Atheist group loses hometown radio station to 24-hour Christmas music

by Gregory Tomlin, |
Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-presidents of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, host their "Freethought Radio" program on The Mic 92.1 FM in Madison, Wisconsin. The program and other leftist programs have been pulled from the lineup and replaced with 24-hour Christmas music. The leftist, atheist program was deemed unprofitable and unpopular. | FFRF/Web Capture

MADISON, Wisconsin (Christian Examiner) – The Freedom from Religion Foundation's "Freethought Radio" program is getting the boot from its hometown radio station, the Mic 92.1 FM.

The reason? Ironically, the station that once hosted "Progressive Talk" programs in Madison, Wisconsin, is switching to a 24-hour Christmas music format – the holiday celebrating the birth of the baby Jesus, whom the atheist group has repeatedly mocked in its "winter" displays.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) is headed by the married and unbelieving duo Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor, who also host the organization's radio program. They issued a press release calling the move a "bizarre shift" in programing and said they had been "unceremoniously yanked off the air locally."

The Mic is not alone. Liberal talk on commercial radio has long failed to garner the audience and ad dollars conservative talk has — although you'd think it would have had a better shot in Madison.

"We opened up the Wisconsin State Journal the morning after the election to read the remarkable announcement that progressive talk had been banished forthwith on 92.1 FM and replaced with around-the-clock Christmas music!" Gaylor said. "It's not exactly the appropriate vehicle for Freethought Radio now."

The radio station is, however, a means for making money through advertising and, according to the local media, liberal activist programming is a burden rather than a blessing. It turns out atheist programming is something few find enjoyable.

"In the most recent Nielsen ratings, it (the radio station) had been drawing a 2.1 share, or less than half that drawn by WIBA-AM, home to (Vicki) McKenna, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity," the Wisconsin State Journal's Chris Rickert reported.

"The Mic is not alone. Liberal talk on commercial radio has long failed to garner the audience and ad dollars conservative talk has — although you'd think it would have had a better shot in Madison."

There are other reasons too, as several of the local radio personalities from other stations pointed out. For one, there are "liberal listeners" and "liberal activists listeners." Liberal listeners, of which there are many, listen to National Public Radio (NPR).

Liberal activists listen to "progressive talk," and there just aren't enough activists to make the shows profitable.

But there's also the quality of the programming.

According the newspaper, Derrell Connor, who hosts programs in Madison and Milwaukee, and is more "middle-of-the-road" in his approach, and Dave Black, general manager of UW-Madison's student radio, said liberal radio hosts may not be as good as their conservative counterparts.

"Say what you want about Rush (Limbaugh)," Connor said. "Rush is good at what he does."

Black said hosts on the hard left just have difficulties holding listeners because they are less effective and weaving news and commentary together.

For example, in 2004 liberal talk hit the airwaves in the form of Air America. With hosts like now Wisconsin Sen. Al Franken and MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, the network claimed to be a counterbalance to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and other conservative hosts. It was also home to Freethought Radio.

The network was a money pit and was pronounced dead six years later.

Freethought Radio's removal from the air in Madison doesn't mean it is off the air everywhere. FFRF claims the program will still broadcast on a Janesville, Wisconsin, station as well as on stations in Michigan, Missouri, New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, Texas and in Alberta, Canada.

"We're looking at this as an opportunity rather than a disruption," Dan Barker, co-president of FFRF and a former minister, said. "Stay tuned."