The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

10 October 2007

Talkers Magazine Top Talk Radio Audiences, Ed Schultz, Liberal Talk Radio


Progressives Use Faulty List, Rush Wrongly Downgraded

Using flawed data, at least one libtalker now claims audience growth that would have his program tied with Bill O'Reilly's. Does Ed Schultz really believe we're that stupid?

First, the background: every six months, the folks at Talkers Magazine create headaches for hosts, industry insiders and others by publishing a credibility- challenged list of the "top talk radio audiences".

Using the kind of mathematics that would get one flunked out of first grade, the monthly advertorial publication clumsily attempts to rank syndicated talk hosts by audience size.

While most in the industry send the list straight to their circular file, it is quoted quite often by mainstream media reporters who assume the data is reliable.

Aside from the flawed methods used to gather the figures, such as self- reporting by stations (because it lacks direct access to nationwide Arbitron data covering every market) and other industry executives (who usually gain by submitting inflated audience totals), the usual Talkers political agenda is also at work.

Consistently, for example, we've seen Rush Limbaugh's audience size downgraded by a matter of millions. In our coverage of their 2005 rankings, we noted El Rushbo was considered by Talkers to have only 14.75 million weekly listeners. And in their latest piece of work, he's been cut again, this time to 13.50 million.

But Limbaugh has long been thought to have a weekly "cume" of about 20 million listeners. How does Talkers account for this discrepancy? They offer no information.

In fact, based on the most recently- available ratings data (Spring 2007), many of Limbaugh's largest affiliates have seen significant growth as we head into a busy election season. Conservative talk radio as a whole has never been more popular.

has done the same thing to Sean Hannity, cutting his audience to 12.5 million from 13 million two years ago. That's despite the fact that he's heard on more stations than ever, including live clearances on many of the largest. Yet the publication has no explanation for his supposed "decline".

Beyond the top three or four, this list looks even fishier, with a number of hosts (left, right and apolitical) showing seemingly inflated figures and rankings. How many Talkers ad purchases does it take to see one's show move up a few notches?

That brings us to Schultz's program: two years ago, when liberal talk radio had dozens more affiliates than it does today, Big Eddie didn't even make the list. Now, after a steady stream of station losses, we're to believe he has 3.25 million listeners and ranks seventh overall? In 2006, they ranked him 10th and reported an audience of over 2 million.

So where did libtalk grow over the past year? At its remaining stations, ratings are lower than ever.

Over on the left side of the blogosphere, they're thrilled to accept these figures without hesitation. From the Raw Story earlier today:

And they said liberal talk radio would never survive. According to Talker's Magazine, a trade industry publication, the nation's largest progressive talk show radio host Ed Schultz is now tied in the number of radio listeners to conservative radio personality Bill O'Reilly.

Last November, Schultz leapt from 3pm to 6pm ET to the choice noon to 3pm ET slot, the same time slot as conservative talker Rush Limbaugh and, at the time, Air America's Al Franken.

"To hear some Democrats tell it, the GOP should be afraid. Schultz is coming after them and doing it on their own turf, smack dead in the middle of Red State America," Jonathan Darman penned in a 2005 Newsweek profile on the Fargo, ND based Schultz.

In the profile Schultz emphasized his audience's demographics, telling the magazine "The [Democratic] party thinks there aren't any Democrats between Texas and North Dakota so why bother talking to people out here?"

"If there is one word I can use to describe Ed," blogger Mike Rogers said, "It's 'courageous'. He was the one national outlet to trust my reporting on US Senator Larry Craig's activities in Union Station. Ed's decision was completely vindicated with the announcement of Craig's arrest and guilty plea for conduct in a Minneapolis, MN airport men's room.

A new survey by Talkers Magazine listed Schultz's weekly audience at 3.25 million weekly listeners, the same number of listeners enjoyed by O'Reilly, host of the Fox News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor.

This isn't the first time Schultz has been on the receiving end of a Talkers kiss: earlier this year, he was somehow listed as the fifth- most important host in the publication's annual "Heavy Hundred" list.

If not for the fact that the mainstream media mistakenly takes Talkers seriously, we could ignore the damage it does to our industry with these dubious lists. Because of the attention it receives, however, we have no choice but to challenge the validity of its findings.

As for Schultz, he isn't stupid, either: he must be aware that the figure is wildly inflated. How about coming clean on that one, Big Eddie?

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

ELSEWHERE: Rush, vindicated

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  • Brian,

    I'm gonna have to call foul on this post.

    First of all, I know Ed Schultz isn't the only host to tout this data. (Dave Ramsey has as well.)

    Next, your "affiliates have seen significant growth" statement only links to NYC stats. How about a list of other cities where similar ratings growth has taken place? I know our local talkers (Austin, TX) have been flat since winter. Same thing in Dallas.

    And I would theorize, though I cannot prove it, that Rush did have more listeners (giving him the 20M number he touts) during the 90s for two reasons: 1) Bill Clinton continuously supplied him with material; and 2) Were there any other national conservative talk hosts back then besides Dr. Laura?

    I'm not trying to advance any agenda here; I'm just saying let's be fair about this.

    By Blogger Snowed In, at 10 October, 2007 18:07  

  • Snowed, no doubt a lot of them tout their ranking on this bogus list, that's not surprising at all.

    As for Spring 2007 data, I did link only to the New York post but wrote several others around that time reflecting big gains for key conservative talkers in most cities.

    My point is that Talkers claims Rush has 6.5 million fewer listeners than his company touts, but doesn't explain how that can be.

    It also shows several libtalkers as having gained a huge number of new fans but doesn't explain how that can occur against a backdrop of lost affiliates.

    By Blogger Brian Maloney, at 10 October, 2007 18:20  

  • Does it include internet streaming? That might account for the additional listeners.

    By Blogger Snowed In, at 11 October, 2007 08:53  

  • Snowed? Streaming does not count, because it is near impossible to count. To come up with even a plausibly acceptable number, you would need metrics for live streams and podcasts delivered by or through each individual station... and then add in the individual hosts' delivery of the same from their websites.

    By Blogger TC, at 11 October, 2007 12:22  

  • Snowed? Streaming does not count, because it is near impossible to count. To come up with even a plausibly acceptable Internet number, you would need metrics for live streams and podcasts delivered by or through each individual station... and then add in the individual hosts' delivery of the same from their websites.

    By Blogger TC, at 11 October, 2007 12:22  

  • Couldn't part of Hannity's decline be due to his loss of WTKK in Boston -- It's a major market, and he's now on an affiliate who's signal reminds me of the old Air america signal.

    By Blogger Justin, at 11 October, 2007 13:50  

  • Let the people meter solve this issue, we will see how many "dittoheads" there really are

    my guess is with a real ratings system, you will find Limbaugh has under 6 million listeners, the numbers are inflated, in 20 years I still have never met a person who listens to his show in NYC, liberal or conservative, and they do listen to crap like Levin, Hannity and Savage, not the pig man. Interesting, even cons hate the pig. Only the biggest moonbat creeps listen to the filth Limbaugh pollutes the airwaves with.

    By Blogger Minister of Propaganda, at 11 October, 2007 15:40  

  • I have to say Ed Schultz is one of the most offensive people I've heard, ever. He's taken pot shots at Rush that were over the line and someone should hold him accountable. I know he does it to pander to his base and since they have no moral standards, I guess nothing will be done about it. He's simply a wannabe taking pot-shots and the king of radio and I hope my local radio station will drop him soon. I complained to my local radio station because they changed from Michael Medved to Schultz and the manager rambled on about how the public needs "balanced viewpoints" during these difficult times. Hogwash! Ed Schultz distorts the truth on a daily basis. He's a liar and someone should call him on it.

    By Blogger ort777, at 26 October, 2007 12:43  

  • Website rankings from Quantcast:

    US Reach: 381,498
    Rank: 5967

    US Reach: 108,796
    Rank: 18005

    I find it hard to believe that neither of these guys have an audience that would follow up on thier website.....maybe thier rankings ARE inflated

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 21 March, 2008 01:30  

  • watch the election. and think about this.. dems KNOW they have an influence because they want to reinstate the that retarded fairness doctrine.

    But guess what!? It doesn't apply to the MSM and their tv stations, oh nooo.. cnn/msnbc/cbs/abc... they are all SOOOO FAIIR.

    the fact that talk radio upsets dem's is evidence that millions DO listen and DO care.

    By OpenID secretsexyninja, at 22 October, 2008 20:37  

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