Herald, BRW: 1200 to conservative talk in April

Donna Halper dlh@donnahalper.com
Thu Jan 14 12:48:47 EST 2010

>you wrote--
>Or are liberal talk radio listeners preferring news-talk on the 
>likes of WBUR and WGBH, or music?

I found your analysis very insightful, although I don't entirely 
agree.  I find that while Dan Rea might give people with diverse 
views a chance to be heard, as his predecessors Brudnoy and Sullivan 
did, Rea's ideological views are often a collection of the most 
cherished conservative talking points, and his right-leaning views 
permeate everything he says.  (On the other hand, and in fairness, he 
seems to be a moderate rightie and leans liberal on some social 
issues.  I can respect that.)  But some of the hosts whom you say are 
"liberal" are actually closer to being moderates, not that there's 
anything wrong with that.  There are few identifiably 
liberal/progressive talkers on major signals, and the one talk 
station progressives have is leased-time and has absolutely no 
promotion.  Even many progressives don't know it's there.  As I have 
pointed out, liberal talkers like Ed Schultz and Thom Harmann are 
experienced radio guys who know how to be interesting and not just 
polemical.  Both get some pretty respectable ratings in a number of 
markets, and both have won awards from the right-leaning Talkers 
Magazine.  And sponsor-wise, both sell their own time (they have 
sales managers to do it), so both shows are profitable, as is 
Stephanie Miller's show.

But you are definitely on to something in the sentence I snipped from 
your post -- it's not that leftie listeners prefer to listen to WBUR 
or WGBH.  Surveys have shown repeatedly that lefties are more diverse 
(as in, more spread out) in their listening patterns.  Unlike rightie 
listeners who often tend to be "true believers" and want all their 
news and commentary from one source, preferably one that shares their 
worldview,  those who identify as liberals tend to not just listen to 
commentators, but also to whoever has the most thorough news, a 
variety of interesting commentary, and other kinds of 
programming.  The leftie listeners are thus not "married" to 
listening to only progressive talkers; as a result, they don't listen 
as long, nor in as large numbers as rightie talk radio fans.  I am 
not saying one is good and the other is bad, btw.  I am simply saying 
that having a successful progressive talk station is a lot more 
difficult because leftie listeners tend to prefer (gasp) nuance.

Rightie owners like Clear Channel know they can get large audiences 
by putting hosts who have lots of conspiracy theories or who rant 
endlessly about the evil lib-rulls and make totally disproven 
assertions about them on the air (thank heavens for fact-checking 
websites like snopes.com and factcheck.org), hosts who keep telling 
the audience that their fears are justified about the mythical 
"communists and socialists" who are alleged to be taking over 
America.  It has worked for more than 20 years (and the idea that 
commies are on the march everywhere was a staple of the McCarthy era 
too); since it's so successful, I don't expect it to stop any time 
soon.  Research shows that large numbers of rightie talk radio fans 
are people who feel angry, frustrated, and otherwise aggrieved, who 
believe that there is a "liberal media" (which, in reality, there is 
not) and that only Limbaugh or Hannity or Severin or Carr tell the 
truth.  They believe they are losing "their" country, and the best of 
the rightie talkers know how to inflame those emotions while 
reinforcing those beliefs.  Leftie listeners are certainly listening 
to have their beliefs reinforced, but in survey after survey, it's 
found that lefties don't just trust talk shows-- they get their news 
and information from a wide range of sources, so they don't listen as 
long or as passionately as the rightie listeners do.  That makes it 
much harder to get the huge numbers on the left that talk shows on 
the right are able to get even with weak hosts-- not everyone is as 
well-known or talented as Limbaugh, but rightie listeners tend to be 
fiercely loyal to their favorite hosts and listen to them for hours.

Even though righties have had many more years to perfect the talk 
radio format, I still think there are some interesting and compelling 
leftie talkers.  Ed Schultz has gotten some good numbers on both his 
radio show and his TV show, and we all know about the success of 
Rachel Maddow on both radio and TV. Both of these hosts even have 
some righties who sample them-- I've seen some of Ed's research and 
it's about 10-15% righties in his audience, due in large part to his 
being more of a populist.  But for the most part, rightie listeners 
don't sample shows from the opposite side the way you do, sir.  Most 
rightie listeners prefer to devote their time to only rightie talk 
radio, and I don't expect that to change.  

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