Frequency 92.1FM (MHz)
City Sun Prairie, Wisconsin
Market Madison
Branding 92.1 The Mic
Owner Clear Channel Communications
Power 3,700 watts
Slogan Madison's Progressive Talk
Format launch September 7, 2004
Format dropped
Sister stations WIBA, WIBA-FM, WMAD, WTSO, WZEE
Webcast link

WXXM (92.1FM), a.k.a. "92.1 The Mic" is a news/talk-formatted radio station licensed to Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, serving the Madison area. The station is owned by Clear Channel Communications.

Progressive talk programmingEdit

The station carries a full-time progressive talk format. At Midnight on September 7, 2004 (when Len's "Steal My Sunshine" finished playing), "Mix 92.1" was no more. After several hours of stunting with left-wing comedy bits,[2] "The Mic 92.1" launched at 11:00 that morning with a CNN Radio newsbreak and Air America Radio's "The Al Franken Show." Clear Channel had been experiencing success in other markets with progressive talk, and local management figured that the format would be ideal for the strongly liberal Madison market. Hence, "The Mic 92.1" was born.

"The Mic 92.1" would rely heavily on Air America Radio programming during its early months, though schedule adjustments would eventually be made, including the acquisition of the Ed Schultz and Stephanie Miller shows. They also replaced their original late evening host, Phil Hendrie, with Mike Malloy, due to many requests from listeners.

"The Mic" would also add a local on-air presence. Madison-based writer Stu Levitan briefly hosted a late afternoon show during "The Mic's" early months. Later local shows included "Forward Forum," a Saturday morning show hosted by John Quinlan; "The Pro Show," a weekday morning show hosted by Lee Rayburn and Jodie Shawback; and 2-minute commentaries from Matthew Rothschild, editor of the Madison-based magazine The Progressive. Additionally, national hosts heard on "The Mic" would broadcast shows originating from Madison's Barrymore theater, including Al Franken (2005), Stephanie Miller (2006), Ed Schultz, Laura Flanders, and Rachel Maddow (2007).

The Proposed Change to SportsEdit

Although "The Mic's" ratings have fluctuated during its history, the station has enjoyed a loyal following among listeners in mostly progressive Madison. (In the Summer 2006 Arbitron ratings for the Madison market, WXXM ranked 11th of 25 stations overall, and the 2nd highest rated talk-formatted station.) However, on November 10, 2006, Clear Channel Madison made an announcement that would prove controversial--WXXM would change formats to all-sports on January 1, 2007. The station was to have taken the moniker "Fox Sports Radio 92.1 FM," featuring programming from that network as well as the Jim Rome Show and other local sports play-by-play and discussion that would move from sister station WTSO.

In its original announcement, management cited audience research that showed a desire among listeners for more coverage of local high school and college sports, as well as more live broadcasts of other sports programming that would be tape-delayed on Clear Channel's other stations in the Madison market (including WIBA (AM) and WTSO), along with coverage of the Madison Mallards baseball team. (Clear Channel had won the team's broadcast rights, and planned to air the games on WXXM.) Jeff Tyler, the market manager for Clear Channel Madison, later admitted that other reasons contributed to the format change, including the financial problems facing Air America Radio and problems attracting advertisers to the progressive talk format, which in turn leads to lower revenues generated by the station. In fact, WXXM was ranked last out of 14 Madison radio stations that reported earnings.

In relation to the announcement, "The Pro Show" was discontinued the week of November 10, 2006 (replaced by Air America's "The Young Turks"). "Forward Forum" was previously cancelled on October 28, 2006, and would migrate to competing station WTDY.

Reaction to the changeEdit

The announcement of WXXM's format flip met with great notice--and from fans of "The Mic," great disdain. While some comments dismissed the flip as a case of progressive talk not being an attractive format for listeners or advertisers [4] (the latter of which had been cited specifically by management), fans of the station expressed disappointment [5] over the loss of a left-of-center viewpoint in Madison commercial talk radio. Words would turn into action as one fan of "The Mic," Valerie Walasek, launched an online petition to persuade Clear Channel Madison to reverse its decision--a petition that would eventually surpass its original goal of 5,000 signatures. Events in relation to Walasek's petition included a rally for "The Mic's" listeners and advertisers (which attracted an overflow crowd to the High Noon Saloon on December 12, 2006), and a "funeral procession" to Clear Channel's Madison headquarters on December 20, 2006, at which the petition was delivered to station management.

"The Mic's" proposed change reached national notice. Ed Schultz[7], a vocal proponent of the petition drive on his show, was among those suggesting that the format flip resulted from a lack of effort among management and salespeople at Clear Channel Madison to commit to the progressive talk format and to promote it to advertisers. Schultz even criticized Tyler by name on his show. Stephanie Miller featured Walasek on her program, while her show's resident impressionist, Jim Ward, performed a parody of what WXXM's sports format would sound like--an intentionally pedestrian play-by-play of girls' volleyball in a thick Wisconsin accent.

Walasek and other supporters of "The Mic" continued to pressure Clear Channel Madison to reverse their decision, suggesting that if their efforts for WXXM proved unsuccessful, they would promote continuing progressive talk programming on another station in Madison, including the possibility of pooling money and resources to purchase a station.

Reversal of DecisionEdit

While the outcry from "The Mic's" fans and advertisers heated up, Jeff Tyler insisted that Clear Channel Madison would not waver from its plans to change WXXM to sports. [9], although the possibility of continuing progressive talk programming on its other stations--including moving the format to a HD Radio subchannel--was explored. Nevertheless, the outcry continued, culminating in the "funeral" and delivery of the "Save the Mic" petition on December 20, 2006.

However, late on December 21, 2006--one day after the "funeral"--Clear Channel Madison announced that WXXM would not change from progressive talk in 2007. Tyler confirmed the reversal in a message first played on air on December 22, 2006 (see "External Links"), indicating that management was "overwhelmed" by the support of fans, advertisers, and community leaders for The Mic. Tyler also confirmed that the station's agreement with Fox Sports Radio had to be ended in order for the reversal to take place.

Since the change back to progressive talk, The Mic has consistently been among the top rated stations in the format nationally, often finishing in the top ten in the Madison market according to Arbitron.

Repercussions of the reversalEdit

On "The Mic"Edit

Local weekday programming did not immediately return to "The Mic", which did leave some station supporters disappointed. [10]. Mike Ferris, FM operations manager for Clear Channel Madison, countered that WXXM's schedule would be "kind of in a holding pattern” until Air America's financial situation cleared up. However, on May 21, 2007, Lee Rayburn would return to host "The Mic's" 6-8AM weekday time slot (replacing "The Young Turks"). Rayburn did keep busy during his 6 months away from the station, including joining former co-host Jodie Shawback on a series of podcasts from the Escape Java Joint in Madison;[2] fill-in duties for Air America Radio hosts; and co-founding an online media company in Madison, Willy Street Media. [11] Rayburn also worked a second evening show (Mondays thru Thursdays at 7PM) from September 2007 until early 2008.

Local programming did immediately return to "The Mic's" weekend lineup, featuring the returns of "Progressive Forum" with Matthew Rothchild and "Sunday Journal" with host Stu Levitan and producer Dustin Weber, along with the addition of "The Recovery Zone," a frank discussion program about recovering from addiction. "The Mic" also aired "La Original," an all-Spanish language music program broadcast on Friday and Saturday nights in 2007 and early 2008.

Concurrent with supporters' claims during the "Save The Mic" drive, WXXM's advertiser base[12] did see an increase in 2007, albeit one featuring mainly smaller Madison-area businesses as opposed to advertisers with a national base and/or deeper pockets (which are more desirable to radio managers and salespeople). On-air encouragement from "The Mic" to patronize their sponsors has increased noticeably since the beginning of 2007.

On Sports StationsEdit

"The Mic's" reversal left Madison's two all-sports stations scrambling their lineups:

  • Sister station WTSO adopted an all-ESPN Radio lineup during its weekdays (as had been previously planned). The local "Heller & Murphy" show remains on WTSO's late afternoon drive time.
  • "The Jim Rome Show," another WTSO program that was also slated to move to WXXM, moved to Good Karma Broadcasting-owned WTLX at the beginning of 2007. WTLX also retained its Fox Sports Radio affiliation as well as Madison Mallards broadcasts.
  • In rare instances, "The Mic" has served as a "second shadow station" for sports programming that conflicts with the schedules on WTSO and WIBA mainly Wisconsin Badgers broadcasts.
For Progressive Talk in generalEdit

WXXM's reversal received national attention as it came at a time when progressive talk as a commercial radio format has had its struggles nationwide. Such struggles have included the bankruptcy and sale of Air America Radio and the decrease or discontinuation of progressive talk programming on stations nationwide, either due to ownership changes (as seen in Fresno and the Quad Cities) or management decision (in markets such as Boston, Cincinnati, Columbus, and Akron).

"Save the Mic"-type campaigns have surfaced on a local level in some cities, while the NonStop Radio project has been formed to promote progressive talk on a national level and to help listeners in other markets who have lost or fear losing their progressive talk stations.

"The Mic's" plight is the subject of "Born Again Free Speech: Victory of The Mic 92.1," a 2007 documentary produced by Madison-based Brazen Video Productions.


Throughout much of the 1990s, 92.1 was WMAD, which programmed alternative rock music. The station had decent ratings, though they were handicapped by a lower-powered signal that did not saturate the market like many of the other local FM stations. (The current signal strength is concentrated on Madison's North and East sides, as well as the station's city of license, Sun Prairie.)]

Feeling that ratings could be better, Clear Channel dropped WMAD's alternative rock format on October 28, 2002, becoming "Mix 92.1" and airing a modern rock-based Hot AC format. Listener outcry over this switch was so strong that on December 31, 2003 Clear Channel turned their struggling smooth jazz station at 96.3 FM into the new "Mad Radio", adding the WMAD call letters and an alternative rock format, while 92.1 adopted the WXXM call letters. (The new "Mad Radio" at 96.3 would be replaced by country music on December 23, 2005, though it would resurface again in 2007 on WIBA-FM's HD Radio subchannel.)

"Mix 92.1" was a failure, as they could not compete with similarly-formatted stations in the market, and ratings were lower than the previous format. During the week before Labor Day 2004, WXXM went jockless with announcements on the end of Mix 92.1 and the launch of the progressive talk format, directing current "Mix" listeners to sister CHR WZEE ("Z104").[1]


SP04 SU04 FA04 WI05 SP05 SU05 FA05 WI06 SP06 SU06 FA06 WI07 SP07 SU07 FA07 WI08 FA09
1.7 1.9 2.9 1.7 2.3 3.8 2.2 3.2 3.7 3.4 3.6 3.6 2.6 3.5 2.7 3.1

Source: Arbitron

External linksEdit

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