The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

06 November 2006

Talk Radio, Rush Limbaugh, Massachusetts


Some Claim Talk Radio Doesn't Change Minds

Who says Rush Limbaugh hasn't strongly influenced voters in the past?

Likely still smarting over liberal talk radio's spectacular recent failures, some industry insiders have taken to rewriting history, in order to erase El Rushbo's significant contributions to previous elections.

Sure enough, Rush merely represents an angry "slice" of the population that already knows how they're going to vote, according to the theory.

If that's the case, then why has there been such a sustained leftist uproar over Rush's views? If he's ineffective, shouldn't they simply ignore him?

From today's Boston Herald, here's an example of that revised historical perspective:

Talk radio in Boston has sounded like a long and noisy rally for Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey this election season, with nearly every host across the airwaves stumping for the Republican candidate.

Despite the weeks of relentless rooting, don’t expect it to change the minds of Massachusetts voters.

While elections are great for talk radio and draw more listeners, not everyone is tuning in. Polls have shown Democrat Deval Patrick with a double-digit lead over Healey.

“Talk radio only has a slice of the general public listening to it,” said Michael Harrison, publisher of the Springfield-based Talkers Magazine. “Rush Limbaugh beat up Bill Clinton for eight years and Clinton got elected twice.”

Harrison said it’s not the role of talk radio yakkers to get people elected - or unelected. “It’s the role of talk radio to have listeners and to make money,” he said. “Healey might lose by less than she would have. Can talk radio turn an election? Only if it’s close.”

Harrison said there’s a “tremendous conservative element in current news talk radio. . . . but you cannot make the public change its mind if the public is set on something.”

In their effort to support Healey, some talk hosts have callously insulted her opposing candidates.

First of all,
how can Harrison forget that Rush was widely considered to have had a major role in bringing a 40- year Democrat stranglehold on congressional power to an end? Who could overlook the GOP tidal wave during the 1994 elections, which gave them control of both chambers?

Certainly the party itself didn't fail to note Rush's role, as they named him an "honorary member" in 1995. Without Rush, Democrats probably would have had continued control of Congress through the present day.

What it boils down to is this: effective hosts can influence elections while being quite entertaining, generating revenues for the station and building a long-term audience.

Ineffective hosts, for their part, fail to accomplish any of these.

As for Lt Gov Healey's campaign, it hasn't reaped benefits from Boston- area hosts because area talk radio is in horrible shape these days, unlike the past, when it was a powerful force. That's also why local ratings are weak across the board.

At the same time, the Herald piece doesn't mention how the crosstown Boston Globe has worked overtime to get Deval Patrick elected, denouncing Healey at every turn in order to undermine her candidacy.

Yet nobody's taking the New York Times- owned paper to task for their pro- Deval cheerleading.

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  • Although it is likely difficult to prove it by hard numbers, it's utter nonsense to claim that conservative talk radio hasn't helped Republicans win elections. Getting your message out is a critical part of winning elections, and without talk radio, Republicans would lose a key part of their means of doing so.

    As for the claim that conservative talk radio only manages to reach a relatively small audience, that probably has an element of truth, but it's highly misleading to label all those who listen as right wing kooks. I recall hearing about some counter intuitive stats to the effect that the average conservative talk radio listener was well educated and that a very significant number of listeners are not conservative at all, just people looking to be entertained.

    As I said, this is not the type of issue that's readily capable of proof, and you could argue endlessly about it. On the other hand, it's unlikely that talk radio alone would be enough to turn a blue state red.

    I've always believed that TELEVISION is a much more powerful medium, which is why I simply cannot understand why conservatives have not started their own cable channel. Or Republicans (Democrats have little need to do so as long as there's ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS) for that matter.

    Just what the world needs - the Republican channel!

    By Blogger thinkcon, at 06 November, 2006 15:18  

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