MILWAUKEE -- Liberal groups are trying to hit the mute button on Milwaukee's conservative talk radio hosts, or at least get more air time of their own.
They are in the first phase of a fundraising campaign called "Radio Active," trying to raise $20,000 of seed money to monitor the shows of five talk show hosts whose views they find troubling. The plan faces an uncertain future: previous attempts at progressive radio have failed, but organizers said this effort has more momentum.
"We sense a lot of excitement, we don’t think it’s going to fizzle out," said Ted Kraig, regional director for the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the statewide teachers' union. "This campaign is about building something permanent so other points of view are heard."
WEAC is one of a handful of groups fundraising for the campaign. Organizers with Citizen Action of Wisconsin say if it's successful, they will pressure radio station owners to put a progressive voice on the air, and may consider buying a small station of their own.
The targets of the campaign are 620 WTMJ's Charlie Sykes, News/Talk 1130 WISN's Mark Belling, Vicki McKenna and Jay Weber, and Jerry Bader with Green Bay's WTAQ.
Bader told FOX6 News the campaign shows a lack of understanding. Conservative talk radio is on the air because it's popular, he said.
"I`m going to be honest -- I thought it (Radio Active) was hysterical," Bader said in a Skype interview. "Conservative talk radio is a business. We are there for profit. So if they want to raise money to try to challenge that, or silence that, good luck."
Some of the liberal groups' concerns -- that talk hosts have too much influence over the political process, and hosts coordinate with one another on a central message -- are untrue, Bader said.
"We operate on our own, we come up with compelling content of our own," he said.
Jerry Bott with iHeartMedia, which owns WISN-AM, says the plan is a political attempt to silence popular and influential voices.
"These actions are not about Wisconsin's airwaves or the local communities that talk radio stations and programming serve every day," Bott said in an emailed statement. It's an attempt at censorship."
Bader welcomed the challenge, saying the groups' plans were unsustainable.
"It`s going to collapse under its own weight like similar efforts have because again, you do not compete in the free market in the way they`re trying to do," Bader said.
Kraig said southeastern Wisconsin teachers have grown tired of a one-sided voice on talk radio, and pointed to hosts calling teachers "bullies." He said dozens of his members have contacted organizers and want to be involved in the campaign.
"We think a lot of people are unaware of how severe the bias is and what the consequences are," he said. "If you line it up, you can see it is really bad for the teaching profession and public schools."