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Regarding the Liberal Radio Network
In Dissent, Number Eighty-Nine
by Brian S. Wise
25 February 2003

The liberal shows have failed because the Left hasn’t sought them out … and because, frankly, none of them were any good.

Began a news report, “Rush Limbaugh and other conservative radio personalities may get a run for their money from a new show in town that claims to be the next big thing in political chatter.” (Warning: obscure pop culture reference upcoming.) They’re not talking about Brock Lesnar with a Leftist slant, they’re talking about the upcoming all-liberal talk radio network (henceforth, LRN), set to begin with Al Franken assuming the mantle as, we are to believe, the latest and greatest attempt to breed a liberal Limbaugh.

LRN moves forward while employing a few consistent theories: 1) Talk radio is dominated by conservatives; 2) Even when liberals have been given chances via syndication, they are so often sandwiched in between conservative shows, thereby deadening whatever impact the hosts would have had; 3) The liberal message simply has no chance of being pumped into the mainstream unless there is such a thing as LRN. Now, what about these?

One: Yes, talk radio is dominated by conservatives, but that domination is not necessarily a function of Right leaning program directors, rather free market demands. Whatever can be said of program directors (Jim Rome calls them monkeys, and not unjustifiably), many of them can spot trends, as can syndicates. When the Limbaugh show went through its first burst of national popularity (in the time of Rush rooms and Rush to Excellence tours), the search for more conservative hosts to syndicate was immediate and wide spread. When will it end? When people stop listening; that’s when the ratings will go down, ad revenue will decrease, and programmers will be forced to look in other directions.

In the meantime, you cannot force ideological parity onto free enterprise, especially when the exact opposite of the supposed remedy is the thing working. Talk radio stations aren’t in business to offer both sides of debate, they are in business to make money, and therefore whatever the people want to hear is what the people will be offered. It seems a simple, static argument for conservative radio, but it also happens to be true. There are no grand waves of voices calling for LRN, just a few loud ideologues – presumably those who cannot manage to find NPR on their radio dials.

Two: Alan Colmes used to be on my hometown station, following the Limbaugh program (this was in the very early 1990s). In the beginning it was promoted as balance – Hear the Right, and Then Hear the Left. Colmes was eventually relegated to being broadcast via tape delay late at night; the spot after Limbaugh was filled with Dr. Laura. (She has since been moved out in favor of Bill O’Reilly.) Colmes was once forced to defend the shift during Radio Graffiti – “I haven’t been cancelled in South Bend, just moved to a different time slot,” I believe the line was – still, if the complaint is that liberal hosts are sometimes put in undesirable spots, it carries some weight in scattered markets.

But again, liberals in those markets who desperately wanted to hear a Leftist voice could have tuned in for one (this is assuming that the ratio of liberals to conservatives is close to equal in these markets, which obviously cannot always be said). Just because (and this is a popular example) Jim Hightower was sandwiched between Limbaugh and Sean Hannity here and there doesn’t mean liberals are precluded by law from tuning in to the Hightower show. The liberal shows have failed because the Left hasn’t sought them out … and because, frankly, none of them were any good.

Three: The debate between the width and depth of liberal media versus conservative media is already old and tired. Truth is, conservative influenced media has made enough substantive gains to produce the closest thing to equality the industries have ever seen, all things being put into the equation. Talk radio and, let’s face it, Fox News Channel have a lot to do with this – Fox does offer hosts who lean predominantly to the Right (Colmes being the notable exception), including O’Reilly, who is an Independent, but who goes Right on most issues.

There is an unnatural fixation with finding the liberal Limbaugh; there can’t be one. Limbaugh is a one in ten million performer in talk radio history, for who a vast combination of things lined up perfectly at the exact right time. Limbaugh himself couldn’t have foreseen what he has become; Al Franken cannot become that thing, but there’s no harm in trying. More, conservatives should embrace the idea; the longer it works, the less complaining there will be to endure. And if it ultimately fails? No gloating – Republicans have failed at mastering far grander things, like the Senate.

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