Jun 24, 2007
It’s pretty obvious to everyone that conservatives have an unfair monopoly on talk radio, but the media reform group the Center for American Progress just released a report that conforms that there are 10 hours of conservative talk for every one hour liberal talk, thanks, primarily, to media consolidation that has five mega companies owning almost off the 257 talk radio stations in the country.
The report says each weekday, 2,570 hours and 15 minutes of conservative talk are broadcast on these stations compared to 254 hours of progressive talk—10 times as much conservative talk as progressive talk. While progressive talk is making inroads on commercial stations, conservative talk continues to be pushed out over the airwaves in greater multiples of hours than progressive talk is broadcast.
Many radio stations with liberal and progressive hosts or formats are flipping or, changing their formats, despite good and even better ratings than the format they once had. This began to occur shortly after the November election where we saw the success of Democrats in taking control of both the U.S. House and Senate, and many people point to the emergence of talk radio – such as the start-up company Air America - as one reasons by getting information out on Republican misdeeds and outright incompetence. In the battleground state of Ohio, WTPG in Columbus was enjoying its highest ratings since the old days of Top 40 hits with a new progressive format, but some six months ago the station inexplicably flipped and ratings have not been as good.
Some local communities are fighting back. A progressive station in Madison, Wisc. suffered the same fate, but a grassroots effort that included petition drives, demonstrations and publicity stooped the flip. A new web site called Nonstop Radio has sprung up to help them and other flips.
The trend in conservatives dominating the radio waves is even occurring in urban areas where the population always tends to be liberal and democratic. A separate analysis of all of the news/talk stations in the top 10 radio markets reveals that 76 percent of the programming in these markets is conservative and 24 percent is progressive, although programming is more balanced in markets such as New York and Chicago.
Many experts say the reason is the repel of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 under Ronald Regan. The explosion of conservative talk radio is attributed to the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine by the Federal Communications Commission. The Fairness Doctrine was a regulation—formally implemented by the FCC in 1949, but dating back to the early days of broadcasting—that required broadcasters to devote airtime to important and controversial issues and to provide contrasting views on these issues in some form.
The report says the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine is a factor, but it’s only one reason and not the biggest. The report concludes the “gap between conservative and progressive talk radio is the result of multiple structural problems in the U.S. regulatory system, particularly the complete breakdown of the public trustee concept of broadcast, the elimination of clear public interest requirements for broadcasting, and the relaxation of ownership rules including the requirement of local participation in management.”
“Ownership diversity is perhaps the single most important variable contributing to the structural imbalance based on the data.” A quantitative analysis of all 10,506 licensed commercial radio stations reveals that stations owned by women, minorities, or local owners are statistically less likely to air conservative hosts or shows.
In other words, ownership consolidation of all radio stations by just five major companies is the problem. There is no local ownership in local radio stations, and no local input or understanding of the local market. For example, Clear Channel owns 145 stations and 86 percent are conservative, and Citadel owns 23 stations and all of them are conservative. That lack of local control has led to the inexplicable imbalance in the urban areas, and a perfect example is our own WJR, the Great Conservative Voice of the Great Lakes.
WJR is 100 percent conservative, and all of its hosts, with the possible exception of sportswriter Mitch Albom and maybe the guy who does the Handyman show, are right-wingers. It’s no surprise that WJR is owned by Citadel. It’s a perfect example of the lack of local input or understanding of the local market. Detroit is one of the most liberal cities in America in a Blue state, yet there is no non-conservative voice on the most powerful radio station in the state. To me that’s not only unacceptable, it’s bad business and against the law for WJR to use the public’s airwaves free and ignore the political region they operate in and broadcast nothing but rightwing views.
Anyone who has ever watched Faux “News” for comic relief and to see what the other side is doing has recently seen hatemonger Sean Hanity screaming about how bringing the Fairness Doctrine back is an attempt to silence him and Rush Blowhard. I have no idea where he got that ridiculous talking point, but it is simply not true. In fact, the Center for American Progress says the Fairness Doctrine has never really been repealed.
From a regulatory perspective, the Fairness Doctrine was never formally repealed. The FCC did announce in 1987 that it would no longer enforce certain regulations under the umbrella of the Fairness Doctrine, and a 1989 a circuit court upheld the FCC decision. The Supreme Court, however, has never overruled the cases that authorized the FCC’s enforcement of the Fairness Doctrine. Many legal experts argue that the FCC has the authority to enforce it again—thus it technically would not be considered repealed.
The report does offer some recommendations to bring some fairness and balance back to the airwaves that belong to the public. “Restore local and national caps on the ownership of commercial radio stations. Ensure greater local accountability over radio licensing. Require commercial owners who fail to abide by enforceable public interest obligations to pay a fee to support public broadcasting.”
In the meantime, I will continue to listen to Air America and Stephanie Miller on my computer when I’m working, and when I’m in my car and in the right geographic position to pick them up I will listen to Ann Arbor’s WLBY 1290 and Detroit’s WDTW 1310. I suggest you do the same and support their sponsors.