They're irreverent, boisterous and often provocative — but they're always on top of the biggest stories of the day. When Mike Crute and Dominic Salvia started "The Devil's Advocates," the former college buddies' vision was simple: take their end-of-the-bar political arguments to the airwaves. Since launching as an hour-long weekend show in February 2012, the duo now counts such diametrically opposed politicians as U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and state Rep. Chris Taylor as regular guests on the three-hour drive-time show on The Mic 92.1 FM.
Cap Times: Give me the elevator version of how you became what you are now.
Mike Crute: This happened because we like talking politics, and people were shushing us, even in a bar. You couldn’t talk politics in a bar. We disagreed, we didn’t echo each other’s sentiments all the time. And it had become so divisive in Wisconsin, people weren’t talking. And we thought, hell, we got half the bar talking when we talk politics. We enjoy it. So this show is really the end-of-the-bar conversation that we always had.
You’ve got this platform most people don’t have to talk about these things. What do you aim to do with it?
Crute: I think I’ve already accomplished a certain goal, which is to see if we had a marketable product, and we think we do, and the ratings seemingly demonstrate that we do. So now the question is, can we create enough financial stability in doing this that it’s worthwhile as an ongoing lifelong endeavor. But the greatest thing about this is we truly get to have very unvarnished conversations sometimes with politicians that really should’ve never come on in the first place — and now we’ve got you, we can ask you whatever we want. I know not everyone wants to come on because we might ask them something for the sake of humor, but that’s exactly how I talk to people. I try to make everyone I deal with laugh. Doesn’t mean I’m not serious. And it’s so much fun to see what kind of reaction you’re going to get out of an otherwise very polished politician.
How have you convinced people to come on the show?
Dom Salvia: The first thing you have to do is pick up the phone and make the call. From my experience, once you’ve got a couple nailed down — and you realize that we’re not trying to stick ya, we want to have that conversation. When you make a bond somehow, some way, things open up.
Crute: We’re fair to people, and we try not to interrupt our guests. If someone is given a fair opportunity to express their opinion, I may disagree with it, but we don’t shut them down and we don’t play gotcha. We’d rather make friends than make enemies.
Do you think it’s hard, say, for a Republican to come on, if they were to listen to the two of you going back and forth taking digs at Scott Walker or calling Chris Kapenga a “d-bag"?
Crute: I think, for us to do the very candid, this is what we really think sort of radio, I cannot not be honest in my assessment. I don’t feel a personal animus to any politician, with the exception of Scott Walker. I really do have an issue with him. But everyone else — I like Ron Johnson. Most of the Republicans that come on the show, I would certainly have a cold beer with them — as long as they’re buying.
Do you think of yourselves as journalists? Personalities? Something in between?
Salvia: All of it! Yes, absolutely. And I don’t know why you can’t be. For us to go in and ask the questions, I think we’re just as qualified as anyone else. I know, folks like you went to school specifically for it — and for me that’s a lot to overcome. I know I’m not supposed to be here. But I also think that makes it challenging and fun.
Crute: I’m a journalist.
Crute: At times.
Can you be a journalist ‘at times’?
Crute: Yes. I can be a journalist at times, and the tenor of the story matters. The impact and the importance of the story matters to me. But ultimately, it’s about production of good radio. And if journalism is called for for good radio, then I’m a journalist. And if making someone laugh is called for — and I think good radio includes a lot of laughs — then I’m going to try to be funny.
You’re speaking to a progressive audience, and I think a lot of people peg you as a liberal show, as two liberal guys. Is that fair?
Crute: I think you can disagree with us ideologically or philosophically and enjoy the show. It ultimately has to be commercially viable, and the only qualm I have with being labeled as liberal is this insistence that liberal radio doesn’t work. And we work. Commercially, ratings, we’re working. So we’ve either broken the mold or we’re not really liberal radio.
Salvia: I would say this. It depends on who you ask. To our audience, I’m a conservative. But to a conservative, I’m a liberal.
You voted for Scott Walker.
Salvia: I did vote for Scott Walker. Really, I voted against the recall. But that was a vote for Scott Walker.
You’re really the only "talk radio" hosts who somewhat regularly come to press conferences at the Capitol. What role are you playing there?
Crute: We’re there asking the questions and covering the topic of the day from the perspective of how we’re going to cover it for our audience. I see myself in the role of a journalist. I’ve never once gone to a press conference and thought, I’m here as an advocate, or to create a floor show.
Do you have any favorite guests?
Salvia: Yes, Jessie Opoien from the Cap Times.
Crute: Ron Johnson.
Salvia: I love Scot Ross. Recently I have a fondness for Andy Jorgenson. I’m not a Dem, and I love talking to a guy like Scot Ross, who has that angle, that venom.
Crute: If there’s a close second, I would say Dale Schultz, because he’s been so candid.
Have you ever gone too far with anything you’ve said on the air?
Crute: Yes. I regret calling Chris Kapenga a d-bag. It’s disrespectful.
Salvia: So you regret telling your true feelings?
Crute: It lowers the level of discourse.
Salvia: Name-calling always does. But he is a d-bag.
Crute: Absolutely a d-bag. I don’t regret a single interview we’ve ever done, I don’t regret many of the questions I’ve ever asked, unless it’s redundant or didn’t advance the conversation. I will say this, I feel like we’re intelligent enough, and goshdarn it, we’re good enough — people like us. But part of what they like about us is sometimes, I go too far, and that I’m a little too candid.
Salvia: Do I have regrets? No. Zero regrets. Absolutely zero.