The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

12 October 2005

More Odds and Ends


Talk's Impact, Plus: Working With Savage

Why is talk radio's impact such a big topic these days?

While the Radio Equalizer isn't quite sure, it's still frequently used by politicians looking to remake public images. Rep. Tom DeLay is currently staking a lot of political capital on this belief, embarking on a talk radio-heavy media tour, to refute Ronnie Earle's conspiracy and money laundering charges.

On a similar note, many readers, including Carolyn of California's Coffee With Cranky Beach, wondered about the validity of this AP story:

There are signs that the Republicans could be losing some of their overwhelming edge, however. Ratings for Limbaugh and Hannity slipped this spring in some markets.

Liberals such as Ed Schultz, Stephanie Miller and Al Franken are carving out their own radio niche. And Democrats argue that they have an edge on the Internet, where explosive growth could dwarf the political impact of radio.

Some of that could be just wishful thinking by Democrats. The slip in ratings, for example, could be a normal drop in political interest after an election year. They also could be untrue - radio ratings are difficult to measure.

And even if Limbaugh and Hannity have fewer listeners than they did in the past, they still have millions more than liberal talk show hosts.

"We're not there yet," Franken said in an interview. "My numbers are going up, and theirs are going down. But if I have a million and half people listening to me, that's still just one-tenth of Rush's audience."

Like most people in and around radio, Franken credited Limbaugh's personal talents for creating the genre of conservative talk radio in the late 1980s and dominating it ever since. "He's very talented, I'll give him that," Franken said. "He's a good storyteller. He's good at framing an issue, whether honest or not. ...

He's very good at kicking dust up in the air so you don't see the crap on the ground. It's an evil talent. But he's talented."

Yet Limbaugh, who didn't respond to a request for an interview, lost ground this year in several markets.

Limbaugh lost 30 percent of his audience in Minneapolis-St. Paul this spring from a year earlier. He also lost 9 percent in Miami and 7 percent in Kansas City, Mo.

He did have gains in some smaller markets, however, including Charlotte, N.C., and Fort Wayne, Ind. Some of the loss can be attributed to listeners tuning out after an election year. But they also might be growing weary of the Limbaugh and Hannity format.

Wow, looks like conservative talk is troubled, while liberal radio is growing, doesn't it?

One problem: Franken's overall national ratings this year are actually down slightly (let me guess: another fact nobody's let Al in on?) Where's the evidence of liberal talk's "niche"?

In addition, the article fails to take into account whether poor decisions made at the local level have harmed overall station programming. But there are attempts at balance, as well, so we can cut the reporter some slack.

That's certainly the case in Minneapolis-St. Paul, where Hubbard Broadcasting has allowed once-mighty KSTP-AM to decline. That's why a new Clear Channel station will soon be taking Rush Limbaugh away. How is that his fault?

Meanwhile, liberals continue to cite this one station as "evidence" Limbaugh's in trouble.

Funny enough, for those few who read the AP story to its conclusion, the tone changes:

Yet if the communications of politics is changing, it hasn't changed that much yet.

Limbaugh still has about 14.75 million listeners, according to Talkers Magazine. Hannity has about 13 million. Even the most successful liberal hosts, such as Schultz, Miller and Franken, don't come close yet.

None made the top 30 talk radio shows as ranked by Talkers Magazine.

My, that's a bit different, isn't it?

Not many people have a real sense of why Michael Savage is seeking co-hosts for his talk program (scroll down to see previous coverage), but one radio person with substantial personal experience around the "compassionate conservative" revealed this to the Radio Equalizer:

While I agree that Michael is experiencing burn-out, I disagree that he should take a 'leave of absence' in order to re-charge his batteries.

Michael would go completely batty without a microphone to espouse views. Without it, he feels he's invisible, and his always-marginal grip on reality would deteriorate.

I believe Michael thinks that this gimmick will allow him to coast, and still keep him in the business. But after two or three days, I predict he'll get bored --or angry--or crazy over the people he is auditioning. Michael's show is always about Michael.

He is totally disinterested in what others say, or want to say.

Michael Savage is a narcissicist, though a very charming one at times.

I pity the poor applicant. If they remember they are a Michael Savage supplicant, then they may make a few of the cuts, before he cuts off the contest.

Yes, but what should Savage do if he's feeling burned out? We don't seem to be leaving him with a good option.

Something else: couldn't some of these perceptions be applied to all of us who've done talk radio? Is this really a "normal" occupation to pursue?

Also: I'm buried in projects at the moment. That means I'm way, way behind on emails, requests, etc. Sorry about that, this isn't typical. For blog link exchanges, please wait for the new site (coming soon), then hit me up again.

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  • Seems to me that the ratings dip for Rush and Sean might just be because there are so many copy cats, and really if Sean didn't have any guests he would just be a Rush replay. I also wonder if Rush and Sean are just spending too much time with topics not of interest to most people, mostly political party spats. What I see in my area is more Glenn Beck and Michael Savage, because they are issues orientated, have a better sense of humor, and don't beat you up for three hours over Delay and other partisan garbage. Beck is right when he says "It's a matter of right and wrong, not left or right."

    By Blogger Lonewatchman, at 12 October, 2005 03:26  

  • As the linked AP story says, " ratings are difficult to measure."

    No kidding! I spent thirty years trying to unravel them. Especially using their old back-of-the-book chart called a Nomograph, that allowed you to determine the margin of error in any given rating segment.

    When that margin started climbing into high teens and low twentys, they just discontinued the Nomograph.

    Who wants to know, after paying hundreds of thousands of dollars, that their rating numbers could be off twenty points?

    Statistically, any survey exhibiting a MOE greater than 4 is highly suspect in accuracy.

    Finally, I point you to this disclaimer that accompanies all Arbitrend reports:

    "The estimates provided by Arbitrends v1.4 are derived from the diaries that provide the data in the Radio Market Report and are subject to the limitations stated in that report. Due to these limitations, inherent in Arbitron's methodology, the accuracy of Arbitron audience estimates cannot be determined to any precise mathematical value or definition. Arbitrends is not part of Arbitron's regular syndicated service and is not accredited by the Media Rating Council (MRC)."

    By Blogger Mike Anderson, at 12 October, 2005 03:48  

  • I also suspect some of Limbaugh and Hannity's ratings decline comes from people like me who are turning to other conservative, but less partisan, talk-hosts like Jerry Doyle, or to conservative but less political shows like Glenn Beck's. His ratings were up 15% while Rush and Hannnity were slipping.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12 October, 2005 10:45  

  • Brian--if you're living in the Boston area, or if they're streaming, might want to check this out: it looks like Michael Graham is getting a try-out at WTKK this Wed thru Fri
    10 pm-1 am (96.9 FM)

    From WTKK's site:

    "Wednesday - Friday, October 12th - 14th - Michael Graham, native of South Carolina, his talk radio career has taken him from Charleston to Washington, DC. Contributed to such national publications as the National Review, The Washington Times and Jewish World Review. Weekly syndicated column of political humor, The Usual Suspects. Author of: Red Neck Nation: How the South Really Won the War; and, Clinton & Me. Political consultant for campaigns from South Carolina to Chicago to New York. Once, a stand-up comic who had a few gigs here in Boston.

    By Blogger raccoonradio, at 12 October, 2005 15:29  

  • In K.C. He may have dipped a little, but if you look at our ratings from book to book, you'll see close to 2 point swings for many stations, but they usually bounce right back. KMBZ-AM 980's ratings bounce around because sports radio has a big influence in ratings here. Royal's day games are frequent, plus spring training coverage also twists things. The dominent sports station (WHB 810) ratings range from 2.5 to 4.4 with Jim Rome's audience bouncing around in the same time slot as Rush.

    By Blogger Owen, at 12 October, 2005 20:08  

  • I don't know what the ratings are doing here in Norfolk, Virginia, but if they are down, I sure do know why. We have two talk stations, both owned by the same family. Rush and Sean are on WNIS, 790. This station would be right at home in any town of less than 10,000 people in the country. The program manager has the mic from 6 to 10 a.m. He wore out as a DJ, so is relegated to talk format. Much of his prattle is cutting down Rush and Sean in a vain effort to make himself more professional appearing. The other station, WTAR 950, is slowly going left, so it seems to get the support.

    Now this man is not liberal; somewhat libertarian. And I listen to him and often respect his opinion, as I do Boortz. But when they get on a rant, it is time to find something else to do for a few days. And I fail to see where being critical of the two highest rated programs on your stations will be of any help to your ratings.

    By Blogger johnnycab23513, at 13 October, 2005 16:12  

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