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Conservative Talk Radio Is Dead (Limbaugh, Beck Ratings Dive)
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The Young Turks/MSNBC host Cenk Uygur explains how new (more accurate) radio ratings measurements show that right wing talk radio shows are not doing well.
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Rush is a giant in his field, reaching more listeners than anyone in political talk, but even he has seen erosion in his numbers. Analysis of industry data shows that in market after market, Rush's ranking has declined decisively over the past five years among advertisers' coveted 25-54 age group. For example, in Charlotte, North Carolina, Rush fell from sixth to 12th between 2005 and 2010. In Portland, Oregon, he fell from fourth to eighth. In San Francisco, he's seen a similar decline. Among listeners 65 and older, Rush remains No. 1. He can sell bedpans and resentment forever. But the demographic trend is not his friend.
It's not that "the angry white guy conservative political talk format"—as consultant and former Clear Channel talk radio programming director Gabe Hobbs calls it—is over. It's just got little room to grow, going forward.
"Rush has been around for 23 years. They're not necessarily making new Ditto-heads. You have to fish where the fish are," says Hobbs, who helped launch the radio career of Glenn Beck, among others. "We're singing to this choir, that's great, they're worth a lot of money and they do a lot of wonderful things, but boy, there's a lot over here we could do."
"This civil and smart approach—like [John] Batchelor and Michael Smerconish and some other shows—to me is kind of a 'duh,' '' adds Hobbs, indicating that it should have been obvious long ago. "The numbers that NPR is drawing clearly portends to something. I've seen it myself in research. It's the tone; it's the approach. Some people don't want to be engaged at that loud, angry level—that hard right or left ideological approach where it's my way or the highway."
A Republican turned Independent who supported President Obama in 2008, Smerconish is a pioneer, putting himself out in the world of daytime political talk radio as a radical centrist, surrounded by the old hyper-partisan voices. He is currently an island, but he is far from alone, reflecting the 41 percent of American voters who now identify as Independent but are seriously underrepresented in our political and media debates.
This is no mushy middle. Smerconish memorably described his policy profile in The Washington Post as "someone who supports harsh interrogation, thinks we should be out of Iraq but in Pakistan, doesn't care much if two guys hook up, and believes we should legalize pot and prostitution." (Note the Pakistan comment—Smerconish has been beating that drum long before most Americans had heard of Abbottabad.)
"I choose subjects and offer my opinions without regard to any party's talking points," Smirconish says. "I have plenty of opinions, but they do not fit neatly into those faux, talk- and cable-created ideological boxes. And it matters not to me whether the audience at the other end is a conservative, liberal or independent—I don't check registration cards."
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