How talk radio went right-wing.
July 7, 2002 10:11 PM   Subscribe

How talk radio went right-wing. Or further proof that the airwaves are owned by corporations and not by the American people. Regardless, its an interesting look at how politics changed the radio landscape.
posted by skallas (34 comments total)
 
Politics didn’t change radio, the marketplace did. Radio groups are in business to assemble audiences that they sell to advertisers, period. If there was an audience for left wing talk radio, believe me, they would very willingly supply the programming. It's simple market economics. Before the talk radio boom, AM radio was on a fast path to obsolescence. Love them or hate them, it’s guys like Rush that saved the AM band from total obscurity.

Is there an audience for left of center radio? Sure, and the audience demographics would be pretty darn appealing to advertisers, actually. However, this is an audience that seems to feel pretty well served by NPR and local college stations right now, however, so you're quite unlikely to see it any time soon.

So, if you’re really itching for liberal commercial radio, the best thing you can do is withhold your money the next time there’s a public radio fund drive in your market. Another thing you might consider is a letter campaign to one of the many multinational corporations currently bankrolling NPR – demand that they withdraw funding immediately. Archer Daniels Midland comes to mind, I think Lexis Nexus is another. With a little work, I’m sure you can come up with several more.
posted by nobody_knose at 11:07 PM on July 7, 2002


Fairly well-written article. Too bad the writer didn't do much research, but the facts would remain the same if he had. There's a singular lack of any syndicated liberal talk shows, a lack that I find disturbing.

Then again, I haven't used a radio tuner in almost 6 years. I'm starting to think that this is one of the main reasons why.
posted by fnord_prefect at 11:12 PM on July 7, 2002


From the article:

No reasonable person can claim that the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine has led to a wider diversity of views - to a "warming" of speech, as the FCC, the Freedom of Expression Foundation and others had predicted.

Um, yeah. Let's see: With the "Fairness" Doctrine, the right wing had NO voice. Yeah, that's fair. Well, I suppose it is if your goal is the silencing of voices from the right. Go ahead: prove me wrong. Where was the right represented on the air when this doctrine was in effect?

Also:

Imagine a popular liberal host who argued for a more steeply graduated income tax, an increase in the tax rate for the largest estates and an increase in the capital gains tax rate.

Broadcasters and advertisers have no interest in such a host, no matter how large the audience, because of the host's ability to influence the political climate in a way that broadcasters and advertisers ultimately find to be economically unfavorable.


That, and the audience doesn't want them either. Such shows occasionally show up on radio, and they always fail. Why? The audience doesn't agree, and their ratings go into the toilet.

As much as many people here love to hate Rush Limbaugh, you have to admit that 20 million listeners a day is hard to ignore...
posted by hadashi at 11:16 PM on July 7, 2002


Um, yeah. Let's see: With the "Fairness" Doctrine, the right wing had NO voice. Yeah, that's fair. Well, I suppose it is if your goal is the silencing of voices from the right. Go ahead: prove me wrong. Where was the right represented on the air when this doctrine was in effect?

The right wing had no voice? the whole point of the Fairness Doctrine was that BOTH sides had to be represented. If you allowed one candidate to campaign on your airwaves, you were required to give his opponent the same amount of time. Period. Or your license might not be renewed next time around.

I was working for a radio station at the time (though I was in high school) and it was made very clear to us that we had to take the Fairness Doctrine seriously.

One thing that might happen in some cases, though, is that a station would avoid having a political view expressed on either side, to prevent having to deal with providing airtime to the other side. But in my experience, stations did make a strong attempt to follow the Fairness Doctrine.

Your question is kind of odd, though. I don't have access to broadcast schedules from 20 years ago, and wouldn't necessarily know which voices represented which side at the time, so I can't say "where the right was represented on the air" then. Can you say "where the left was represented on the air," either? I'm certain the right and the left were both represented on the air throughout that time period, though of course the Fairness Doctrine wasn't perfect, and there were lapses.
posted by litlnemo at 11:57 PM on July 7, 2002


The Fairness Doctrine arose from the idea imbedded in the First Amendment that the wide dissemination of information from diverse and even antagonistic sources is essential to the public welfare and to a healthy democracy.

It certainly is, though I doubt having the State regulate radio news content to ensure its "appropriateness" for the public was quite what Mill had in mind.

I also find it rather mindbogglingly disingenous to appeal to the First Amendment as the philosophical source of governmental restrictions on radio news content. Blech.
posted by apostasy at 3:26 AM on July 8, 2002


I also find it rather mindbogglingly disingenous to appeal to the First Amendment as the philosophical source of governmental restrictions on radio news content.

Its not that boggling. This was a provision on the FCC license you get from the government, which is owned the the people. The intent was to keep certain interests from limiting political speech. Provisions like these are not new, for instance the FCC routinely fines stations for lewd speech.

The same happens in TV with public access. Providing an alternative viewpoint or open access isn't censorship, its the opposite of censorship.
posted by skallas at 3:45 AM on July 8, 2002


To clarify before I'm called a communist or socialist here. This isn't a restriction on say the New York Times. They own their own means of production. What isn't owned are the radiowaves. Clear Channel, et al can only license. FCC licenses come with limitations and provisions. Don't like it? Don't use the airwaves. Or realistically, lobby for change.
posted by skallas at 4:20 AM on July 8, 2002


Actually, although I'm on the left wing side of things, its actually a pretty simple equation to me: NPR and local public drains the liberals out of the market.


The only point at which it is unfair is that NPR must provide both points of view, or at least present the alterntative position, versus Bill O' Riely or Rush presenting one viewpoint for hours.
posted by brucec at 5:32 AM on July 8, 2002


The only point at which it is unfair is that NPR must provide both points of view, or at least present the alterntative position, versus Bill O' Riely or Rush presenting one viewpoint for hours.

I guess this is unfair if one is seeking brainwashing rather than to be informed.
posted by rushmc at 5:43 AM on July 8, 2002


[...NPR must provide both points of view...]

Really? When did they start that?
posted by revbrian at 6:04 AM on July 8, 2002


The Fairness Doctrine may have made sense in the early '50s when there were just 3 or so networks. But now that there are so many ways that news can be broadcast, it's good they got rid of it.
posted by mikegre at 6:59 AM on July 8, 2002


Because talk radio is so bellicose and right-wing, I turn my attention to the neutral Jerry Springer show on TV to keep up on what is happening in my country.
posted by Postroad at 7:05 AM on July 8, 2002


While I'd like there to be some Vast Right Wing Radio Conspiracy it boils down to the simple fact that the right-wingers are entertaining, something the humor-free lefties tend to forget. As a radio listener, I'm much more apt to tune into O'Reilly and Limbaugh so I'm not lulled to sleep. The only folks on the left who I can say this about are Phil Hendrie, South Florida's Randi Rhodes and LA-local Mr. Kabc
posted by owillis at 7:35 AM on July 8, 2002


Are Opie & Anthony right wing?
posted by a3matrix at 7:41 AM on July 8, 2002


This was a provision on the FCC license you get from the government, which is owned the the people.

The original purpose of the FCC was merely to prevent competing radio stations from broadcasting on the same frequency, however, like most government agencies it has grabbed other powers over the years.

The idea that the "airwaves" are "owned by the people" is a cute metaphor I suppose but it doesn't accurately reflect how radio (or television for that matter) works. Instead of a de facto censorship organization, the FCC would better serve the people only by acting as an arbitrator of frequency disputes. But I doubt that will ever happen.
posted by ljromanoff at 7:55 AM on July 8, 2002


ljromanoff: Because the FCC effectively grants a monopoly on frequency to certain private individuals, it has an additional duty to make sure that the monopoly that is granted is in the best interest of the public. Government sanctioned monopolies stifle competition by definition and should only be granted at a last resort.

So, no, the FCC shouldn't just act as a frequency arbiter. And, for what its worth, that isn't how it currently acts.
posted by bshort at 8:54 AM on July 8, 2002


Because the FCC effectively grants a monopoly on frequency to certain private individuals, it has an additional duty to make sure that the monopoly that is granted is in the best interest of the public.

And who judges "best interest"? The FCC, which makes them a government agency with authority over speech. That was not their intended purpose (with the solitary exception of providing access for political candidates), nor should it be.

Government sanctioned monopolies stifle competition by definition and should only be granted at a last resort.

A "monopoly" over a single frequency in the spectrum is not at all the same as a monopoly over a market as there are dozens of available frequencies per listening area. Your analogy doesn't work.

And, for what its worth, that isn't how it currently acts.

Obviously.
posted by ljromanoff at 9:23 AM on July 8, 2002


ljromanoff:And who judges "best interest"? The FCC, which makes them a government agency with authority over speech. That was not their intended purpose (with the solitary exception of providing access for political candidates), nor should it be.

Actually, it is their intended purpose.
From this explanation comes this quote:
Federal Communications Commission (FCC), independent executive agency of the U.S. government established in 1934 to regulate interstate and foreign communications in the public interest. The FCC is composed of five members, not more than four of whom may be members of the same political party, appointed by the president with the consent of the U.S. Senate. The commissioners are authorized to classify television and radio stations, to assign broadcasting frequencies, and to prescribe the nature of their service. The FCC has jurisdiction over standard, high-frequency, relay, international, television, and facsimile broadcasting stations and also has authority over experimental, amateur, coastal, aviation, strip, and emergency radio services; telegraph and interstate telephone companies; cellular telephone and paging systems; satellite facilities; and cable companies. The commission is empowered to grant, revoke, renew, and modify broadcasting licenses.
Emphasis: mine.
So, you see, they /are/ empowered to dictate the nature of the broadcast service and to dictate, to some extent, that the broadcasters act within the public good.

A "monopoly" over a single frequency in the spectrum is not at all the same as a monopoly over a market as there are dozens of available frequencies per listening area. Your analogy doesn't work.
Actually, it totally works. There are a very limited number of frequency ranges that are actually available for broadcast use. It is very difficult to get frequency allocated for new stations, especially for low power use and community radio. The existing radio interests are very entrenched and fight tooth and nail to prevent wider access to frequency. With the rise of ClearChannel and the consolidation of the broadcast market, I would expect that public access will become even more dear.
posted by bshort at 9:46 AM on July 8, 2002


Actually, it is their intended purpose.
From this explanation comes this quote:


But who defines "public interest"? Again, the FCC. This term is too vague to have any practical meaning and will vary widely depending on who runs the FCC. Nothing in that definition gives the FCC any specific authority over the content of broadcasts, you are assuming it.

Actually, it totally works. There are a very limited number of frequency ranges that are actually available for broadcast use. It is very difficult to get frequency allocated for new stations, especially for low power use and community radio.

The limited number of available frequencies can also be blamed to some extent on the FCC, but that is another issue. Neither the government, nor you, can make the argument that the FCC has the same authority over radio broadcasters as other government regulatory bodies do over public utilities because granting a frequency license is not granting a public monopoly for the obvious reason that there are dozens of other frequencies available.

This is the history of the FRC, the organization that predated the FCC, from the records of the court case FREE SPEECH ORG. et al v. JANET RENO, UNITED STATES
DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE and FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION in U.S. District Court:

Alarmed by the growing interference among broadcast radio stations, Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover convened the First National Conference on Radio Telephony in late February 1922. At the conference, Hoover called the spectrum a public resource, insisting on a "public right over the ether roads." Minutes of Open Meetings of Department of Commerce Conference on Radio Telephony, Feb. 27-28, 1922, at 4-5.

Hoover also began denying applications for broadcast radio licenses on the grounds that applicants would create intolerable interference if granted licenses. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ("D.C. Circuit"), however, ruled in 1923 that Hoover lacked authority under the 1912 Radio Act to deny licenses. Hoover v. Intercity Radio Co., 286 F. 1003 (D.C. Cir. 1923). Despite the ruling, Hoover continued to limit the number of broadcast radio licenses by restricting available frequencies, times of operation, and locations, as well as by delaying action on pending license applications.

In April 1926, another court ruled that Hoover lacked authority under the 1912 Radio Act to deny licenses or limit stations to certain frequencies. United States v. Zenith Radio Corp., 12 F.2d 614 (N.D. Ill. 1926). After the Attorney General concurred with that ruling, 35 Ops. Atty. Gen. 126 (1926), Hoover abandoned all attempts to limit or restrict new broadcast radio stations. Nearly 200 new stations went on the air between July 1926 and February 1927, greatly increasing the levels of interference.

Responding to the ensuing chaos of the airwaves, Congress enacted the Radio Act of 1927. Pub. L. No. 98-50, 44 Stat. 1162 (1927). The 1927 Radio Act created the Federal Radio Commission ("FRC") to allocate bands of the spectrum to the various radio services, allot frequencies within each band to various geographic areas, and issue licenses to individual radio stations. Radio stations licensed by the FRC were given privileges to use assigned frequencies on an exclusive or shared basis in given geographic areas for up to three-year renewable terms. In theory, anyone could apply for a broadcast radio license from the FRC.
The FRC/FCC was created specifically to allocate the spectrum in order to prevent station interference, not to ensure that the content of broadcasts is in the ill-defined "public interest." While the public interest language is in the legislation, it does not specifically authorize the FCC to have any control over the content of radio broadcasts, although the Commision has used the language to do just that, which is an abuse of its authority.
posted by ljromanoff at 10:09 AM on July 8, 2002


That old law relates to a simpler time when people believed everything was black and white, left and right, etc. Even then, lots of viewpoints went unheard as they do now, because all ideas can't be lumped into two camps. And BTW, I live south of Eugene and when I feel the need for balance I listen to KGO talkradio.
posted by Mack Twain at 10:51 AM on July 8, 2002


The FRC/FCC was created specifically to allocate the spectrum in order to prevent station interference, not to ensure that the content of broadcasts is in the ill-defined "public interest."

That's a bait-and-switch which fools no-one. The FRC was a different body to the FCC, and whatever its powers were, they were replaced under the 1934 Communications Act which includes provisions to 'Prescribe the nature of the service to be rendered by each class of license stations and each station within any class' and 'Study new uses for radio, provide for experimental uses of frequencies, and generally encourage the larger and more effective use of radio in the public interest'. Conflating the two agencies and their powers by citing those of the earlier body is rather like claiming that because the US previously permitted slavery, it still does.
posted by riviera at 10:59 AM on July 8, 2002


That old law relates to a simpler time when people believed everything was black and white, left and right, etc.

Oh, you've got to be kidding me.

The FRC was a different body to the FCC, and whatever its powers were, they were replaced under the 1934 Communications Act

The powers of the FRC were transferred to the FCC but were not expanded. The creation of the FCC was a merger of the radio broadcast authority and the wired communications authority, it was not an expansion of control over the broadcast medium.

which includes provisions to 'Prescribe the nature of the service to be rendered by each class of license stations and each station within any class'

Again, nothing you've quoting gives the FCC any specific authority over broadcast content that it has currently claimed. "The nature of the service" refers to broadcast v. non-broadcast services, frequency band, geographic area, and station power; not the content of the broadcast.
posted by ljromanoff at 11:20 AM on July 8, 2002


you've you're --- typo.
posted by ljromanoff at 11:21 AM on July 8, 2002


The communications act cited above states:

SEC. 326. Nothing in this Act shall be understood or construed to give the Commission the power of censorship over the radio communications or signals transmitted by any radio station, and no regulation or condition shall be promulgated or fixed by the Commission which shall interfere with the right of free speech by means of radio communication.

which would seem to bolster the argument that the FCC is purely as functional agency.

The same section later, however, seems to reverse this argument:

No person within the jurisdiction of the United States shall utter any obscene, indecent, or profane language by means of radio communication.

and focus on control of content
posted by ajayb at 11:36 AM on July 8, 2002


I was going to reply, but riviera beat me to it.

And, with regards to your point about who defines "public interest", yes, the FCC does. But it doesn't do it in a vacuum. Congressional oversight creates a system where the FCC answers to Congress (and, in some form, the people) about its policies and its enforcement of those policies.

With regards to your point about unused spectrum, give me a break. Just because there is unused spectrum in some (note: not all) markets doesn't mean that anyone can start up their own broadcasting business. And, yes, it is a monopoly on their part of the spectrum, just like granting cable companies access to the right of way grants a sort of monopoly.

Actually, this is probably a better example than that of a utility company. Some markets have multiple cable companies servicing the local customers, but just because customers could concievably be serviced by a (small) number of companies doesn't mean that the companies have been granted any less of a boon. The access to the right of ways and to the available spectrum is not free for all, and in exchange to the grants of access the government chose to place an onus on the companies using these resources.

Whether this is good or bad is not necessarily the point (although I would argue that this is a good thing). The point is actually whether the onus was placed. And it was.

So there.

On preview, forcing broadcasters to broadcast content that is deemed in the public interest is not the same thing as censorship.
posted by bshort at 11:40 AM on July 8, 2002


With regards to your point about unused spectrum, give me a break. Just because there is unused spectrum in some (note: not all) markets doesn't mean that anyone can start up their own broadcasting business.

The issue is much larger that what you are suggesting. The FCC has a long history of misapplying frequency allocation, including delaying frequency allocation in the 1950s and 1960s in VHF. It delayed for years cellular spectrum allocation, then established an analog standard for cellular that was 20 years obsolete. They have also failed to account for local variances like allocating the same amount of spectrum space for taxicab dispactchers in rural areas as in urban ones.

The access to the right of ways and to the available spectrum is not free for all, and in exchange to the grants of access the government chose to place an onus on the companies using these resources.

Which is fine, except that the obligation has never explicity referred to content. It refers to geographic area, power, and other technical issues - not to broadcast content (with the exception of obscenity, although I assume that is a given and covered by other obscenity laws anyway.)

On preview, forcing broadcasters to broadcast content that is deemed in the public interest is not the same thing as censorship.

No, but it's not within the FCC's stated authority, either.
posted by ljromanoff at 11:59 AM on July 8, 2002


That, and the audience doesn't want them either. Such shows occasionally show up on radio, and they always fail. Why? The audience doesn't agree, and their ratings go into the toilet.

A post above describing how humorless most left-wing programming is, is closer to the truth.How funny is NPR, anyway?OK, Harry Shearer is funny, but that's it.

The right-wing types are totally loony and I listen to a little of Rush, Liddy, Dr. Laura etc, if I'm in the car, just so I can laugh at their psychotic, hypocritical, dumb asses.Even more fun are the lost souls that phone in to these shows proclaiming devotion to the cause.It's like watching a train wreck.You can't take your ears off of it.You just can't write stuff that funny.

Hey, no one cares why we listen, just as long as we tune in.

As much as many people here love to hate Rush Limbaugh, you have to admit that 20 million listeners a day is hard to ignore.

Those figures are calculated weekly, not daily.Believing that 20 million people listen to Rush every day is silly, not that Rush and his followers don't try to spin it that way.If it's true, why did his (and Dr. Laura's) TV shows bomb?

The idea that conservatism is the norm and liberalism is a niche is talk radio propaganda.
posted by BarneyFifesBullet at 12:16 PM on July 8, 2002


How soon until Mike Powell gets his appointment to the Clear Channel board of directors? You know the whore has a reward coming in his future from the media monopolies.

Go BarneyFifesBullet, tell it bro.
posted by nofundy at 12:23 PM on July 8, 2002


If it's true, why did his (and Dr. Laura's) TV shows bomb?

Yeah, if only Rush's show had had the success of say, Michael Moore's tremendously popular television ventures.
posted by ljromanoff at 12:33 PM on July 8, 2002


Of course, you could say The West Wing is a successful "liberal" show. (caveat: I've never watched it, but Aaron Sorkin's politics are well known to not be in the Limbaugh-Bush universe)

I think Howard Stern, The Man Show and anything else that gets the Falwells/Robertsons of the world all riled up can be qualified as "liberal success" as well.

The idea that conservatism is the norm and liberalism is a niche is talk radio propaganda
MegaDittoes!
posted by owillis at 1:46 PM on July 8, 2002


I think Howard Stern, The Man Show and anything else that gets the Falwells/Robertsons of the world all riled up can be qualified as "liberal success" as well.

I think there are plenty of liberals who get "all riled up" by Stern and the Man Show as well.
posted by ljromanoff at 2:29 PM on July 8, 2002


Yeah, if only Rush's show had had the success of say, Michael Moore's tremendously popular television ventures.

Same thing, actually.Moore isn't a Democrat.He's an extremist just like Rush and Liddy.

Moore's TV Nation show was entertaining, though.He should do radio.It would be great listening.The extremists put on the best shows.It's like going to the zoo.
posted by BarneyFifesBullet at 3:15 PM on July 8, 2002


A "monopoly" over a single frequency in the spectrum is not at all the same as a monopoly over a market as there are dozens of available frequencies per listening area.

Ooh, dozens!!
posted by rushmc at 5:55 PM on July 8, 2002


Mack Twain, we can even get KGO up here in Seattle -- after dark. (That's one of the great things about AM radio -- the way the signal carries after sunset. KGO is a San Francisco station.) It comes in loud enough that it could be in Tacoma or Everett. but, technically, it's not in the Seattle market so it's not official competition for our local stations. (I wonder how many people mark it in their Arbitron books?)
posted by litlnemo at 7:47 PM on July 8, 2002


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