How Conservatives Dominate TV/Radio Talk Game

Rush Limbaugh

The end of progressive talk in Los Angeles underscores the advantage conservatives hold

In the 2012 presidential election, Barack Obama garnered almost 69% of the vote in Los Angeles County, vs. 29% for Mitt Romney. Yet beginning Jan. 1, the U.S.’ second-largest media market lacks a dedicated progressive talkradio station, as KTLK-AM became the Patriot, espousing “True American values,” anchored by Rush Limbaugh.

KTLK’s format change, along with Limbaugh’s demotion from KFI-AM to its weaker-signaled sister station, raises an interesting question: Why can’t liberals talk — or more accurately, why can’t they get more people to watch and listen?

Sure, there’s MSNBC, but its ratings lag far behind those of Fox News Channel. Air America, an attempt to counter conservative voices in radio, was a mismanaged disaster. Current TV tried to set itself up as a liberal alternative, and eventually threw in the towel, selling out to Al Jazeera America.

Some conservatives would no doubt attribute this to a talent deficit, but the ranks of gifted blowhards can’t be limited to one ideology. Liberals blame the tilted playing field on consolidated radio ownership by vertically integrated groups like Clear Channel, which favor right-leaning views.

“Broadcast radio is hurting itself,” says Ron Hartenbaum of WYD Media Management, who manages talk personalities like Thom Hartmann and Stephanie Miller. “If you continue to take away program choice, consumers who want that choice will find it somewhere else.”

Indeed, Hartenbaum cites robust growth for progressive talk in newer venues — including satellite radio, mobile apps and video simulcasts of programs — as evidence of the shift, and the viability of such personalities.

Still, the roots of liberals’ handicap run deeper than that, and can be traced not just to the head start conservatives have enjoyed — Limbaugh launched his show a quarter-century ago, inspiring a horde of imitators — but to old-fashioned marketing, enhanced by newfangled twists.

Since its advent, conservative talk has positioned itself as a counterweight to a media ecosystem its purveyors portray as heavily stacked in liberals’ favor. Hosts regularly cite data about the disproportionate number of journalists who identify as Democrats, suggesting it’s impossible for Republicans to receive a fair shake.

The solution? Listen to us for the unvarnished story — or the “fair and balanced” one.

If that argument gained traction during the Clinton administration, it snowballed with Obama occupying the White House — someone presented as antagonistic to “true American values” and, to quote Glenn Beck, “the most radical president ever.”

Somehow, though, the cheerleading liberal media hasn’t sufficiently discredited him. And despite Sean Hannity’s prediction in 2010 that Obama’s “extremism” would lead to “conservative victory” and “a new political era,” the guy somehow got re-elected.

All of which merely reinforces, pretty brilliantly, the rationale for conservative talk. Even when the Republican Party loses, talkradio wins.

What remains puzzling is why progressives — particularly in some deep-blue bastions like L.A. — don’t appear to support like-minded media in numbers approaching the tune-in and ratings enjoyed by conservatives.

The conservative audience does skew somewhat older, and is thus more willing to watch or listen to news and opinion in general. By contrast, many who harbor progressive views get their fix elsewhere — say, from “The Daily Show,” “The Colbert Report” or “Real Time With Bill Maher,” which cloak predominantly liberal viewpoints in comedy and satire.

A spoonful of entertainment, in other words, helps the ideology go down.

While there are plenty of successful progressive hosts — from Hartmann to Rachel Maddow, Randi Rhodes to Ed Schultz — they remain outgunned, and out-shouted, by the right’s bigger, older and better-marketed megaphone.

But Hartenbaum insists that’s changing, with new technology facilitating an end run around liberal radio hosts’ self-defeating reliance on weaker terrestrial signals. So if the L.A. market doesn’t have room for a progressive station to offset a handful of conservative ones, liberal voices can still be heard.

Granted, working in those alternative venues won’t  generate Limbaugh-like income (he signed a reported eight-year, $400-million contract in 2008), but cracking the code will certainly propel a few liberals into an enviable tax bracket — the kind where cynics will wonder why on Earth they’re not voting Republican.

Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 71

Leave a Reply


Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  1. chuck hix says:

    are you out of your mind? Ever single talk show on tv is completely left wing. The left controls all of
    Hollywood and everything on tv Please stop lying

  2. amy korshak says:

    This writers arrogance is only outweighed by his ignorance: So it’s all about better marketing? I am a registered Democrat who votes as an independent. I listen to center or right of center radio programs because I got tired of hearing about the “overwhelming consensus that we are the cause global warming”, just to name one of many topics championed by the left. The many scientists that disagree with this, including some that have won the Pulitzer prize, are never mentioned. This is the case for so many issues.
    The liberal media has forgotten the difference between news and editorials.
    As far as why Obama got reelected? Almost every incumbent president does.
    I am a registered nurse who has worked with mentally ill, homeless, and drug addicted populations throughout my career. I started my work in healthcare at Planned Parenthood, where I assisted with abortions and did HIV counseling. Yet because of some of my views, I don’t fit neatly into any category. Conservatives don’t mind-it’s my so called liberal friends who are uncomfortable, and very judgmental. I don’t fit in-I’m not one of them; therefore I must be a Republican!
    And guess what? I don’t even listen to Rush Limbaugh. Amazing!
    If more so called liberals listened to Larry Elder, an independent thinking black radio talk show host who backs up his assertions with facts, perhaps they might recognize the truth when they hear it-although somehow I doubt it.
    I would be very surprised if this letter ever sees the light of day, or if printed, it wouldn’t get edited down to nothing.

    • BillCa says:

      Amy, a few quick comments. First, it was probably just a minor slip but journalists not scientists get the Pulitzer prize (for journalism). Scientists usually get a Nobel prize or one of a number of lesser known awards for advancing science.

      Second, I have noticed that conservatives, even the far religious right, may disagree with your opinion, they may claim belief in that opinion is childish, inane, stupid, misguided, etc. — but they’ll always tell you that you have a right to your opinion. As you point out, not so with the left. On certain topics, if you disagree with their position it isn’t your opinion that is wrong or that you’re misinformed. No. It’s because you’re “racist”, “sexist”, anti-equality or other pejorative, and thus you should be shunned, denounced, ignored and minimized. Just look at Larry Elder, Allen West, Alan Keyes and other conservative blacks who are routinely denounced as “Uncle Toms”.

      Lastly, when they can’t argue the facts, they will resort to emotional hyperbole rhetoric like “you just want to force every women into the dark ages of back-alley abortions” or “cutting taxes will condemn millions of poor people to slow starvation”. If it’s not that, they’ll attack the person with insults about their sexual activities or preferences (sex is never far from their minds).

  3. julius ceasar says:

    One case in point. Benghazi vs Christie

    The left ran from the truth in both cases

    The right will eat their own when it calls for it
    Try that with O’Donnell

  4. julius ceasar says:

    RT tv rocks

    Why’s not list everyones named in this piece salaries? Limbaugh had a following just like Obama. The left had garbage for talk radio

    • Jamie says:

      Due to changes in broadcast law, right wing corporations have made a practice of buying out left leaning stations and putting on lower rated local sports programming rather than have a left leaning outlet.

      • SallyMJ says:

        Lazy argument. The truth is that the market does not support leftist talk radio. Libs/pProgs simply haven’t been able to run it and stay in the black at the same time.

  5. Jamie says:

    That is exactly the opposite of my experience. Virtually everything that circulates on social media is some sort of knee jerk, right wing excess and prejudice with little actual factual content. You can inform them of facts neither liberal or conservative, just basic real facts and it is like talking to a wall. The idea that these people vote, is downright terrifying since most of them are voting against their own self interest and in favor of some money grubbing source with no real interest that benefits the majority of the population.

    • bugsy321 says:

      And how do you “stay in the black”? By having LISTENERS! Ding-Ding! Air America was funded, and funded again, by compulsory measures (ie: NOT voluntary subscribers), and it failed. NPR is funded by compulsory measures (no choice – taxpayer funded), and their ratings have been dismal for 40 years. Why? Here’s why. When you cater to the “catered to”, and when your audience is comprised of people on the RECEIVING end of things that the public (not them) pays for, there is no allegiance or alliance – or loyalty. Look at public housing. If the idea that “give them a fish” leads to loyalty, then why in the HELL do we need to “get the vote out” every single damn election? Because the free-stuff crowd doesn’t care. They generally don’t give! They don’t volunteer. And they damn sure don’t “take action”, aside from taking YET ANOTHER day off to chant in the streets at whatever rally gets them out of actually contributing to society. Liberals pander to the worst elements of society, and then – like Will Ferrrel’s “Streaker” in Old School – can’t believe that nobody actually joined them in their crusades. Not without bribing them with cigarettes or something anyway. Leftism is a self-eating cancer that, left alone, will simply go away. It’s the ant and the grasshopper. They don’t actually DO anything. They can’t even think for themselves, which is why they chant – always the chanting.

      • Jamie says:

        You stay in the black by having both public and private contributors. As more and more of our cultural surroundings dumb things down to the lowest common denominator, it is good to have one place that aims for the highest. Jefferson wanted universal literacy because he thought the common people needed to read Plato. Well guess what, they read the fake headlines of the Enquirer. Even if PBS and NPR aren’t your cup of tea, it is good to have a source that says, “Eat Your Spinach”. It really is good for you.

  6. jsm1963 says:

    I was speaking of personal conversations or debates online. Whenever I make a reasoned case for something online more often than not the response is personal attacks.

    • chuck hix says:

      Get a clue The democrats tax the hell out of working people and regulate small business out of
      existence Take a look at what jimmy carter did to us in 4 short years

  7. jsm1963 says:

    Yes, I am giving Obama a pass on the IRS, Fast N Furious and Benghazi until someone comes up with a “smoking gun.”

    • SallyMJ says:

      You don’t know what a smoking gun is, if you don’t think we’ve been handed one on all the scandals you mention. My guess is that you feel close to every Obama scandal you meet, and don’t want to call the police on the family.

  8. jsm1963 says:

    More accurate to say I don’t make assertions that I can’t back up.

    Sorry, I’m not going to debate simply because you demand it. Besides, you either brought up some broad issues or matters of opinion.

    I also never mentioned the IRS, Benghazi or Fast & Furious.

    No, I’m not giving Obama a pass on the ACA roll out.

  9. bitterclinger says:

    “If you continue to take away program choice, consumers who want that choice will find it somewhere else.”

    For someone who’s supposed to be familiar with business models, this “agent” has no idea that low or no ratings = the hook.

  10. Jamie says:

    Then why do all far right wing fans sound like unthinking, robotic echoes doing nothing but vomiting talking points. When asked for actual “facts” they quote their mentors not real sources.

    • No offense Jamie but jsm is on point with many of her arguments. I have plenty of liberal friends and they couldn’t debate a single political topic if their life depended on it….its the same for some of my conservative friends but, by in large, my liberal friends just don’t pay attention to politics nevermind listen to talk radio. Their radio is stuck on a top 40 station. And I could quote actual facts all day long…doesn’t matter if the other side has no interest in facts or talking points.

    • jsm1963 says:

      You’re wrong on one point: I don’t see conservatives every follow up on their claims. They usually just get very defensive, try and mock you and deride actual facts as liberal lies. They truly live in a bubble.

  11. tssstein says:

    Why do conservative talk radio predominate? They are perceived as telling the truth. Fair and balanced does not mean facts and opinion, it means facts to support opinion. Liberalism cannot support those criteria, and therefore, it is not only progressive Democats who are repudiated but a growingly and angry awareness of listening ears, in radio markets that shun the political machines whom create this public theft. This is why Fox News took a hit when it supported liberal commentators when fair “N” balanced had been it’s montra. Now doubts are being raised about Fox’s ability to tell the truth, and market share will and is beginning to dwindle.

    • jsm1963 says:

      I’ve also never lost a debate with a conservative – online or in person. None have ever had the facts to back up their assertions.

    • jsm1963 says:

      Fox News took a hit supporting liberal commentators? When was this? Alan Colmes was the only liberal host in their primetime line-up. That was during their hey day. He was considered pretty weak by liberal standards. They took their ratings hit after the 2012 elections. They moved Hannity to a weaker slot and put Megyn Kelly in primetime.

      As far as Fox News losing it’s fairness and balance, they’ve never had it and never intended to have it. This is not just partisan politics talking here, it’s common knowledge in the media. The only ones who don’t see it are many of their viewers. Many probably know it and are just fine with it. Nothing wrong with that, so long as they know what they’re watching. Yes, MSNBC has clearly combated this by programming liberal hosts. No one is denying this. But Fox has gone further by using the channel to prop up candidates. Aisles has said that he wants to use the channel to make Christie president and this week was proof of that. They went 6 hours without mentioning the Bidgegate emails and then spent only 15 minutes talking about it in their news day.

  12. Detcord says:

    Conservative talk radio listeners are the truck drivers, delivery folks, outside sales, technicians, and others that are working and don’t have the time for unproductive TV viewing. They are the demo that are earning a living and making the money that advertisers seek.

  13. Dan Keegan says:

    Liberal talk radio doesn’t work because it is merely an echo of the mainstream media and Hollywood. Conservative talk radio by its very nature is counter-cultural. They’re dishing out a fresh perspective.

  14. The radio stations are there to make money. People want ti hear someone verbalize their concerns. If they were not tuning in, the stations would drop them like the dropped disco. How many would really yearn to listen to Al Gore five days a week.

  15. PA Horn says:

    You actually need to think when listening to talk radio.

  16. No mention of Dr Michael Savage. Articulate, well educated, author of several best selling books, he is a joy to listeners for his far reaching topics, not just political but on a variety of topics. He is well ahead of other talk show hosts with a vivid view of our declining culture and borders.

  17. Sherri Beissner says:

    Hear, hear! Right-wing talk shows are a dime a dozen; KTLK couldn’t keep the ONE alternative on the air in Los Angeles? A sad commentary….

  18. Robin Boyd says:

    While I agree with most of what ARod33178 is saying about most of our media being liberal bent, I’m not so sure that Fox News is really conservative. Fox News is more like a more serious version of the Colbert Report.

  19. ARod33178 says:

    It’s very simple: market forces. There is no market for liberal talk radio because, whether we want it or not, we get our daily dose of liberal talking points from: ABC, NBC, CBS, The NY Times, LA Times, and every major newspaper, Time, Newsweek, and non-news mags like GQ, Esquire, Cosmo, Sports Illustrated, etc. We get the liberal message in our movies, TV shows, music, we get it in our schools, well, you get the point.
    On any given day, the average American gets bombarded with heavy-handed left-wing talking points. In order to hear a conservative voice, he must tune in to Fox News or talk radio.

    • jsm1963 says:

      Totally disagree that most of the media is liberal. Compare all of those media outlets to the content on places like Pacifica Radio or AlterNet. Those are actual liberal voices. Just because it’s not “conservative” doesn’t make it “liberal.” There’s this huge spectrum in between that’s just the main stream. Liberals often find issue with the content on those companies.

  20. Jim says:

    Why have talk radio when liberals have all other major meda. Talk radio is one of few venues for real americans

    • Jamie says:

      Oh Please! “Real Americans” … That sentence alone proves you are NOT a “Real American” nor do you have any concept of the values and traditions on which this country was founded.

      • Shannon Beltrami says:

        Well, neither do you. But I guess because you wrote it on the internet it makes it true. You sir are a brilliant liberal. Keep up the good work!

      • Doc dd20 says:

        Wow! An interesting premise… Care to drill deeper into your thoughtful analysis?

  21. jsm1963 says:

    The right makes LOGICAL arguments for their case? Give me a break!

    Maybe the failure of the left on AM radio is that they are unwilling to pander to the bottom line and make racist or sexist jokes. That’s what “speaking intelligently” consists of for the right.

    The article touched on something important: AM radio audience skews older. Younger people tend not to bother with AM radio. Liberal talk does well on new media.

  22. Robin Boyd says:

    Even though I am politically conservative, I do not care for conservative talk shows. I am socially liberal, but cannot tolerate liberal talk shows much more than I can conservative talk shows.

    Conservative talk show hosts yell too much for my taste. I mean, really; we get the message without your having to scream it as if you are giving some revival meeting sermon. On the other hand, too many liberal talk show hosts just flat out lie and manipulate half truths to make circumstances appear to be what they are not.

    I would suppose that more conservatives can handle being yelled at than liberals can handle being manipulated. That would be my guess as to why the conservative talking heads are outdoing the liberal talking heads. Me, I like talking heads who are at least honest even though they may lean to the left or to the right. There are not as many liberal talking heads who can keep from utilizing deceit as there are conservative talking heads who can keep from preaching by screeching. For my personal tastes, Jon Stewart and Dennis Miller come to mind as two from opposite viewpoints that I can appreciate for at least being honest when those they usually agree with are wrong minded. Chris Rock and Stephen Colbert are another opposing duo I can laugh along with when they point out absurdities about political figures I usually agree with because they take on both sides of the aisle even though they lean their own respective ways. Bill Maher went from being funny to being abnoxiously leftist and recently seems to be having moments of common sense again.

    It doesn’t surprise me that the talking head pendulum is currently swinging a bit to the right with so much reality being so far to the left, but have no fear, pendulums continue to swing and don’t linger long in the middle.

    • FrankM says:

      It’s obvious that we need the fairness doctrine reinstated. What we have now is just people being spoon fed the “facts” that they want to hear.

      • Jamie says:

        The “Fairness Doctrine” isn’t needed unless it is a single station market, as much as a limitation on the number of stations that any one group of owners can own. Too many liberal stations have been bought out by Conservatives and then switched to even lower rated sports. It isn’t ratings it is political “Big Brother”.

  23. Nanny Mo says:

    Every time we’d tried a liberal progressive radio talk show it bombs. If liberal LA won’t tune in to one, we don’t deserve one. It’s simple supply and demand. There’s no demand. Sure, go ahead and try again but it’s proven to be a waste of someone’s money. Like AOL buying the Huff n Puff, was that a smart business move?

  24. FrankM says:

    Comparing conservative radio audiences to liberal radio audiences is like comparing the people who go to weekly religious services to people that attend TED talks.

    One is a group that needs/wants reinforcement of beliefs; the other goes when something is of interest to them.

  25. Michael A. Levine says:

    I was dismayed when I went to tune in to Stephanie Miller on AM 1150 to discover a “news” program that led not with Syria or Sudan with Home Invasion in the Southland! Odd, I thought. And then the parade of Hillary Haters and ‘bama Birthers began. There are now no fewer than three Right-of-Mussolini stations on the AM dial in LA, precious little voice of reason (NPR), and no left-wing radio remaining. In liberal LA this can’t be by consumer demand.

    • jsm1963 says:

      That’s what they sell as “true American values.” #ohcanada!

      • Jamie says:

        With the law change that allows buy outs of multiple outlets in the same broadcast territory, it means that right wing ownership can actually block liberal media in any market. They would rather have sports or low ratings rather than give any liberal viewpoint a platform.

  26. Wayne says:

    What does this tell you?? Hmm? Who is the real majority? Voters don’t count, especially when only half of them bother to vote.

  27. johntshea says:

    A fair share is not necessarily an equal share. Of anything. And bias is not necessarily bad. Either way. No commentator or medium is required to exactly and proportionately reflect the views of a whole people. People can be wrong, sometimes even as a whole. Talk radio has no responsibility to be liberal any more than Hollywood and Variety has to be conservative. Vive la difference!

  28. The young and easily swayed, listen to music.

  29. focher says:

    Easy. Check the demographics of who consumes different types of media. Radio, and now broadcast TV, skew heavily older. The younger you are, the more likely you get your news and opinion elsewhere.

    The real issue is too many believe that the number of people listening to conservative talk radio matches the overall population and its views. Most obviously, it doesn’t. The last few elections have pretty well dispelled that myth.

    • Wayne says:

      Elections represented by less than half of the registered voters and representing about 29% of the TOTAL population do not accurately represent anything but apathy in my opinion.

      • jsm1963 says:

        I agree with Jim. I don’t imagine election results or ideology to shift much if we count everyone.

        I hope that’s not an example of the intelligent, logical arguments from the right an earlier posting referred to.

      • Jim says:

        I think any researcher would tell you that getting the views of 50% of any group is a pretty good sampling and an accurate reflection of feelings.

  30. And because those Conservative pundits on the radio and TV – Republicans will never win the Presidency again…

  31. Kristina Lord Linde says:

    Hmmm. Science vs

  32. Kristina Lord Linde says:

    Julienne the liberals I know work extremely hard and manage to care about others in the process. My Conservative friends are vacationing on the dividends earned from funds earned on others backs. Depends upon where true north is with your compass to see what you see.

    • jsm1963 says:

      The conservatives I know live off the largess of their parents and took advantage of everything the government had to offer when they were recently unemployed. And I’m talking about people in their 40s.

    • John G says:

      Let’s see: The top 10 percent of income earners paid 71 percent of all federal income taxes in 2009 though they earned 43 percent of all income. The bottom 50 percent paid 2 percent of income taxes but earned 13 percent of total income. About half of tax filers paid no federal income tax at all.

      Who is riding whose back?
      Oh wait! Were those actual facts in response to nonsense backed up by emotional drivel ?

    • Jamie says:

      No the work for a living Conservatives allow their prejudices to get in the way of their own self interest and have let the wealthy Conservatives sell them a bill of goods that is destroying the middle class.

  33. Kristina Lord Linde says:

    Conservatives need to talk more because they rationale less. They can nod together ridicule together and spout off together like good support groups do. Hence Rush and Conservative talk shows. Liberals let the facts speak for themselves and understand the conservative news for group therapy.

    • jsm1963 says:

      Maybe what many on the left don’t get is that, for personalities like Rush, it’s more about entertainment. We should have more comedians, like Stephanie Miller, on radio.

    • ThatGuy Dennis says:

      “Conservatives are bone dry rational. Liberals are emotionally unstable drama queens”

      lol!! thats why they believe idiotic nonsense like “death panels”, that Obama is a muslim, that Obama was born in Kenya, that the obama administration manipulated unemployment # in 2012, complain about debt but yet still advocate cutting taxes and and on and on.

      and right-wing actors are just as irrational. Take Pat Boone for example is a birther who believes obama isn’t a US citizen and is a muslim

      quotes from boone
      ““Why else would he be hiding all his records? He is spending millions of dollars so we do not have his records. And experts have already looked at and been able to verify that this long form document is a fraud. But the media ignores it; a total fraud. A photoshopped fraud.””


      Growing up in Indonesia, he [Obama] used to read the Koran in Arabic, so that was instilled in him as a young boy,”.


      “He hasn’t celebrated any Christian holidays in the White House, but he does Ramadan.”


      “We are determined, we Christians and conservatives — not all Christians — to relieve him of his command,”

      he also said Obama is muslim

      he also compared liberalism to cancer(. “black filthy cells”)

      The right is about emotion(paranoid fear). Logic is usually absent from right-winger

  34. The mainstream media is almost completely titled to a liberal POV, therefore, the existing liberal audience is already satisfied with what they have. Liberals who are yearning for a liberal presence on talk radio tend to do so because they want someone who can counteract Rush Limbaugh, and others like him.

    • vp19 says:

      “Mainstream” media is not “liberal,” any more than Hillary Clinton is; both are centrist and corporate, lackeys for the Wall Street-Ivy League power structure, as is Obama (much to our dismay). A true progressive talk station would castigate both the Democrats and Republicans for such technocrat whoring, rather than pandering to the simplistic “either-or,” black-or-white crowd who listen to conservative talkers. Trouble is, too many progressives get into bed with neo-liberals on social issues, and don’t hold them to the fire over economic matters or the growing income gap. Hosts and stations which do that, rather than meekly aligning themselves to “feel-good” sensitivities, will be the ones who truly earn the title “progressive.”

  35. Jamie says:

    It is a major help that Far Right Conservatives don’t want to actually think, they just want their fears and prejudices enforced and their talking points issued. Liberals my share some major opinions but their one commonality is nuance and the ability to see areas of grey. It is hard to build an audience when the members aren’t programmed robots.

More Voices News from Variety