Elvis replaces the “Talk of the Town,” radio personality Eric Von among 15 released by station
by Thomas E. Mitchell, Jr.
“I don’t know if that was a bad joke or just bad programming,” said former 1290 WMCS AM radio talk show host Eric Von when told that instead of hearing the intro music for former fellow on-air personality Tyrene “T.J.” Jackson’s show at 10 a.m. Tuesday, listeners to the popular Black radio station were shocked to hear Elvis Presley music.
It was the signal to loyal listeners of the 20-year-old talk, news and music station that an era had come to an end in Black Milwaukee radio.
Von and 14 other full and part-time employees were terminated Tuesday. The “Talk of The Town” is no more and is being replaced—temporarily according to station management—by an all-Elvis music format.
According to reports, the format change was announced at 10 a.m., the same time T.J.’s “T.J. Live” show was to start.
The remaining staff will consist of T.J., who was WMCS’ operations manager and on-air host; R&B host Terry Love, and Erica Hayes, a member of the sales staff.
1290 listeners reportedly tried to call the radio station to find out what was going on, only to be met by a busy signal. The Community Journal received numerous calls from surprised, flustered—and irate—1290 listeners asking the newspaper’s receptionist and staff if they knew what was going on.
One caller to the newspaper, a truck driver, lamented he has lost the only “company” he had as he drove.
An hour after the Elvis music started and the community was still trying to absorb the initial shock, Bill Hurwitz, vice president of the Milwaukee Radio Alliance, a partnership of Willie Davis’ All-Pro Broadcasting and Times-Shamrock, Inc., reportedly told the city’s daily that WMCS AM “is changing formats.”
Noting it was purely a business decision, Hurwitz said the station has been losing money for a decade. He added that if it were not for the financial support of Davis, “the station would have been gone a long time ago.”
Von received his share of calls and emails from friends and listeners, many asking him what was the community going to do now that it’s only outlet for self-expression and discussion of the issues pertinent to the Black community is gone.
“I’m just glad they didn’t do this (format change) before President Obama’s re-election bid,” Von said only half jokingly.
Von said when he was asked to come back to 1290 several years ago after he and three other former radio personalities were let go from the station due to budget constraints brought on by the 2009 recession, he was told the community was clamoring for familiar local personalities who were knowledgeable of—and talked about—the issues important to Black Milwaukeeans.
After Von and the other personalities left in 2009, the radio station tried programming that relied heavily on national personalities in the morning and early afternoon, with local community activist and one-time WMCS substitute host Earl Ingram at mid-afternoon with his own show.
But the community wasn’t listening in the morning. They demanded a knowledgeable local personality to wake-up to like Von who they could relate and talk to about local topics.
Saying nothing clear was told to him before hand about 1290’s format change, Von said in an interview Tuesday when things aren’t going well at a radio station, it’s logical to speculate about what has—in this case—become inevitable.
“There was talk about this possibly happening for years because the radio station wasn’t making a profit,” Von said.
“You’ve got to respect them (station management and Davis) for letting it go as long as it did.
“When you’ve been around this business as long as I have—unless you work for a super successful station—you always tread lightly.”
Von said the radio station did good work helping people understand the issues facing the community and giving them a platform to vent.
“I’m bothered no one else will be presenting the type of forum I, Earl and T.J. did,” said Von. He doesn’t think the other Black oriented radio stations will try to fill the void left by WMCS.
“The other stations had the opportunity to do what we did—and bigger than us—since they are FM stations.
“What made 1290 special was we focused on community issues in a way the other stations didn’t.
“Even though we’re gone, I don’t think they (the other Black radio stations) will.”
Von rejected the idea that the volatile political and social topics the station dealt with forced the station’s owners to make the format change. “What we discussed on air had nothing to do with what happened. The owners live in Pennsylvania. They don’t listen.”
Von said he will now focus entirely on his new website, “Brain Brawn & Body,” which was officially launched last Thursday. The website deals with health issues facing Black men.