Conservative talk radio has never been more angry and extreme than today. You might think that’s a response to the Obama presidency. But even more, conservative talkers are responding to a collapse in advertising revenues.
According to Scott Fybush, the proprietor of North East Radio Watch, talk radio has lost 30-40% of its ad revenues over the past two years.
Further, in an interview with a talk radio trade publication, Talkers Magazine, late last year, Talk Radio Networks CEO Mark Masters said: “2008 will be known as the year that weak syndicated programs began dying off in droves,” adding that “it has only just begun.”
In this environment, radio hosts believe that anger is their only path to survival. “If you’re not the most extreme person on the radio or making the most outrageous headlines,” says Fybush, “there is going to be some portion of the base that is going to ignore you and move onto someone who is more extreme.”
One of the most civil voices in talk radio, Michael Medved, explains the economic pressure upon the industry. He told NewMajority: “In this [economic] environment, you have something of a push to be outrageous, to be on the fringe, because what you’re desperately competing for is… P-1 listeners [those who tune in most frequently]. The percentage of people on the fringe who are P-1s is quite high,” he explained. As a result, talk radio hosts are feeling more pressure than usual to yell harder, scream louder, and insult further. Talk shows “are fighting for an ever- smaller pie, [which means that] you’ve got to be even louder about it because you’re trying to get the attention of an ever-smaller niche,” said Medved.
All these factors exacerbate the existing negative tendencies of conservative news talk radio. Michael Harrison, editor of Talkers Magazine, notes that “news talk radio has traditionally been a street medium… [that employs] the language and emotions and attitudes that one would hear on the street, by the fence, in the schoolyard.” Of course, schoolyard emotions evoke schoolyard results: a downwards descent into name-calling and fringe politics. Talk radio’s fascination with the “birther” movement is the logical end point.
As conservative politics attempts to reach out and rebuild, the incentives for conservative radio hosts point in exactly the opposite direction. The fact of the matter is that the survival of news talk radio “depends on ratings and revenue, not on getting people elected, or even on bring right,” says Harrison. If the economy worsens, expect more venom on your AM dial.