Can Liberal Talk Radio Last?

Efforts to launch progressive radio networks are underway. Can they beat Limbaugh at his own game?

| February 19, 2004

With the holiday success of books by liberal pundits like Michael Moore and Al Franken, it should come as no surprise that radio is trying to get in on some Bush-bashing. Rush Limbaugh and other conservative cohorts, like Bill O'Reilly, have long monopolized the AM airwaves, but as articles from the Washington Post, New Republic Online, and Common reveal, the tides may be turning and a long overdue national liberal radio network should be on its way.

Progress Media is one of the groups that have been formed with the purpose of developing a national 24-hour liberal talk radio outlet. The network, newly named Air America, plans to begin broadcasting sometime in March or April at WNTD (950 AM) in Chicago, and has already signed on popular comedian and author Al Franken to host a talk show, reports Washington Post writer, Jennifer Frey. Environmental attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr. will also be part of the line-up.

Currently, conservative talk averages at 310 hours of airtime a week, compared to a mere 5 hours for liberal talk, according to a report cited in an article from The New Republic Online. Reasons for the success of conservative radio in the past are varied, but all seem to point to something that could be called the Rush Limbaugh effect, whereby it's not the politics that necessarily draw people's attention, but the sheer volume and arrogance of the assertions. 'If that's true,' says Jason Zengerle of TNR, '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.' Commentators believe liberal radio could easily imitate the type of comic, angry, anti-establishment tone that seems to sell the conservative programs.

The timing for the emergence of liberal talk radio certainly couldn't be any more ripe. 'Considering the state of politics, I believe that the times might be more fertile in the years ahead for liberals to be able to do what the conservatives have done, and that is to develop a core audience for liberal talk radio,' Michael Harrison, publisher of the magazine Talkers, was quoted in the Washington Post as saying.
-- Erica Wetter

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