Conservative talk radio is hurting. Liberals are gleefully circling the wagons, celebrating its imminent demise, even as conservative talk radio remains far more popular than liberal talk radio.
Liberals think they know the reason for the decline: they believe that conservatism is on the decline and that conservatives are so dispirited with the nation’s leftward drift that they’ve tuned out. Though there’s a smidgen of truth to that, it isn’t the answer. The real culprit might make liberals even happier; it will fuel the class envy they thrive upon.
Conservative talk radio is in peril because of conservative greed. There’s simply too much advertising on conservative talk radio. Anytime I tune in, I land on a litany of commercials. Yes, you need advertising to pay the bill but this is unlistenable.
Consider one of the top shows in the nation in the 3-6 p.m. slot, which I’ll leave nameless. I used to listen daily. Now, I occasionally check in around 5:08, when the host finally starts the hour. He provides about 14 minutes of content before going to a long break that doesn’t bring him back until about 5:27. Then he leaves for another marathon of advertisements (and some news) that doesn’t end until around 5:37. The cycle repeats through the show’s end.
There can’t be more than 33 minutes of actual program per hour. Why would anyone listen to this?
I recall a conversation a few years back with the late Fred Honsberger. I hadn’t done his talk show on KDKA in a while. I asked how it was going. “They fill the show with junk!” he shouted at me. “People tune out! Then I get blamed for the lack of listeners!”
Why so much junk? To pay the bills, of course. But more specifically, to pay the gigantic, unsustainable fees these shows command.
Alas, this hits home for conservatives in the Pittsburgh marketplace. The great mega-talker in Pittsburgh, 104.7 FM, WPGB, suddenly switched formats. I knew 104.7 extremely well, having been a guest on practically every show, even guest-hosting entrepreneur Glen Meakem’s show (which buys time and isn’t overloaded with ads).
I was tipped off to WPGB’s approaching death by an insider who shared this telling information: “Clear Channel is eliminating the talk format on WPGB and flipping it to a country music format. Limbaugh and Hannity are being moved over to WJAS 1320 AM. It is only a 7,000 watt signal, far inferior to WPGB’s 50,000 watt signal. … I spoke with a media executive who is familiar with Limbaugh’s contract. In a market the size of Pittsburgh, Limbaugh receives a monthly talent fee of $35,000.”
Wow. That’s over $400,000 per year just for Rush Limbaugh, at one station. And that’s merely Rush. I won’t begrudge him and other hosts their added fortunes but how do their loyal stations find that money?
Answer: advertising, advertising and advertising. In short, by advertising so much that listeners can’t stand it anymore.
And when that happens, the lights go out.
Paul Kengor is a professor of political science at Grove City College. His latest book is “11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative.”