by Thomas E. Mitchell, Jr.
When Eric Von returned to the radio airwaves on July 19, 2010 to host WMCS
1290 AM’s “The Morning Magazine” show, it was music to the ears
of his listeners and fans of talk radio who appreciated his direct,
no nonsense style and insightful analysis of issues important to
Black Milwaukeeans but given little—if any—attention by the
mainstream news media.
A year and half prior, the community was stunned to turn on its radio
in February of 2009 and find Von and three other popular station talk
show personalities no longer on the station that promotes itself as
“The Talk of the Town.”
Von reportedly resigned because of budget cuts at the station in response
to the nation’s economic downturn, which impacted all media.
When listeners (among them then state legislator Annette Polly Williams)
demanded the station replace national talkers with local
personalities committed to reading the pulse of Black Milwaukee,
station management listened and brought Von back to the “Morning
Magazine,” the show he hosted for 10 years until 2002.
That year, Von moved to Phoenix, coming back to WMCS two years later to
host “The Eric Von Show” in the late afternoon drive-time slot.
Reflecting on the one year anniversary of his return to the radio station, Von
said it feels good to be back behind the microphone talking to
listeners and interviewing local and national movers and shakers in
politics, education, health, teen-pregnancy, employment and law and
order, to name a few.
A veteran of Milwaukee radio (and television), Von has seen Black radio
in the city and nation grow from its singular focus on music to now
devoting more air time to issue-related broadcasts that inform
listeners and give them an opportunity to express their views.
“More (radio) stations are recognizing the need for the discussion and
debate of issues that impact the Black community,” Von said during
a recent interview.
But the growth of talk radio over the years—particularly in Black
radio—hasn’t been without its growing pains. Von said more
doesn’t necessarily mean good.
Von said radio stations—Black and White—devoted to talk radio must
make a greater effort to screen individuals who want to stand on the
bully pulpit that the radio microphone represents.
“(We need) more responsible people who understand the value of the
opportunity they’re being given; it doesn’t come lightly or
easily,” Von said.
Talk radio hosts, Von believes, should be able to do more than offer an
opinion. What they say should be fact-based and “not just argument
for argument’s sake; but because of legitimate issues.
“We can’t have less quality, we need more quality. African American
listeners deserve that.”
Von sees Black Talk Radio continuing to grow in Milwaukee and throughout
America. “The need for information to be passed through the
airwaves is more intense now. So many things are happening on many
And the means of communication are as varied as the information. Von
noted how radio and newspapers are battling the Internet—via social
media vehicles such as Blogs, Facebook and Twitter—for the minds of
However, the downside of the “new media” is that fact often takes a
backseat to hyperbole, which is passed as news that contains little
to no facts.
“On my show, people tell me they heard such and such on the news. But
they’re talking of a talk show reality. It’s hard to decipher
news from entertainment.”
Von said the presidency of Barack Obama has convinced him that being
president is the toughest job anyone can do. “We’ve seen more
illustrations of that with President Obama than with any other
president since I’ve been old enough to pay attention to politics.
“He’s up against it. He has the Democrats to fight, the Republicans to
fight, even Black people to fight. He gets his health plan passed and
people are screaming against ‘Obamacare,’ saying it’s
unconstitutional,” he said.
Von credits President Obama for doing what no other president has
done—with the exception of former President Bill Clinton’s
attempt: Get through Congress a comprehensive health care plan that
satisfies the needs of millions of Americans.
Commenting on the state of Black Milwaukee, Von doesn’t see what has been a
bad situation for the city’s majority minority group getting any
better, especially with Gov. Scott Walker at the helm.
“I can’t see many of the things Gov. Walker is doing improving the
quality of life for African Americans—or average citizens of any
race,” Von said.
“If history is any guide, Walker’s proposals—and the laws he’s
pushed that have already passed—are not going to bode well for
African Americans and people of marginal means.”
Nationally syndicated radio talk show host Warren Ballentine (whose “The
Warren Ballentine Show” is heard immediately after Von’s) is
strongly urging Black listeners to start community accounts in
Black-owned banks in their respective cities.
The funds in these accounts would be used to create businesses, thus
creating jobs, which would lead to the upliftment of the race on an
economic level, and possibly have a positive ripple affect on other
challenges facing Black America.
While he finds Ballentine’s idea laudable, Von says many Black
Milwaukeeans don’t have the financial means to do what Ballentine
“People do it all the time outside the community. But we need a strategy and
capital to begin. Without it, how practical is Ballentine’s idea?
“Black male unemployment is high. Where do they get even the minimum dollars
to invest? I don’t think people in the community have the dollars
to take that risk.”
What’s next for Von? Grandfatherhood—for the second time. His daughter is
expecting a little girl. This second time around should be a piece of
cake for Von, given his experience with his energetic grandson, who
he described as a “pistol.”
“He’s unstoppable,” Von chuckled. “If his sister is anything like him,
my daughter is going to have a mess on her hands. He goes a 100-miles
per hour. But he’s a smart kid. He understands more than a lot of
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