The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

07 July 2007

Washington DC Talk Radio, Rush Limbaugh, WMAL, WTNT


DC's News-Talk Troubles Aren't New, Nor Is Biased Reporting

News flash: aside from one or two shows, conservative talk radio is suffering from low ratings in the nation's capital.

Wait a second, is that really news?

Yesterday's Washington Post piece sure made it look that way. And left- wing sites were quick to pick up on this would- be "victory" for their side.

Complete with slanted headline, Paul Farhi's "Cool Reception for Conservative Radio" neglects to mention until nearly the end that "progressive" radio has fared even worse in the DC area:

With the exception of Rush Limbaugh, conservative talk-radio hosts have struggled for years to find a wide audience on the local dial. While Limbaugh's afternoon program remains popular on WMAL (630 AM), not many other conservatives' programs have.

Latest case in point: WJFK (106.7 FM) yesterday dropped Bill O'Reilly's nationally syndicated show, "The Radio Factor," and replaced it with a sports-talk program hosted by Jim Rome. O'Reilly, an avowed independent who takes many conservative views, occupied a two-hour afternoon slot on WJFK.

The popular Fox News Channel TV host never attracted much of a radio following in Washington -- in the most recent ratings period, his program had about 1.2 percent of the audience. But then, neither have many other conservatives, whose programs are popular in many cities but barely move the ratings needle in the Washington area, the nation's eighth-largest radio market.

Such radio stars of the right as Laura Ingraham, Glenn Beck and Michael Savage at times have literally had no ratings in Washington, as measured by Arbitron. That's partly because those hosts are carried on WTNT (570 AM), a station that has a weak signal, no local programming and little promotion. Last month, for example, the Clear Channel-owned station attracted an average of just 0.5 percent of the listening audience.

But another reason is that political talk in Washington isn't particularly popular, period.

The most popular political-talk station in town, WMAL, finished 11th among all stations in May. In addition to Limbaugh, whose show aired opposite O'Reilly's, WMAL carries conservative talkers Sean Hannity in the late afternoon, "The Grandy and Andy Morning Show," and Chris Core in late mornings.

"Washington is an unusual talk market," says Jim Farley, who oversees programming for all-news WTOP and news-and-talk Washington Post Radio. "In most other cities our size, you have two competing right-wing stations. . . . Political talk radio just hasn't gotten the same traction here."

That's not a comment on the politics of the listening audience, says Farley: "It's not that we're a liberal town." By comparison, Seattle and San Francisco -- two famously liberal areas -- have popular conservative stations. And "Savage Nation," the radio show hosted by Savage, who was once fired by MSNBC for making anti-gay slurs, is a perennial hit in the Bay Area.


Weak signals, of course, can do in liberals as well as conservatives. WWRC (1260 AM), which offers "progressive talk" featuring liberal hosts such as Stephanie Miller and Ed Schultz, has smaller ratings than even WTNT. WWRC's audience is so small that it hasn't shown up in Arbitron rankings in years.

While Farhi's piece does note that the long- neglected WTNT isn't exactly a high priority for Clear Channel, it entirely misses the most important point: DC talk radio lacks entertaining, engaging area personalities that can fuel ratings growth.

With more interesting local programming, WMAL could rank much higher than 11th, but boredom rules the day. The station's cardinal rule seems to be that hosts must avoid controversy at all costs. No one should be surprised when lackluster ratings are the result.

And here, Farhi's story really derails:

Chris Berry, president and general manager of WMAL, says there's nothing particularly unusual about Washington and political talk radio, except that "people in D.C. are smarter" than talk audiences in other towns. "In Boston, Chicago, even L.A., it's more emotional," he says. "In D.C., people really do know the issues."

That's how crack addicts get elected to local office, right? And other than a few special interest lobbyists, how many are really closely following the issues? Even in Congress, how many senators read all 700 pages of that immigration bill?

Sorry, but claiming the locals are better informed is a snooty, inside- the- Beltway argument that fails to excuse boring programming.

AT Newsbusters: why Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner is one big hippy-crite.

FOR Boston- area talk radio updates, see our other site.

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  • I am trying to get a conservative digg alternative going called GOP Hub ( Anything you can do to help with this effort would be awesome. Plus feel free to submit any articles you write here on your blog :). Take care and have a great weekend!

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 08 July, 2007 05:14  

  • Mathews Show pundits seem to change there toon on the war. Today we see O' Hanlon and Pollack following suit. "Is it to late to pull out of Iraq" debate started the ball rolling here.

    By Blogger hutch0321, at 31 July, 2007 01:56  

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