A couple of weeks ago, Steve Elman and Alan Tolz wrote in the Boston Globe that the influence of rightie talk radio is in major decline:
Consider some of the major stumbles this year by the medium’s 800-pound gorilla. Rush Limbaugh vigorously promoted three separate political objectives over the past year, all of which failed: derailing John McCain’s quest for the Republican nomination, sabotaging Barack Obama’s drive for the Democratic nomination by fomenting Republican crossover votes for Hillary Clinton, and ultimately stopping Obama’s march to victory in the general election. Contrast this with the impact talk radio once had on local taxes, the impeachment of Bill Clinton, congressional pay raises, a mandatory seat belt law, etc.
Elman and Tolz cite these factors as reasons for the decline:
- The radio medium is in decline generally. Younger people in particular prefer their iPods to radio. The radio audience is aging.
- “New ears” are essential if radio talk show hosts are to have any impact on public opinion. If they are just talking to a core audience of people who already agree with them, they won’t be changing any minds.
- Cable television news programs have moved into and taken over talk radio’s opinion-venting niche.
- Talk radio hosts in general have earned a reputation for being irrational and rabid promoters of one-note opinions.
Talk radio programs have moved away from taking calls from listeners expressing diverse opinions.
Today everyone’s favorite nerd, Nate Silver, has more good insight as to why talk radio, and the Right in general, is going down. You need to read Nate’s entire post to get all the nuances of his argument. But he makes these key observations:
- “There are a certain segment of conservatives who literally cannot believe that anybody would see the world differently than the way they do. They have not just forgotten how to persuade; they have forgotten about the necessity of persuasion.”
A correlation to that observation is that many conservatives think anyone who sees the world differently from the way they do is motivated by evil. This is another reason why they don’t think it’s worth trying to persuade us of anything. (Example.)
- “…the distinguishing feature of radio is that it exists in a sort of perpetual amnesiac state.”
- “Moreover, almost uniquely to radio, most of the audience is not even paying attention to you, because most people listen to radio when they’re in the process of doing something else.”
Therefore, Nate says, the radio host’s job isn’t so much to present interesting ideas as it is to keep the listeners emotionally stimulated. Talk radio is like aural caffeine.
- “The McCain campaign was all about stimulation. The Britney Spears ads weren’t persuasive, but they sure were stimulating! ‘Drill, baby, drill’ wasn’t persuasive, but it sure was stimulating! Sarah Palin wasn’t persuasive, but she sure was (literally, in Rich Lowry’s case) stimulating!”
I never watch Faux News, so I wouldn’t know if this is true:
- “FOX News is unusual television, really, in that almost all the stimulation is verbal, and almost all of it occurs at the same staccato pacing as radio. You could take tonight’s broadcast of Hannity & Colmes or the Factor and put it directly on radio and you’d lose almost nothing (not coincidentally, Hannity and O’Reilly also have highly-rated radio programs).”
- “Conservatives listen to significantly more talk radio than other market segments; 28 percent of conservative Republicans listen to talk radio regularly, as opposed to 17 percent of the public as a whole.”
I take it that for much of the conservative base, conservatism is less an ideology than it is an emotional addiction.