Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Vanity: Has Talk Radio Killed the Grassroots Conservative Movement?

by Chuck Ness

Back in the beginning when the Fairness Doctrine was abolished, the field was wide open for anyone who could connect with an audience. Up until then, radio stations who could only broadcast via AM radio were a dying breed. Most of them had changed their formats to broadcast via FM transmitters. The AM stations were lucky if they could sell enough add time for summertime baseball, local sports wrap ups, or farm information programs to pay a live body to be in the studio. There were certain markets that seemed to be somewhat successful with the numerous “Tradio” type shows across the country where individuals could buy and sell items in a radio type off flea market, but for the most part AM radio was dead.

Then in 1989 the DC court of appeals upheld the 4-0 ruling by the FCC that abolished the Fairness Doctrine. That is when radio stations across the country started hiring whoever they wanted to say whatever they wanted as long as public decency laws were not violated. Now it still wasn't as easy as just putting someone on to talk about anything, the person needed to be somewhat charismatic, his topic had to be worth listening to so they could keep the audiences attention.

Well, it wasn't long before talk radio was able to find a niche in the small world that the AM radio was able to transmit to. It was similar to the market that late night radio was able to capitalize on, only this was daytime when most people were out of the home. Like the truck drivers on the freeway, or mothers driving around taking care of their shopping and jumping in and out of their car. Then there was the workers who listened while they worked, and the stay at home mothers who preferred it over the soap operas and game shows on the television.

The big markets like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles found they could fill the airwaves with Shock Jocks talking about things you would normally only hear at bachelor parties full of drunk college students. Then there was the smaller mid sized markets that started a trend that would eventually sweep the country and dominate talk radio for the next 2 ½ decades with no end in sight. No end that is, unless the “Anointed One” and his cronies decide to bring back the Fairness Doctrine. That however is for another day and another column.

Thats where the King of all talk radio comes into this story. Yes, Mr. Rush Limbaugh, the Doctor of Democracy, Mr. Right, the man with one arm tied behind his back just to make it fair. The man with talent on loan from God who does not give equal time, because he is equal time. While the left would like to shut him up, and if possible lock him up, the right would like to elect him to the office of the Presidency. In fact when the Republicans won the House in 1994 they made him an honorary member, because they knew he was responsible for getting them there. Love him or hate him, he is the Bill Gates of talk radio, and with out him there would be no talk radio as we know.

So you are probably wondering why, if I credit him with creating talk radio and building the Republicans into a majority in 1994, I titled my article, “Has Talk Radio Killed the Grassroots Conservative Movement”? Well, lets first look at what he has done for the once dying dinosaur known as AM radio.

Since his rise to prominence in the small market of Sacramento California, Rush Limbaugh has written the book on how to be a successful talk radio personality. It can be boiled down to three two word phrases that, when followed works every time. I call them the the three rules to rule on radio.
1.) Be truthful.
2.) Be Yourself.
3.) Be Entertaining.

Thats it, if you can master those three qualities then you can be successful in any market of the world. Many radio personalities have tried to duplicate his success. Some, like Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Laura Ingraham, and Glenn Beck have come close, but none have equaled it. Talk radio is a prodominantly conservative venue, and while there are some liberals who can boast of some success, they are few and far between.

The thing that makes conservative talk radio so much more successful is the passiveness of listening without having to look at any props that make ones point so relevant to the discussion. I for one am a firm believer that just as liberals dominate TV because they have props that distract the viewer from the discussion, it is the absence of distraction that makes conservative radio so powerful and successful. It is the same thing you see in Christian radio. When you are confronted with only the truth of the word you need no visual show to dazzle the listener. On the other hand when you turn on the TV and see the heretics speak, you are often distracted by the glitzy show they put on. I am reminded of the old carnival magician who would distract your eyes with his right hand while fooling you with his left hand. Talk radio cannot fool your eyes, so they must tell the truth to your ears. Well, it is that passive listening habit of the audience that forces all successful talk radio hosts to be truthful, and thus successful. That covers the first of the three rules, now lets look at the second rule to rule on radio, being yourself.

Now you would think that this should be an easy task, but have you ever tried to keep an audience you cannot see happy by being yourself? Many a person has stepped behind a microphone and made complete fools of themselves. Even if you can keep from stumbling on your words and your voice is pleasant to listen to, what do you do to fill those moments that are awkward? A good host will be able to reach back into themselves and share a part of there own life with you. Good pastors do it all the time, but very few radio talk hosts can master the part of being themselves. It is an essential part if you want to connect with your audience and make yourself a part of their every day lives.

Over 20 million people tune into Rush Limbaugh every week to listen to him about many things, and one of the big things is his life. He is who he projects to his audience to be. I have talked to hundreds of people who tuned him out after he had his unfortunate problem with pain medications. They said he was not who they thought he was, now most if not all are again listening to him. Mainly because he fessed up and received help. Now those same individuals say they relate to him even better then they before he had his troubles, because he truly is himself again. Finally we have the third rule for being successful in talk radio, and this is the rule that has killed the grassroots of conservatism.

I know I took a long time to get to my point, but I would have done an injustice if I did not properly set the table before I snatched the tablecloth from beneath the china. Probably the most important aspect of a successful talk show host is his ability to entertain his audience. This is where Rush Limbaugh's detractors focus on when they say he is just an entertainer. Have you ever tried to sit and listen to a professor of biology do a lecture on the mating habit of a the pinacate beetle, or better known as the stink beetle? Well if you listen to some talk show hosts it's no different, especially the locals filling in the dead hours before Rush even comes on in the morning.

And that is the crux of the problem. Like all venues, it comes to audience share and advertising dollars when the station decides who is going to be on the air. When Rush first came to our area he hit it off with the audience like an ice cream vendor playing his music outside of a day care center. We could not get enough of him, but he was over by noon and we still had the rest of the day to go. Well, thats when the radio in our area did like so many others did around the country. They saw a bonanza in their revenues and decided to change more of their format hours to talk radio.

They found local talent that could give the audience what they wanted, more talk radio about what was going on that the MSM wasn't giving. That's about the time small communities across the country started getting involved in what was going on in their communities. Local city councils, school boards, and county seats were all being populated by local conservatives getting involved because talk radio got them interested in wanting to serve. Then we saw the general public get interested in who was running things. The result was what happened in 1994 and we all thought things would be great from here on out. It has been said we thought we won so we stoped teaching, well that is partially true.

See, thats when competition started to push the local guys out of the way. This is not to bash competition, but facts are facts. Radio stations want and need to make money, so the voice who sells advertising time will win the time slot. Most people in rural America are not as entertaining as most hosts, their not as well spoken, and their lives are just plane boring. So slowly the small local personalities were replaced by the national hosts, like Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Dr Laura, and the Michael Savages. Local issues stopped being talked about, people went back to how they thought before, that locally things are ok. So, i guess while we may have kept teaching cinservative ideas, we quit teaching it in a local venue, and about local issues. Lets be honest, whats more interesting the fight over the local compost site, or the fight over terrorism?

Now people still care about what is happening but they care more about the national issues and the national races. The city offices, school boards, and county seats have all went back to the balance they were before. All repopulated by mostly liberals who never worked in the private sector and never want to, but also want to be a city power player for life. The local councilmembers moved to bigger pastures like assembly and state offices with no one wanting or able to get support to replace them locally. Then the cheerleaders have been replaced by national cheerleaders who have no connection and no understanding of local issues. I will be the first to admit this is basically a local small to mid sized city and rural American problem, but when I look ate the election results I see that we lost because these people who were fired up in 1994 did not get out to vote.

Even as boring and as bad as Bob Dole was in 1998, at least we still had local communities fired up to vote. They still cared because we still had a local guy cheering us on. But when the only cheerleaders are rooting for from thousands of miles away, what do you really expect to happen. It takes locality to get locals interested in their local governments, and until the small rural areas can find local talent as good as the Big guys, even for just two hours a day. Well, we will continue to loose the grassroot conservatives, and without a Grassroot conservative movement we all never change things on the national level. The “Anointed One” won through a strong grassroot, albeit illegal, effort. My question is why did we concede what was our strongest asset to a socialist? Is their no good local talk hosts who can be entertaining, truthful, and real? If not, then we will continue to loose. But hey? At least we do control talk radio with big voices like Rush Limbaugh's telling us to get involved, when we never do.


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