Shutting up the progressives

A new "The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio," by the Center for American Progress and Free Press, looks at the vast disparity in programming on the nation's talk stations.

 calls it, "The shut up the conservatives crusade." [UPDATE: calls it "a campaign to stifle conservative talk radio."]

But no one is suggesting the conservatives be shut up. The suggestion is that perhaps progressives should have the opportunity to get a word in edgewise.

In other words, that there be a bit more balance than the current ratio of 91% conservative and 9% progressive talk. Every day, stations across the country broadcast 2,570 hours of consevative talk and 254 hours of progressive talk.

 What makes the idea of more balance so threatening to the right? It doesn't have to be 50-50, but 91-9 does seem a bit hard to justify. Are conservatives afraid to compete on the battleground of ideas?

It's liberals and progressives who have been shut up, and shut up quite effectively, by corporate talk radio in this country.

One popular conservative response to the suggestion that talk radio shouldn't be all right wing is that the marketplace determines what's on the air, that there is no audience for progressive programming, that the bottom line is what drives the stations to make it all wingnut, all the time.

How, then, to explain the decision in Portland, Oregon, where a progressive talk station successfully competes for ratings and revenue, that there should be three right-wing stations and one progressive station? Why do most stations broadcast ONLY conservative talk, 100% of the time?

 There is something more than market forces at work.

 In Milwaukee, Mark Belling, Charlie Sykes, Jeff Wagner and McBride insist it's all about making money for the stations. If there were an audience for a liberal show, they suggest, there would be a liberal show.

So, when is the last time anyone tested that theory and actually put a liberal talk show on the air, in the daytime, with an engaging, entertaining host? (Wingnuts will say there aren't any such hosts, but you know better.)

 Milwaukee's powerful stations will not even try progressive programming in the backwaters of their schedules. When McBride struck out as a host and failed to draw an audience for her evening show on WTMJ-AM, they replaced her with a syndicated conservative, Dennis Miller.

How does WTMJ know a progressive host might not have had more listeners and advertisers than McBride, or more than Miller? Odds are that option was never even considered.

When WTMJ filled a two-hour Sunday night slot, they hired another right-winger, Does anyone really think that Harris will bring in more listeners and advertisers during his weekly two-hour stint than a liberal host might attract? How would anyone ever know, since the station won't give anyone the chance to find out?

The report notes that while talk radio audiences skew white, conservative, male and middle-aged, 30% of talk radio listeners consider themselves moderates and 23% as liberals, compared with 43% self-described conservatives.

Has it occurred to anyone that they listen now to right-wing radio because they have nowhere else to go? (Actually, there is one alternative for Milwaukee listeners: 1290 WMCS-AM, which offers progressive hosts from 6-10 a.m. and 2-6 p.m. weekdays. Its audience is mostly African-American.)

 McBride has her own theory: Conservative talk radio is popular because it's counter programming to the largely liberal media, she says.

Right. People say, "I'm so tired of all of the left-wing, slanted news that I get from the Waukesha Freeman that I need a good dose of 8 hours or so of Sykes and Belling for balance."

Methinks not.


June 21, 2007 - 10:26am