Michael Harrison, founder and publisher of Talkers magazine, tells Newsmax that a revolution is underway in the media that will soon fundamentally change the way Americans get information.
He suggests that radio and television stations, as well as their print brethren in newspapers, will fall to the wayside as new multimedia platforms crop up on the Web. [Editor's Note: To see the full interview, go here now]
In a wide-ranging interview, Harrison, who founded Talkers magazine in 1990 and is the most widely quoted expert on the talk radio business, offered his views on the transitioning business.
Today, radio hosts broadcasting from more than 1,800 news-talk radio stations cover the nation with chat about everything from politics to sex to automobiles and dozens of other subjects.
Still, the industry has been reeling. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the overall radio industry is in a "hangover" as it witnesses double-digit falls in advertising income.
The Journal noted that once titanic Clear Channel and Citadel Broadcasting have been staggering under enormous debt loads. Citadel, which broadcasts talk over the former Disney/ABC network, has seen its stock value plummet, with trades in its shares falling to as low as one penny.
Harrison expects such media heavyweights as Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck to continue to be powerhouses, though he sees their formats changing.
For Harrison “media stations” will be springing up within five to 10 years, using the Internet as their springboard.
He predicts these media stations will offer the same “street spirit” of talk radio today, but will provide their audience with diverse channels: audio, video and text.
Traditional media, "which I call monomedia, is 20th-century thinking; 21st-century media will be multimedia platforms with environments geared to specific demographics," Harrison added.
"I think ultimately talk programming — within five years, 10 years definitely — will be coming out of places called media stations. We currently call them Web sites. But they'll be media stations.
"They'll have audio orientation, video orientation, graphics orientation, and text orientation. Thus they'll be the heirs to what we now consider to be stand-alone radio stations, television stations, newspapers, magazines."
He also sees conservatives and the same “street spirit of radio” playing a big role in the new media world just as they have in the old talk radio world.
And Harrison, a political independent, sees a clear explanation why talk radio draws huge conservative audiences.
He notes that conservatives like talk radio because they have a "more definable state of mind" and feel the rest of the media is too liberal and "wishy-washy."
They also are one of the nation’s largest demographic groups. A recent Gallup poll found that conservatives comprise the largest ideological group in the U.S., with nearly twice as many Americans saying they are conservatives as those claiming to be liberal.
Harrison also explained one of the reasons for the success of top-rated talker Rush Limbaugh’s show, now broadcasting in its third decade nationally.
Harrison says Rush is actually the "guest" on his own show — and predicted that talk programming will change dramatically in the next few years.
Newsmax.TV's Ashley Martella asked him why conservative hosts flourish on talk radio and liberals flop.
"I think conservative works better on talk radio than liberal because conservative is a more definable and identifiable state of mind," said Harrison.
"Liberal means a whole spectrum of attitudes, lifestyles, demographics, ethnicities. Conservative tends to be more of a bull's-eye, easier to target.
"Radio, whether it's talk or music, is a niche format," and talk radio appeals to "the conservative element in America — particularly those that are politically minded and feel that the rest of the media is too moderate, too liberal, too wishy-washy, and doesn't address their card-carrying conservative status.
"The conservative element tends to rally around the conservative talk show hosts and gives what is called conservative news talk radio a critical mass that's large enough to show up in the ratings as a significant format.
"With liberal, you're talking to so many different kinds of people. It's very hard to gather them around and make them feel a certain sense of community when it comes to any one radio station or radio host."
Martella quoted Harrison as saying talk radio is the most accurate bellwether of American public opinion, and asked him to elaborate.
"If you listen to all of talk radio, not just one host, you will get a good idea of what the American public is thinking," Harrison responded.
"But you have to listen to a variety of shows because talk radio, just like music radio used to be, is a street medium and … has to reflect popular mass opinion and taste.
"Therefore if you listen to what people are saying and what the hosts are talking about, you're getting this across-the-board research about what's on the minds of people. Because if talk show hosts didn't, within each of their niches, address the issues that people care about in this country, they wouldn't get ratings. So they do the research for you.
"If you just listen to a variety of them you'll have probably the most accurate bellwether of American public opinion in the mass media today."
Harrison has predicted that talk shows featuring guest interviews would surpass caller-driven shows in popularity. Yet Rush Limbaugh is by far the most popular talk show host, Martella noted.
"I think Rush Limbaugh is actually the guest on the show and he interviews himself," Harrison explained. "The callers are props…
"You can't compare Rush Limbaugh to anybody because he's such a brilliant personality, regardless of what his politics happen to be. He is the attraction, and in fact when he does his monologues he plays the role of his own guest."
Martella said Rush has become a lightning rod for liberals, the Obama administration and some Democrats in Congress, and asked: "Is that by design?"
"I think Rush Limbaugh is a very clever radio performer," said Harrison. "He knows how to get ratings and he knows how to stay controversial enough to stay in the news.
"By being involved in any kind of front-page dispute with the president of the United States or with members of his own party, the conservative Republicans, he's winning."
Martella asked Harrison how he accounts for the sudden surge in popularity of talker Glenn Beck.
"Glenn Beck has been a steady rising star, so it's not that suddenly he's a popular star out of nowhere. What I think [accounts for] the current explosion of Beck mania on both radio and television has been his move from CNN Headline News to the Fox News Channel, where he's been able to be more of a pure form of himself.
"In the process of doing that I think Beck has found his inner show biz character, and he's taken it to the extreme."
[Editor's Note: To see the full interview, go here now]
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