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City of license Sun Prairie, Wisconsin
Broadcast area Madison, Wisconsin
Branding The Mic 92.1
Slogan Madison's Progressive Talk
Frequency 92.1 MHz
(also on HD Radio)
Repeaters WKKV-HD3 (100.7-3), Racine-Milwaukee
Format Progressive talk
HD2: Pride Radio
ERP 3,700 watts
HAAT 125 meters
Class A
Facility ID 17383
Callsign meaning From the station's previous MiX music format
Former callsigns WYXE (Prior to 10/1979)
WMAD (10/1979-12/2003)
Affiliations ABC News Radio
Dial Global
Owner iHeartMedia
(Capstar TX LLC)
Sister stations WIBA (AM), WIBA-FM, WMAD, WTSO, WZEE
Webcast Listen Live

WXXM ("The Mic 92.1" FM) is a radio station owned and operated by iHeartMedia and serves the Madison, Wisconsin metropolitan area. The station airs a progressive talk format, and is noted for its loyal listener and advertiser base, whose outpouring of support for the format reversed a planned change by station management to convert the station to all-sports radio in early 2007. The station is also simulcast in the Milwaukee area over an HD Radio subchannel of WKKV-FM (100.7-HD3). WXXM also airs the "Pride Radio" LGBT-oriented format on their HD2 subchannel (92.1-HD2).


  • Format history 1
    • Music as "Mad Radio" and "Mix" 1.1
    • "The Mic 92.1" 1.2
    • The proposed change to sports 1.3
      • Reaction to the change 1.3.1
      • Reversal of decision 1.3.2
      • Since the reversal 1.3.3
        • On "The Mic"
        • HD radio carriage in Milwaukee
        • Sports broadcasts
        • For progressive talk in general
  • See also 2
  • References 3
  • External links 4
    • In regard to the station 4.1
    • In regard to the format controversy 4.2

Format history

Music as "Mad Radio" and "Mix"

Throughout much of the 1980s and 1990s, 92.1 was WMAD, which programmed alternative rock music. The station had decent ratings, though its lower-powered signal did not saturate the market like many of the other local FM stations. (The station's current signal strength is concentrated on Madison's North and East sides, as well as the station's city of license, Sun Prairie.[1])]

To improve ratings, station owners iHeartMedia (then known as Clear Channel Communications) dropped WMAD's alternative rock format on October 28, 2002, becoming "Mix 92.1" that aired 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 was replaced by country music on December 23, 2005, and resurfaced again in 2007 on WIBA-FM's HD Radio subchannel.)

"Mix 92.1" was a failure, as it could not compete with similarly-formatted stations in the market and its ratings were lower than that of the previous alternative 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]

"The Mic 92.1"

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 hourly news update and Air America's "The Al Franken Show." Clear Channel had experienced success in other markets with progressive talk, and local management thought that the format would be ideal for the strongly liberal Madison market. "The Mic 92.1" was born.

"The Mic 92.1" relied heavily on Air America Radio programming during its early months. Schedule adjustments eventually were made, including acquisitions of programs from non-AAR distributors, such as shows hosted by Ed Schultz, Stephanie Miller, and Mike Malloy (Malloy displaced original late evening hoste Phil Hendrie due to many requests from listeners). "The Mic's" reliance on Air America Radio dwindled over the years, with AAR programming being relegated to overnight and weekend hours by the time of AAR's Chapter 7 bankruptcy and shutdown in January 2010.

"The Mic" also added 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 program hosted by Lee Rayburn (with Jim Dick and later Jodie Shawback alongside as a sidekick); and 2-minute commentaries from Matthew Rothschild, editor of the Madison-based magazine The Progressive. Additionally, national hosts heard on "The Mic" broadcast shows originating from Madison's Barrymore theater, including Al Franken (2005), Stephanie Miller (2006),[3] Ed Schultz, Laura Flanders, and Rachel Maddow (2007).

The proposed change to sports

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 in that survey.) On November 10, 2006, however, Clear Channel Madison made the controversial announcement that WXXM would change formats to all-sports on January 1, 2007.[4]

In its original announcement,[5] 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 were tape-delayed on Clear Channel's other stations in the Madison market (including WIBA 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 migrated to competing station WTDY.

Reaction to the change

The announcement of WXXM's format flip met with great notice, and for 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 (the latter of which had been cited specifically by management), fans of the station expressed disappointment over the loss of a left-of-center viewpoint in Madison commercial talk radio.[6] Words turned 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 surpassed 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.[7]

"The Mic's" proposed change reached national notice. Ed Schultz, 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.[8] 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 decision

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.[8] The outcry continued, culminating in the mock funeral and delivery of the "Save the Mic" petition on December 20, 2006.[7]

Late on December 21, 2006, one day after the "funeral", Clear Channel Madison reversed its decision, meaning WXXM would retain its progressive talk format into 2007. Tyler confirmed the reversal in a message first played on air on December 22, 2006, 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.[9]

Since the reversal

On "The Mic"

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. Rayburn did keep busy during his 6 months away from the station, including joining former "Pro Show" 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 (which would be rechristened "Books and Beats" by 2009). Other local shows that previously aired on "The Mic" included "The Recovery Zone," a Sunday morning programming that featured frank discussions about recovery from addictions, and "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 after the reversal, albeit one featuring mainly smaller Madison-area businesses as opposed to advertisers with a national base and/or deeper pockets (which are usually more desirable to radio managers and salespeople). On-air encouragement from "The Mic" to patronize their sponsors increased noticeably since the beginning of 2007.

In January 2009, "The Mic" made a schedule change that was greeted with more controversy, replacing Thom Hartmann's afternoon program with The Dave Ramsey Show, a program that is more known for financial advice and at times displays a conservative viewpoint. Though station management said the move was intended to broaden the station's listenership and not to make a wholesale change in political ideology, complaints from listeners and a few advertisers prompted WXXM to return Hartmann's show to the 2-5PM slot, while moving Ramsey's show to the 5-8AM slot in place of Lee Rayburn (Rayburn left the station by his own choosing earlier in the month, in part due to the direction he felt the station was taking by adding Ramsey's show).[13] Ramsey's show, however, had a short stay on "The Mic," who replaced it one month later with the syndicated Bill Press Show. (As of 2012, Ramsey airs on WIBA's late night schedule.)

After Lee Rayburn's 2nd departure from "The Mic," the station's weekday schedule would remain all-national until August 2011, when Outloud with Mary Carol was added to the 5-6PM hour. Carol was a behind-the-scenes staffer at Clear Channel Madison and co-hosted, with Our Lives Magazine publisher Patrick Farbaugh, the LGBT-oriented weekend show Being Authentic. By December 2011, Outloud would make way for a 2nd daily local show, The People's Mic, which was hosted by Workers Independent News personality Doug Cunningham and featured news and analysis on news and issues with a progressive, labor-friendly lean. The People's Mic was an independently-owned, syndicated show, with the program's owners buying time on WXXM's early evening schedule to air the show, which also aired in the Wausau area through a similar arrangement with WXCO.[14]

By the end of 2012, another local show would be added to "The Mic's" daily schedule in the form of The Devil's Advocates Radio. Hosted by Mike Crute and Dominic Salvia, Devil's Advocates is an extension of their same-named weekly podcast, and features listener interaction, interviews, and spirited-yet-friendly discussions on local and national topics through the lenses of the hosts' differing viewpoints (Crute takes mainly a liberal lean, Salvia libertarian). Like People's Mic before it, Devil's Advocates is a time-buy program, with Crute and Salvia purchasing air time on WXXM and arranging sponsors for the show. Devil's Advocates debuted on "The Mic's" weekend schedule in early 2012 before moving to a one-hour weekday slot later that year; it would eventually move a 2-hour block and, as of March 2015, a 3-hour afternoon slot (2PM-5PM).[15][16]

In March 2015, a major shift in WXXM's schedule saw the addition of the Madison-based Mitch Henck Show in the 8AM-11AM weekday slot. Mitch Henck had spent 12 years as mid-morning host on WXXM's sister station, the conservative-leaning news/talk outlet WIBA (AM); after his show was dropped from WIBA in 2014, Henck would become a columnist for the Wisconsin State Journal. Henck's addition and the resulting shifts of Stephanie Miller's and Thom Hartman's nationally-syndicated programs to tape-delayed slots (middays and evenings, respectively), would generate form trepidation from "The Mic's" fanbase, who have been loyal to the displaced shows and fear Henck's viewpoint expressions will run counter to the station's format. iHeartMedia Madison management has countered, however, that Henck's opinions aren't as conservative as "Mic" fans would fear; that his show's morning slot is part of Henck's hopes to syndicate his show statewide; and that his addition to "The Mic" is part of iHeartMedia Madison's hopes to cultivate more local content for the station, whose schedule over the prior 12 months had been in flux thanks in part to the end of Ed Schultz's and Randi Rhodes' nationally-syndicated shows.[17][16][18][19]

HD radio carriage in Milwaukee

On December 15, 2011, WXXM received an additional outlet in the Milwaukee area, as Clear Channel imported WXXM's signal to air over the HD3 subchannel of urban-formatted WKKV-FM (100.7), a station licensed to Racine. The WKKV simulcast requires listeners to have HD Radio equipment, or baring that, Clear Channel's iHeartRadio smartphone application.[20] This is the first time a station with a full progressive talk format has been heard in the Milwaukee area, though Racine's WRJN (1400) carries some syndicated progressive hosts and has some Milwaukee audience.

Sports broadcasts

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

  • As previously planned, sister station WTSO adopted an all-ESPN Radio lineup (though keeping the local "Heller & Murphy" show on its afternoon drive time).
  • "The Jim Rome Show," which was slated to move from WTSO to WXXM, instead moved to Good Karma Broadcasting-owned WTLX at the beginning of 2007. WTLX aired Rome's show (and retained its Fox Sports Radio affiliation) until 2009, when both moved to WTSO while WTLX took over ESPN Radio affiliation in the Madison market. WTLX also retained broadcasts of Madison Mallards baseball.
  • WXXM has served as a "second shadow station" for sports programming that conflicts with the schedules on WTSO and WIBA (AM), mainly broadcasts of Wisconsin Badgers athletics and Milwaukee Bucks basketball. "The Mic" has served as regular radio home for Wisconsin Badgers women's sports (volleyball and basketball), and has also carried some Sunday afternoon National Football League broadcasts from Westwood One, as well as games from the semi-pro Madison Mustangs in the early 2010s. Any talk programming displaced by sports broadcasts continue unabated on the station's internet stream.
For progressive talk in general

WXXM's reversal received national attention as it occurred at a time when progressive talk struggled to gain general acceptance on the commercial airwaves, as evidenced by stations dropping the format or reducing progressive content and the financial struggles of Air America Radio. The "Save The Mic" campaign and its success inspired similar campaigns in markets where the format was dropped, in danger, or never had a regular presence.

"The Mic" and its format plight received further attention in the form of Born Again Free Speech: Victory of The Mic 92.1, a 2007 documentary produced by Madison-based Brazen Video Productions.[21]

See also


  1. ^ Source:
  2. ^ Source:
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ Statement: The change in formats on WXXM 92.1FM to FOX SPORTS RADIO 92.1
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b
  8. ^ a b
  9. ^
  10. ^ Central Park: Taking the next steps - Isthmus | The Daily Page
  11. ^ Lee Rayburn debuts Willy Street Media - Isthmus | The Daily Page
  12. ^ Source: Advertiser list on WXXM's website
  13. ^ "Making waves: Complaints prompt The Mic 92.1 to bring back 'Thom Hartmann'" from, January 14, 2009
  14. ^ "Does progressive radio have a future?" from The Capital Times, 12/2/2012
  15. ^ "The Devil's Advocates take unlikely path to talk radio," from Wisconsin State Journal, 3/15/2015
  16. ^ a b Source: WXXM on Facebook (posted 3/3/2015)
  17. ^ "The Mic adapts, perseveres in difficult progressive talk radio landscape," from Wisconsin State Journal, 3/15/2015
  18. ^ Press release from WXXM (dated 3/3/2015)
  19. ^ "Two Minutes with Mitch Henck will stretch to 3 hours on radio," from Wisconsin State Journal, 3/4/2015
  20. ^
  21. ^ Doug Moe column: Author's Trek no Cakewalk", from Capital Times, April 7, 2007

External links

In regard to the station

  • WXXM official website
  • Query the FCC's FM station database for WXXM
  • Radio-Locator information on WXXM
  • Query Nielsen Audio's FM station database for WXXM
  • pageThe Devil's Advocates Radio
  • webpageMitch Henck Show
  • Media musings: To air is liberal Google cache of "The Capital Times", September 7, 2004

In regard to the format controversy

  • Articles from Wisconsin State Journal and The Capital Times on WXXM's flip to sports
  • Stories from The Capital Times and The Isthmus on the rally in support of The Mic
  • Statement from Clear Channel that The Mic will continue
  • Articles from Wisconsin State Journal, Sharewatch, and Capital Times on the format reversal

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