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October 21st, 2009
06:54 AM ET

Talk Radio: Do we need a new Fairness Doctrine?

By Carol Costello and Bob Ruff

In the late 1940’s, the Federal Communications Commission decided that it was more likely to grant and renew licenses to broadcasters who offered up more than one point of view to their listeners. That decision came to be known as the Fairness Doctrine.

The doctrine was intended to serve the public interest by having broadcasters offer the public more than one side to controversial issues.

But the Fairness Doctrine didn’t last. With its constitutionality in question, the doctrine was repealed in 1987. Not long after that, conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh took to the AM radio dial and became a hit.

It wasn’t long before other conservative talkers followed his lead. They became so successful they pushed most liberal talkers off the dial. Today, according to Talkers Magazine, 91 percent of talk radio on the AM commercial dial is conservative.

Some say that’s reason enough for the return of the Fairness Doctrine. But, most experts say that’s not likely to happen. There is a new push, however, called “localism.”

Simply put, it means radio stations would be forced to carry more local programming that appeals to local audiences. Right now, big broadcasting companies like Clear Channel Communications, CBS, and others own hundreds of radio stations across the country. They often program syndicated, national shows featuring conservative talkers like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck.

Some say that kind of national programming is not serving some audiences across the country. Randi Rhodes, a syndicated progressive talker, is based in Washington D.C., where 93 percent of voters voted for Barack Obama. Yet, only a small percentage of AM talk radio is liberal or progressive.

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Filed under: Talk Radio
October 20th, 2009
07:07 AM ET

Talk Radio: How powerful is it?

By Carol Costello and Bob Ruff

In part one of our series on talk radio we noted that conservative political talk show hosts on commercial radio have bigger audiences than their liberal counterparts – at least on commercial AM radio.

Rush Limbaugh, the king of conservative radio talkers, gets more than 15 million listeners each week. Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, and Michael Savage are not far behind.

But do these numbers translate into real political power?

Some liberals, and even the president, are – at the very least – paying attention: "You can't just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done," the president told Republican lawmakers earlier this year.

If you ask some conservative talkers across the country if conservative talk radio is powerful, they’ll tell you what Bob Durbin told us in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He’s been a conservative talk show host for decades.

“I don’t know how powerful we are. We are powerful to a degree, but so are all the other media. The Washington Post. The New York Times. Are they powerful? You’re damn right they are! So, why can’t we be powerful?”

If you measure political power by energizing people already in your corner, then conservative talkers do win. Many of their listeners showed up at town halls and tea parties over this summer.

“There is a kind of opposition quality, shadow government quality to listening to conservative radio these days,” says Camille Paglia, a social critic and Obama supporter. “And I don’t see any problem with that in a democracy,” she adds.

No one wields that kind of “opposition quality” more effectively than Rush Limbaugh. With his vast radio audience, he’s able to bring some Republican politicians to their knees.

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Filed under: Talk Radio
October 19th, 2009
07:28 AM ET

Talk Radio: Who is listening?

By Carol Costello and Bob Ruff

A few days ago, we stopped by Graber Supplies on Highway 41 in south central Pennsylvania. Inside we found Ira Wagler, a general manager at the building, listening to the "Rush Limbaugh Show" as he worked.

Wagler is a huge fan of conservative talk radio. Five days a week he heads to work in his blue truck with the dial set to WHP 580 in Harrisburg. During the 30-minute drive he listens to local conservative talker RJ Harris. At work Glen Beck takes him to the noon hour, followed by the king of conservative radio, Rush Limbaugh.

Then it's back in the truck on the way home with another local talker, Bob Durgan. Wagler ends the day at home with the San Francisco-based conservative Michael Savage.

Talkers Magazine says that Ira is not unusual. More than 15 million people listen to Rush Limbaugh every week, and all but one of the top ten most listened to talk radio hosts are conservative.

We wanted to know why conservative talk radio is so popular.

"I started listening to Rush in '92," says Wagler, a self-described Libertarian who voted for Ron Paul for president. "I just really connected with his philosophy, his thinking, and quite a bit with his humor."

He also told Carol Costello that he listens to Limbaugh "for the serious things. He just cuts through the crap. He tells it. This is what's going on, and 90% of the time that is what's going on. He's not always right. Usually he is."

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Filed under: Politics • Talk Radio