The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

10 October 2006

Liberal Talk Radio Host Contest


Devoid Of Talent, Firms Seek Progtalkers

Just how bad is liberal talk radio's current state of affairs?

So unmistakably horrible that several media players have now gone as far as to seek new talk hosts from right off the street.

Hey, no need for experience, after all, anybody can host a show, right? Even trained zoo animals can do it!

Talk about desperation.

From the Baltimore / Washington Business Journal:

The contest begins Monday and will culminate with a final broadcast in front of a live studio audience in the District. Entries will be judged by an expert panel that includes Ed Schultz, one of the highest-rated syndicated progressive talk show hosts on the airwaves.

The entire at-large contest will be managed online at, a Web site designed by Seattle-based Internet development company Nakea and by local promotions.

Clear Channel Radio developed the progressive talk format in March 2004 at one of its AM radio stations in Portland, Ore. The station's rating shot from 23rd to first in that market. Since then, nearly 100 radio stations industrywide have begun airing syndicated progressive talk content, including eight in the top 10 radio markets.

Clear Channel Radio alone has 23 progressive talk radio stations.

"Talk radio has emerged as a potent force for driving the national debate," said Center for American Progress Action Fund President John Podesta. "We're working towards a return to a balance in the airwaves by supporting this initiative to bring more progressive voices to the microphone."

The Center for American Progress Action Fund is the advocacy organization of the Center for American Progress. The Action Fund works to turn progressive ideas into public policy through communications, legislative action and grassroots organizing. It also publishes the Progress Report.

For years, talk radio had been the bastion of conservative hosts. However, radio broadcasters are finding a sizable market among listeners from the other side of the political aisle.

To be fair, a few conservative radio stations have also stooped to this level, with generally wretched results from open talent contests. Guess what: tennis also looks easy from the stands, but does that mean you should play at next year's Wimbledon?

So what's behind this effort? First, let's look at who isn't involved: Air America Radio. And that speaks volumes about the real agenda, which is quite clearly to get hosts in place for the day Franken & Company shuts down for good.

And note the reference to "100 stations" having tried progressive content, yet with no mention of Air America having been the firm behind it. But how many libtalk shows are heard in more than 50 markets today? Contrast that with Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, who have many hundreds of outlets each.

When the talent pool is this shallow, however, it becomes necessary to resort to plucking pedestrians off of the street. And that's where libtalk's backers find themselves today. Not encouraging, is it?

After all, the list of famous lefties who have tried and failed at this game is now so long, there's virtually nobody around that hasn't yet given it a stab.

It certainly is telling that those still pushing lefty talk want to pretend that Air America never happened, isn't it?

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  • This is a promotional stunt Brian, and I've seen similar things on rock radio, pop radio and (as you say) conservative talk radio. It has everything to do with generating listener interest. Desperation is only your slanted view.

    By Blogger Justin, at 10 October, 2006 08:47  

  • Want to talk about shitty contests how about Sean Hannity's pathetic car give away which he plugs every 10 minutes. How desperate do you have to be to shill that hard in the midsts of what Hannity bills as the runup to the most important elections in a lifetime.


    By Blogger Lifa, at 10 October, 2006 09:03  

  • It has everything to do with generating listener interest.

    Because lord knows the current slate of Progressive hosts ain't doing it!

    BTW, KPOJ was never 1st in the ratings as the article states. The highest it ever ranked was 4th and it never rose above KEX, the Rush station.

    By Blogger BF, at 10 October, 2006 09:04  

  • Not to get off topic, but by now it's pretty clear to any rational person that the Air America experiment has simply not been successful. Accordingly, I was wondering if anyone cares to speculate as to the reasons why.

    I have my own views, including AAR's disasterous decision to call what it does "progressive" talk thereby turning off much of what remains of the centrist Democratic mainstream which otherwise might have supported the network. After all, there already exists not one but two progressive radio networks - Pacifica and NPR, both taxpayer funded, sans commercials. The ratings at Pacifica certainly do not lend much support for the conclusion that a commercial venture premised on a progressive talk format would be successful. There just aren't enough people out there who identify themselves as progressives, and those at AAR who attempted to talk about progressive topics in a way that appeals to those who might not agree with their views (which arguably is the case with conservative talk radio) just weren't up to the task.

    That's just my view and is not necessarily predicated on any political position. After all, something most certainly did NOT work - why else the fact that AAR couldn't find an audience?

    And, in fact, Air America has had a dismal time - the continual staff, talent and management shakeups and controversy are consistent with an organization that just can't make a go at it.

    But back to the main point - while some may think it too early for a post mortum, there's no harm in asking - why didn't a radio network using the same talk format that's been such a success for conservative talk make a go at it using liberal talk? In other words, what went wrong? Why wasn't there listener support (and there hasn't been, despite an enormous amount of startup publicity) with anywhere near the ratings enjoyed by conservative talk radio - or even enough of an auduence to make the effort financially worthwhile?

    By Blogger Alex, at 10 October, 2006 15:55  

  • Hmm. I had no prior radio experience before being given my shot, and yet I have a show on 710-KIRO Brian... and you don't. So what does that say about you?

    And KVI seems to have done pretty well hiring smart, opinionated radio novices like John Carlson and Kirby Wilbur, and giving them time to learn on air. Now KIRO is giving me the same opportunity.

    Everybody is a novice sometime.

    By Blogger Goldy, at 10 October, 2006 18:41  

  • Goldy, have you seen your station's ratings lately? KIRO is dying. There's no way to spin that.

    And a big part of the problem has been giving talk shows to people like DJ No Name and rock jocks without a clue how to do it.

    I wouldn't get too cocky if I were you, I doubt the company is going to tolerate KIRO's downward spiral much longer.

    By Blogger Brian Maloney, at 10 October, 2006 18:51  

  • ...."I doubt the company is going to tolerate"....

    This pretty well sums up how radical far right talk radio's goals line up with corporate interests, whereas progressive talk's main objective is to entertain and inform the nation's people.

    I'm not sure I could have expressed it so succinctly myself.

    By Blogger hashfanatic, at 11 October, 2006 14:49  

  • And a big part of the problem has been giving talk shows to people like DJ No Name and rock jocks without a clue how to do it.

    mmmm Brian, Limbaugh was once a no name rock jock too, eithout even an associates degree and look at his success.

    mmmmmm Brian, Randi Rhodes, was a rock and roll DJ no name from a failed WAPP in NY, look at the leve of success she has had. Killed in West Palm Beach and is moderately successful ratings wise.

    Now.... This is a contest, just like "be a rock n roll DJ" contests held all the time. You really think like a little kid. Im amazed you are part of the media. You do not even understand how media works. This is a common radio gimmick, been around since the mid 90's.

    Alex: Pacifica is not close to progressive talk, they are far far left, and believe it or not in NY, they have PRETTY GOOD, AQH for a station so non mainstream.

    I dunno Rhodes just scored a 9.0 share in Palm Beach Fl, same station as Rush is on, progressive talk on established stations WORKS. IT does not work on stations who flip formats every 2 months and are leased time.

    By Blogger Minister of Propaganda, at 12 October, 2006 11:12  

  • It amazes me that people still try to argue that AAR has been successful. How then would you define unsuccessful? Why the utter inability to face up to reality? Especially here - this is just a blog for crying out loud - this isn't testimony under oath, it's all opinion, we're just talking/writing. And it's NOT a political's just..well...true.

    Look, AAR has been in New York for two and a half years - no flipped formats (is that the context that was meant?), and has the same dismal ratings now that they did when the station was local WLIB. Would you call that successful? It's showing in other areas isn't much better and most, in fact nearly all markets even worse. In few (any?) markets is it even remotely competitive with conservative oriented talk. Is that what you would call successful? Especially given all the hype surrounding the network when it started up, and about how it was going to clobber conservative talk radio. That simply didn't happen.

    All I'm asking is whether there can be a calm and reasoned discussion as to why hasn't AAR done better?

    In other words, rather than deny what is clearly fact - like I said its not a political statement after all, why not discuss why it didn't work very well, even in markets such as New York where most people expected that AAR would blow conservative oriented radio right out of the water. I don't even think AAR was all that successful in San Franciso, if it's even on there at all. People might not like conservative talk, but in order to discuss why commercial "progressive" talk on AAR hasn't been nearly as successful as conservative talk (maybe that way to phrase it would be more palatable) you have to face facts, and admit that the very least it hasn't work nearly as well as many had anticipated (can we even get that?).

    Christ, it's just a discussion - a blog like this certainly isn't going to change anyone's mind, but if people are going to insist that black is white, then there's really no point in posting at all, is there?

    I'm just genuinely curious about what people have to say about the reasons why it hasn't worked. Quite frankly, I believed it would, and that both types of talk would end up running neck and neck in the rating. I think many people thought it would. But, for some reason, commercial progressive talk hasn't work well at all for AAR - why not?

    As an aside:

    I've been listening to Pacifica and WBAI radio in New York since the early '70's and my recollection is that people on the station and on Pacifica have been calling their politics "progressive" for decades. It's only recently that Democrats, or certain Democrats have been using that label. I think it might be because they are not comfortable with the "liberal" label. (In fact, most "progressives" as the term used to be known would have had no use for the Democratic party. But things have clearly changed, and I'm not certain that that's still true - heck, even Ron Kuby (sp?), clearly someone who would call himself a "progressive" seems to be a Democrat these days. I guess everyone learned their lesson about splitting the vote from Florida in 2000.

    But that's sort of a joke, because the way I've heard "progressive" used in the past is in the context of someone who is pretty far to the left i.e. on Pacifica, BAI etc. Like I said, though, things change, and so does the way language is used, so that now Progressive is coming to have a very different connotation.

    But, hey that's the english language - if people want to use it in a new way, I guess the old style "progressives" will have to come up with something else to call themselves. After all if Pacifica isn't progressive, what would you call it?

    In fact, I recall one of the DJ's on WBAI (Australian guy) talking about the station being for those more "experimental" (or a similar expression) which he called "progressive" politics. It's a case of the word being redefined - "progressive" has always been more acceptable for the left than anything else, such as socialist, or even communist, bot words now being ether old fashioned or out of favor.

    By Blogger Alex, at 12 October, 2006 15:33  

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