Conservative talk radio

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Conservative talk radio (or right talk) is a talk radio format in the United States and other countries 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. The format peaked in popularity in the 2000s (decade), when conservative talk hosts dominated the list of most-listened-to radio programs in the United States.[2] Conservative talk radio is heard almost entirely on commercial radio; after the deregulation from the United States federal government, the amount of stations and nationally syndicated stations multiplied. (In contrast, community radio tends to be used by progressives, and public radio, while it tends to cater to an audience more liberal than the general public, usually avoids overt political commentary.)

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

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.

Deregulation of talk radio

Conservative talk radio did not experience its significant growth until 1987, when the Fairness Doctrine by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was abolished. The Fairness Doctrine limited talk radio to being fair and balanced, restricting radio stations to present an equal amount of both conservative and liberal views. Subsequent to its abolition, radio stations could then be either be solely conservative or liberal stations.[3]

Another form of deregulation from the American government came from the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which allowed companies to own more radio stations and for some shows to become nationally syndicated. Before the deregulation, the majority of radio station owners were owned privately and were composed of “mom and pop” stations.[3] In 1999, following the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, more than 25% of US Radio stations had been sold, with many more being sold each day. As of 2011, Clear Channel Communications (now iHeartMedia), an industry giant owns over 800 radio stations across the United States, and its largest contract is with Rush Limbaugh, worth $400 million over a span of 8 years.[4] 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.[4] Thus, the deregulation from the abolishment of the Fairness Doctrine and the institution of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 have assisted conservative talk radio as a whole gain popularity throughout the United States.

The rise of conservative talk radio

File:Michael Medved by Gage Skidmore.jpg
Michael Medved 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.

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 subgenres 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 political interviews and talk (Jim Bohannon, Joey Reynolds) generally made up 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 great expansion was followed by a rise in marketing and message. The media market voiced opinion the public wanted to hear. In contrast, newspapers and television programs parroting leftist ideals of station owners and media magnates failed in popularity and financially along with their attempt at cornering the radio market (Air America).

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 talent that was inexperienced with the radio medium and a political message that was not well received by the public. 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.

Audience and advertising

Listeners of conservative talk radio in the United States have predominantly been white and religious Americans as they are more prone to being ideological conservatives.[5] Furthermore, men were more likely to be listeners of conservative talk radio than women. 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.[6] This specific knowledge of the audience assists advertisers in their goal to attract potential customers, and the stations found that listeners of conservative talk radio are more involved and responsive in AM radio in comparison to music listeners of FM radio.[3] Talk radio programs allow for a more personal approach to their shows, which helped contribute to the rise of revenue and popularity of conservative talk radio stations:[3]

“Glenn Beck's relationship with Goldline International is illustrative. When he tells listeners to his radio program that these perilous times make gold an attractive investment, it helps Goldline's potential investors overcome concerns about the wisdom of moving into a market they likely have little understanding of. If Glenn Beck says gold is a good investment, many in Beck's audience are going to feel that he is giving trustworthy advice. Because the host is already talking, the segue into or out of a commercial can be relatively seamless."[3]

Thus, advertisers have found that AM listeners have more trust in the radio personality and use that to their advantage.


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 that spanned from February to March 2012, in which syndicated host Rush Limbaugh made comments against a Georgetown University Law student, Sandra Fluke, calling her a 'slut' under the logic that only a slut would use so much birth control as to be unable to afford it without government-mandated insurance coverage for it.[7] After the comments were made, Sandra Fluke called Rush Limbaugh a misogynist.[8] Limbaugh made a public apology on his show. Fluke refused to accept it, calling the apology insufficient. In response to these events, 12 sponsors withdrew their support of Limbaugh's show.[9]

Sean Hannity and Michael Savage, two nationally syndicated hosts, began a feud that began in January 2014.[10] It began when Savage took over Hannity's time slot of 3-6 p.m. and Savage claimed that it was the "biggest shake-up in talk radio history", after making negative remarks toward Hannity on his show, calling him a "hack". Hannity still defeated him in ratings,[10] though, and Hannity himself made negative remarks indirectly to Michael Savage, calling him a "phony" and diminishing Savage's college degrees.[10]

Internet Broadcasting

A few conservative talk radio hosts also syndicate their shows on the internet. In 2011, Glenn Beck started his own television channel initially through Viacom networks, however as of 2014 Suddenlink Communications is the outlet for the channel. TheBlaze, which also has an internet-radio component on their website employs Beck and many other hosts on their shows.[11] The radio channel, TheBlaze Radio Network broadcasts on the internet as well as on satellite radio, Sirius XM.[12] Rush Limbaugh’s radio show is also streamed on the internet through iHeartRadio, which ClearChannel Communications owns as well.[13][14]


Dennis Miller, with no prior experience in radio, hosted a national conservative talk show from 2007 to 2015.

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.

The genre as a whole has also lost ground in listenership as a whole. By 2014, at which point Limbaugh had been moved to less listened-to stations in a number of major markets including New York, Los Angeles and Boston, Limbaugh was no longer the most listened-to radio host in the United States as he had been for over a decade prior; by this point, classic hits disc jockey Tom Kent had surpassed Limbaugh, estimating his listenership as having nearly 10 million more listeners across his numerous programs (unlike Limbaugh, Kent hosts multiple shows, tallying at least 50 hours a week on air, spanning numerous formats from classic hits to top-40 radio, as opposed to Limbaugh's singular three-hour daily program).[15]

See also

Conservatism portal


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