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Obama's War on Talk Radio

Tuesday, 26 May 2009 08:54 PM

By Dick Morris

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Obama’s liberal philosophy dictates that when the news is bad, shoot the messenger. The newest data from Arbitron, the company charged with measuring the size of radio audiences, suggests that listenership to hip hop, inner city, and minority radio has been overstated in the past and that the popularity of conservative talk radio has been under-reported.

This conclusion — ideologically inconvenient for Obama — comes from the company’s decision to dispense with the Stone Age way it has been measuring radio audiences — by hand written diaries based on listener memory — with modern machines which automatically record what the person is listening to and for how long.

The opening barrage in Obama’s efforts to reign in talk radio was fired by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) this week when its acting Chairman Michael J. Copps announced an investigation of Arbitron’s radio measuring technology called the Portable People Meter. (Not to be confused with the Purple People Eater celebrated in song in the 1950s.)

Arbitron is the company tasked with rating radio listenership. The equivalent of the Neilson television ratings, its measurements of audience share are revered like Scripture by station managers, owners, and advertisers. Traditionally, Arbitron relied on hand written diaries. Since the diaries were based on memory, they were often faulty. So Arbitron availed itself of new technology in launching its Portable People Meter (PPM) — a cell phone sized unit the listener wears on his or her belt which automatically notes what station they are tuning in and when they switch or stop.

The PPM measurements concluded that hip hop, urban rock, and minority-oriented radio stations reached fewer listeners and for shorter periods of time than the diaries had indicated. It found that talk radio had a larger listenership.

The left saw an ideological bias at work and the states of New York and New Jersey sued Arbitron alleging discrimination in its choice of the sample charged with wearing the PPMs. It said that the ratings agency, which presumably recruited its sample by phone, was under-representing people without landlines who used only cell phones and hence under-counted minorities.

Now the FCC is launching its own investigation.

But almost all political polling is done by telephone and samples cannot include cell phones because one cannot determine the residence of the user from the number. Since survey researchers draw their samples geographically, they do not know which cell phone numbers are for which neighborhoods. (Land lines distribute the first three numbers of an exchange geographically.)

If Arbitron is flawed, so is all polling, political and otherwise. The accuracy of most polling in predicting election results suggests that the flaws cannot be too bad.

What is really at work here is an effort by the FCC to stack the deck to help left-wing and minority stations earn higher advertising revenues than those to which their real market share would entitle them. Solicitous of the financial viability of its liberal allies on radio and anxious to undermine the balance sheets of conservative stations, the FCC is lending itself to the president’s political agenda.

This investigation is, of course, only the first shot of the war against conservative radio. Soon the FCC will try to strip right wing stations of their licenses or impose fines on them payable to National Public Radio. In our forthcoming book, Catastrophe, we explain how this offensive will work and what will be its likely consequences.

But the opening salvo has been fired by the FCC which is willingly lending itself to stations with Democratic bias in an effort to swell their advertising revenues and to stop the growth of talk radio. Because the FCC will do much more to try to destroy the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, and Neil Boortz, we must be vigilant if we hope to keep free speech alive, even if it comes from the right side of the stage.

© 2009 Dick Morris & Eileen McGann

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