A story out of Wisconsin is a bit chilling for radio talk-show hosts. And it has local ties because the station from which a host was fired is owned by the same company that owns Fargo-Moorhead news/talk station KFGO.
Longtime conservative radio host Jerry Bader of WTAQ-AM in Green Bay was fired because, he says, he was too critical of President Donald Trump.
Bader told news outlets in Wisconsin he had been fired by officials from Wausau-based Midwest Communications, for whom he’d worked for 18 years.
“It was made clear to me that the reason was the manner in which I covered President Trump,” Bader told the USA Today Network-Wisconsin.
Midwest Communications has Fargo-Moorhead ties. Among the local stations it owns is top-rated KFGO-AM in Fargo, which employs morning host Joel Heitkamp, a former Democratic state senator and frequent Trump critic. He is the brother of Democratic U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, who often opposes some of Trump’s policies. Midday co-host Amy Iler is a former Democratic staffer and afternoon host Tyler Axness is a former Democratic state senator.
Full disclosure: I was employed by Midwest Communications for about two years, after the group bought KFGO from Jim Ingstad. Midwest Communications, particularly local managers Peter Tanz and Dan Cash, treated me well and fairly. There were no issues when I did my afternoon show on KFGO, which clearly leaned to the political left.
More full disclosure: I am currently employed by Forum Communications, which owns 970 WDAY-AM, the station on which I do a talk show from 9 a.m. to noon each weekday. I left KFGO in 2015 to return to WDAY and The Forum, so it’s been a couple of years since I worked for Midwest Communications.
But it is well-known at the 77 stations owned by Midwest that ownership, led by patriarch Duke Wright, is extremely conservative.
Bader was a weekly guest on my show for about a year. He was staunch, almost robotic, in his conservatism. There was no question he was a strong conservative Republican who supported Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, and opposed the policies of then-President Barack Obama. His show, which was syndicated on a couple of other Wisconsin stations, was a regular stopping off point for Walker, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan and other conservatives. He had Trump as a guest, too.
And Bader’s ratings were good. WTAQ consistently ranked as the top talk station in Green Bay, usually falling somewhere between second and fourth overall. WTAQ was second overall in the spring 2017 before dropping few shares to fourth in the most recent fall 2017 ratings book.
WTAQ’s web site referred to Bader as “the most influential opinion maker in northeast Wisconsin.”
According to a story that ran in the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Bader and other conservative talk hosts in Wisconsin were critical of Trump’s demeanor and policies ahead of the spring 2016 primary and since his election.
“I have always tried to tell what I believed is the is the truth and more recently to comport my behavior, on and off the air, with my Christ-following faith, after I was saved in 2016,” Bader told the Press-Gazette. “I’ve always known it was (their) microphone that I used each day. I have no regrets on how I’ve handled the show the past two and a half years.”
Bader recently changed the tagline of his show from “Closed captioned for the reality impaired” to “Truth over tribe.”
Midwest Communications’ market manager in Green Bay did not confirm to the Press Gazette that Bader was fired, nor did he cite the reason for Bader’s departure from the station.
There might be more than meets the eye to Bader’s firing — there often is in radio, a volatile business. But if what he says about his firing approaches the truth, it’s a scary day for radio hosts at Midwest Communications. Bader was an unabashed conservative, a longtime employee, a company man the whole way, got good ratings, appeared to have a slew of advertisers supporting his show on several stations, was involved in the community — and got fired because he didn’t show sufficient support for Trump.
As Bader said, the microphone into which he talked each day was owned by Midwest Communications. The company can do what it wants. But it’s a frightening precedent if a consistent, staunch conservative not kissing Trump’s boots enough each day is reason enough to be fired.