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Change in morning show "didn't happen the way we anticipated."

WKLH-FM image control efforts went into overdrive Wednesday to correct what it believes are misperceptions and misstatements related to its decision not to renew Carole Caine’s contract.

In a statement in response to interviews that former morning co-host Caine conducted yesterday, Milwaukee Radio Group general manager and vice president Annmarie Topel said the station felt “compelled to correct the untruths shared with the press.”

The statement, below, said that contrary to unspecified reports Caine was “indeed offered an opportunity” to say goodbye to listeners on air, and was “encouraged to do so.”

But “Carole adamantly declined.”

Caine appeared on WTMJ-TV and on WISN-TV the day after she reached a severance agreement with the station. She had been at the station for 29 years. She also spoke to Milwaukee Magazine.

WISN news director Chris Gegg had no comment on the statement (See WISN’s story at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.).

Photo of Ed Christian, credit Saga Communications.

Photo of Ed Christian, courtesy Saga Communications.

Ed Christian, president and CEO of Saga Communications, which owns Milwaukee Radio Group, even called a reporter who hadn’t had his coffee yet Wednesday morning to set the record straight.

Christian would not speak of personnel matters but his philosophy about radio and the direction of Saga’s Milwaukee stations shed light on Caine’s departure and the rebranding of WKLH from Classic Rock to Hometown Rock.

And he said the station was planning to get another partner for veteran morning co-host Dave Luczak whom he called “a stalwart in the community.”

Christian is a long time presence in the Milwaukee market. He bought WKLH in the early 1980s when it was still WMGF-FM and picked out the call letters.

“I couldn’t get CLH,” an abbreviation for classic rock, he said.

Today Saga owns 62 FM and 30 AM stations in 25 markets including Milwaukee stations WKLH, WHQG-FM, WJYI-AM, WNRG-FM and WJMR-FM. Each market is locally operated by divisions like Milwaukee Radio Group.

Saga is a “community company and we empower (local groups) in each market,” he said. “I hate to say our stations are handcrafted but they really are. There is not a conveyer belt that kicks out formats.”

He said every community is unique. A country station just acquired in Virginia has “nine hours of bluegrass” on weekends. “We won’t touch that. It’s part of the community.”

The signal of a Saga station in Yangton, S.D. “covers the largest land mass in America. We are really the news and ag voice” of four states. When that station first went on the air its house band was Lawrence Welk, he said.

Milwaukee, “is a great market” and “has soul unlike a lot of other towns. There’s a fabric to Milwaukee” – he pronounced it “Mwoky” despite my discouraging him – “which is why we’re very successful” here.

The switch from Classic to Hometown Rock was based on “strategic research” by Bob Lawrence a long time brand consultant named vice president of the Saga group in April.

Lawrence “re-shifted” and “re-balanced” the music library working “hand in glove” with Milwaukee brand manager Bob Bellini.

“If you don’t change in any industry you are relegated to a very sad future,” Christian said.

Christian said Saga treats its employes “the way I expect to be treated.” The Caine kerfuffle was “distressing” but the problem was “perceptual.”

“We just don’t have issues … or animus like this.”

Christian said the reaction to Caine’s departure was “totally something” he hadn’t seen  “in all my years in broadcasting.”

The morning show change was part of “a subtle course correction” at WKLH “that happened on many fronts.” It was part of a “comprehensive and overall analysis that may not have been perceptible to the listeners.”

But “the change in the morning show didn’t happen the way we anticipated.”

The outcry over it tells Christian that “there are a tremendous number of people who still believe in radio in Milwaukee. And we hope to earn their trust and continue to do compelling radio.”

***

Statement from WKLH

“We have made every effort to exercise professional decorum with respect to the decision not to renew Carole Caine’s contract.  We continue to be sensitive to all parties involved, despite the ugly and unfounded conclusions that have been made by many.

“Due to recent events, however, we are compelled to correct the untruths shared with the press.  We indeed offered an opportunity and encouraged Carole Caine to say good-bye to her listeners.  We expressed our willingness to do so on her terms. Carole adamantly declined. 

In addition, Carole is well aware of the reasons that led to the decision over the last year not to renew her contract.  At her request, we even provided a letter to her that went into great detail. We will continue, however, to keep those matters confidential out of respect for Carole.”

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