Listeners Turn a Deaf Ear to Progressive Radio – Even in Liberal Cities

Image: Listeners Turn a Deaf Ear to Progressive Radio – Even in Liberal Cities Ed Schultz

Tuesday, 14 Jan 2014 05:23 PM

By Cheryl K. Chumley

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Democrats in New York City, who outnumber Republican voters by more than six to one, had a bittersweet New Year. As the ball dropped in Times Square, the city’s last progressive talk radio station went silent, flipping its format to Spanish music and leaving liberal voices out in the cold in the nation's top broadcast market.

WWRL bade farewell to veteran hosts Ed Schultz, Thom Hartmann, Randi Rhodes, and Alan Colmes, extending a coast-to-coast wave of progressive stations sinking in a sea of listener apathy— especially in big liberal cities.

The same day, Clear Channel’s KTLK, the last liberal-dominated talk station in Los Angeles, the nation’s No 2 market, flipped Rhodes, Stephanie Miller, Bill Press, and David Cruz for conservative talkers Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity.

The company’s KNEW in San Francisco did the same, booting liberal voices for more conservative ones. And talk stations in Portland, Ore., and Seattle, Wash., said goodbye to their liberal formats and picked up sports programming.

It turns out that progressive talk doesn't bring in enough listeners or advertisers to be financially successful in today’s highly competitive radio industry.

WVKO in Ohio shuttered operations in December after it failed to find the advertising dollars for its liberal programming. And KJFK in Reno, Nev., announced its own financial difficulties and indicated uncertain futures for hosts Schultz, Hartmann, and Leslie Marshall.

An earlier attempt to market a national radio network that specialized in progressive talk programming was a financial wreck. Air America was on the air from March 2004 to January 2010 before filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

It’s not just progressive radio that falls on deaf ears — MSNBC's flagging ratings and Al Gore's Current TV failure also cause skepticism that the format can succeed on TV.

John Taylor, the producer of the syndicated Freedom & Prosperity Radio in Virginia, said progressive programming often focuses on personal attacks rather than looking in-depth at issues.

"The whole liberal mantra is based around emoting rather than bringing out intelligent arguments. They do a lot of personal attacks, a lot of making fun of people, and not much about the 'why' of things," Taylor told Newsmax.

John Mainelli, who's been a talk radio and television programming consultant for Mainelli Consulting since 1980, said liberal punditry is too heavy on the ideology and too light on the entertainment.

"Nobody wants a lecture, to be preached at, or to be made to feel guilty," Mainelli said. "Conservative stars like Rush Limbaugh and the late Bob Grant attracted listeners through their humorous takes on what they saw in the world every day.

“Their political viewpoints were relatively incidental to their mission at hand — to put on a good show.”

Mainelli suggested liberal talking heads are boring.

"Liberal viewpoints and forums are everywhere in the media. MSNBC had better luck when they mixed up the topics and were somewhat unpredictable. Now that they've gone full speed ahead as MS-DNC, they come across as too little, too late," he said. "They lost their sense of humor along the way."

But it’s not all rosy ratings for conservative talkers. Denver-based attorney and columnist Jessica Peck said their business in her area hasn't been anything to brag about lately.

"In Denver, Clear Channel is cutting back on conservative shows," she said. “It would seem that the format, given how conventional it is, is more popular with an older, less transient consumer. Younger consumers are more likely to turn to online or satellite options."

Joy Pullman, a Heartland Institute research fellow, said age was a major factor in the radio and television market wars between liberals and conservatives.

"This is not a 'rah-rah win for conservatives," she said of the closure of progressive stations around the nation. "But I would guess that one factor is the age group that listens to radio and watches cable news. They're old people, and old people trend conservative. Young people do not."

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