Talking Back

Zengerle, Jason
February 2004
New Republic;2/16/2004, Vol. 230 Issue 5, p19
The author reports on the efforts several groups to create a nationally distributed liberal talk radio show that can compete with Rush Limbaugh's conservative program. Broadcast by WJNO, an AM news and talk radio station in West Palm Beach, "The Randi Rhodes Show" is the highest-rated program in the local market's afternoon drive-time slot. In the past year, two groups have formed to develop national liberal talk shows--and both are interested in Rhodes. One, a nonprofit outfit called Democracy Radio, wants to syndicate Rhodes's show across the country. The other, a for-profit venture called Progress Media, is creating a national liberal talk radio network and is considering Rhodes for its lineup. Randi Rhodes would seem to give lie to the hoary notion that liberals are constitutionally incapable of succeeding in the rough-and-tumble medium of talk radio, that they are, as more than one talk radio host has proclaimed, "mealy-mouthed wimps." But according to one recent study of the 45 top-rated am talk radio stations in the United States, conservative talk accounts for 310 hours of airtime each week; liberal talk just five hours. Of all the explanations offered for the conservative dominance of talk radio, the most persuasive can be summed up in two words: Rush Limbaugh. The success of Limbaugh's show has spawned legions of imitators. The Limbaugh theory, then, gives the boosters of liberal talk radio hope. If it's true, it means that conservatives have succeeded not because of their politics, but because they have a functioning model for how to present their views in an entertaining fashion. Liberal talk radio boosters are right that talk radio is not inherently conservative. But it is inherently anti-establishment. The genre called "urban talk" has proved the one area of talk radio in which liberal hosts have tended to succeed.


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