Media Action Center is a group of of concerned residents throughout the U.S. led by former Emmy-winning broadcaster turned media reformer Sue Wilson. We have successfully influenced policy at the Federal Communications Commission and at local TV and Radio stations throughout the country for more than a decade to ensure We the People are truly served by the publicly owned airwaves. (See the archive of our work under "older posts.") We successfully forced Entercom to give up its $13.5 million license to KDND for killing a woman in a radio water drinking stunt. We have a long-running action to label Alex Jones' radio show as the fiction it is, which has taken Jones' program off dozens of radio stations nationwide. We educated the Supreme Court in FCC v Prometheus Radio on critical information to #SaveLocalNews.

Please see MAC's 2018 Comment to the FCC (below) to learn why these actions are crucial to Democracy. Find full journalistic coverage of the Supreme Court case and our Amicus brief, Sinclair Broadcasting's shell game, Alex Jones, the Strange v Entercom trial and other public interest media issues at For background on how we arrived in this era of disinformation and what to do about it, see Wilson's 2009 documentary Broadcast Blues.

Scott Walker Recall Talk Radio Monitoring Project

                                                                            Updated July 17, 2012
Starting May 9th, the first day of what has become known as the Scott Walker recall campaign, members of the Media Action Center Wisconsin monitored the five "Conservative" Talk Radio programs aired in prime dayparts in the Milwaukee radio market.  The shows include those hosted by Mark Belling, Vicki McKenna, and Jay Weber on WISN, the 50,000 watt radio station licensed to Clear Channel,  and Charlie Sykes and Jeff Wagner on WTMJ, the 50,000 watt radio station licensed to Journal Communications.   Both stations are called "News Talk" by their corporate owners.  Both reach far beyond the city of their license, into most of the state of Wisconsin and beyond.

The purpose of the project was to

1) Determine specifically how much time each licensee is devoting to promoting each major political party during the campaign season.

2) Determine any notable imbalance in time offered to each political party.

3) Determine whether the talk programs qualify as "bonafide news" per FCC requirements for exemptions for comparable time under Section 315(a) of the Communications Act or under the FCC's "Quasi-Equal Opportunities" rule, known as the Zapple Doctrine.

4) Determine whether comparable time should be offered under Section 315(a) of the Communications Act or under the FCC's "Quasi-Equal Opportunities" rule, known as the Zapple Doctrine.


Five separate monitors recorded and timed statements made on each of the five programs.  They counted how many minutes per show have been either clearly pro-Scott Walker and Anti-Tom Barrett, how many minutes have been anti-Scott Walker and pro-Barrett, and how many minutes have been pro-GOP and anti Democrat in general, and how many were pro-Democrat and anti-GOP.  They also monitored statements made about the candidates for Lieutenant Governor and the State Senate.  These will be offered in the final tally, but are statistically small;  statements about the Governors race and parties in general, however, are frequent, so this report will focus on those.

The monitors were instructed to count only those statements which could be clearly identified as pro- or anti- one candidate or party.


“Governor Walker is going to be on the show. Yay! My governor is a Jedi.” 

Tom Barrett is an idiot, Tom Barrett is a racist.

“when good people come forward to run for office the Democrats put a hit squad out on them.” -McKenna. “Literally.” -Schimming.


1) Determine specifically how much time each licensee is devoting to promoting each major political party during the campaign season.



Pro Walker/ anti Barrett   

5-9  1:49:28
5-10  42:54
5-11  1:00:08
5-14  49:46
5-15  48:30
5-16  1:00:26
5-17  53:07
5-18  36:02
5-22  32:13
5-23  1:20:35
5-24  43:32
sub  10:51:59
daily average 54:33
Pro GOP/ Anti Dem
5-9  8:43
5-10  6:44
5-11  29:04
5-14  35:32
5-15  14:19
5-16  19:02
5-17  30:32
5-18  11:18
5-21  26:02
5-22  1:06:48
5-23    7:45
5-24   13:47
sub  4:29:36
daily average 22:50

5-9    4:58
5-10  0:00
5-11  0:00
5-14  0:00
5-15  0:00
5-16   :25
5-17  1:06
5-18  0:00
5-21  4:20
5-22  :07
5-23  :24
5-24  :30
sub   11:50
daily average:  59 seconds

Pro-Dem/anti GOP


ProWalker/Anti Barrett total:
5-9  51:30
5-10  58:58
5-11  51:54   
5-14  34:34
5-15  40:49
5-16  50:43
5-17 32:00 * revised
5-18  38:30
5-21  13:11
5-22  10:55
5-23  22:58 ** Wagner show numbers unavailable
5-24  18:41 ** Wagner show numbers unavailable

subtotal 7:04:43 **
daily average: 35:42  ** two shows unavailable
Pro GOP/ Anti Dem total

5-9  0:00
5-10  1:38:14
5-11  46:15
5-14  31:20
5-15  31:18
5-16  30:57
5-17 50:38 * revised
5-18  28:29
5-21  43:02
5-22 1:20:35
5-23  45:37  **Wagner show unavailable
5-24  29:45  ** Wagner show unavailable
sub:  8:36:10
Daily average 43:00

Pro Barrett Anti/Walker total

5-21  :48

sub:  :48
Daily average: :04

Pro Dem / Anti GOP total

5-9  0:00
5-10  5:29
5-11  0:00
5-12  0:00
5-13  0:00
5-14  0:00
5-15  3:01
5:16    :10
5-17  2:36 * revised
5-18  0:00
5-21  0:00
5-22  0:00
5-23  0:00
5-24  0:00

sub 11:16 
Daily average 0:56

We compiled numbers through May 24th, the day we filed an official complaint with the FCC.  We do have podcasts for all programs for the remainder of the recall campaign season, and will monitor and compile them if requested to do so by the FCC.

Based on the first fifteen days of the 28 day recall campaign, we found that WISN aired an average of about 77 minutes, and WTMJ about 79 minutes, per day of Pro-Walker/ anti-Barrett and pro-GOP anti-Democrat messages.  On the pro- Barrett side, we have identified an average of 59 seconds daily on WISN.  On WTMJ, we found an average of 4 seconds daily pro-Barrett, and 56 seconds of daily pro- Democratic messaging.   

Considering that the programs monitored air for more than 15 hours daily, this represents a small percentage of total airtime.

However, should one wish to purchase that much time during a campaign, the cost would be quite high.  It is difficult to precisely say how many dollars such airtime would cost, as stations charge lower rates to candidates than they do to supporters of candidates, and they charge different rates to various supporters.  Stations also are reluctant to release what they consider proprietary information. Based on inspections of the political files our team conducted of public files at WISN and WTMJ, we can say that one radio advertising spot costs roughly $100 to $200, depending on the length and the time of airing.

So we have extrapolated these numbers out and found that WISN and WTMJ each gave Walker and the GOP an equivalent of $15,000 to $31,000 in free time daily. 

Between the two, we estimate that WISN and WTMJ gave as much as $744,000 in free airtime to the GOP, Scott Walker, and his supporters in the first fifteen days of this election cycle.

Most of the time has been given to supporters of Candidate Walker, although the candidate has appeared as a guest on six programs since the race began May 9th.

WISN gave Tom Barrett about one minute of free airtime daily, estimated to be valued at $100 to $200.  WTMJ gave an average of one minute daily to Barrett and Democrats generally, again estimated at a value of $100 - 200.

Between the two, we estimate that WISN and WTMJ gave as much as $4,800 in free airtime to the Democrats, Tom Barrett, and his supporters in the first fifteen days of the election cycle.   

$744,000 for Walker;  $4,800 for Barrett.

2) Determine any notable imbalance in time offered to each political party.

Based on the data noted above, WISN and WTMJ are clearly both giving GOP candidates and supporters nearly exclusive time on their licensed stations.

In addition, the cadre of guests booked on the five programs shows a clear imbalance.

The three programs aired on WISN, Belling, McKenna and Weber, booked twenty-five guests over the twelve days of monitoring.  Of the twenty-five, only one, J.R. Ross, can be considered independent analysts.  The rest are either Republican candidates, GOP political appointees, or Republican party appointees, campaign heads, or current officeholders. 

On WTMJ, thriteen guests appeared on the two shows over the twelve days.  Of them, only one, Christian Schneider, may be considered an independent analyst.  The rest are either Republican candidates, GOP political appointees, or Republican party appointees, campaign heads, or current officeholders. 

Current candidates as guests within the first twelve days of monitoring: 


GOP Governor and candidate Scott Walker appeared on all three of WISN's programs:  once on Belling, twice on McKenna, and once on Jay Weber.  GOP Lt Gov. and candidate Rebecca Kleefish appeared once on Belling and twice on McKenna.  GOP Candidate Sen. Van Wangaard appeared thrice on McKenna. 


GOP Governor Scott Walker appeared three times on the Sykes show. 

Section 315 (a) of the Communications Act provides for equal opportunities for major party candidates should their opponent be given or sold time.  The opposing candidates have seven days from the date of a broadcast to make such a request.  This author is unaware whether Democratic candidates Tom Barrett or Mahlon Mitchell made such requests or whether the stations made opportunities available to Democratic candidates.

In addition, GOP Senatorial candidate Eric Hovde appeared twice on WISN, once on the Belling program, once on the McKenna show.  He also appeared once on WTMJ's Sykes show.   As Hovde's election will be held in November, this appearance is outside the sixty day prior to elections rule, and his opponent has no legal standing to demand equal time.

Supporters of Candidates guesting on programs:


GOP Rep Robin Voss appeared once on the Belling program, and once on the Weber program.  Brian Schimming , Vice Chair WI GOP is a regular guest on the McKenna show, appearing six times over the twelve days.   GOP Rep. Bill Kramer and GOP State Senator Glenn Grothman each appeared once on McKenna.  GOP Milwaukee City Alderman Bob Donavan appeared once on the Weber program, once on McKenna, .  GOP State Senator Ron Johnson appeared once on the Weber program, and GOP State Senator Alberta Darling appeared once on the Weber program and once on Belling.   Walker political appointee Stephanie Klett appeared once on the McKenna show as did Walker political appointee Cathy Stepp.  Jason Richwine and Mike Gonzalez of the Heritage Foundation each appeared on McKenna, as did David Tuerk of the Beacon Hill Institute.  Reince Priebus, Chair of the Republican National Convention, former chair of WI GOP appeared once on McKenna, GOP Sen Glenn Grothman appeared once on McKenna.  Stephan Thompson, executive director of the Wisconsin Republican Party appeared once on Belling.


On WTMJ, GOP Rep. Robin Vos appeared once on Sykes,  as did Walker political appointee Cathy Stepp, and GOP Milwaukee City Alderman Bob Donavan.  GOP State Senator Alberta Darling appeared once on Wagner's show. Michele Litjens - (R) Assembly Member,Jason Richwine and Mike Gonzalez with Heritage Foundation,Brian Sicme from Media Trackers Al Cardness from CPAC all appeared on Sykes program.

ALL these guests were clearly supporters of Scott Wallker and/or the other GOP candidates.  Under the quasi-equal opportunities doctrine, in the 60 days prior to an election, stations must provide comparable time for supporters of the opposing party if they so request it within seven days of a given broadcast.

Supporters of Tom Barrett did make such requests;  the stations have denied them comparable time.

3) Determine whether the talk programs qualify as "bonafide news" per FCC requirements for exemptions for comparable time under Section 315(a) of the Communications Act or under the FCC's "Quasi-Equal Opportunities" rule, known as the Zapple Doctrine.

Section 315 (a) of the Communications Act imposes Equal Opportunities for candidates on broadcast stations.  It says that (a) If any licensee shall permit any person who is a legally qualified candidate for any public office to use a broadcasting station, he shall afford equal opportunities to all other such candidates for that office in the use of such broadcasting station.  If a program is considered "bonafide news"  they are exempt from this rule.

This law was expanded in 1970 in Nicholas Zapple V FCC by a vote of FCC Commissioners to require comparable time to supporters of major party candidates.  Commonly known as the quasi-equal opportunities rule, this applies only to supporters of major party candidates.  If one side has received free airtime, the FCC's Zapple Doctrine requires the other side also receive free time.  

Stations in Wisconsin are fully aware of these requirements, as these FCC rules are provided to Wisconsin radio and TV stations by their own Wisconsin Association of Broadcasters.  See pages five and six. 

If, however, a radio program is considered "bonafide news,"  it does not have to comply with equal opportunities requirements. 

According to the FCC, programs must meet three tests to be considered "bonafide news."  The program must be regularly scheduled, producers must be in control of guests and content, and the program must be non-partisan, not supporting any candidates.

All five programs meet the requirements of being regularly scheduled and having producers in control of guests and content.  The question remained whether the programs are non-partisan and not supporting candidates.  The monitoring showed that on this test, all five programs failed, some more spectacularly than others. 

As shown previously, the number and character or guests invited on the five programs were heavily tilted toward the GOP side.

As to whether the shows were non-partisan and not being used in support of any candidates, we have identified many examples of partisanship on all five programs.  Hosts routinely identify themselves as supporters of Scott Walker, urge listeners to vote for Walker, and we have documented that three of the shows, those on Clear Channel's WISN, which are actively using the publicly owned radio airwaves to recruit volunteers for Walker and the other GOP candidates. 



Mark Belling:

"Urging people to vote for Walker."   "I do support Walker"
"If you're not convinced the person's a Walker voter, do nothing to get them to vote! You do not want to motivate someone who's gonna vote against Walker to show up."

"In this election it isn't enough for you to vote. You must get virtually everybody that you know that you think is a Walker supporter to vote."
"It's really, really important. I know you think Walker's gonna win, (but) we need your vote."
"If you're somebody who has any time on your hands and care at all about the state I would urge you to either call or go to one of the Walker Victory or Walker Republican Victory centers around the state, volunteer your time either in advance or on Election Day."

"To get those people who support Walker in to vote is going to be harder than on a normal election date."

"While people like me may be adamant and you may be adamant, we've got 20 to 30% of the people who would support Scott Walker, you know they care but their life isn't twisting on this. Those are the ones we gotta make sure get out to vote."

Vicki McKenna:

McKenna tells listeners to volunteer for Sen. Wangaard

McKenna routinely refers to the Republican Party as “we,” not “they”

McKenna openly advertises tickets for the state Republican convention

Guest Schimming recruits volunteers for Walker

McKenna recruits volunteers for Walker, Sen. Wangaard, and Lt. Gov. Kleefisch.

“They're upset that conservative talk radio exists and conservative talk radio is out there supporting conservatives like Gov. Walker.” -McKenna   

“The easiest website for everyone to go to if you want to be an election observer or if you want to be a poll watcher is Just go to the Republican Party's website.” -McKenna
McKenna recruits volunteers for Sen. Wanggaard's campaign

Jay Weber:

“I know I’m partisan”
Praised all four republican senate candidates – “they would all be good”

“Scott Walker and we supporters of his”

 Weber asks listeners to volunteer for Walker campaign, gives website to go to
 “we need more volunteers to make those contact calls”
“We cannot assume walker is gonna win this thing, we gotta make sure everybody gets out to vote, everybody we possible know gets out to vote on this day”

 lots of walker signs = “this is obviously a good sign, we have to translate that into votes”


Charlie Sykes:

Said that he was going use his program for Conservatives to give their side of the story.

"If Bob Bowman is going to call up an talk while we are talking with Bob Donavan, we are not going to let him on. He had his shot. Bob Donavan will be able to make his point uninterrupted by Major Tom Barrett's lacky Aldermen Bob Bowman."

"Need to make sure Scott Walker gets way more votes than he would normally do."
You need to make sure that they vote. If any of them say "ah, Walker 's got it in the bag, ah it doesn't matter" It does matter, in particularly your friends. and I think you need to make a special effort to some of your friends that seem to be  unengaged or not engaged. Or who may be saying "I'm just sick of it, I want it to be over, I'm not going to vote" say "Listen, you have to understand, that if Governor Walker is removed from office, we will have endless campaigns in this state, we will have endless recalls, if you want to end it, if you want to make the politicians, stop their tantrums, and get back to work, you need to go and vote, and stop the recall of Governor Walker. You need to get these people out. I'm not asking you to give money, I'm not asking you to do some elaborate thing, it's that circle of influence. If everyone of you brings the 10, 15 people, make sure that the people who are in your neighborhood, that they understand how important it is. And I got to tell ya, I think this election may be decided by the "I'm sick of this thing" folks, whether they understand if you are really sick of it, if you don't want to waste another 16M dollars on Tom Barrett's ego tantrum, you have to turn out and vote and put an end to it now."

Jeff Wagner:

I have “genuine passion and support for the governor”

Because all five of the local Talk Radio programs on WISN and WTMJ in Milwaukee are showing poltical intent in their programming, they do not qualify as "bonafide news" programs and are therefore subject to the Equal Opportunities rules in the Zapple Doctrine.

News Distortion

The FCC also has clear rules against news distortion, so any program which is distorting facts in any way cannot be considered "bonafide news."  Our monitoring team has found numerous examples of news distortion in all five programs.  Some examples that are easily debunked:

Belling:  Obama's stimulus "hasn't produced any gain in employment at all"

McKenna  No Planned Parenthood in Wisconsin does cancer screenings.

Sykes:    Walker got more votes than Democrats combined

If a program willingly distorts facts, it must not be considered a "bonafide news" program.

4)  Should comparable time should be offered under Section 315(a) of the Communications Act or under the FCC's "Quasi-Equal Opportunities" rule, known as the Zapple Doctrine?

Our findings show that WISN and WTMJ are both airing programming which is extremely tilted toward only one major political party.  We find that all five local Talk Radio programs studied are showing obvious political intent in what they are airing on our public airwaves.  Therefore, the Quasi- equal opportunities rule (Zapple Doctrine) does apply, and WISN and WTMJ must provide comparable time to supporters of Tom Barrett and the Democrats now through the end of the election.

In order for the quasi-equal opportunities Doctrine to be triggered, supporters of candidates must request comparable time from the station within seven days of an imbalanced broadcast. 

Several Tom Barrett supporters have complied with this rule.  WTMJ has written them back, denying them time;  WISN has not responded to the dozens of requests sent to them.

The FCC is aware of this situation.  A formal complaint will be made to the FCC to rectify this situation immediately.