The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

20 February 2007

Thom Hartmann, Liberal Talk Radio, Al Franken


Franken Replacement Again Boasts Of Huge Audience

For the Thom Hartmann Spin Train, it's full steam ahead!

From one whistle stop to the next, Al Franken's Air America little- known libtalk replacement continues to make wild claims about past and present audience sizes.

And true to form, unquestioning mainstream media folks have so far fallen for these inflated figures, nearly without exception.

Clearly, the Frankenfluff torch has officially been passed to the new guy!

Previously, we called attention to these credibility- busting assertions here.

Now, the Oregonian has published its own Hartmann puff piece, one that's chock- full of progressive- friendly references to the host's crunchy granola lifestyle:

Portlander talks, 3 million listen

The Oregonian

When Thom Hartmann gets up in the morning it's as if the very vision of the modern American liberal is rising to greet the dawn.

Start with the shaggy brown hair, the salt-and-pepper mustache and stubbly beard. The oatmeal-colored rag wool sweater. The jeans. The stylish rimless spectacles.

Breakfast is a few spoonfuls of raw oatmeal, left to soak overnight in cold water, with a few raisins and almonds. A little brown sugar, perhaps? No thanks.

"The raisins are sweet," Hartmann explains, earnestly. "It's really good."

Hartmann is just extremely earnest.

He's eating his breakfast in a houseboat. And when Hartmann and his wife, Louise, carpool to work, they ride in one of those 1,000-miles-a-gallon Prius hybrids.

There's nothing wrong with any of this. Far from it. A lot of Portlanders live exactly the same way, give or take the raw oatmeal. That's one reason Hartmann's blazingly liberal talk show on KPOJ-AM, the local affiliate of the Air America radio network, now stands with longtime market leaders KEX-AM and KXL-AM among the top-rated morning talk shows in the competitive morning drive time slot.

Hartmann's success extends far beyond Portland's politically blue borders. His nationally syndicated talk show -- a separate three-hour show that begins at 9 a.m., just after his local show ends -- is heard coast to coast every day by more than a million listeners. And starting today, when Hartmann's national show moves into Air America's midday slot (though it will continue to air locally at 9 p.m.), recently abandoned by political comic turned U.S. Senate candidate Al Franken, his audience will nearly triple.

So though he's already a well-known radio voice and an author with more than a dozen books to his credit, Hartmann is girding for a whole new kind of acclaim. Portland's leading on-air liberal may well become one of the most prominent liberal voices in the United States.

"He's just so damn smart," says Air America Chief Executive Scott Elberg. "And he's tireless when it comes to putting the best product on the air. Our affiliates love him. Everywhere he goes he gets ratings. In some markets the growth is exponential."

Mad, yet unfailingly polite

Now Hartmann's in the KPOJ studios, gearing up for another segment. The commercials are over, so he has the headphones on, listening to a snippet of the Dixie Chicks' hit "Not Ready to Make Nice." Which is a perfect lead-in, and not just because the tune (and album) raked in all kinds of Grammy awards the night before. The song -- written in response to the outrage in the country music community that greeted Chicks singer Natalie Maines' onstage criticism of President Bush a few years back -- also describes Hartmann's world view.

"I'm not ready to make nice, I'm not ready to back down, I'm still mad as hell . . ."

Hartmann sounds pretty steamed about things. A recitation of the previous day's carnage in Iraq inspires a gusher of ridicule for Bush's new strategy to add more troops. Then he's onto a riff about health care, roping former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., (and Frist's father, for good measure) into a hideous cabal of "blood-sucking leeches" who earn billions while millions of Americans suffer from inadequate health care.

Not making nice, indeed.

Still, Hartmann's outrage comes in relatively measured tones. He's unfailingly polite to callers and interview subjects, even when he's picking apart their political positions.

"He does have an interest in letting you articulate your point of view," says the American Conservative Union's Lisa De Pasquale, who makes semiregular appearances on Hartmann's show. "He could learn a little more about our movement, but he's good at letting his guests get a word in."

Hartmann, whose radio demeanor often makes him sound more professorial than evangelical, works hard to connect his ideas to texts ranging from the U.S. Constitution to the writings of Thomas Paine to little-known provisions in the Magna Carta.

According to Michael Harrison, editor of the talk radio trade magazine Talkers, Hartmann's mastery of political philosophy is a big reason he has been able to succeed in an industry dominated by fiery conservatives.

"Thom brings facts as opposed to opinion based on emotion," Harrison says. "He synthesizes information and creates new ways of looking at things."

Your Radio Equalizer is all for giving credit where and when it is due, but these claims are downright silly. While Hartmann has been successful in his hometown of Portland, beyond there, he's barely a talk radio afterthought.

As only a very small number of stations carried his show when it was up against Franken's, there's no way he could have had anywhere near a million listeners.

And while he has in fact picked up many of Stuart Smalley's stations, so many are now dropping libtalk that it may soon be difficult for any "progressive" talkers to claim significant audiences.

Worse, this press coverage assumes every Franken listener will successfully be converted into a Hartmann fan, which is far from certain. Finally, did we ever see verification of audience levels in that range for Stuart?

At what point will at least one reporter emerge to question these wild boasts? How about bona fide evidence to support assertions of 80 to 100 stations, or audiences in the millions?

Memo to our mainstream media friends: if you're at all interested in accuracy, next time, try asking for hard evidence of ratings and affiliate claims. Just be prepared for a lot of squirming.

AAR Spin: David A Lunde, Nice and Fluffy: Pete at IHillary

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  • I have not listened to this person so I cannot fairly comment other than as an Oregonian (I moved to Oregon in 2002); I tend to take anything this terrible newspaper says with a grain of salt. To be even more blunt (and hopefully not insult the many good people of Oregon), I find many things that come out of this state a little off kilter. I moved here for personal reasons, certainly not business reasons and have found this environment here to be rather "different", if not down right hard headed. The aquarium business I ran for 28 years in Los Angeles did reasonably well there, I have always and still do base my business on honesty and only what I would use and have thoroughly tested, yet this does not seem to count at all here. I get ignored by our glorious local paper for an article about poisonous fish even though I even advertised through this paper too (the local sources they quoted were dead wrong).
    The recycling program here is also held up on a pedestal even though it is a joke in the recycling industry.

    I know this is off topic somewhat, however, my point is not to trash Oregon, but to point out that there are some strange views and ways to do business in this state and everything that comes out of Portland in particular should be looked at very carefully.

    Carl Strohmeyer

    By Blogger Carl, at 04 March, 2007 15:02  

  • Hartmann is a regular in the L.A. radio market. He is the best on ktlk
    liberal radio...other's on that channel have mental disorders.
    Hartmann is the exact opposite of Rush. They both spill out their version of what's right.
    The better of the two?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 09 June, 2009 19:14  

  • Thom Hartmann believes Bush is still in office and republicians are to blame for all of what's wrong.
    He spills out corporate greed and envy over evil rich people. As long there is a market for this dribble he will exist. Listen to it long enough and you will believe it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 29 March, 2011 14:43  

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