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Why I don’t buy the liberal argument about Talk Radio
Posted by: McQ on Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Rich Lowery talks about talk radio and the liberal push to have government regulate it. We've touched on it a number of times, but recently, a liberal group has published a study which claims that 90% of all talk radio is conservative and it is a structural problem, not a market driven problem.

Lowery looks at the study and says:
The report looks at a slice of 257 talk stations and concludes that more than 90 percent of total weekday talk programming is conservative. The supposed reason for this is, essentially, that media companies are conspiring to shove conservative radio down the throats of listeners in a way they couldn't if, among other things, government required broadcasters "to regularly show that they are operating on behalf of the public interest."

This is a pinched view of radio. There are upward of 2,000 U.S. talk stations that deal with news and issues, according to Michael Harrison of Talkers magazine, and they encompass all sorts of formats from National Public Radio to urban radio to shock jocks, none of which are dominated by right wingers. Conservative talk radio is a vibrant niche within that market, but there are many other places to go for news and opinion.
He's precisely right. I did a quick survey of the markets out there (299) at this link and found that most markets had at least two talk show outlets and most had access to at least 4 talk radio stations. I also found, at least in the top 10 markets, that local talk talent was many times the top rated talent in the market, giving lie to the study's assertion that local listeners aren't being well represented or served.

Now I spent way too much time doing this but it was interesting what I turned up.

But before I get to that, let me explain why I did it at all. One of the big dogs in liberal talk radio is a guy named Ed Schultz. Schultz comes out of Fargo, ND and, if you'll excuse the pun, is liberal radio's next great liberal hope. He is the guy who has been touted as the liberal Rush Limbaugh. In fact, as recently as July, 2005, he was flat crowing about the inroads he was making against Limbaugh, pointing out how he even topped him in his own back yard:
In particular, The Ed Schultz show actually passed Limbaugh among the 25-54 age range in the nation's twelfth largest radio market. Schultz scored a 3.4 rating to Limbaugh's 3.2, climbing 1.1 ratings points from the winter figures.

“In his own backyard, how can Limbaugh lose to a liberal talker? What am I doing with a 3.4 and he’s sitting with a 3.2?” Schultz asked RAW STORY in a telephone interview this morning. “We come a long way from being the poor little guy from North Dakota.”
Of course, that was then, this is now. In the Miami Market, where the two stations compete, the station carrying Limbaugh comes in at 2.5 while the station carrying Schultz is at 1.7. Close, but no cigar.

Last week, Schultz was whining about conservative talk radio again, this time on MSNBC. Watch it. In the exchange, Schultz says that his ratings are better than Hannity in several markets, but still can’t find more stations to carry him and argues that it’s an ownership problem. To quote Schultz, "we're all fighting over the same 100 stations.

Is that so? The claim is this isn't about "the market" its about being heard, right? And, Schultz was certainly crowing about beating Limbaugh, et. al., in Miami in 2005, so it wasn't about the 'same 100 stations' then, was it.

And he's claiming now, apparently having given up on beating Limbaugh, that's he's whipping Hannity in Seattle, Portland (OR), Denver and San Diego. Now I'm not sure what numbers he's using, but the station ratings for the stations which carry Hannity in those markets as well as those carrying Schultz, show him leading only in Denver and Portland (OR). Seattle and San Diego show the stations carrying Hannity to have better ratings. So even in the 4 markets he claims success, where the two go head to head, Schultz's station, the "progressive" station, is 2nd to the station carrying Hannity.

In fact, in an informal survey of my own, I went to Schultz's website, clicked on a "find a station near you" and went through every market listed in every state that matched the 299 found in the ratings site I linked to above. The News wan't good for progressive talk as epitomized by Schultz.

Again, I'm reporting only on markets where Schultz went head-to-head against Limbaugh/Hannity. There were a few smaller ones in which ratings weren't available, so I gave Schultz the nod even if in reality it wasn't warranted. Those stations show up in the 211-280 market area.

So, how did it go?

In the top 35 markets, Schultz was in 13, won 2, lost 11.

In markets 36 - 70, Schultz was in 8, won 1, lost 7.

In markets 71-105, again, in 8, won 1, lost 7.

106-140, in 4, lost 4.

141-175, in 8, lost 8.

176-210, in 1 lost 1.

211-245, in 5, won 1*, lost 4

246-280, in 3, won 2*, lost 1

* couldn't determine who won so gave the win to Schultz.

So to wrap it up, in markets where I could determine Schultz and Hannity/Limbaugh went head-to-head, Schultz was in 50, won 7* and lost 43.

Hardly a sterling record nor one which seems would be fixed if Schultz had his choice of 100 stations. While Schultz isn't represented in NY, the largest radio market, Air America is, and they get buried. The Limbaugh/Hannity station, WABC pulls a 3.7 while WWRL, the AA crew, pulls a .6.

But Schultz does show up in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th markets and gets buried in them. Number 2 is LA and even progressive LA isn't interested in progressive talk. KFI, which carries Limbaugh and mostly local hosts pulls a 4.2. KABC, which is all conservative talk and includes Hannity has a 1.8. KTLK which has the AA gang (Bill Press, Stephanie Miller, Tom Hartman, Randi Rhodes, Mark Germain, Ed Schultz, Rachel Maddow and Alan Colmes) pulls a dismal 0.7.

In number 3 Chicago, it's about the same. The top rated talk show is WGN with all local talent (5.3). WLS which carries Limbaugh and Hannity comes in second at 3.4. Coming in at #6 in a six station race is progressive talk radio with the AA gang and Schultz. Rating? 0.5.

Detroit, another market in which you'd think progressive talk radio might do well. It's the #10 market in the US. Limbaugh/Hannity? A 5.9 on WJR. Schultz and the AA crowd? 0.6 on WDTW. 4th in a 5 talk radio market.

Probably most enlightening is the #4 market, San Francisco. If progressive talk can't make it there, it can't make it anywhere. And, as it turns out, progressive talk is tops in SF. It's just not the progressive talk with Schultz. Instead it is local progressive hosts along with a mix of medical and legal shows which leads the ratings. KGO pulls a 5.5 in the market. And how do Limbaugh/Hannity do? Well not bad considering. KFSO, where they are carried, comes in at 3.2. And Schultz and the AA gang? 1.1 on KQKE. That's number 4 in a 5 talk station market.

What's that tell you?

It tells you that despite all this twaddle about 'structural problems' in talk radio, that where at least Limbaugh and Hannity and progressive talk go head-to-head, listeners have consistently and overwhelmingly chosen the Limbaugh and Hannity.

BTW, as a note, Salem Broadcasting's lineup of conservative talk featuring Bill Bennett, Laura Ingraham, Dennis Prager, Michael Medved and Dennis Miller does about as well as the AA crowd. Factor that into all of this.

Disclaimer: I rarely listen to Limbaugh, Hannity or Schultz. In fact, I rarely listen to talk radio anymore. So I really don't have a dog in this hunt, except to wave the BS flag at the contention that government needs to step in and fix an imbalance that, for the life of me, I can't find. The market seems to have spoken and I suggest that progressive talk get over it, or do a better job to draw listeners.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

Why is NBA basketball covered on most TV stations and not women’s weightlifting! Sexism! Bias!!! Regulate now!!!
Written By: Boliviarian Revolution!
URL: http://
The Limbaugh/Hannity station, WABC pulls a 3.7 while WWRL, the AA crew, pulls a .6.
Your points are well taken, however it should be noted that while WABC is a 50kw clear at Lodi, NJ,with an omnidirectional pattern and huge coverage at night....(I get it here 450 miles away during the day often as not) WWRL is on 1600... by definition a graveyard channel, with a highly directional 4 tower pattern, running 25kw day and 5kw night. The night signal is bad enough that fifteen to twenty miles away, the signal cannot be heard at many points on the compass.

Perhaps a better comparison of the programming and it’s relative draw would be in the Buffalo market about 60 miles to my west. The big talker in town, is 930/WBEN. this is a 5000 watter, with facilities on Grand Island. This is the station that carries Limbaugh within the market, and has lots of local talk, as well.

The supposedly "progressive" station, (which just dropped Air America about a year back for another ’progressive’ lineup because of AA’s abysmal ratings), is WKBW/1520. They share tower space on Grand island with WBEN which is co-owned. While somewhat directional, KB runs 50kw 24 hours and has enormous coverage particularly to the south and east. As a result of that signal, KB was one of the big voices of top-40 radio back in the day.
Some coverage maps for local staions, including the ones I mention can be found here.

These days, the Big KB has sunk rather low... Their new format, seems to be doing somewhat better than the old one. But it’s still not competitive. It seemingly can’t seem to draw half the listeners that WBEN does, where WBEN is running 1/10th the power.

Written By: Bithead
Perhaps a better comparison of the programming and it’s relative draw would be in the Buffalo market about 60 miles to my west.
Well of course that was the point of doing all the markets, from top to bottom, in which they were head-to-head.

In NY, in addition to NYC (#1 market) I looked at Rochester (#53), Buffalo (#52) and Elmira (#223). Those were three identifiable markets in which they all went head-to-head. In all of them, Schultz and progressive radio came in behind Limbaugh (although in Buffalo, Schultz beats Hannity but is buried by Limbaugh. WBEN (Limbaugh) pulls a 9.2., WWKB (Schultz) a 1.3. Hannity is on WLVW which pulls a 0.7.

In Rochester, Limbaugh/Hannity pull a 10.4 on WHAM while WROC where Schultz is, has a 1.0.

Elmira was one of those small markets in which there was no data so I literally gave it to Schultz.
Written By: McQ
Don’t misunderstand, I wasn’t running your comments down at all.

Interesting that you should mention the business with WHAM vs WROC, because it adds a little interesting twist to your story.

WHAM is a 50kw clear on 1180.
WROC is a 1kw directional on 950

Now, there are those who will argue that the 1kW station is drawing lower numbers, because of its minuscule power, comparatively. on the surface the argument makes sense, to those who don’t know the local history.

From about 1956, until 1987, what is now WROC was WBBF, the local top 40. keep in mind, this was during the period that WKBW was kicking serious butt over in Buffalo. Little WBBF was clobbering the entire market for listener numbers. At that time, everybody else in town, save one station (250watt WYNR a daytimer on 680) was higher power than BBF was. Mostly, 5000 watters... and by the latter half of the period a couple big top-40 FM’s had come online, too) And yet, BBF led ’em all, in all dayparts and in all demos for years and years. It’s only the last twenty years are so, that WHAM has been getting the lion’s share of the numbers.

Of course, the point I’m making, is the same as you were making; that the programming is the key.

A couple comments/ corrections: WWKB used to be WKBW... Habit, sorry... and Shultz is on WENY down there on 1230, on a 1kw transmitter day and night. If I’m not mistaken, Rt81 broadcasting owns them, as well as WCLI, WCBA (I’m an alum, there) and a few others. All very small power stuff. Rt81 had them all networked for a while, for money reasons, though I don’t know if that’s sill true.. The fact is, there’s no really big guns along the southerntier.
Written By: Bithead
Of course, the point I’m making, is the same as you were making; that the programming is the key.
Exactly. No one can make you listen to programming that doesn’t interest you, however you will seek out programming that does ... and frankly, how strong the signal (assuming you can get it) never enters your calculation (unless you have problems with it).

As I said, that’s why it was important to look at these from top to bottom because when you get into the second 100, the stations are fairly equal in signal strength. In the second 100 where they competed head-to-head, progressive radio lost 13 out of 13, so it isn’t too hard to surmise that the same would be true in larger markets with equal signals.
Written By: McQ
Yes I’m painting with a broad brush and using personally observed anecdotal evidence, but, am I the only one who thinks that the majority of "progressives" prefer to listen to music rather than talk? I would assume that federally mandated "balanced" talk radio would just go unlistened to by anyone. Of course that may be the plan...
Written By: Metzger
URL: http://
By the way, Bruce... Hannity is getting buried at Buffalo because he’s not on a Buffalo station... he’s on 1340/WLVL a 1kw outlet in Lockport, which doesn’t cover most of the Buffalo market.. particularly the southtowns.

He USED to be on KB before KB went to AA.

And Metz; I think you’re correct; that IS the plan.

Iraq and Lee coming to the conclusion, that the vast majority of liberals are disconnected from what’s going on in their country.

I’m also convinced that the idea of the disparity in numbers between the shows, rather than proving a conspiracy on the part of radio station ownership, proves that disconnect.

Which leads me to the question, what are not liberals would remain liberals, if they were connected.

I am forced to conclude they would not be. On that basis, I am also forced to conclude that the real goal here is simply to silence conservative radio, so as to have a similarly disconnected conservative base.
Written By: Bithead
am I the only one who thinks that the majority of "progressives" prefer to listen to music rather than talk?
They like music, but they also like shock jock talk instead of straight political talk. Although you may get some libertarians, you aren’t going to find many conservative shock jocks. Conservatives aren’t inclined to "push the edge of the envelope" like that.
Written By: Jeff the Baptist
you aren’t going to find many conservative shock jocks. Conservatives aren’t inclined to "push the edge of the envelope" like that.
That is an interesting aspect of all of this. I suppose we can call Savage a libertarian for this purpose. similarly I suppose we could call Boortz a libertarian as well. both of these, candido little further "out there" then do their conservative counterparts. That leaves Rush Limbaugh whose bombast, his laying in online day after day, is as close to shock jock and you’re going to find in conservative talk radio, at least on a national basis.

There’s two conclusions which could be drawn from this, and they conflict. Conservatives generally are not drawn to that kind of radio, it not being what they’re looking for, or you could say that Limbaugh draws as much as he does, because he’s as close to a shock jock as you get in that genre.

But what do we say about the Mark Levines of the world? His show on the aforementioned 77/WABC is wildly popular even in remarkably liberal New York City. There are others, in a similar vein as Levine, Mike Smirkonish over at Philly’s WPHT, as an example. I have often wondered how each would do on the national stage. Smirkonish, I recall, just recently had a stint on MSNBC, for morning drive. it looked pretty good, but clearly wasn’t enough to move that network away from its far left lineup. And while neither is precisely a shock jock, they do each constitute a cold slap of water, if nothing else.They certainly pushed the envelope Harder than Limbaugh does . Are these on the edge of the pack , or are they the up and commings?

And Bruce...
I got a note, within the last hour , from an old friend of mine from the radio days, hold for some reason stumbled across this exchange. He reminds me that Limbaugh’s network, which is essentially Clear Channel Communications, is in the process of going through some rather radical reorganization . This reorganization clear channel down buying a number of its smaller properties. They’re selling some of their larger ones too. They’re also dumping all of their various TV holdings, one of which here in ROchester they just picked up about a year ago. For example, Fybush’s column this week speaks of the entire seacoast cluster of CC going bye bye, as is the Utica cluster, just down the road from me here.

He points out that Clear Channel is apparently trying to prepare for possible privatization sometime before the end of q3 this year. The point he raises is interesting... He wonders how much of the revived chatter as regards the "fairness doctrine", is seeking opportunity to capitalize on Clear Channels somewhat weaker position in the various radio markets where they have/had holdings....

I honestly don’t have an answer for him, But it is enough to raise an eyebrow.

Written By: Bithead
What is structurally flawed is CAP’s methodology. As has already been pointed out, NPR was not thrown into the mix and many left-center talkers were neglected. But the survey ignores all the stations that can not be pigeon-holed into the talk radio realm. In the Denver/Boulder market FE, there are several music stations with very evident left tilt (just like the rest of the media), particularly KBCO (3.7) broadcast out of Boulder. Why waste time on KKZN (1.4)(shultz’ station) when you can get good music AND lefty commentary.

As for Shultz doing well in this market, both he and Hannity (KNUS 1.0) share the 1-4pm slot. Rush, is on KOA (4.9) from noon til three. Local talkers Dan Caplis and Craig Silverman, on from 3-6pm, are heard on KHOW (2.9). The point being that Shultz isn’t whipping Hannity as much as Rush, The Ride Home gang (KOA 3-6pm) and Caplis & Silverman are whipping both.
Written By: bains
URL: http://
I will take a slight exception to your characterization of KGO as "local progressive hosts along with a mix of medical and legal shows which leads the ratings."
For the political talkers on KGO it is overwhelmingly Democrat. However the actual lefty/progressive contingent is basically three, Bernie Ward, Ray Taliaferro, both Mon-Fri, and Karel, Sat-Sun. Ronn Owens and Pete Wilson (also an KGO-TV newsanchor), both Mon-Fri, are both Democrats but fairly centrist. Gene Burns, Mon-Fri, is a libertarian. Bill Wattenberg (a brilliant nuclear scientist), Sat-Sun, is a conservative.
Written By: Anonymous
URL: http://
Why waste time on KKZN (1.4)(shultz’ station) when you can get good music AND lefty commentary.
Hmmm - has bains hit the nail on the head here? mayhap conservatives should support the fairness doctrine and demand more airtime on FM?
Written By: meagain
URL: http://
I’ve often thought that a nighttime show mixing music and talk would work for a regional AM station. I saw that done years ago at WBZ, and it worked for years. Perhaps the show was a product of its time, true, but I’ve not seen it tried likely, and I wonder.
Written By: Bithead
I don’t know beans about radio, but it is my understanding that advertisers pay more for air time on shows with larger audiences. If conservative shows like Limbaugh’s make more advertising revenue than liberal ones like Schultz’s(and I am guessing that is the case), this would seem to belie the argument that there is a market failure or a result of management pushing its own agenda.
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
Follow the money, as the saying goes.
Written By: timactual
URL: http://

Quite correct. As a direct result, of course, leftist slanted talk radio, has almost never been a profitable venture. Radio execs, of course, are driven by dollars and cents. They put up, as a direct result of that desire for cash, what the audience wants to hear. That’s called a free market.

But understand the basis of their argument that the current state of affairs is a failure; the leftist believes, that any failure to get their message out there, for whatever reason, is a failure of the free market. Bake the free market should be giving them a free voice.

Put another way; the complaint of the leftist when he starts talking about radio and freedom of speech, is that he thinks freedom of speech means that he’s got a guaranteed audience. Well, clearly, the constitution was never intended to provide such. And just as clearly, the left is ill equipped to get people to listen to their nonsense, on their own. So, the only solution to them is big government and forcing their listenership.

Written By: Bithead
Firstly, I’m not on Air America, I’m on the Clear Channel owned KTLK in Los Angeles. My show, when it was on KABC was rated #1 - the highest ratings on the entire station (12+ 11-midnight and #2 12+ 10-midnight) - so much for liberal talk failing.

Now that I’m on KTLK, for less than 3 months of the Arbitron survey, The trends released today (MAR/APR/MAY) were way up. 3p-7p [25-54] I have now a 1.1 share - one of the best ever for the daypart. The May extrapolation: 3p-7p 25-54 was a 1.5 share - the second best month in the history of the station for the daypart! The 12+ numbers were identical. To claim that I or KTLK AM 1150 is failing is patently false and this poster should review the facts before forming his ignorant opinions.

Marc Germain
listen live at
Written By: Marc Germain
...this poster should review the facts before forming his ignorant opinions.
Naturally we get an "all about me" reply from someone who then tries to extrapolate his possible exception into a tendentious attempt to say all the rest of the liberal radio is probably doing well too.

Perhaps the commenter should review the thrust of the entire post before trying to pass off his nonsense as germane to the full point.

Regardless of his ratings, the station KTLK comes in tied for 4th in a 5 station market. And that was the point of the post.
Written By: McQ
I think it’s amusing that so many have responded to the Center for American Progress report by screaming about a return to the Fairness Doctrine. While it may have some supporters, that’s not relaly what the CAP report was talking about. It called for breaking up some of the bigger companies and allowing for more diverse (and local) ownership. It figures that breaking up the false economies of scale by vertically integrated ownership/syndication companies, there would be more diverse talk radio — including (probably) more local talk and more different types of hosts. It showed some numbers that seem to corroborate that position. A lot of people on all sides of the spectrum have complained about the de-localization of radio. Does being conservative mean loving corporate radio and hating local radio?
Written By: Larry Bear
URL: http://
It called for breaking up some of the bigger companies and allowing for more diverse (and local) ownership.
Oh yeah, that’s much better. Let’s let government decide who should and shouldn’t own the means of communication (because government coercion is the only way that can be accomplished).

Do you offer this as a serious argument or are you simply not capable of thinking through the ramifications of such a policy?
Written By: McQ
My show, when it was on KABC was rated #1 - the highest ratings on the entire station (12+ 11-midnight and #2 12+ 10-midnight) - so much for liberal talk failing.
Hey, Mark, you don’t suppose that the entire coverage of both those stations being an overtly Liberal country, would have something to do with your numbers? In talk radio it’s always easier to generate numbers, when you’re preaching to the choir. Which is precisely, in turn, while Limbaugh, et al, does so well nationally.

Written By: Bithead
A lot of people on all sides of the spectrum have complained about the de-localization of radio.
Yeah, in the context of music. When Clear Channel picked up much of the Denver market our complaint was that the music programming became homogonous - said plainer, boring. The hard rock (KBPI), the classic rock (KRFX), and the alternate rock (KBCO) all started playing the same songs. And for what it’s worth, Clear Channel brought in Air America.
Written By: bains
URL: http://

I just thought of something earlier today with regards to our conversation about this, that I think deserves pointing out; the discussion you and I’ve had seems to suggest that people will listen to a bit of programming, (assuming it can actually be received )in numbers directly related to the qualities of the programming, not necessarily the technical qualities of the radio station, or the overall "balance" of opinions.

In discussing this with a friend via another medium, he pointed out the idea that given the same programming, the larger station will always win. I brought up our local situation with the 50,000 watter, and the 1000 watter, and told him the story. He suggested, that were you to place the same programming on both stations, the 50kw station would win on numbers, hands down. I accepted that seemingly axiomatic point, and we moved on from there.

But later on, it occurred to me what he was really suggesting... I got to thinking about what the left sees as the quality of their ideas. I’ve come to the conclusion that they are so upset about "lack of opportunity" because they figure their point of view, their opinion, and their means of expressing it, are the equal to that of the dominant conservatives. On that basis, they figure if they got a "fair chance" their opinions, their positions on the issues of the day, would be heard more often. Thereby, conservative talk radio would be less dominant.... which of course is their goal.

The problem here, is that perception of their views being at least equal to that of the conservative majority is a complete fallacy. They can’t bring themselves to believe that the reason they are less dominant, is not because of the technical qualities the radio or television stations they are on, it’s simply because of the quality of the content of the programming. Specifically, people are not buying their opinions. Their point of view. It must be some other reason, by their thinking.

Of course, being big government types, their immediate diagnosis is that it’s a failure of government policy. The rest of our discussion of course, follows.

Written By: Bithead
"A lot of people on all sides of the spectrum have complained about the de-localization of radio"

Why? What is so great about "local" radio, whatever that is? It’s the same audience with the same likes and dislikes.
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
What a load of FUD. You’re using the overall station ratings to pass judgment on Schultz claims. Using that "logic" Heroes did poorly because NBC was in the craphouse all year. Obviously that’s not true, Heroes did quite well, despite the overall lackluster ratings of NBC.

Schultz is doing quite well, which is why his show has top tier ads from companies you’ve heard of (Like GM and Nestle). Most of Air America’s shows are stuck on "Do Not Advertise" lists. It should also be noted Ed is part of the Jones Radio Network, not Air America. He appears on Air America because local station managers wanted him. He’s also programmed on several Clear Channel stations, and is in fact, one of the few liberal voices that is complementary of Clear Channel.

Basically, if you wanted to actually do some REAL research you needed to actually buy the ratings. You didn’t and came up with FUD based on a fairly generic set of datum.
Written By: J-Dog
URL: http://
Schultz is doing quite well, which is why his show has top tier ads from companies you’ve heard of (Like GM and Nestle). Most of Air America’s shows are stuck on "Do Not Advertise" lists.
Hey, keep on believing, but it seems to me that as long as Shultz is the one whining about all of this, a strong indication that even he doesn’t buy your argument, I’ll go with the numbers I have researched.
Written By: McQ
Okay, then defend your research. What makes you think the overall station ratings are the exact same as Schultz’s show rating? I go back to the Heroes analogy. Are your going to defend your methodology or not?
Written By: J-Dog
URL: http://
Okay, then defend your research. What makes you think the overall station ratings are the exact same as Schultz’s show rating?
Because those are the criteria Shultz used, not me.
Written By: McQ

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