You’re not wrong if you think Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity never shut up, whereas Ed Schultz or Randi Rhodes barely get air time on the radio. The Center for American Progress and Free Press just released the first-of-its-kind statistical analysis of the political make-up of talk radio in the United States. It confirms that talk radio, one of the most widely used media formats in America, is dominated almost exclusively by conservatives. The new report entitled “The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio” blames the FCC for the current imbalance, in particular the regulatory body’s elimination of clear public interest requirements for broadcasting, and the relaxation of ownership rules. I know from my own research that, while progressive talk is making tiny inroads on commercial stations thanks to the Air America and Democracy Radio networks, right-wing talk reigns supreme on America’s airwaves because of its omnipresence at bigger, stronger and more high-profile stations. And Infinity and ABC won’t put liberals on the air even though left wingers often beat right-wingers in some major markets. The report found:
– Arbitron reports that more than 90 percent of Americans ages 12 or older listen to radio each week — a higher penetration than television, magazines, newspapers, or the Internet. Americans listened on average to 19 hours of radio per week in 2006. Among radio formats, the combined news/talk format leads all others. Through more than 1,700 stations across the nation, it reached 50 million listeners each week. – Of the 257 news/talk stations owned by the top five commercial station owners this spring, 91% of the total weekday talk radio programming was conservative, and only 9% was progressive. – Each weekday, 2,570 hours and 15 minutes of conservative talk are broadcast on these stations compared to 254 hours of progressive talk, or 10 times more. – Of the news/talk programming in the top 10 radio markets, 96% is conservative, while 24% is progressive.
The report calls b.s. the usual explanation for the dominance of right-wing talk — the 1987 repeal of the Fairness Doctrine (which required broadcasters to devote airtime to contrasting views), and simple consumer demand. Instead:
– Its conclusion is that the gap between conservative and progressive talk radio is the result of multiple structural problems in the U.S. regulatory system, particularly the complete breakdown of the public trustee concept of broadcast, the elimination of clear public interest requirements for broadcasting, and the relaxation of ownership rules including the requirement of local participation in management. […] – Increasing ownership diversity, both in terms of the race/ethnicity and gender of owners, as well as the number of independent local owners, will lead to more diverse programming, more choices for listeners, and more owners who are responsive to their local communities and serve the public interest.
Along with other ideas, the report recommends that national radio ownership not be allowed to exceed 5% of the total number of AM and FM broadcast stations, and local ownership should not exceed more than 10% of the total commercial radio stations in a given market. Here’s hoping the Democratic Congress takes action.