Conservative talk radio

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Conservative talk radio (or right talk) is a talk radio format in the United States devoted to expressing conservative viewpoints of issues, as opposed to progressive talk radio. The definition of conservative talk is generally broad enough that libertarian talk show hosts are also included in the definition. The format has become the dominant form of talk radio in the United States since the 1987 abolition of the Fairness Doctrine.[1]

Conservative talk radio includes personalities, both local and nationally-syndicated, such as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Mark Levin, and many others. As of 2014, Limbaugh and Hannity are the most listened-to radio programs of any format in the United States, and other conservative talk shows also rank highly.[2] Conservative talk is heard almost entirely on commercial radio; public radio in the United States has historically been perceived as having a more liberal lean, and noncommercial community radio is generally very progressive in ideology.

Although other countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia also feature prominent conservative talk hosts, the idea of conservative talk radio as a national movement is predominantly an American phenomenon.


Early years[edit]

Paul Harvey receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005

Notable early conservatives in talk radio ranged from commentators such as Paul Harvey and Fulton Lewis (later succeeded by Lewis's son, Fulton Lewis III) to long-form shows hosted by Bob Grant, Alan Burke, Barry Farber and Joe Pyne. (Farber remains on the air as of 2012, albeit in reduced capacity because of his age.) Because of the Fairness Doctrine, a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) policy requiring controversial viewpoints to be balanced by opposing opinions on air, conservative talk did not have the hegemony it would have in later years, and liberal hosts were as common on radio as conservative ones. Furthermore, the threat of the Fairness Doctrine discouraged many radio stations from hiring controversial hosts.

By the 1980s, AM radio was in severe decline. Top 40 radio had already migrated to the higher fidelity of FM, and the few remaining AM formats, particularly country music, were headed in the same direction or, in the case of formats such as MOR, falling out of favor entirely. Talk radio, not needing the high fidelity that music does, became an attractive format for AM radio station operators. However, in order to capitalize on this, operators needed compelling content.

The AM revival[edit]

In 1987, the FCC abolished the Fairness Doctrine, and AM radio began to make changes. The changes paved the way for syndicated personality Rush Limbaugh and others like him to rise to prominence by "offering a voice for the 'silent majority'" that he believed had gone unheard by the mainstream media (Which he nicknamed the 'Drive Bys'). Helped by a syndication arrangement that was financially appealing to local stations, conservatives like Limbaugh began to take over the airwaves.[citation needed]

The rise of conservative talk radio[edit]

Rush Limbaugh was among the first long-form national conservative talk hosts.

Within the next decade, conservative talk radio became the dominant form of commercial talk radio in the United States; those stations that had homogenized to an all-conservative format soon came to garner more listeners than those that followed the older full-service model (at the time, progressive talk radio did not have enough hosts for a station to field an all-liberal lineup). By 1991, Limbaugh had become the number one most syndicated radio host and AM radio had been revived.

Syndicated talk radio rose in popularity due in part to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which facilitated the consolidation of radio stations into large conglomerates (Clear Channel Communications rose to become a major figure in talk radio in the United States; although it only owned one major "flagship" caliber radio station (KFI/Los Angeles), Clear Channel owned a large number of key AM stations in other large markets, allowing it to establish a national presence). With multiple large-market stations now owned by a small number of companies, syndicated programs could be disseminated more easily than before. During the late 1990s, political talk radio (other than Limbaugh) was still only a portion of the talk radio environment; other subgenera such as lifestyle talk (Laura Schlessinger), truck talk (Bill Mack, Dale Sommers) or paranormal talk (Art Bell's Coast to Coast AM) and general interest apolitical interviews and talk (Jim Bohannon, Joey Reynolds) made up a typical AM talk station's lineup.

Sean Hannity was part of the early 2000s wave of new national conservative talkers.

The September 11, 2001 attacks brought on a wave of nationalism and a desire to rally around the United States and its government, which was led at the time by the Republican Party. This environment led to a large increase in national conservative talk radio hosts: The Glenn Beck Program, The Sean Hannity Show, The Laura Ingraham Show, Batchelor and Alexander and The Radio Factor all launched into national syndication at this time; The Savage Nation, which had launched nationwide a year prior, saw a large increase in syndication around this time as well.

The popularity of conservative talk radio led to attempts to imitate its success with progressive talk radio in the mid-2000s, led by the launch of Air America Radio. Air America did not have the success that conservative talk had, due in part to weaker stations and talent that was inexperienced with the radio medium. Air America ceased operations in 2010. As of 2012, conservative syndicated talk shows far outnumber their progressive counterparts; while usually only one progressive talk channel can be found in most markets (with Dial Global the predominant syndicator), at least two and often three conservative talk stations (one local, the rest mostly syndicated) can be found.


Dennis Miller began his national conservative talk show in 2007 despite no prior experience in radio.

The late 2000s and early 2010s has seen pressure on talk radio stations to either move to, or begin simulcasting on, FM radio stations; increases in electronic device usage have reduced the viability of the AM radio medium (not only does the use of such devices cause interference to AM signals, but FM, satellite radio, Internet radio and downloaded audio programming provide a much higher quality audio than AM can provide). There has been a relative dearth of new radio hosts launched into national syndication since the late 2000s, in part due to personnel declines at local talk stations; most new national hosts have jumped to talk radio from other media (examples include Dennis Miller, a stand-up comic; Fred Thompson, Herman Cain and Mike Huckabee, all former Republican Presidential candidates; Jerry Doyle, an actor; and Erick Erickson, a professional blogger). This has also opened up opportunities for less orthodox hosts than were common in the 1990s and 2000s; libertarian Alex Jones, who spent most of the 2000s as a radio host heard primarily on shortwave, began securing syndication deals with mainstream conservative-talk radio stations during the presidency of Barack Obama. Furthermore, like all media outlets in modern times, an increasing number of media outlets available to people raises the threat of audience fracture, eliminating scarcity and threatening the medium's business model.

Demographic age pressures also affect conservative talk radio, as the most established talk hosts have increased in age as have their audiences, pushing the listenership into an older, less advertiser-friendly demographic. Recent Arbitron polls have shown that the vast majority of conservative talk radio station listeners are 54 plus male with less than 10 percent of the listener base 35 to 54. It is also shown that less than one tenth of one percent of conservative talk radio listeners participate (or call in) to the hosts to make comments. Most mid and small market talk radio is made up of hosts that were once music radio deejays.

The controversial nature of political talk radio also exposes hosts to boycott campaigns against their advertisers, such as the one instigated as a result of the Rush Limbaugh–Sandra Fluke controversy. Most high-profile hosts are protected against lost revenue through long-term contract payments from the syndicator that employs them.

See also[edit]

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