time, developed during my days as the publisher of the Milwaukee Courier newspaper. I moved up and down the dial from progressive to extreme conservative to the more radical, all in an effort to stay on top of the issues from all sides.

I’ve been following the social media, newsprint and on line articles and I’ve engaged in private conversations about what to do now that 1290 is gone. “How can we buy a radio station to replace 1290?” is what many are asking. “What can we do to put Eric back on the air?” is the other question I constantly hear.

Well folks, it’s real simple. Like the song says, “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one your with.”

There’s no sense in reinventing the wheel. 860 WNOV is here. All it needs is your support and the support of the business community.

That’s a much more attainable solution than many of the other options being explored.

The lesson here for Black Milwaukee is clear - man up, wake up and step up.

If we don’t support what’s left, 860 WNOV, 1560 WGLB, the Black newspapers, Black magazines; Black Nouveau and this website Brain Brawn & Body with our money and, hold those who own businesses accountable for supporting our media, our remaining media will meet the same demise as 1290 WMCS.

The only people we will have to blame will be ourselves.

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Faithe Colas is an expert in public and community relations. She is a partner in Von Communications, a public relations firm and is co-publisher and marketing director of Brain Brawn & Body. You can contact Faithe at faithe.colas@brainbrawnbody.com.

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Guest Monday, 24 April 2017