Welcome to The WTPS-FM History Web Page

Last Updated on March 6th, 2003

- H i s t o r y -

WTPS has enjoyed a long and very interesting history. The station was started in the Fall of 1982 by a group of disenfranchised WMSE-FM volunteers whom were either fired, or quit in a show of protest over the school's handling of the way MSE was run. WTPS ("The Pirate Station") was initially a vehicle by which "Commander" Todd Ciske, "Big Daddy" Dean Hock, Barry "Rock Dentist" Baumann, Jeff "Dr. Reef" Herwig, and Marty "Mort d' Hump" Wiedmayer could blow off a little rock & roll steam. It was located in the Riverwest neighborhood of Milwaukee, and operated at 104.5 MHz at a power level of about 5 watts. Early contributors to the station included Neil Mickey, Rich "Uncle R" Kirchen, Jim "Catch" Ketchman, and Jeff "Deke Marler" Worman. The station was an immediate hit, and quickly drew the attention of the local press, including The Crazy Shepherd, and The Milwaukee Journal. In fact, the station managed to place #6 in a radio popularity poll. Unfortunately, this press was the early undoing of WTPS. A WMSE staffer (James Copland) sent a copy of the Journal article to the FCC office in Chicago which resulted in a visit from Field Engineers, and a subsequent shutdown of the station. Even the shutdown was big news. The FCC fined Ciske $750, which was negotiated down to $300. The core staffers would not give up their pursuit of good radio, however. A benefit dance supported by local bands (X-Cleavers, Kafka, G-Spots) was held at Teddy's nightclub (now Shank Hall) which paid the fine, and the leftover funds were used to launch WTPS-Cable FM.

The Cable FM operation was initiated in 1984 and was heard on the North Shore Viacom Cablevision system on 107.1 FM and "Data Channel" 27A. Milwaukee did not even have cable back then, but the Suburbs did. The FM required a convertor- which nobody had, but the Data Channel (which scrolled stock market quotes- and nobody cared about back then), was just another channel that everyone could get. We knew for a fact that this combo of Modern Rock and Wall Street blew a few minds! The cable head-end was fed with a pair of hi-fi (equalized) phone lines from Ciske's Living Room/Studio in Riverwest. The station operated 24-7 from a pile of pre-produced shows on cassette tapes, played on a stack of 4 auto-reverse Walkmans that cascaded to each other. "Big Daddy" Dean Hock designed and wire-wrapped the control electronics that drove that little beast. It worked great for a long time, but the Walkmans were just not designed for that type of continuous duty. The music was some of the coolest of the day, supplied mostly from Mort d' Hump's Rockpool connection.

The cable venture ended abruptly when there was a management change at Viacom Cable. We had a handshake agreement with the previous regime, and the new one pulled us off the wire until they had a signed contract. Part of their requirements was that we carried $1M of Liability Insurance covering Content. Nobody would (affordably) cover us, so that was the end of WTPS-CAFM.

All that groovy equipment was too much temptation for "Commander" Todd, who resurrected over-the-air transmission at 107.1 MHz from an East-Side location (near Farwell & Brady) in 1985. This time it was a "solo" career, and CT took over all duties including Music Direction . This was the beginning of the Indie Rock music era, and the playlists began to show it. The equipment now included a Mitsubishi cassette "jukebox" which would cycle through 10 tapes continuously. The transmitter & jukebox was moved to Rich "Poolickey" Majeski's apartment near Farwell & North avenue because if the FCC came again, it would be his 1st offense, not CT's 2nd- and a much bigger fine. Of course, Rich did radio shows, and the Meat Puppets would become a staple of the airwaves in 1986-87.

All of that cool music did not go unnoticed, and fan letters started rolling in to the PO Box that was announced on the air. New DJ's included "Upstairs Willie", "Mrs. Renee" and "Ayatollah Jim" Romanesko. The station sought out ID's from bands such as Firehose, Brian Brain, Slovenly, Red Math, Young Fresh Fellows, Meat Puppets, Zoogz Rift, Peter Zaremba of the Fleshtones, and many others. At this time the birth of the Deke Marler "Music Time USNA" shows were a high water mark in the station's production abilities. Deke's futuristic fantasy world focused through Liquid Sky and Blade Runner made for some of the most interesting and bizarre radio I have ever heard. It has been suggested that some of these shows be mixed down and offered as CD's. We just may do that someday . The transmitter/jukebox moved with Poolickey to Cramer St, and CT moved to BayView. It wasn't long, however until trouble followed the newfound station's popularity.

Once again, the press proved to be our enemy when a dickhead reporter for the Journal decided to "expose" the station. The article forced WTPS into radio silence , and left a rather large hole on the dial, and in the listeners & volunteers hearts. At that time, the transmitter and jukebox returned to CT in BayView (just blocks away from our 'friendly" reporter). One bored summer evening CT fired-up the transmitter and played some tapes of KUNI, and sure enough, the next day there was an "investigative" article about this activity in the Journal.

A year or two later, CT noticed that this reporter's house went up for sale (after religiously honking his horn at every late-nite drive by opportunity), and that the reporter moved to Glendale (thanks Romanesko!). Glendale is in the shadow of a huge antenna farm in the Milwaukee area, and 10 miles from Bay View. The day he moved was the day WVKR-FM from "Evanston" was born!

WVKR ("Various Knew Rock") was an effort in illusion- designed to make the teeming millions believe they were receiving a distant station "really well". CT became Bill Stevens ("B.S."), and production became fairly slick and tight to try & pass off the "legitimate" sound. Again, the tunes were some of the station's best moments. At this time "Rob E. Bob" (Chris Hoffmann), "Bermuda Smith", "Dick Hell" (Rich Majeski), and "John E. Bingo" came on board or returned to help out on the air. A surprise volunteer arrived in the form of "John E. Bingo" - who was Tom Crawford; GM of rival WMSE. Commander Todd had to give him a break when Tom tracked him down confessing to be a 'VKR fan who actually called Directory Assistance in Evanston, IL trying to get the station's phone number! It was eventually great therapy for both Crawford and CT to share the airwaves, and a very fortunate alliance.

The alliance proved crucial, because soon after the station moved location into CT's first purchased home in BayView in 1994, an anonymous letter warning of an impending bust was stuck in the mailbox. It was from someone saying he worked with a "radio freak-nazi" at the Milwaukee Water Works (Cryptosporidium-Factory) who is going to turn us in. Then a letter from the "radio-freak-nazi" himself appeared in the mail. Sure enough, a few weeks later, a letter arrived from the FCC.

It was decided that WVKR/WTPS should hire an attorney to represent them against the FCC since this would be CT's second violation (the first in 12 years). Crawford mentioned he had a DJ on 'MSE who was also an attorney, and that he would see if he was interested in fighting for us. Not only was Attorney Jeff "Harry Lippermore" Joy interested in fighting for us, but his firm (The Charlton Law Firm) was poised to take on the entire FCC and it's restraint on Freedom Of Speech. Wow! This was at the time the Stephen Dunifer case and Free Radio Berkeley was being litigated, and a plea was made to hold off a decision on WVKR/WTPS in light of the Berkeley Case. We were ready to fight.... and rock & roll!

"Harry Lippermore" joined the WTPS DJ crew, and was ready to bail any of us out in case of a raid. With a blanket of temporary immunity, WTPS took to the air at 99.9 MHz- a frequency that our consultant cleared as a possible 250 watt translator site earlier, and commenced 24-7, 365 broadcasting as Milwaukee Community Radio. We also fought successfully to block a construction permit request for a translator on this frequency by a local commercial broadcaster. The fact that it was denied is now crucial, as 99.7 MHz is now a clear frequency for a 100W LPFM for Milwaukee (you're welcome, Milwaukee). Milwaukee Community Radio delivered alternative music with plenty of community service announcements in an effort to truly serve the public and was our battle cry. Coverage of town hall meetings at the Bulah Brinton Community Center, and reading mailings from dozens of local community groups filled the airwaves. New on-air talent included DJ Michelle, "Downtown Dave", a sports call-in talk show called "Andy's Sports Talk", and shifts by Mrs. Renee. Even an in-studio performance (and overnite crash) from the touring Australian group Gigantaur was featured. Victor DeLorenzo of the Violent Femmes stopped-in for an interview and to promote his new solo disc. But life at WTPS was not all good.

The radio-freak-nazi that originally turned us in kept sending bizarre letters and made weird phone calls, eventually threatening to burn our house down. Some detective work revealed who this dork was, and indeed that he worked at the City of Milwaukee Water Works. Our Caller ID also revealed that he was doing all of this on "company time". Again, our attorney was called into action and we took this jerk to court. The Judge issued a restraining order. Life was good again, for a while.....

The FCC made it's judgement against Stephen Dunifer and Free Radio Berkeley, which was the cornerstone of Milwaukee Community Radio's defense. We were on our own.

At about this time (1997) the Pirate Radio thing had gotten real old. Numerous wannabes had sprung up all over Milwaukee, mostly of dubious quality and content. It was time to move on. We had become aware of a newly available commercial frequency (6kW) about 35 miles out of Milwaukee and decided to apply for a construction permit to put WTPS on the air there; loud & legal. We were not alone. 10 other groups and individuals decided to apply as well. This was in 1997-98 when the FCC decided to auction off these contested applications if consensus between the applicants could not be reached. Believe it or not, all but 1 out of the 11 was able to agree to settle! Because it was not 100% settled, it went to auction. We decided not to participate in the auction, feeling it would be too rich for our blood. We were right. The construction permit went to Outlook Communications of Arizona for $1.6M !

Unbelievably, keeping the flame alive for 20 years is finally (maybe) beginning to pay off. A few years ago, as most of you know, the FCC created the Low-Power FM (LPFM) service. We've known all-along that there was more room on the dial for more stations. We never thought we'd live to see the day that they would (favorably) change the rules. Forget Mother Theresa, William Kennard is a saint. Last year we formed Kettle-Moraine Community Radio, Inc. as a community group poised to bring the public back into public radio. There will be many more links to our Mission Statement and Bylaws if we are approved for a construction permit. We'd like to have even more History to fill these pages in the future!
Stay tuned!


Early T-Shirt Logo

Early Music Chart

Indie Music Chart

Music Time USNA Recording Party

Deke, the "Spewing Dude", & Barbie "O-Rings!!"

"New Decade" Poster

"WVKR"-era Music Chart

"Dr. Circuit" Antenna Design goes On Line!

WTPS Birthday Cake

Studio 1

More Studio 1

Commander Todd Meets Tiny Tim!

Milwaukee Community Radio-era Music Chart

T-Shirt Logo

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