The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

24 May 2005

Annual Talk Host Rankings Revealed

More Air America Troubles

Liberal Talk Hosts MIA In New Industry Survey

Fresh evidence of Air America's troubles has emerged in the latest issue of Talkers Magazine, an industry trade publication, which annually tracks the popularity of nationally syndicated radio talk show hosts.

None of the liberal talk hosts in Air America's lineup, or those distributed by other companies made the 2005 Talkers list, which ranked the 30 largest programs by audience size.

In addition, it surveyed the talk radio listenership and broke it down by group. We'll discuss that later in this piece.

Added to recent mounting evidence of lackluster ratings nearly everywhere for the network, this data does not bode well for "progressive" talk's future.

The Radio Equalizer would add that Air America's talk hosts have seemed largely absent from the spotlight in recent weeks when key news events have occurred.

Did you see them on cable talk shows, quoted in the papers, or in any other capacity outside their own programs, on the biggest news stories? Where were they in the Newsweek fiasco?

A vital aspect of programming promotion, is by way of free media exposure, outside of radio. Without it, it's exceptionally difficult to build an audience.

Before taking a look at it, it's important to know a few things about its source, Talkers Magazine. It's a quirky, imperfect publication and like other radio trades, frequent advertisers are favored in editorial coverage.

That actually should have helped, not prevented, liberal talkers from making this list given their heavy ad presence in the last year.

Does Talkers have a conservative bias? In my view, from years in the industry, attending trade conventions, reading the publication and personal knowledge of those behind the magazine, I can confidently say no.

In fact, its publisher has been one of the biggest cheerleaders for liberal talk, so it must have been disappointing to have to exclude these hosts from the rankings.

Where's Al Franken? When even the network's marquee talent can't make the top 30 list, there's a serious problem.

In addition, it's more art than science in compiling such a ranking. It relies on combining Arbitron ratings data from cities where hosts are heard, itself not a certain indicator of audience performance.

It does, however, give us a rough idea of where the programs stand. It's better than anything else we've got.

Here's the list, with names, followed by estimated weekly audience size, rounded to the nearest quarter-million. Keep in mind that local hosts are not included in these rankings.

There are a few, in Los Angeles and New York, that could make this list on the strength of just their one station.

2005 Talkers Magazine Talk Host Survey

1. Rush Limbaugh 14.75 million
2. Sean Hannity 13 million
3. Michael Savage(t) 8.75 million
3. Howard Stern (t) 8.75 million
5. Dr. Laura Schlessinger 7.50 million
6. Laura Ingraham 5 million
7. Jim Bohannon 3.75 million
8. Neal Boortz (t) 3.5 million
8. Mike Gallagher (t) 3.5 million
10. Clark Howard 3.25 million
11. Glen Beck (t) 3 million
11. Don Imus (t) 3 million
11. Bill O'Reilly (t) 3 million
11. Doug Stephan (t) 3 million
15. Dr. Joy Browne (t) 2.75 million
15. George Noory (t) 2.75 million
17. Kim Kommando (t) 2 million
17. Michael Medved (t) 2 million
17. Dave Ramsey (t) 2 million
17. Jim Rome (t) 2 million
21. Bob Brinker (t) 1.75 million
21. G. Gordon Liddy (t) 1.75 million
23. Jerry Doyle (t) 1.5 million
23. Tom Leykis (t) 1.5 million
25. Bill Bennett 1.25 million
26. Jim Cramer (t) 1 million
26. Dr. Dean Edell (t) 1 million
26. Phil Hendrie (t) 1 million
26. Rusty Humphries (t) 1 million
26. Tony Snow (t) 1 million

An unscientific, Radio Equalizer gut analysis, concludes that some of these hosts are overstated here, based on what I know about affiliate size and ratings.

I also strongly dispute the small gap between Limbaugh and Hannity's totals. My sense is that Hannity is much further from catching Rush that this would have us believe.

I have other nitpicky disputes with aspects of it, but I do believe they were correct in leaving Air America's personalities off-- they just haven't earned a place here.

Now we can sit back and wait for the "not enough time" excuses, but the truth is that most of their hosts were already on the air when last year's list was being compiled. And, with all the publicity they've had, there's no reason for Al Franken to be unable to beat the bottom-feeders in this survey.

Beyond that, maybe the numbers just aren't there for liberal talk in the first place.

In the other portion of the Talkers report, it found that just 13% of fans count themselves as being on the left, while 39% are conservative and 22% moderate.

If talk radio makes up, at best, 10% of radio listenership in a metropolitan market and only 13% of those people are liberals, it means Air America may have already found its entire potential audience, with the 1.0 share results seen in many in many cities.

This is probably why we haven't seen any audience growth for Franken & Co.

Update: liberal talk radio blogger BlatherWatch doesn't like my "spin" about Air America, thinks they need more time. Welcome Orbusmax readers.

Check back after 5pm EDT, for a discussion of new radio ratings releases. We'll have data for New York, Chicago, San Diego and more.

Also in the works: a fresh Air America controversy that provides behind-the-scenes details. Check back here soon.


  • Interesting post, except for the part about Air America hosts not getting TV exposure. The vast majority of available "talking head" spots are on conservative-hosted shows (o'reilly, hume, hannity & push-over, scarborough, etc.). In fact, the only politics-oriented talking head shows hosted by partisan liberals i can think of are hardball and olbermann...

    odds kind of seem stacked against air america there...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 23 May, 2005 16:48  

  • As ususal the MSM will ignore these numbers. I do think some people may wonder if these numbers are the reason Franken is rumoured to be seeking a Senate seat in Minnesota and Garofalo was close to getting a part in a sitcom. They *may* be looking for other work.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 23 May, 2005 18:23  

  • MOORE evidence that hot-Air Amerikkka sucks.
    In related news, the Pope is Catholic and bears...

    By Blogger Galt-In-Da-Box, at 23 May, 2005 19:48  

  • Newsday is reporting: "Comic files suit against 'Air America Radio' over pay",0,5799404.story?coll=nyc-manheadlines-queens

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 23 May, 2005 21:17  

  • Today's New York Daily News has 2004 sales revenues for New York radio stations, including WLIB (the only radio station Air America Radio controls, and one of the few progressive talk stations which carries the full Air America Radio schedule).

    News-talk radio tends to attract older listeners. Air America Radio has claimed they are getting younger listeners advertisers want to reach (the so-called "money demos"), although their overall numbers in most markets have not been impressive.

    Last year, WLIB (which carried Air America for eight months of the year) billed $4 million. The top grossing station in New York (AC WLTW) billed over $70 million. The top information-based (AM) station - with a signal not all that great - billed over $60 million. $4 million would be a respectable number around the 100th market; not in New York, LA or any other major market.

    This should be a big red flag to Air America Radio's management.

    Here are the figures for stations with information-based formats. The first number is the stations rank in revenue. The number in parenthesis is the station's rank in the current 12+ Arbitron ratings.

    2. WINS $60.6 million (7) All News

    3. WCBS-AM $55.7 million (17) News

    4. WFAN $52.5 million (20) Imus and Sports Talk

    5. WXRK $52.2 million (12) Howard Stern

    16. WABC $24 million (8) Talk

    18. WOR $19.6 million (19) Talk

    21. WMCA $8.3 million (36) Salem Talk Radio

    25. WBBR $5.1 million (30) Business News and Talk

    27. WLIB $4 million (24) Air America Radio

    28. WWRL $2.7 million (36) Urban and Progressive Talk

    By Anonymous PeakLimiter, at 23 May, 2005 21:59  

  • Peak Limiter:

    Thanks for your data, that really compliments the information in my piece. I hadn't seen those figures.

    If you're a million below the tiny business station, you're in trouble, and as you pointed out, they just don't have the revenue streams in other cities either.

    They must be burning through cash like there's no tomorrow.

    By Blogger Brian Maloney, at 23 May, 2005 22:19  

  • I did not see Michael Reagan on the list....

    By Anonymous Randy Cottam, at 23 May, 2005 22:41  

  • Brian: The $4m is what WLIB makes, not what AAR makes. WLIB doesn't sell ads. It charges AAR $4m for brokered time. The $4m has nothing to do with ad sales.

    In addition, you're comparing Rush, on over 600 stations, with Franken, who's on just over 50 stations. Rush has far more reach. This would certainly be an invalid way to demonstrate AAR's popularity in an average market.

    By Anonymous fastercaster, at 24 May, 2005 00:06  

  • Very briefly, glad to see mention of Laura. Also, caught Tony Snow recently; not colorful or very entertaining, but friendly with good information tastefully presented.
    And, no mention of Larry Elder? Something's missing. He's fun too.

    By Blogger Frost, at 24 May, 2005 00:53  

  • For the first commenter, I take it you only watch MSNBC. Ever heard of Inside Politics, Wolf Blitzer, and Crossfire? (I know it's been cancelled but it's still on the air, at least as of a couple of weeks ago) Not to mention the liberal talking heads on broadcast tv, Face the Nation, Meet the(de)Press(ed), This (is) Week with whats his name.


    Did you bother to read all 30 names on the list? Why did you cherrypick Rush? Why not some guy named Rusty Humphries whos on the list?

    By the way, where is Drudge?

    By Blogger RUMPLEMINTZ, at 24 May, 2005 00:53  

  • Why should we care what a guy who CAN'T GET A RADIO GIG thinks about the radio business?

    And if Air America is so inconsequential, why do you give so much ink to it?

    Me thinks thou doest protest too much!

    AA is a year old. Let's look back at where Flush Limbaugh was a year into his career....oh yeah, in the TOILET!

    If you look at the market pennetration of AA after one year and compare it to Rush after one year, Rush comes in a DISTANT second place.

    And I know Michael Harrison personally. HE may not have a conservative bias, but he knows who butters his bread and it's the right wing talk show hosts--so you can BET his rag shows a strong right wing bias.

    I end as I began. If Air America is in such trouble, why do you righties spend so much time attacking it and predicting its death? Is it that you FEAR competition?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 24 May, 2005 08:55  

  • fastercaster,

    Franken says he's on in 60% of the country. So this whole "far more reach", in Franken's own words, is bunk.

    And those markets Franken isn't in have surely heard of him by now thanks to the huge assist they've been getting from national media in promoting AirAmerica.

    By Anonymous SaveFarris, at 24 May, 2005 10:28  

  • Anon:

    Michael Harrison of Talkers has been singing the praises of lib talk for over a year in publications around the country.

    Syndicators of "progressive" talkers have been running big ads in the publication.

    I don't know of any conservatives at the magazine, either, just liberals and the odd libertarian.

    By Blogger Brian Maloney, at 24 May, 2005 10:45  

  • To all:

    I've had many people wondering about Michael Reagan and Matt Drudge.

    Reagan's no longer a major national presence, in fact I couldn't tell you of a single large station still running his show.

    Drudge is on Sunday nights, but he does have a lot of major stations. Seems like he would have a shot at the bottom of the list.

    By Blogger Brian Maloney, at 24 May, 2005 10:48  

  • Frost:

    I would think that Larry Elder would at least make the bottom of the list.

    By Blogger Brian Maloney, at 24 May, 2005 10:49  

  • Fastercaster,

    I was only refering to evening shows, which is why i left off things like john gibson or neil cavuto (who has actually gave $$ to the bush re-election campaign). As for Sunday morning: None of the four shows give any real opportunity for radio talkers to participate (CSB, NBC, ABC, Fox), so it's irrelevant to this particular string.

    For the first commenter, I take it you only watch MSNBC. Ever heard of Inside Politics, Wolf Blitzer, and Crossfire? (I know it's been cancelled but it's still on the air, at least as of a couple of weeks ago) Not to mention the liberal talking heads on broadcast tv, Face the Nation, Meet the(de)Press(ed), This (is) Week with whats his name.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 24 May, 2005 11:22  

  • ***Did you see them on cable talk shows, quoted in the papers, or in any other capacity outside their own programs, on the biggest news stories? Where were they in the Newsweek fiasco?***

    Damn Liberal media....


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 24 May, 2005 12:02  

  • More excuses. Bill Bennett's on the list and his show is about as old as Err America. And the reason I give so much ink to AAR's demise is that I don't like the BS AAR's cheerleaders are slinging.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 24 May, 2005 14:07  

  • Marty, that's the point: even the liberals (and conservatives) no longer see Air America talent as worthy of booking on their shows. Just not interesting enough.

    By Blogger Brian Maloney, at 24 May, 2005 14:27  

  • No Brian, you miss the point. Cable news talkshows are dominated by conservatives now, so it is no wonder that AAR folks aren't on there. O'Reilly's version of a Democratic partisan right now is Dick Morris.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 24 May, 2005 15:30  

  • Actually, AAR just doesn't send it's people out to do anything. Their business model doesn't include TV punditry.

    Besides, I don't think anyone could stomach looking at Randi Rhodes. Cross between a mule and Joan Collins.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 24 May, 2005 16:53  

  • AAR has a hard time defending their ridiculous positions on issues, that’s the main reason they avoid any forum that invites debate. I personally believe Rhodes has shills call in because the screened conservative callers were ripping apart her arguments.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 24 May, 2005 17:42  

  • My point is that AAR hosts were on cable shows quite a lot until recently, they seem to be retreating in the face of failure.

    Franken already seems to be making future plans for a Minn. US Senate run. He just bought a house in the Minn-St.Paul area.

    By Blogger Brian Maloney, at 24 May, 2005 17:46  

  • Bill Bennett doesn't have to convince station owners to blow up their format just to get one new affiliate. There are already hundreds upon hundreds of stations built just for his kind of talk. That's why a conservative can debut on hundreds of stations.

    And the hard facts are that AAR is on just over 50 stations, most of which don't cover their markets. That's not 60% of the country.

    Plus, the idea of a panel on Sunday talk shows is to have George will, a guy from Time Magazine, and a reporter from the Washington Post discuss an issue, so that the only guy who can go spouting opinions is ... George Will.

    And I see Rachel Maddow on CNN pretty frequently, and Al Franken makes the occasional late night appearance.

    But continue with your excuses about why AAR must be dying.

    By Anonymous fastercaster, at 24 May, 2005 17:52  

  • Great site Brian. I live in Seattle and am sorry I didn't catch you when you were on the radio here. I listen to a lot of talk radio...but rarely KIRO...unless they carry one of the sports teams.

    Nice to see Phil Hendrie on the list. I think he has the most original show on radio period!! I like the political stuff but Phil is a nice break at the end of the day.

    Unfortunately, he was dropped by the Buzz (KQBZ) and I don't believe his show is currently carried in Seattle. Fortunately, he has a great website and I can download his show.

    As for Air America...I gave it a shot. I lasted about a half hour before I was done. I can walk by the Federal building in Seattle and hear the same lines from the protesters there anytime.

    By Anonymous Mark D, at 24 May, 2005 17:58  

  • Mark

    I think thats the point. You can watch abc,cbs,nbc,cnn,msnbc,cnn,pbs, or listen to npr and get everything you hear at Air(head) America without the vitriol. Well, sometimes you get the far left rhetoric on npr.

    By Blogger RUMPLEMINTZ, at 24 May, 2005 19:04  

  • Yeah, why all the concern over AirAmerica, if they are at the bottom of the ratings, why continue to obsess about it. From what I've read lately, you haven't done shit

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 25 May, 2005 00:49  

  • AAR is a car wreck from every angle. Even if it did have a listener base in NYC, they wouldn't be able to hear AAR. The signal is a joke. I live walking distance from AAR's studio, and I can't hear WLIB.

    That said, Brian, do you think that AAR's deal with XM will help their cause?


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 25 May, 2005 04:24  

  • fastercaster,

    *You* know and *I* know that Franken isn't on in 60% of the country. But Franken doesn't. A few days after this article was published, the Chicago station (WCPT) was added and Franken announced on his show that they were now covering 60% of the country. "Reality-Based community" indeed!

    And your claim that Bennett's success shouldn't count against AirAmerica because stations have to "blow up the format" would be nice and all ... if AirAmerica didn't already count outlets like West Palm Beach (WJNO) as part of their affiliate list even though they only carry one show.

    By Anonymous SaveFarris, at 25 May, 2005 09:18  

  • " if AirAmerica didn't already count outlets like West Palm Beach (WJNO) as part of their affiliate list even though they only carry one show."

    Miami's WINZ gets ratings in the West Palm Beach market.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 03 June, 2005 15:00  

  • Interesting stuff, thanks for sharing.

    By Blogger TallDave, at 20 June, 2005 16:24  

  • I think the Talkers survey nails it: liberals just aren't interested in talk radio. Conservatives debate; liberals emote. That's why we get dichotomies like we saw on welfare reform: conservatives argued the case on the merits and the numbers, while liberals fretted about children being thrown out on the streets to starve. 10 years later, welfare reform is the biggest political and economic success story of the past 30 years.

    One could even argue that if they were interested in informed political debate, liberals would soon cease to be liberals. I've seen it happen with quite a few people in college.

    By Blogger TallDave, at 20 June, 2005 16:33  

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