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"The Right-Wing Talk-Radio Flame Out"


Living in Ikoria
Staff member
The Right-Wing Talk-Radio Flame Out - Yahoo! News

The Right-Wing Talk-Radio Flame Out

John Avlon Thu May 12, 11:38 pm ET
Ratings for Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and other hyper-partisans are declining as listeners seek honest talk from hosts like Michael Smerconish over angry rants. A more civil conversation will add value to our political debate, writes John Avlon.

There’s new evidence to suggest a demand for something different than hyper-partisanship in the world of talk radio and political media.

It’s not just the sunset of the Glenn Beck Show on Fox or the dispatch of Keith Olbermann from MSNBC to CurrentTV. It’s the shuttering of a pioneering conservative radio station and data showing the demographic decline of Rush Limbaugh.

In contrast, growing numbers of listeners are tuning in to independent voices who can be honest brokers in debates and don’t just angrily parrot talking points.

In February, I wrote a column asking whether right wing talk radio was dying and ruffled some feathers in that flock. A more accurate means of measuring listeners showed that conservative talkers’ ratings had either declined or flatlined in the heat of the 2010 election, while the world-journalism focus of the John Batchelor Show had seen a decided ratings climb. Now, a look at radical centrist Michael Smerconish’s national ratings growth since the start of the year provides more evidence of this emerging market.

First, here’s a snapshot that puts the shift in perspective: Just days after the 2010 election, the nation’s first all-conservative talk radio station, KVI in Seattle, switched back to a classic-rock format after 17 years. Its innovation had become media saturation—and music became an appealing alternative to the drone of a dozen Rush Limbaugh imitators.

Limbaugh can sell bedpans and resentment forever. But the demographic trend is not his friend.​

Rush is a giant in his field, reaching more listeners than anyone in political talk, but even he has seen erosion in his numbers. Analysis of industry data shows that in market after market, Rush’s ranking has declined decisively over the past five years among advertisers’ coveted 25-54 age group. For example, in Charlotte, North Carolina, Rush fell from sixth to 12th between 2005 and 2010. In Portland, Oregon, he fell from fourth to eighth. In San Francisco, he’s seen a similar decline. Among listeners 65 and older, Rush remains No. 1. He can sell bedpans and resentment forever. But the demographic trend is not his friend.

It’s not that “the angry white guy conservative political talk format”—as consultant and former Clear Channel talk radio programming director Gabe Hobbs calls it—is over. It’s just got little room to grow, going forward.
“Rush has been around for 23 years. They’re not necessarily making new Ditto-heads. You have to fish where the fish are,” says Hobbs, who helped launch the radio career of Glenn Beck, among others. “We’re singing to this choir, that’s great, they’re worth a lot of money and they do a lot of wonderful things, but boy, there’s a lot over here we could do.”

“This civil and smart approach—like [John] Batchelor and Michael Smerconish and some other shows—to me is kind of a ‘duh,’ '' adds Hobbs, indicating that it should have been obvious long ago. “The numbers that NPR is drawing clearly portends to something. I’ve seen it myself in research. It’s the tone; it’s the approach. Some people don’t want to be engaged at that loud, angry level—that hard right or left ideological approach where it’s my way or the highway.”

A Republican turned Independent who supported President Obama in 2008, Smerconish is a pioneer, putting himself out in the world of daytime political talk radio as a radical centrist, surrounded by the old hyper-partisan voices. He is currently an island, but he is far from alone, reflecting the 41 percent of American voters who now identify as Independent but are seriously underrepresented in our political and media debates.

This is no mushy middle. Smerconish memorably described his policy profile in The Washington Post as “someone who supports harsh interrogation, thinks we should be out of Iraq but in Pakistan, doesn't care much if two guys hook up, and believes we should legalize pot and prostitution.” (Note the Pakistan comment—Smerconish has been beating that drum long before most Americans had heard of Abbottabad.)

“I choose subjects and offer my opinions without regard to any party's talking points,” Smirconish says. “I have plenty of opinions, but they do not fit neatly into those faux, talk- and cable-created ideological boxes. And it matters not to me whether the audience at the other end is a conservative, liberal or independent—I don't check registration cards."
Since he gave up his Philadelphia morning drive-time slot in January to focus solely on his nationally syndicated radio show, Smerconish has been seeing startling success: “I've been letting my Independent freak flag fly and people are responding.”

In Austin, Texas, Smerconish has increased the station’s drive-time ratings in the 25-54 demographic by more than 150 percent over the first three months of 2011, according to Arbitron ratings. In his evening Dallas time slot, Smerconish has increased the ratings among men age 25-54 from 0.5 to 2.7—a 500 percent increase. Over in St. Cloud, Minnesota, Smerconish has led a 146 percent-share jump for his station. In Syracuse, New York, he increased the station’s ratings for adults 25-54 more than 500 percent in the first three months of 2011.

In Boston, he’s more than doubled the ratings among women—an audience often alienated by angry talk radio. “If women are listening to it, then two things are probably true,” reflects Ian Punnett of Minneapolis’ MYTalk107. “First, they're creating word of mouth about it because it’s something fun. Second, it's something which might reflect the popular culture more than any one particular political ideology. It's more informative than it is exclusive. It creates a bigger tent.”

The industry is starting to get the message. “What I feel has really shifted in the past six months is that we're getting calls from stations saying ‘I want to do talk but I don't want it to be angry. I don't want it to be really polarizing. I don't want it to be just about politics,’” says Amy Bolton, senior vice president and general manager of news and talk for Dial Global, an independent, full-service radio network company providing national advertising sales representation for more than 100 independent producers and syndicators, including Michael Smerconish. “You hear program directors out there saying, ‘It's like listening to somebody bang on the same piano note over and over and over again.’”

What’s triggered this shift? In large part, it’s an emperor-has-no-clothes realization driven by data. The radio industry changes in the way that ratings are measured, from diary-style self-monitoring to a more scientific method known as PPM. This changed the focus from rewarding voices with hardcore fans—like Limbaugh’s “Ditto-heads”—and reflected more accurately what people actually listen to throughout their day.

“The hard left-wing stations and hard right-wing stations that were voted on by their fans in the diary—which was more of a popularity contest—seem not to be doing so well,” explains Jack Swanson, the program director at San Francisco’s KGO-AM. “Nationwide, I think we are seeing a trend of some weakness in the hard right and the hard left on both sides.”

“We’re seeing some things like Smerconish and some things like John Batchelor doing better,” Swanson continued. “Is this a trend? I don’t know. I do believe we’re at a tipping point in talk radio, though… It’s not just a Left or a Right or a Republican or Democrat thing. It’s a million points of light out there on the Internet in terms of the discussion of ideas and ideals. And one size doesn’t fit all anymore.”

One day we just might look back on the past two decades and see the hyper-partisan group-think that has disproportionately dominated talk radio as odd. The signs are all around us, from the PPM ratings that give a better idea of what people actually listen to during their day, to the implosion of Air America’s "Limbaugh of the Left" model while the thoughtfulness of NPR enjoys great and growing listener loyalty.

This is still an emerging market, a rebellious project. But a more civil, smarter conversation will add value—not venom—to listeners’ lives. It will bring light, rather than just heat, to our political debates. And in the process, it will more accurately reflect the essential diversity of American life.
According to this column, the more radical political talk-radio shows - both on the left and on the right - are declining in popularity.

Thoughts? Is this is a sign of changing times or just a coincidence?

Is America slowly starting to move away from hyper-partisanship and towards more moderate/civil discussion, generally speaking?


Embrace the Suck
I love the spin of "angry talk radio" and the opposite being "smarter and more civil".

There could be a number of factors why the numbers are down but I would mostly point to satallite radio and the internet being the main ones. People are getting their news, and opinion pieces, from a multiple of sources nowadays. I think those are much bigger factors than suddenly now everyone wants to get along. You still see and hear a lot of hatred and partisan opinions on the right and the left.


Living in Ikoria
Staff member
I know the focus is on guys like Rush, but he does mention Keith Olbermann as well.

And good point about radio ratings and other sources of news/technology...that crossed my mind when I read this, too.

Still, I hope that it's inevitable that people in the media and in the U.S. in general will wake up about hateful/immature attitudes towards debate at some point. There are a lot of moderate-minded and kind people that I've met when discussing politics and policy. I think that eventually they (what I think of as the silent majority) will be speaking out more and more. I just don't see how normal people will stay patient with hateful politics for that much longer. There's a difference between being passionate and hateful, and people are smart enough to notice that.

In the words of 311 (lol): "I don't diss people, I diss ideas...and when I say diss I mean disagree."


Well-Known Member
I believe talk radio (personally) reached a new height with political debates and angry/protestant thoughts during 2001 through 2010, how its lasted this long though is beyond me. What I mean is, during those time periods of the Bush administration and process of going to War and dealing with personal matters at home, people wanted to hear a voice to speak out. They wanted to know that someone else had the courage to argue and debate the government for shoddy work they've done in military and home land defenses, healthcare, education and what not. But after so many years, it's just been the same thing over and over again, b!tch b!tch and more b!tching. As the article has mentioned, mostly right winged radio personnel have been picking and choosing their selective words for their battles.

At a time now where the economy has slowly gotten back to its feet and the war dieing down, now with the assistance of Osama's recent death, there's little fire to add to their fuel, so it seems. I wouldn't be surprised if most of the talk shows went away, though there are more topics they could debate with and speak out about, it's just more "angry" arguments being passed from one end.



not a plastic bag
I'm a little suspect of the article. The piece offers no proof and I could find none online that Limbaugh's ratings on the whole have slipped nationally. The real story behind this line:
Rush’s ranking has declined decisively over the past five years among advertisers’ coveted 25-54 age group.
Is that about 5 years ago Rush launched Rush 24/7 where for a monthly fee you can listen to Rush whenever you want and download podcast from any previous show. Its the 25-54 demo that's using this service so of course they would not be listening locally.

My job allows me to listen to maybe an hour of Rush a week and he's on top of his game. I'd be very surprised if on the whole he's lost any listenership.


Registered Member
A Republican turned Independent who supported President Obama in 2008, Smerconish is a
idiot who was never a republican and was overwhelmed by the opportunity to make history and support the first (half) "black" president.

This whole thing seems like an ad for this guy who will never, ever come close to the ratings of Limbaugh.

TALKERS magazine Blog Archive The Top Talk Radio Audiences (Updated 3/11)

And who is this John Avlon? Is he one of those "no labels" liberals? Is he a conservative basher? is he a total douche?
John Avlon Author and Columnist
Yes, he is.


Registered Member
"Hate" radio sprouted strong with their programming when the Bush/Gore fiasco was so heated. Bush was also criticized for his strategies against terrorism. He rarely went up against his critics and instead remained "on course". It was not just being steadfast that was admirable, it was stubbornness against being defensive about the decisions. While I respected that he didn't give the critics any attention, it was also very frustrating to see him so "picked on" and personally, I wanted to kick some big time ass. That is partly how conservative radio got so popular. They did it on Bush's behalf.

Not to mention, Clinton lying to the country about Lewinsky and getting away with it. Just scummy.


Well-Known Member
Not to mention, Clinton lying to the country about Lewinsky and getting away with it. Just scummy.
Well eventually he resigned (right?) or something along those lines, pretty much couldnt run for re-election. But during his years as president, he wasn't all that bad, actually did a lot of good for the country. But as big as a public scandal like that there's no hiding from the truth. I mean sure, angry talk radio bashed and did their thing, but Clinton was the one who later admitted to his doings and they had no fuel to use on him anymore.



/ˈɪzəˌbɛl/ pink 5
It would be nice if America slowly started moving away from "hyper-partisanship and towards more moderate/civil discussion" but I'm afraid next year's elections might change the tendencies again as people become more passionate with topics and well, the nature of your election is that there are only two main parties competing and the pull is either left or right, with people seeking to make definite decisions instead of middle ground and of course the would be dirty tactics from both sides - I mean, it's more rare to have moderate discussions during such period.