Thursday, June 21, 2007

Down With Talk Radio?

Think Progress has an interesting posting on its site, it's about how unfair it is that an overwhelming majority of talk radio shows are conservative. It's really not a new bit of info, most people with a car radio know this already.

Here's how this works:

A radio station is a business. And as we all know from economics class, businesses want to make money. The way the radio business makes money is selling advertising on its radio programming.
That's where this little thing called ratings come in. Ratings help determine how much a station can charge for its ad time. The higher the ratings, the higher the cost and the more revenue for the business.

Some radio stations carry contracts to broadcast certain syndicated shows. The more popular the shows are, the more it costs the station to pay the money charged by the syndicated show. It is at this point, we realize a risk is being taken by the station. Just because the ratings are high for a given show in other parts of the country, does not necessarily translate into ratings in the area of the station taking the risk.

The most important principle to note in all of this is, they must be able to pay for the cost of the show and have some left over to pay bills. If they cannot sell enough local ads on a syndicated show, they cannot continue to run the show. This is evidenced by the constant line-up changes with shows that do not perform well in a given market, in a given time slot.

Liberal/progressive talk shows have been in existence for years. I remember when Alan Colmes had his syndicated show before the one he has now, on FOX. He was the liberal voice in a show with conservative, Barry Farber. Both men were and (as far as I know), still are friends. They both made some money along the way, because people liked them and listened to them.

I also remember a liberal talk show host that occupied the late night slot at Cincinnati's "Big One" 700 WLW. He was known as Carmine Guzman.
Alan Berg, Mike Malloy, and others have made names for themselves, as well. Alan was killed, Mike never really was able to make much a go of anything.

In spite of these examples, it is undeniable that the most revenue comes from conservative talk show hosts. Why that is, is the subject of a lot of debate, especially when the subject is over-intellectualized. But when you get down to the meat of the matter, it's not that hard to understand. They get the ratings and the liberal ones generally don't.

Air America is the biggest case for this argument, there is. Their ratings were so utterly atrocious, they had to pay stations to keep them on. But the real tale of their lack of success comes from the fact that they only average a 1.2 rating. Obviously, they do well in cities like Portland (Oregon) and Madison (Wisconsin), where there is a large number of progressives. They have little trouble with ratings there. That is why they stay on the air in those places and get canceled in places where they flop.

There's no censorship here.
There's no unfairness here.

If there were some evidence pointing to an active attempt by conservatives to censor, if there were some key pieces of evidence pointing to unfairness, the progressive shows would be yanked everywhere. But drive through any city that has a sizable amount of progressives and you will see that isn't the case.
No folks, the market is the culprit here.

If a liberal host could and would put together a show that people would listen to besides a bunch of people calling Bush Hitler, on a daily basis, they might have a chance.
Bill Press makes a good attempt, as does Colmes. Yet, they do not get ratings.

Let's face it, other than NPR, there's no real competitive liberal talk show that can pull the numbers necessary, to compete with the likes of Limbaugh and Hannity. For whatever reason is irrelevant at this point. They just don't.

So, what to do about it? Well the rumors are flying.

The big one is that a couple of influential Democratic lawmakers allegedly want to do a legislative fix. What that would mean, would be anyone's guess.

Realistically, there are a couple of things they could do. But I think it's important to note that either would result in the loss of freedom, specifically, the freedom to run a business they way it should be run.

One choice for those that want to strip freedoms away in the name of partisan politics is, creating regulations that require equal time. The station will lose freedom to pick a show that will make them money and force them to choose one that will not, in the interest of so-called fairness. Half the shows will be money making and the others will not. Who will oversee this is another question.

The other choice would be even more foolish. They could bog down the courts with frivolous lawsuits and drain the profitability of shows they do not agree with. They would do this with the hope of said shows going off the air due to litigation costs. In essence, they would seek to shut them off altogether. I explain it this way only because I do not think Congress would be able to withstand the onslaught of outrage it would cause, if they tried to pull a Hugo Chavez.

But, if you think that Democrats have a lock on this disdain for talk radio, think again. AC, of
Fore Left fame, covered Trent Lott's recent statement about talk radio, all because the talk show hosts didn't toe the President's line on immigration.

Please realize this has nothing to do with politics, because I feel as strongly about this as I do about the right to blog. If someone would try to silence blogs like the Daily Kos and Huffington Post, I would defend the blogs against any such attempt and vigorously. Likewise, if the right tried to take Air America off by force or through some kind of bonehead legislation, I would support Air America 100%. And as most of you all know, I am usually not in agreement with any of those outfits, the vast majority of the time.

This is a dangerous precedent to set. Why?

Well, think about this:

What if someday the tables are turned and liberals are more popular on talk radio and there's a regulation saying that the stations must air equal time to lower grossing conservatives. Would Think Progress and the others be so concerned then?

What if this spreads to other media entities like TV, newspapers, and periodicals? How about the internet? Would bloggers want to be told that they must give equal time of their own blogs to the opposing side?

No, if this is true, this is a pretty stupid move here. It's stupid because the ramifications of trying to interfere with a legitimate market (all because one doesn't think a point of view is being heard enough), are not what we want. It reeks of more government control (that progressives seem to think is the answer to each and every perceivable injustice, conceivable). It's a subtle, passive-aggressive form of putting tighter controls on the media.

My advice to progressives that want to have their fair share of radio shows, is two-fold. One, find an intelligent liberal that can put together a quality show that voices your opinions, one that would cause anyone (conservative or liberal) to want to appear on it. Two, listen to it and make it popular.


A.C. McCloud said...

I happened to catch Hannity's radio show yesterday and he made a point that's hard to argue with--the right has NEVER suggested the NY Times, CBS, NBC, Sunday shows, or any other venue that tilts left be silenced because of the perceived imbalance in the market. Rush has always claimed he was "equal time", for example.

What Hillary and friends seem to miss is that the audience is listening because they want to, not because it's the only show on. They seem to believe that if only Randi Rhodes could replace Rush these same people might suddenly become liberals, which is actually rather insulting.

Greg said...

No need to worry, LAS. The First Amendment includes the right to associate, and (the Supreme Court has found) the right NOT to contribute to the support of an objectionable ideological cause.

"Equal time" is an absurd suggestion that only a dedicated authoritarian or the most desperate of leftist ideologues would advance.

BTW, did you catch the MSNBC investigation that found that the overwhelming majority of TV journalists contribute to the Republican Party?

Just kidding. It's the Democratic Party. Shocker.

LASunsett said...


//they seem to believe that if only Randi Rhodes could replace Rush these same people might suddenly become liberals, which is actually rather insulting.//

Many of them also fail to see that Randi Rhodes is really no more of a serious radio journalist than Rush is. Like Rush, she is an opinion show which has very little intellectual value (at least in my view). Both give their spins on events and people that listen to them pretty much know this, going in.

I do not listen to Rush, because I consider his show more news entertainment than hard news. When i have listened to him, he rarely put on callers that disagree with him, which also is something that I find no use for. I like to listen to challenging debate, not an amen corner.

But with all of that said, the market favors Rush and others like him, therefore I think they should be left alone until such time as the market says they do not like him anymore. If it were Randi Rhodes we we were talking about, I'd feel the same way.

Greg said...

BTW, did you know that radio is still the most popular medium among all the major media? By several factors of ten, in fact.

If you really want to get the pulse of America, listen to talk radio.

LASunsett said...


//did you catch the MSNBC investigation that found that the overwhelming majority of TV journalists contribute to the Republican Party?//

I did. I thought about incorporating it into the post, but the post was already long and I thought it was a bit of a red herring.

Like you, I am not surprised.

LASunsett said...


//If you really want to get the pulse of America, listen to talk radio.//

I listen to Boortz once in a while, and listen to some on my Sirius radio, like O'Reilly and Gibson. But overall, I like my Sirius for music which is commercial free and has music for any mood I may be in.

L'Amerloque said...

Hello LASunsett !

/*/…/… It's stupid because the ramifications of trying to interfere with a legitimate market …/… /*/

Of course, one might ask if everything should be decided by "the market" (grin) Huge debate. (wider grin)

_ _ _ _ _

Hi Greg !

/*/BTW, did you know that radio is still the most popular medium among all the major media? By several factors of ten, in fact./*/

Unsurprising. It's a "polychronic" medium, rather than a "monochonic" medium (grin)

//Polychronicity is time use preference, which people acquire through socialization. The literature shows that polychrons, who favor simultaneous activities, and monochrons, who favor linear activities, exhibit different perceptual and behavioral patterns.


The Internet neither displaced nor promoted television viewing, radio listening, and newspaper reading. However, there was some indication that polychronicity suppressed television viewing.//

Taken (for illustrative purposes) from a Singapore study at:

One might (legitimately ?) ask if Republicans are more "monochronic" than Democrats. Perhaps that's why there are no "left-wing" talkshows to compete nationally with Rush & Co ? (wide grin)

_ _ _ _ _


A.C. McCloud said...

Feinstein was on Fox today (I didn't see, only read) and said she is "looking at it" (fairness doctrine).

This is a real can of worms if you really think about it. For example, how in the world could the FCC enforce a ruling that, for example, mandated that liberal hosts on Air America interview Rush Limbaugh every time they trash Republicans? And what about FM radio? There is a lot of political opinion hidden amongst the skits and comedy done on FM drive time.