Why No Liberal Attack Radio?

December 24, 2006

Recently I was chatting about the difficulties that Air America Radio has had staying on the air in Madison, the most liberal city in the state. I have a theory about this: liberals are listening to public radio, not AAR. Why? Because liberals do not like overtly biased, red-meat, partisan sniping as a form of radio entertainment. Conservatives do. That is why there is not now, and can never be, a similar market for this kind of show on our side of the aisle. AAR may live on, but it will not be as successful as right-wing talk radio is. Liberals like thoughtful, fair-minded talk (it’s why we lose so many elections!). Many conservatives like bloodthirsty, partisan attack programming.

Am I full of shit, or am I right? Is there something inherent about the conservative and the liberal mindsets that necessitates an imbalance in these kinds of shows?

(Note for conservatives: No matter how you insist it does, NPR does not have not the same calibre of bias that a Rush Limbaugh or Charlie Sykes embodies. Not even close. If you think that it does, please double up on your medications and come back in two weeks.)


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  1. You’re not full of shit, but you are wrong. The reason American Public radio fails is because the great majority of people do not associate with the values and issues expressed on these shows. The great majority of Americans are moderate liberals and conservatives. This is more evident than ever in the last election when a number Democrats ran and won as conservatives often looking more Republican than the Republican candidates. Although conservative talk shows are more aggressive, many can associate with the core values underlying the discussion; God, religion expression, patriotism, support for the troops, minimal government interference in daily life, taxes, non-political correctness, etc. These shows develop a following based on like-minded thinking rather than pure entertainment value. You view these shows as “overtly biased, red-meat, partisan sniping as a form of radio entertainment”, many do not see it this way. Many view Al Franken as overtly biased, partisan liberal and sarcastic elitist. Air America expresses ideas and opinions that most people don’t agree with, if they did, there would be a bigger following. Sometimes conservative talk show hosts go over board, but the listeners continue to agree with the basis behind the opinions and arguments. Rush, Hannity and locally Belling continue to gain listeners because these shows are expressing common thoughts, frustrations and feelings on issues while bringing to light facts that the media and political spinners do not. They also bring historical perspective to current issues. They are sometimes wrong and people don’t always agree with their opinion, but their loyal audience continues to listen due this common association. On occasion, Rush and Belling discuss why conservative talk shows continue to grow and succeed whether a Democratic or Republican is in the White House while liberal shows can’t get stay alive.
    NPR slants towards the liberal side but is not as equally aggressive as the conservative talk shows.

  2. American Public radio

    I think you mean Air America Radio, not National Public Radio; they are radically different things, of course.

    The great majority of Americans are moderate liberals and [moderate] conservatives.

    Okay, so how do you explain the success of Charlie Sykes and Rush Limbaugh? Please don’t tell me you think they’re “moderates.”

    in the last election when a number Democrats ran and won as conservatives often looking more Republican than the Republican candidates.

    I don’t buy it. That’s the story the so-called liberal media trumpeted (“it wasn’t so much as an embracing of Democratic values a as an embracing of conservative ones”), but it’s utter BS, as far as I can see. The fact that a couple of these guys were pro-life, etc. doesn’t mean anything other than my party has a big tent. And the election wasn’t ideological at all; it was about competence in general and the war in particular. Your guys lost because they’ve been in charge a long time and screwed everything up.

    Many view Al Franken as overtly biased, partisan liberal and sarcastic

    That’s exactly how I see it, too. So? My point is that liberals don’t really like this kind of programming. Conservatives do. That’s why Limbaugh succeeds where Franken flounders. This is exactly my point.

    Air America expresses ideas and opinions that most people don’t agree with, if they did, there would be a bigger following.

    Not so. The fact is, AAR is overtly partisan. Lots of liberals don’t like this kind of programming, even while they agree with it ideologically. Half of America more or less agrees with their view, they just don’t dig the vicious partisanship.

  3. A bigger factor is that conservative talk radio is on incumbent 50,000-watt signals with good coverage, while in most markets liberal talk radio is on weak signals with poor coverage during the day and even worse at night. A performance imbalance becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Not to mention the organized campaigns by certain advertisers to “starve the beast” of liberal talk radio.

    I think the beatings administered to liberals by conservatives over talk radio, Fox News and other media may have created a marketplace for what you call “attack radio”, but what may more appropriately be called “self defense radio.”

  4. Your point about Liberal shows not being on very good stations makes Scott’s point. If the show does not make money, bigger stations will NOT pick it up.

    I am more conservative than liberal, and I listen to shows like laura Ingram, Hannity, and O’Reiley. The reason is that they do mirror more of what most people I know are thinking and how they feel. They also pring up good points, and put out information. When I listened to Air America all I ever heard was people calling republicans names. Air America seemed very very childish. It does happen on the right side of the dial, but more in a joking way, not nearly so vicious and repetitive. Shows like Rush I do not listen to very often. He talks about golf and other things too much.

    I do listen to NPR a lot also. I also do think they are slanted a little left, not terrible, but some. I am still able to learn from the shows though.


  5. No, AAR is really the same phenomenon as the shows you like. The fact that it seemed like just “name calling” was probably because it was directed at you and not someone else. Trust me, they’re the same caliber of abuse and invective.

    I also do think they [NPR] are slanted a little left, not terrible, but some.

    you know, I can accept that. When I think about shows like Here On Earth, yeah; that’s not only a very liberal show, it’s also a bunch of pretentious bullshit. (However, it’s not explicitly political. That is, it doesn’t really discuss American politics and news events.) Are there similar “conservative-themed” shows on NPR. I don’t know. Does Kai Risdahl’s financial show count? I don’t know.

    But even if one concedes that NPR has shows about liberal things, that’s an entirely different thing than saying they’re the flip side of Limbaugh. There’s nothing outside of AAR that even comes close to these shows on the conservative side. And AAR hasn’t been nearly as successful as the conservative shows (at least not yet). And I hypothesize that there is something inherent in the mindsets of our two political camps that explain this.

  6. I do think some of it is in the personalities. I personally don’t care for Rush much, but Belling is entertaining. As is Glen Beck. Let’s face it, Franken is a dullard. So is Colmes. I don’t think Bill Marher would be however successful one thinks he is without a “cast” of sorts. I don’t care for O’Reilly for pretty much this reason (and because he’s a pompous jerk). So, does one have to be entertaining to be credible? No. But when it comes to ratings it certainly does help.

  7. Merry Christmas everyone. Hope everyone had a great holiday!

  8. Maybe the conservative demographic is just more likely to listen to the radio, leading to the success of those programs?

    In Madison, do you suppose that many college students spend large amounts of time listening to the radio? I’d wager that by and large they don’t. As such, one possibiltiy may be that the remaining portion of the populace is less liberal than the population taken as a whole.

    Syllogistically, if you accept that as a general rule, people tend to become more conservative as they get older, and if you can go along with the premise that older people are more likely to listen to the radio or watch talk shows, then you may have an answer.

    Also, it is a common observation that as people progress further into adulthood, they tend to become more polar in their beliefs; the period of early adulthood usually being marked by defining those beliefs in relation to oneself. Given that, it is conceivable that strongly biased shows on the left or right side of the aisle will find a bigger market amongst like-minded (i.e. more opinionated) older folks who’ve had more experience opining and deciding on “the issues”. And, if you again accept that older folks are often more conservative, it may also help answer the question.

    Seeing some demographic data on party membership would of course help decide whether the premises above are at all reasonable. I’m only speculating based on my perceptions.

  9. Either way, this discussion is kind of moot, as Air America will *still* be aired on 92.1 FM in Madison. There was a strong enough objection from community members and advertisers that they decided to keep it.

    Furthermore, pondering what conservative or liberal listeners do or don’t do or Madison’s demographics is kind of irrelevant. With ClearChannel it comes down to ad dollars. For some reason the sales staff at 92.1 was not selling enough ads to satisfy their coporate overlords. While I didn’t think the people of Madison could pull it together, and I also didn’t think ClearChannel would listen, the people DID object, and ClearChannel DID listen. 92.1 FM in Madison will stay an Air America station.

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