demands of the huge unserved market of Gore voters and
progressives is real, and internet empires are being
built on it."
Over, Right Wing Radio - the Liberals Are Coming
Posted May 22, 2003
NEW YORK - A political explosion
happened this weekend in New York, and it may be the big one that gives Karl
Rove nightmares. It could mean the end of George W. Bush's seemingly
unending ability to tell overt lies to the American people and not get
called on them by the American media.
At a Saturday talk radio industry event put
on by Talkers Magazine,
Gabe Hobbs, Clear
Channel Radio's vice president of News/Talk/Sports, announced that in
the near future this corporate owner of over 1200 radio stations is
considering programming some of their talk stations "in markets where
there are already one or two stations doing conservative talk" with
all-day back-to-back all-liberal talk show hosts.
Using the analogy of how music radio stations
wouldn't run different categories of music on a single programming day,
Hobbs said talk radio was similarly "all about format." This, he
said, is why liberal talkers haven't succeeded when sandwiched between
conservatives - radio stations shouldn't mix formats but instead should
market to specific listener niches. Understanding this, it's clear that only
all-liberal/all-day programming can fill the demand for liberal talk radio,
Hobbs' comments suggested.
The timing of Clear Channel's bombshell is
interesting. Why this particular week and month?
Back last year, I wrote an op-ed first
published on Common Dreams suggesting that there was money to be made by
programming talk radio for the unserved majority of American voters who cast
ballots in 2000 for Al Gore and Ralph Nader ("Talking
Back To Talk Radio"). It's the nature of the marketplace to abhor a
vacuum, and the hunger for liberal programming - as evidenced by its
explosion across the internet and its great success in the few markets where
it can be found - can be a very profitable vacuum to fill.
About the time I pointed this out, a group of
wealthy Democrats pulled together ten million dollars, formed AnShell
Media, and began the work of raising enough cash to put together a
progressive talk-radio network. At the same time, the nation's oldest and
largest progressive talk-radio network, i.e.
America Radio in Detroit, expanded their programming to offer an entire
day, 6 am to midnight, of live progressive talk shows, which are now carried
on radio stations from coast to coast, on channel 145 ("Sirius
Left") of the Sirius
Radio Satellite, and streamed around the world on the web. Salon.com
even weighed in last week, running a feature article about one of i.e.'s
stars, Mike Malloy, and how he's so popular that his show is beginning to
rattle the world of internet radio and has a loyal following on the
At the same time, right-wing hosts are
fading. For example, Bill O'Reilly's radio failures in Limbaugh-dominated
markets, documented recently by Matt
Drudge, imply the obvious: right-wing talk radio has reached market
saturation and is no longer a growth industry. According to Geoff Metcalf on
the O'Reilly show is even paying stations - in one case over a quarter
million dollars - to continue to carry the show.
The handwriting is on the wall for right-wing
talk radio: To build profits, programmers must reach beyond diehard
Republicans to unserved listeners. This means bringing in the center and
left of the political spectrum. Thus, we're today seeing the early
fuse-fizzing of the Next Big Boom in talk radio, and many in the industry
openly acknowledge it (including Fox, which just syndicated liberal Alan
But over the past year as this became
increasingly obvious to those familiar with the radio business, the big
media companies seemed unmoved.
If anything, they appeared even more
committed to exclusively promoting the most hard-right elements of the
Republican Party. MSNBC dumped Phil Donahue even though he was the most
highly rated show on the network; hard-right talker Glen Beck organized
pro-war/pro-Bush events all across the nation; radio stations ran
highly-publicized Dixie Chicks censorships and CD-burnings; and both
Limbaugh and Hannity went into Republican hyperdrive with born-again
Bush-can-do-no-wrong riffs that defied traditional conservative values by
embracing the bizarre idea that somehow deficits are good, taxpayer-funded
photo-ops are wonderful, and insider politicians profiting from their
knowledge and access are no longer worth mentioning. (All things Clinton was
savaged and/or investigated for.)
Many industry watchers were dumbfounded at
the overt bias and political boosterism. Even BBC Director General Greg Dyke
weighed in, saying, "I was shocked while in the United States by how
unquestioning the broadcast news media was during this war." Across
America and around the world, savvy media watchers wondered out loud why our
giant networks and media companies would suddenly become so overtly
partisan, loudly and unquestioningly kissing up to the Bush administration?
And why did they ignore a multi-million-dollar audience of tens of millions
of Democratic/liberal listeners - people with upscale demographics who
advertisers would love to reach?
On my radio show a few weeks ago, I suggested
the answer was simple - it was all about June 2nd.
That's the Cinderella date for the giants of
the media business, the day when Republican activist and FCC Chairman
Michael Powell will announce whether or not the FCC will allow further
mergers in the media business - mergers that will help wipe out the few
remaining small, local radio/TV stations and newspapers, and, most
significantly, make literally billions of dollars in profits for the
This is all about paying forward, I said. The
industry giants are ignoring markets and passing up profits over the short
term in order to make bigger money over the long term. It's not politics -
it's just good business. If Gore had been in office and his FCC chairman was
inclined to approve further industry mergers, Gore would have suddenly found
himself equally bulletproof in the media, much to his delight. At least
until the mergers were approved.
Nobody in the industry was willing to
publicly agree with me, but nobody denied it, either.
Now, it appears I was right, but the other
shoe was dropped two weeks early in Manhattan, a block from Ground Zero.
Last week, Michael Powell announced that he
was refusing to postpone the FCC vote on deregulation, and that he was
personally in favor of loosening the ownership rules, making the outcome a
slam-dunk. In giving the big media companies advance notice that they'd get
what they want, Powell also unwittingly began the process of cutting off
Republicans from an exclusive lock on hundreds of millions of dollars a year
in free political advertising provided by the constant national drumbeat of
right-wing talk hosts. Thus, Karl Rove's nightmare.
Now that they're past their concerns about
how this administration will decide the media consolidation issue, the media
giants are now breathing a bit easier, and getting back to the business of
The demands of the huge unserved market of
Gore voters and progressives is real, and internet empires are being built
on it. For example, www.radiopower.org
just last week announced they'd surpassed the 1.5 million-user mark for
their progressive talk radio webstream. The webstream of www.ieamericaradio.com
regularly maxxes out with numbers that make terrestrial stations catch their
breath, as well as successfully syndicating their programming on terrestrial
radio stations across the United States. The strongly left-leaning Democracy
Now radio show has exploded in listenership, and the new liberal talk
star Nancy Skinner has gone from zero to 14 stations in fewer than three
weeks, syndicated by both i.e. America and Doug Stephan's network. Peter
Werbe and Mike Malloy from i.e. America Radio Network are doing great, even
picked up by Sirius, and Michael Horn, CEO/President of Cable
Radio Network CRN Radio News (syndicated on cable systems nationwide),
announced at the Talkers conference this weekend that he, too, was looking
for good liberal talk show hosts.
Although the right-wingers love to claim that
they simply balance NPR (the claim was raised again at the Talkers event),
it's an argument that commercial programmers know is specious. NPR never has
and never will run hour after hour of a single commentator ranting about the
wonders of one party and the horrors of another. Centrist and left-wing talk
radio is still an emerging product with a huge unserved market.
This is why Powell's announcement - once the
vote is final and irrevocable on June 2 - will begin the transformation of
the landscape of talk radio in America. Freed from the need to curry favor
with the party in power, the multi-billion-dollar media machines will get
back to the profitable core of their business: serving programming that
meets the needs and desires of a wide range of listeners while delivering
advertising to consumers.
Get ready for liberal/progressive talk radio,
coming to a commercial station near you. After June 2, of course...
Thom Hartmann (thom at thomhartmann.com)
is the award-winning, best-selling author of over a dozen books, who started
his radio career in 1968 and is now the host of The Thom Hartmann Program
from noon to 2 pm EST, nationally syndicated on the i.e. America Radio
This article is copyright by Thom
Hartmann and is a multiple submission, but permission is granted for reprint
in print, email, blog, or web media so long as this credit is attached.