Wispolitics: Sykes reflects on conservative talk radio in hyper-partisan digital age
For longtime radio talker Charlie Sykes, life behind the microphone started out with his conservative viewpoint serving as "water to a parched earth" and culminated in a storm of fiery emotion two years ago during Gov. Scott Walker's recall election.
Today, Sykes says political discourse -- and the media environment surrounding it -- have changed dramatically, both for better and for worse.
The 20-year veteran of the conservative talk scene expresses some longing for the cordiality of the past while reveling in being part of today's political warfare in a state that often makes national headlines.
Speaking at a WisPolitics.com luncheon in Milwaukee on Wednesday, WTMJ-AM's Sykes said Walker's recall election in 2012 -- and the controversies leading up to it after Walker took office in 2011 -- charged political emotions in the state like never before.
Listeners are far more interested in politics than they were years ago, and both listeners and politicians are more polarized. He admits the recalls sharpened him, too.
"I think it did, it got me focused on the importance of the things we were talking about here in Wisconsin. We all had to go back to the first principles and sharpen what we were doing."
But Sykes also lamented what he describes as a "coarsening" of political conversations today, filled with vicious attacks.
"Back in the 1990s, I used to have really cordial relationships with people of other political ideologies," he said. "I could say, 'OK, I can work with you on this; I can't work with you on that.' But it's become so personal and it's become so vicious, that a lot of those lines have been eliminated and a lot of those personal relationships are completely gone, and I'm not sure how you completely come back from that."