Some Milwaukee things come and go, while some Milwaukee things become iconic. Mandatory Milwaukee is all about the latter. This week: “It’s Alright, Ma, It’s Only Music” on WUWM!

If you ever find yourself compiling a list of Milwaukee’s top living radio legends (hey, it could happen!), the name in the number-one slot almost has to be Bob Reitman.

The lifelong Milwaukee DJ (and Bob Dylan superfan) began his career in the late 1960s, spinning counterculture rock tunes and giving rise to free-form “underground radio.” His WUWM show, “It’s Alright, Ma, It’s Only Music,” was iconic. (The show took its name from Dylan’s “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).”) Later, in the 1970s, Reitman moved to commercial radio and found further fame as one half of Reitman & Mueller. Reitman and (Gene) Mueller were real-deal celebrities during their decades-long stint at WKTI, pulling ridiculous stunts, hosting unhinged television specials, and even appearing on Cheers. Reitman retired in 2006. Mueller moved to WTMJ a year later, and eventually retired in 2022.

Reitman’s retirement didn’t last long. He revived “It’s Alright, Ma” on WUWM in 2007; more than 15 years later, he’s still at it. But he’s not alone: Tune in to the live two-hour show Thursdays at 8 p.m. (with repeats Saturdays at 9 p.m.) and you’ll not only hear Reitman, you’ll hear his son, Bobby. (The eldest Reitman was named after his father, making his son Robert Reitman III.) Together, the father-son team consistently creates a Mandatory Milwaukee radio show that should not be missed.

The format of “It’s Alright, Ma” 2.0 is simple: the elder Reitman plays a bunch of songs he likes (think classic-rock stuff like Dylan, Springsteen, and more Dylan), and the younger Reitman plays a bunch of songs he likes (think indie-rock stuff like M. Ward, Gorillaz, and St. Vincent). Shows are organized by theme. Recent playlists have centered on dreams, travel, the weather, and even kisses. It’s never the same show twice—though you’ll quickly learn that Dylan works for just about any theme.

“It’s Alright, Ma” absolutely shouldn’t work in the traditional commercial radio sense. Shows are loose, chatty, and seemingly off-the-cuff. Playlists are all over the map. Miscues sometimes pop up, and the Reitmans frequently give shout-outs to the “six or seven people listening right now.” The sound of “It’s Alright, Ma” is the sound of two guys showing up to the station with a bunch of records in their arms, figuring it out as they go.

But the Reitmans aren’t just two guys—they’re father and son, and that’s what makes “It’s Alright, Ma” such a wonderfully compelling hang-out radio experience. “I let him do exactly what he wants,” the elder Reitman told Milwaukee Magazine in 2014. “I know he’s played some things that I don’t ‘get.’ But it’s not that I approve or disapprove. You know, it’s his choice. He’s a musician, and he’s done a great job. Once in a while, not very often, he’ll play something where I’ll kind of cringe, but I’m sure I do the same to him.”

In a 2014 Riverwest Currents profile, the younger Reitman also touches on the family aspect of the show:

After their Thursday-night show, the Reitmans have a tradition of going to Real Chili to grab a bowl and hang out. “My dad’s been doing that for years. It’s a great way to be able to spend time with him every week.”

Making “It’s Alright, Ma” even sweeter? Tune in on a random Thursday night and you might hear the voice of a third DJ: Bobby’s young son, Bert. Three generations, hanging out, playing and listening to music. It’s life, and life only.

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