A shake-up at news talk radio station WTDY on Wednesday has left several broadcasters out of work, including longtime Madison radio personality John "Sly" Sylvester.
Most of the station's news department was let go on the spot after a staff meeting, with a security guard waiting in the lobby, said Dylan Brogan, WTDY's sole news reporter. The move affects eight employees, he said.
Brogan said the staff was told that the station would be switching formats, but they weren't told what the new format would be.
Officials of Mid-West Family Broadcasting, owner of WTDY, 1670 AM and 106.7 FM, did not return phone calls Wednesday. By mid-afternoon, the station was playing Christmas music, and its website had been replaced with a "Happy holidays!" greeting.
Brogan, 25, who has been with the station for five years and has worked as a reporter since August 2011, said he's mostly sad he won't to be able to listen to "Sly in the Morning" anymore. He said he's been a regular listener since he was 10 years old.
"He provided a forum that is almost gone in the Madison area now," said Brogan, a onetime executive producer for Sylvester's show. "Love him or hate him, he was a Madison staple in terms of getting daily information and was vital to what happened in terms of the protests in 2011."
Sylvester's voice will be missed, Brogan said. "It's a big loss for local radio in general."
WTDY news director Amy Barrilleaux said the move was "somewhat of a surprise," but at the same time said she realizes it's the nature of the radio business. "There are format changes all the time and everyone sort of goes into it with their eyes open and knows that that's how it works sometimes."
Barrilleaux, 38, hosted a news show called "Everything at Five" and had been at the station 2 1/2 years.
"We all enjoyed trying to put out a good, solid local news product, and I'm not quite sure who is going to fill in that hole. I'm sure that the station will have something to offer going forward in some way," she said.
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Farm Director Pam Jahnke, known as the "Fabulous Farm Babe," was unaffected. "I'm not interested in making comment," she said in an email. "These are all my friends so it's a tough day."
The station's program director, Kurt Baron, was not affected, Brogan said.
Sylvester, who had been with WTDY since 1997, but has been on Madison radio for nearly 33 years, said he had heard rumblings that the station might be changing format with a new general manager who arrived this summer.
"It's a pretty sad day. It's obviously a very difficult day for me — and my co-workers," Sylvester said. "We all felt like we were accomplishing something in bringing news and information to people who weren't necessarily the NPR types, but were still hungry for information and perspective.
"And there just aren't many people with the perspective that we brought — I brought specifically."
Sylvester, who is known for his provocative, often acerbic style, began his radio career in 1979 on his 18th birthday. He said he doesn't know if he can move his show to another station.
"Needless to say," he said, "this is still kind of at the shock stage."
Sylvester said the massive protests at the Capitol over the state's collective bargaining law were "tailor-made" for him because he's long been involved with organized labor and the struggle for workers' rights.
"So when that happened, we took to the streets and made it a part of the programming," Sylvester said. "I made a commitment that I would keep it in the limelight until workers' rights were restored."