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What works: Mischke’s City Pages deal

A new series on what’s working in the embattled journalism world. Today’s lesson: If you want to get a job at the local alt-weekly these days, just round up your own advertisers and hop on board.
By David Brauer

[Note: Amid all the media gloom, I’m beginning a new occasional series on what’s working out there, journalistically and financially. Of course, I’m inaugurating it with a show that hasn’t yet been broadcast, but that fact that it’s happening is a minor miracle to ponder.]

You want to get a job at the local alt-weekly these days? The recipe is pretty straightforward: round up your own advertisers and hop on board.

Of course, Tommy Mischke is a rare bird; for two decades on KSTP-AM, he somehow blended content and advertising in a way that generated fierce listener and advertiser loyalty. But when Mischke was fired from AM1500 and disowned commercial radio, few thought he could replace his radio income on the Internet.

Without getting into specifics, let’s just say he did amazingly well. But it didn’t happen without help from a much-mocked legacy medium: print.

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Internet advertising alone wouldn’t pay the freight for a 2-4 p.m. weekday show (beginning March 4 at But advertisers did pony up enough for a print-web combo that Mischke secured a one-year deal. He’ll also do a weekly column in the paper.

The benefit for City Pages? It was able to get around a corporate hiring freeze because most costs were covered on Day One, and its reps now have a new selling opportunity.

Given the singular history and qualities of its namesake, the “Mischke Model” may be tough to replicate, and its long-term success remains unknown. But it does show how old and new media can be woven together. The Strib, PiPress — hell, the local edition of the Onion — might’ve pulled this off. Perhaps they can rig up something like it.

“I didn’t get hired at KSTP needing to bring advertisers along. Of late, I’ve been out there finding my own guys.”

Q: I’m told this isn’t a “traditional” deal where Media organization A pays talent B. In this case, you’re both talent and ad salesperson, right?

A: Media outlets in this country are cutting costs left and right. So how does anyone in such a climate take on new costs? The answer is have that new cost come with advertisers all ready to fund the effort.

I’m bringing my pals with me. Mark Moeller of RF Moeller Jeweler, Mark Rutzick at All Inc., The Leonard brothers over at Fury Motors, and Dave Ulrich at The Spectacle Shoppe all wanted to back me and have me back them. This has allowed City Pages to get this thing rolling without going in the red.

Q: Because this may well be a model for some of us, how does compensation in this new arrangement work? Do your advertisers pay you and you pay CP “rent” to be on their site? (The mall/tenant model.) Or do you and CP split advertising revenue somehow? And do they actually pay you a salary? Or something completely different?

A: I’m receiving endorsement fees with each of these advertisers, but they’ll be paying City Pages for the ads they run. Along with those endorsement fees, I’ll be receiving a salary.

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Q: So this is really radio compensation structure brought to papers/websites, with the possible exception that you’re bringing at least some of the advertisers, right?

A: It’s very much the radio model brought to the web and to print.

“I won’t endorse anyone operating at the Mall of America. I’ve never once shopped at the Mall and plan never to do so.”

The difference is, I didn’t get hired at KSTP needing to bring advertisers along. Sales reps found prospects over the years and brought them to me. Of late, I’ve been out there finding my own guys.

The hope is that eventually City Pages salespeople will take over and there will be ad sales having nothing to do with my endorsing anyone.

Q: For now, are all advertisers ones you personally endorse?

A: All the advertisers at this point are businesses I personally endorse. I tend to be picky with endorsements. For instance, I won’t endorse anyone operating at the Mall of America. I’ve never once shopped at the Mall and plan never to do so.

I also tend to only work with aggressive, confident, owner operators who will make everyone I send to them happy no matter what. Even if it ruins their day.

All the advertisers joining me will be at and on my webcast. Some will also be with me in print.

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Q: Interesting. Do you have veto power over who CP puts next to you in print, on the show?

A: I personally chose the people with me on the print page. They will be the same people week in and week out. The only people who will be with me on that page are people I’m backing. At it’s much the same story. Where it begins to shift is on the webcast. City Pages can sell ads that have nothing to with me and post them on my show.

Q: Got it. So in the end, they pay you a salary just like any new hire, but to offset that, you’re also bringing revenue in the door now and giving them a personality-specific sales opportunity later, correct?

A: Yes. It’s a way to construct something new and unique designed to drive more, and different, people to the paper, and to the website, at a time when deconstucting is more the story with so much media.

If it works it’s a model to duplicate, if it fails it’s a lesson to learn from.

“Now let’s talk FCC. I’m done taking words out of conversation that are there for a very real reason.”

Q: Let’s talk content for a moment. So now you’re free of the FCC. You don’t seem to me like a relentless f-bomber. What does the freedom allow you to do that you’ve wanted to do?

A: I’m free of more than the FCC. When it comes to this show I feel I’m my own boss. I’m shaping it, designing it, deciding where breaks go etc. There was a format at KSTP. Top and bottom of the hour news, four breaks an hour, four minute breaks. I obliterate all form and start over.

Being my own boss means on a hot summer day while doing the show if I want to  crack a can of beer I crack a can of beer, if I want to I light a cigar. Whose going to stop me?

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Now let’s talk FCC. I had a Vietnam vet on my show last Veterans Day. He was talking about the very real terror of landing in that country in ’68 knowing what he was going to have to do as a 19-year-old kid. He used words in talking about that intense fear that I was asked to keep off the air. It destroys the honesty of the moment to edit out words that truly belong in a sentence because they resonate with people. I’m done taking words out of conversation that are there for a very real reason.

Q: That’s very cool. What about callers? I’m told you’ll have them, so what’s the number? And who handles those calls — will you have a producer/board op/flunky? Also, at least in the beginning, you’ll probably have fewer of them, so how does that affect your show?

A: 651-330-4091 and 4094. Wish it spelled something but it doesn’t — too many zeros. Why the hell wasn’t the zero on the touch tone pad given some letters to go with it?

As for producer and board-op, his name’s Mischke. I’ll answer the phone live during the show. If it’s a bill collector so be it.

“Over at KSTP we were all pretty much in the second half of life. I’m now walking into a world where people are in that first half of life.”

Q: Hah! This should be fun. Will you take unpaid interns? I’ll bet there are a few willing to sign up.

A: The studio I’ve built is the size of a refrigerator. I don’t want people that close to me.

Q: Final thoughts about the new environment?

A: I want to say something about working with the people at City Pages. It’s a funny thing, over at KSTP we were all pretty much in the second half of life (some people over there are in the final third). I’m now walking into a world where people are in that first half of life. That is an extraordinarily different kind of energy.

I’ve been attending writer’s meetings and I feel like I’m back in college (which was a hell of a good time as I recall). These guys are open and alive and interested in everything and on fire and I find myself feeding off that energy. I hope to bring some of these people onto the show. I want to bring on writers when a big featured cover story appears and talk about it with them. I want to have the music editor on and talk about new bands in town.

I’ve been going out with these writers one on one and getting to know them and it’s helping me come up with ideas for the show.  I didn’t use the Channel 5 newsroom much, over the years, at KSTP. But at City Pages I want to stay real connected to what the staff is doing.