Why Do Conservatives Dominate Talk Radio?


The Center for American Progress has released a valuable analysis of the factors that account for the huge ideological imbalance in political talk radio. Here's what they pinpoint as the driving forces:

Our conclusion is that the gap between conservative and progressive talk radio is the result of multiple structural problems in the U.S. regulatory system, particularly the complete breakdown of the public trustee concept of broadcast, the elimination of clear public interest requirements for broadcasting, and the relaxation of ownership rules including the requirement of local participation in management. Ownership diversity is perhaps the single most important variable contributing to the structural imbalance based on the data. Quantitative analysis conducted by Free Press of all 10,506 licensed commercial radio stations reveals that stations owned by women, minorities, or local owners are statistically less likely to air conservative hosts or shows. In contrast, stations controlled by group owners--those with stations in multiple markets or more than three stations in a single market--were statistically more likely to air conservative talk. Furthermore, markets that aired both conservative and progressive programming were statistically less concentrated than the markets that aired only one type of programming and were more likely to be the markets that had female- and minority-owned stations.

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I tried listening to Air America. I really did. I take opposition research seriously. But I couldn't take more than about 30 minutes at a time. It was just so bad.

The problem with leftist talk radio is that leftist ideas simply don't appeal to people, or stand up to close examination. Socialized medicine, higher taxes, racial preferences - well, there are niche markets for all of them, but nationally, sorry, they don't sell. I mean, you could try 'framing' them as 'health care for all', 'financial fairness', and..oh, I don't know, 'really really late reparations', but I just think that's a very tough marketing problem.

Try doing what New Labor did. Become your opponent.

Hrmmm - I'm not so sure about that graph. I live in Houston, and KPFT airs the Pacifica radio shows, including lots of liberal shows like Democracy Now. (In fact, the station's website slogan is "radio for peace"!)

The AM dial is certainly conservative-dominated, but perhaps they need to check their sources more carefully.

My problem with Air America is that leftist loudmouths are every bit as obnoxious as right-wing ones... I can never bear to listen for long. Give me country radio any day!

Gerard, in the interest of avoiding sending the thread spiraling into a multi-faceted discussion of the various 'unpopular' leftist ideas you mention, it's worth pointing out that what makes this interesting is the radio numbers clearly don't match peoples' opinions as evidenced by, say, voting.

In any case, do Rush Limbaugh's ideas appeal to you? If so, consider being concerned.

There are clearly structural problems having to do with moneyed interests both as owners, and as controling the bulk of advertising revenue.
I remember a rather infamous leaked memo last fall, with a large list of
corporations instructing that none of their advertising go to air America.

Ever notice that American conservatives like Gerard attribute their dominance of talk radio to the superior intellectual merit of their arguments - and the supposed liberal dominance of the much more popular TV network market to liberal chicanery?

By Ian Gould (not verified) on 15 Jul 2007 #permalink

First of all, when did "liberal" become "progressive"?

Moving on, the explanation of conservative dominance of talk radio has to do with the time, ahem, frames. In talk radio, it is virtually impossible to develop a detailed argument. Everything is done in 30-second soundbites. So the party with the simpler, shorter message is going to do better. Care to guess which one that is?

Also, the conservative mindset is more prone to responding to ideas that match their own, whereas progressives, by definition are more stimulated by the new and the different. But since the new and different vary, holding a listenership will be more difficult than it is for the Ditto Master who is delivering the same message day after day for his Pavlovian fans.

It also has to do with who has the luxury of listening to talk radio during the day, which is Ms. Baptist Soccer Mom at her corporate job, not Joe Unionist on the assembly line. So, biased product, biased time frame, biased results.

I would also be very interested in where the ideological lines are being drawn in categorizing the show content. Do you have to be a socialist bomb thrower to get counted as progressive, or is being for national health care enough? Where do libertarians fall? And how are the natural gradiations in opinion between the poles we all have accounted for? I know, read the study...time, time, time.