A Philosopher's Blog

Talk Radio

Posted in Business, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 27, 2009
Blogworld Talk Radio
Image by jdlasica via Flickr

CNN recently did a series of segments on talk radio. One fact that struck me is that about 90% of talk radio hosts are classified as conservatives. This, of course, puts a number on the liberal perspective that conservatives dominate talk radio. Naturally, conservatives point out that liberals dominate the other media venues, with the obvious exception of Fox News in the TV arena.

Naturally, there has been considerable speculation about the conservative dominance in radio. Over the years, various implausible explanations have been provided.

One poor explanation is that the dominance is due to Rush’s skills as an entertainer. While it is true that he is a master of his craft, this would not explain the success of all the other conservative hosts nor would it explain the dearth of liberal hosts. After all, it is often claimed that Hollywood is awash in liberals and surely someone among these folks would have the talent to make her/his voice heard.

Another poor explanation is that the big corporations are conservative and hence unfairly keep the liberals off the air. Of course, this runs contrary to the fact that there are plenty of liberals with money and the fact that mainstream media is regarded as being liberal, despite also being owned by the corporate masters. Also, there is the failure of Air America-a liberal attempt at liberal radio that was well funded.

A third poor explanation is that talk radio appeals to the uneducated and is not a suitable medium for the complex enlightenment that is liberal thought. While it is true that talk radio tends to be lacking in intellectual rigor, it is also true that liberal ideas can (and are) be pitched at a level suitable for talk radio. Further, to cast the listeners of talk radio as simpletons is to do them a grave injustice.

One hypothesis that has some plausibility is that the conservatives were able to stake out their territory in talk radio and dig in. Since there is only so much air time, for a liberal to get a show would seem to require that they cut into an established radio show. Of course, this explanation does have some weaknesses and does not account for why liberals have yet to succeed in getting more of the market share.

Naturally, it would be well worth considering the differences between the people who listen to talk radio and folks who do not. For example, perhaps their is a factor here relating to jobs. Maybe folks who work jobs that allow them to listen to the radio more would tend towards being conservative (or at least being entertained by conservative talk). Or maybe conservatives are more inclined to like purely audio media as opposed to visual media. In any case, the conservatives are dominating the airwaves.

Another hypothesis worth considering is whether there is a difference between liberals and conservatives in regards to the skill sets needed to be appealing in talk radio. For example, it has been claimed that actors and journalists are more liberal than other folks, so perhaps there is a link between modes of expression and political leanings. So, conservatives might have a tendency towards talk, while liberals have greater visual skills. Or there might be no connection at all.

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  1. […] Talk Radio « A Philosopher's Blog […]

  2. biomass2 said, on October 28, 2009 at 7:34 pm

    Michael: Expanding upon your theory about “skill sets”. Perhaps there are those who function well and respond well to a one-dimensional medium and those who function well and respond well to a two-dimensional medium. Just as one group seems to be more likely to respond positively to messages that can can clearly and simply defined in blacks and whites and another group sees not only blacks and whites but also accepts and revels in the possibilities represented by shades of gray.

    Perhaps that explains why Rush Limbaugh has not fared so poorly as a television personality but dominates the radio waves and why Walter Cronkite, who began his career in radio,switched, early in the history of television, to that two-dimensional medium and was so incredibly successful.

    • biomass2 said, on October 28, 2009 at 8:20 pm

      change both instances of “function well” to
      “function well in”

      change “can can clearly and simply defined in blacks and whites” to
      “messages that can be clearly and simply defined in blacks and whites,”

      change “has not fared so poorly” to
      “has fared so poorly”

  3. biomass2 said, on October 28, 2009 at 10:36 pm

    Just for the tangential (extremely) hell of it:


    • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 4, 2009 at 12:41 pm

      As always, I agree that Fox, MSNBC and many of the talk radio folks are clearly biased. But saying the media is biased is far too general. It is like saying people are biased. It is true, but not particularly useful or informative.

  4. biomass2 said, on November 4, 2009 at 9:08 am


    Is this the article Stossel is referencing?

    Just a few quibbles with John. Looks like his reporting is a bit spotty. He omits Greg Sargent, who is also mentioned in the article, as a source of criticism and the “associate professor” Stossel references in his piece as if the critic is anonymous is given a name in the NYT piece. If Stossel omitted one critic who was named in the article (to make it *seem* that there was less criticism out there?) how many more may he have omitted?

    He also omitted this from the article: “He’s a credible journalist, he brings a national perspective, and he’s kind of a maverick, which we like,” she said. This omission by Stossel, of course, could make the article seem like a hatchet job to someone who hasn’t read it.

    I’ve read through the article. It has a few more judgment words than necessary (“unusual” for example), but it’s not nearly as bad as Stossel paints it. The picture I get from Stossel’s piece is that, as journalists go, he’s pretty thin-skinned. as journalists go.

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