Will Rush Go Down Too?

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.

12 thoughts on “Will Rush Go Down Too?

  1. Fixed Noise is very similar to kids’ programming– hyperactive and aimed at the reptile brain. Gimme sugarsugarsugarsugarsugar! And more toystoystoystoystoys! Now make me scared! Now more sugartoysfeartoysfearmommy! Stories are simplistic, sexist, crudely animated, and make no sense to anyone over the mental or emotional age of 12.

  2. GM to sell off 2 Jets

    It just came on the business news that General Motors has grounded 2 of it’s private jets (gee, how many do they have?) and will sell them off.

    This is apparently a response to the Congressional comments on the three auto bigwigs taking private jets to D.C. to beg for $28 Billion.

    I look at this as corporate humor.

    Under The LobsterScope

  3. Would some kind person explain the Fairness Doctrine and what restoring it will mean.

  4. Norm in Manteca – maybe you can verify or discredit something I was aware of a few years ago when driving north from LA on 5, or 99 for that matter. A few miles north of the Vine, LA radio cut out replaced by country-western or Rush. Period. Knowing how the ‘valley’ voted, Republican, compared to the coast, Democrat, I used to wonder if those Republican votes were somewhat determined by the Rush drivel being their main, and perhaps only entertaining ‘news’ source.

    Which brings me to the demise of Rush. Competition blanketing the country like his program does should insure his demise. Let’s hope.

  5. At the same time, though\, it seems to me that the reach and influence of progressive talk radio is on the increase.

    Our local AM progressive talk station just recently expanded to three seperate FM locations.

    Of course, I don’t actually often LISTEN to them … got hooked on Stephanie Miller, and now she’s the only podcast I actually pay for … so, all my political opinion is a day late, but with no ad breaks…


  6. Fox news was so negative pre election that the color disappeared from the screen….it looked they were broadcasting in black and white.

  7. Rush ain’t going away…There’s a need for people to have their fears and insecurities stoked. They get off on being oppressed and wallowing in victim hood, and they gobble up all the trash that people like Limbaugh, Malkin, Ingram, and the reformed loud mouth drunk who follows Limbaugh’s act on talk radio…Glen Beck.

    Maha is right..They are looking for an emotional balm that validates them as victims of an unjust system. Limbaugh’s got millions of emotionally dependent listeners who feed on his every word, and they’re not going to go away any time soon.

    The equation is… Rush is right..I listen and agree with Rush, therefore, I’m right (correct in my assessment and knowledge).

  8. I believe that if someone did a very serious study, it would be found that the number of road rage incidents increased with the rise of talk radio. It would probably find that the angriest of drivers were probably listening to rush.

    If I turn the radio on, it is to listen to music–either classic rock and roll or classical music.

  9. They are looking for an emotional balm that validates them as victims of an unjust system. Limbaugh’s got millions of emotionally dependent listeners who feed on his every word, and they’re not going to go away any time soon.

    Republican corporatist economics screws them over, and Rush makes sure their anger and frustration isn’t directed at the powers doing the screwing, but at weak, easily-scapegoated targets.

    Rabies-radio is an essential tool in keeping the non-wealthy voting Repig by making them feel powerless about economic issues (“It’s the free market”) and distracted by ‘cultural war’ fears from which they can then be ‘saved’ by The Party.

  10. That’s a pretty insightful observation, that Faux News is talk radio with pictures. There are some subtle differences – Fox brings on opposing views, which are then shouted down. It’s as though the visual medium requires more than one human being on the set to create drama, but radio only requires one person painting cartoons in your mind. The net effect is the same – a continual venting of rage at strawmen.

    One of the things that happened to liberalism is that it somehow, almost completely by accident, became the coolest thing on television, beginning with Jon Stewart and extending to Keith Olbermann. I’m sure kids pick up on this, and by turns laugh at that angry, stupid garbage their parents listen to.

  11. Back when Rush was first the media sensation I had a revelation.

    I tuned into Rush to hear for myself what all the hype was about.

    I found myself getting agitated and worked up at the outrageous lies and assumptions he made about Liberals like me. I found myself screaming back at the radio. I was so outraged I had to turn off the radio.

    After doing this s few times, it hit me:

    Rush, and other radio hosts, primary reason for existence is to create anger in the listener. People that agree with him felt exactly the same as I did, someone who disagrees with him. I realized that the political affiliation made no difference, whether the listener was on the left or the right, they all had the same feelings of anger and outrage.

    Talk radio exists solely to exclude compassion, empathy and love from human beings.

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