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Gene Mueller Lasted 40 Years in Milwaukee Radio Because He Was the Real Deal

Gene Mueller retired from a 40-year relationship with WKTI/WTMJ in February. How do people last that long in a market? Strangely, it’s not that uncommon in Milwaukee.

Jim Cryns

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People can be remembered for the oddest things. In 1982,  Milwaukee was crazy with World Series fever. The Brewers faced off against the St. Louis Cardinals in the Brewers’ only franchise appearance in the Series, which they lost in seven games. 

Catching up with the newly retired host of the morning program on WTMJ, I reminded Gene Mueller of a throwaway bit he and on-air partner Bob Reitman did during the Series. The Cardinals had a pitcher, Joaquin Andujar, whom Gene Mueller referred to as ‘Walking Underwear’. While it wasn’t the joke heard around the world, for whatever reason it has stayed with me for 40  years and I still chuckle. The point is, sometimes it only takes one thing a person says to remember them forever. 

Mueller retired from a 40-year relationship with WKTI/WTMJ in February. How do people last that long in a market? Strangely, it’s not that uncommon in Milwaukee. There are two other morning shows where the hosts have enjoyed similar longevity. A good chunk of the reason he survived that long is that Mueller was the real deal. 

“People in Milwaukee can sense when you’re authentic and really giving it your all,” Mueller said. The same holds true for Milwaukee’s professional athletes. If they see the effort, they will give you the devotion and support. Milwaukee is a city that likes habits. “They don’t want to hop on the next trend,” Mueller said. 

The rigors of rising hours before the sun does the same is familiar to anyone in the business. This is not lost on Mueller. “That was always the first thing people asked me–how did you get up so early? Yes, I gave up a lot for this career. We all do. I don’t want to ever sound like I’m whining, but you know going in you’re going to be swimming upstream against 99.8% normal circadian rhythm.”

Mueller said that was the top reason he retired when he did–to get his life back. “Not to be morbid, but I lost some friends during the pandemic and I realized there are so many things I never got to enjoy. Like going to a hockey game on a weeknight, watching a movie later in the evening.”

In other words, things most of us take for granted.

Arrival at WKTI

Reitman and Mueller, as the WKTI morning show was named, matched two diverse Milwaukee personalities who had cut their chops at other rock-oriented stations in town. Mueller was at 93-WQFM before he moved to WKTI. At that time, Retiman was working solo and a partner was a new experience for him. “I’d only met Bob Reitman once,” Mueller explained. “I was just blown away and somewhat intimidated. I was going to be working with Bob ‘frickin’ Reitman.” That was the big-time for a kid who began up in quaint Stevens Point, Wisconsin.

“I never thought I’d have a chance to work with a guy like that,” Mueller said. He said at first it was a bit rocky as they had such different styles and Mueller feared he might be some kind of interloper on an established personality. “I’m sure Bob wondered, ‘Who is that dirty little kid?’ Instead he quickly made me part of the show.” It wasn’t long before the duo became household names in Milwaukee. 

After he signed off for the last time at WTMJ on February 25th, he went to Florida for a vacation. He started thinking about bits and topics he’d like to talk about on the show when he returned. “It hit me that I’m not going back to a show. This was the first time I was able to watch the Oscars with my son.”

While he didn’t last long in college at Stevens Point, it didn’t matter. He knew what he wanted and was all-in with a career in radio. “I really didn’t have my eye on journalism,” Mueller said. “But being a smartass on the radio and getting paid for it appealed to me a great deal.”

The transition from WKTI to WTMJ.

While the studios are only a few feet away from each other, they were in different worlds. Bob Reitman retired in December of 2006. Along with longtime producer and personality Gino Salomone, Mueller kept on until May of the following year at WKTI. 

Then the decision was made to move Mueller to the morning spot at WTMJ. “I was in awe of all the people that worked there through the years and wasn’t sure I was really up to the task,” Mueller said. “The general manager at the time, John Scheweitzer, always liked me and thought I’d do a great job. He gave me a ton of opportunities so I guess I felt I should give it a shot.”

The regiment of the morning show at WTMJ made the transition a little easier. The format and clock were preordained. “News at the top, weather on the tens,” Mueller said. “Part of the move across the hall required me to think I was no longer going to do bits that involved somewhat sophomoric humor.”

One of many blessings throughout his career was the advent of new technology, Mueller explained. “Everything was at my fingertips with the internet. It was a godsend,” Mueller said. “I could do instant research. The technology allowed me to craft together vignettes quickly before I went on the air. Everything became so easy, so quick. The audio editing included. Kids in the business today don’t know what a cart machine is and ask me if I really worked with a reel-to-reel tape recorder. Yes, I did.”

The way news is covered has changed as well. “Not everyone out there is dealing with both sides of the story any longer,” Mueller said. “We have so much news from so many different places, and there’s no pushback. Reporters and writers deal with minimal sources and few confirmations. They give their audience what they want to get, facts be damned.”

Milwaukee has always been home for Mueller. “It’s the most wonderful radio market in the world, I love it here,” he said. “I saw what happened to friends who went on to the large markets. It was cutthroat. You had to produce or you were gone. It’s a little more forgiving here, more gentle.”

Mueller said he’s going to take some time to decompress, but suggested there were already a few projects being tossed about. One gets the feeling he’s never going to fully relinquish  the medium he loves. 

“First, I want to go and live a bit.”

He’s earned it. 

BNM Writers

The Donald Trump Conundrum For News/Talk Personalities

I would suggest that in order to not risk alienating either side of the audience, that we guide the conversation this early in the process.

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With 721 days to go until the 2024 Election, Donald Trump decided it was time for him to officially jump into the race. He could not wait any longer. And on Tuesday night, in a speech that lasted more than an hour, he decided to move ahead and officially kick off 2024, one week after the 2022 midterms ended. 

This has created an interesting dynamic for talk radio. Not only does it give reason to quickly move on from the over-analyzing of dissecting what happened in the midterms, but Trump is generally good for business, especially when he has been (mostly) off the radar the last two years. 

And as is always the case with Trump, the opinions and emotions will be strong across the aisle.

But with the opinions and emotions so strong across the aisle, what’s the play for News/Talk hosts?

Many are comparing this to 2015-16, when conservative-leaning media broke down pro-Trump or never-Trump, and it changed the landscape and careers for some, depending on which side of the aisle one landed on. 

However, there are stark differences this time around.

Those who would call themselves conservatives would all agree that the policies implemented by Donald Trump were a success. Whether it was economic policy, foreign policy, trade policy, or judges appointed, the 45th President kept to his word on all of the above and they were all highly-successful, especially before the pandemic. 

There is no true “never-Trump” angle amongst conservatives like there was in 2016. The question this time around is simply: “Is Trump the best person to move Trumpism forward? Or is there a better option to keep the movement moving ahead?”

That’s a very different conversation amongst the news/talk audience, that if handled properly, should not result in audiences turning on their favorite personalities, regardless of which side of the conversation one might come down on.

For these reasons, I don’t foresee a “civil war” amongst conservatives in the way we saw it six years ago. 

And for our audiences, there will be hosts who lean more Pro-Trump or Pro-DeSantis (or whoever else), but I would suggest that in order to not risk alienating either side of the audience, that we guide the conversation this early in the process.

That doesn’t mean not having an opinion. That’s ultimately our job. But if we form that opinion, on either side, through the prism of, “We’ve still got 18-24 months of this, things will change, and here are the pros and cons of what I’m thinking…”, it creates an environment that invites listener interaction and makes your show the place to voice opinions on both sides of the issue.

Also, that audience interaction will remain our great leverage in this conversation that cable news, newspapers, and social media can’t duplicate with the same intimacy. So let’s take advantage of it and it will also give us an on-the-ground feel for where the audience is in our market in a way the political consulting class can only dream of.

That’s how we can win this 2024 news cycle, that, yes, believe it or not, has already started. 

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BNM Writers

Post Midterm Elections: A Fresh Approach?

Among the predictable messages that come after election results, no matter how long they take is “we need to do better”.

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The leftovers from the midterm elections are still in the refrigerator but I’m looking forward to either finishing them or tossing them out.

I will not feed them to the dog, I love dogs too much.

Among the predictable messages that come after election results, no matter how long they take is “we need to do better”. That’s generally a given after looking at either side of a political scorecard but in this particular case, I think it resonates a bit more, for us.

We, the news people, need to do better. Actually, we need to be better. 

And, of course, we can be.

Once again, this is not an attempt at cheerleading nor is it a shot in the arm. 

I am no more a clean thinker than anyone else on the planet but I believe I share a common vulnerability; fatigue.

The hamster wheel that is a job like ours perpetuates a buildup, a film of apathy and when it comes to covering politics, or more accurately the antics of politicians and candidates, it’s a difficult ride to dismount. 

But once again, we have that regular opportunity to alter the game plan again. 

The faces are now changing in leadership (a little) and prominence (somewhat) but of course, some things will remain familiar. 

The House is flipping, 45 wants to be 47 and the old arguments will now feature a few new, differing voices.

It is these potential differences, I believe now as much as ever, our audiences want us to steer towards. If you ask yourself, “how weary am I” from the last two years of diatribe, in-fighting, out-fighting and people in power being just plain mean, ask yourself, “how weary are they?” … our audience?

I could name names, point fingers and cite examples but the joy of this business is the fact that anyone reading this (thanks, by the way) can think of countless citations all on their own.

 So, what is happening right now?”

Will another run at The White House come with a different approach by the now again candidate?

Congress has yet another opportunity to be something other than what they have been.

What will we do? 

Will we be different?

I would ask, should we be different but I already think we should, so ask yourselves.

Legislating, campaigning, and communicating… are all becoming more and more feral.

And we, in this business, wait for it, we pursue and we cannot wait to cover it.

Our broadcast sense of neutrality and non-partisanship deteriorates by the minute. 

Hell, we even add to it all.

We are on the hook for some of this, make no mistake. 

I’ve asked this before, but what’s more disheartening than hearing or seeing a veteran, tenured and respected anchor/reporter wearing their political and personal leanings in their coverage.  Former Presidents are Former Presidents, yet suddenly Donald Trump is Ex-President Trump. I never heard, of Ex-President Obama or Bush or Clinton or Hoover.

False Claims have now become Lies

We lash out in the only way most of us know how, in our writing. Are we being clever or clandestine or just unscrupulous? At a minimum, it’s immature.

If you really need that badly to step into your own stories using addition or omission, go get a talk show.

(This is not a positional complaint by the author here, it’s about how we report the news. Anyone wishing to know where this former cop-current newsperson stands on issues social and political, feel free to send a detailed list of questions. You’ll either be fascinated or incredibly bored.)

We are supposed to know what’s important and relevant and what is not. 

When we ignore that ability, we become exactly what we at least once didn’t wish to be.

What actually is happening in the story constantly takes a back seat to the language, the insults, and the juvenile name-calling that we’ve become so accustomed to. So much that it falls into our coverage without us even thinking about the issues that are actually being batted about, they are lost or diluted.

And that’s not what we are supposed to be doing.

It’s a lot easier to republish somebody’s rehearsed soundbite or republish a tweet than actually tell the story with detail and non-partisanship.

There is no wrong in reporting incendiary remarks or behavior when it is actually news but we are regularly caught in somebody else’s trap, an individual looking for coverage, for attention. They need facetime or namespace and they use us to do it. 

We did a weak job because the same people will do it again tomorrow. We put them in control of our jobs.

Afterward, we look at the work we just produced and realize we just got hosed. 

But, I say with a distinct level of insufferable naiveté, our job is our job, our work is our work.

We shouldn’t let somebody else take the wheel.

The truth is still out there and we don’t run from it, we pursue it. At least we are supposed to go after it.

The job is to clear away the brush, the camouflage.  Real journalists (I will never call myself one, I simply stand in awe of them) will sidestep the rhetoric, all veil and the deception. They can do that and still be creative, engaging and accurate.

The lawmaker, the politician, the candidate all hold dominance over the news media when their soundbites and exclamations drive the story. 

We can only control what we do.

I would much rather it be we to effect change as opposed to someone like Kari Lake or another politician or wannabe thinking it will be up to people like her to “reform” the media.

So, what are we going to do differently this time around? 

And before we arrogantly start thinking that it’s not we, who need to change, think again.

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BNM Writers

KRLD’s Drew Anderssen Wants The Audience to Feel Positive About The Future

Anderssen sought a unique way to get himself into the business of radio leading him to his position at NewsRadio 1080 KRLD and Texas State Networks.

Jim Cryns

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You can always send in the traditional resume for a job. Maybe get a referral from a friend. Nepotism is almost a sure thing. Drew Anderssen sought a unique way to get himself into the business he loved. 

“As a kid, I was a chronic caller to radio stations, so I think that kind of made me, in effect, an intern,” Anderssen jokes. “I was always a fan of radio. I listened to the Edge in Dallas. It was an alternative station. It was a thrill to hear my calls on the air.”

Anderssen grew up in Dallas and moved back home. In May, Audacy hired Drew Anderssen to run the day-to-day operations at NewsRadio 1080 KRLD and Texas State Networks. Most recently, Anderson served as Brand Manager at WSB in Atlanta and spent the previous 24 years with Cox Media Group (CMG). 

“I wanted to be at Audacy,” Anderssen said, “but I also have a lot of family in Dallas. My dad has some health concerns, so that was also a driving force to come home. Otherwise, I don’t think I’d ever have left WSB. I still have a great relationship with Cox.”

Anderssen started his career with CMG in 1998 as operations manager of News-Talk KRMG in Tulsa, OK. In July 2012 he transferred to the PD post at sister WDBO in Orlando and added operations manager stripes in 2016. Prior to joining CMG, Anderssen spent several years in promotions, research and programming in Texas and Oklahoma.

Anderssen went to college at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas. In addition to his career in radio, Anderssen makes no apologies for being an entrepreneur, owning several different businesses in diverse areas. 

“I find time for my businesses,” Anderssen said. “I’m able to continue my radio career as I put good people in the right positions. Once you get past the startup phase, you can step away with confidence. That’s why I like to expand my personal footprint beyond radio. I love entertainment and I love to make money.”

Well, there you go.

Anderssen was also blessed or cursed with a very curious mind. Get this; he does some pretty good impressions. 

“I can do essentially any character from In Living Color or newscasters,” Anderssen said.

Fire Marshall Bill? Wanda? Walter Cronkite, Ron Burgundy?

“Some of them were spot-on, and gave people a laugh,” Anderssen said. “My original plan was to go to medical school. I was a pre-med major then I got hit by the radio bug.”

His parents were concerned, perhaps a bit disappointed with their son’s career interest. It’s always convenient to have a doctor in the family. But how often do you really need a radio guy?

Anderssen said his education at Midwestern State had a practical and hands-on approach. 

“I was already working at the college radio station. It gave me an entry into media. I was having fun. My parents wondered when I’d get a ‘real job,’ figured I was never going to make a living. Who in this business didn’t hear that?” Anderssen said. 

He inherited his business acumen from his father, who owned a broadcasting school, among other interests. Elkins Institute of Radio Broadcasting was one of his ventures. 

“I imagine a lot of people in the industry today went through that school,” Anderssen explained. “It dissolved and is no longer around. My dad’s first job after he got home from Vietnam was to recruit people to enroll at Elkins.”

His career has allowed him to assess change and perhaps the direction of radio. 

“I think 20 years ago, maybe longer, we lived in an environment where the news brand wanted to be everything in terms of providing information,” Anderssen said. “Politics is a story generator for all news. I want people to come out of those experiences feeling positive about the future. This is what I love. We live in the greatest country, but I think that has been up for debate the last four years. I’m proud of the work we’ve done.”

He said we’re seeing a lot of targeted audiences with podcasting, a natural progression considering the intimate medium.

“We will see a lot more in the podcasting realm, some with great successes,” Anderssen said. “A lot of podcasters seek out that niche, make huge investments,  planting the flag, so to speak.”

Personalities like Nikki Medero and Mark Thompson immediately created a YouTube presence after KGO in San Francisco eschewed news in favor of gambling in October. 

“I think it makes a lot of sense to do that,” Anderssen said. “Sometimes you need to make a quick pivot. A lot of people may be in for a wakeup call. If you’re not in YouTube and other similar spaces, you’re missing an opportunity. I’d rather see people in our industry be more proactive than reactive.”

He said brands are built with platforms. The best thinkers in broadcasting had better be pondering how to leverage different platforms. 

Podcasts have created a bit of an identity dilemma for talent. Does talent carry over their ideas and opinions into the podcast realm? That can be concerning if they carry the journalistic mantle in the radio gig. 

“I think most talent in the business is seeking out that diverse relationship with their listeners,” Anderssen explained. “If some of our home-grown talent finds a national audience with their podcast, that can be a good thing for a radio brand. We can adopt a sort of 360-degree look at leveraging content across platforms. Build the individual and the platform.” However, Anderssen said on their podcasts, his talkers are obligated to pay homage to their local call letters. 

Earlier in his career, Anderssen said he was responsible for integrating radio and television newsrooms to work with some kind of synergy. He said in his experience he’s seen a bit of radio–envy among television broadcasters in the ability to express themselves. 

“Radio people are able to tell stories TV people can’t tell,” Anderssen said. “That’s the reason I think a lot of TV people want to get into radio. I knew a lot of reporters who wanted to explore more in-depth stories. Television reporters are handcuffed with a two-minute segment, and that can be frustrating. Especially with topics they’re passionate about.” 

“Journalists crossing over into their own views on a story is a concern,” Anderssen said. “I think there’s been a debate on where that line is for years. That line becomes grayer all the time. We’ve learned that television people are more often displaying their leanings and opinions on broadcasts.”

Anderssen said he thinks radio and television consumers want a human connection with the people they listen to. The connection takes on an emotional component. 

“The consumer is in their car and wants to come away with a feeling. You must be real to provide that connection and feeling.”

 “From a traditional news standpoint, you don’t want any of your people taking on an on-air opinion with a story,” Anderssen said. “You just want to deliver the story, not get caught up in some political Left or Right. We don’t want to put our brand in a position to take sides. We live in an extraordinarily divisive world. That said, you can find yourself in a bind.”

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