Talk radio now dominates the AM landscape that was once the home of Rock & Roll that the Ramones sang about. In a diverse country such as ours, one might imagine as many different talk shows as there are opinions. But that, of course, is not the case.
Just before the New Year, WBOB (1160 AM) dropped its (almost) all-sports format for something this market sorely needed ... conservative talk. What a breath of fresh air! WBOB, capitulating to Clear Channel's WCKY (1360, "The Sports Animal") now feels the wise course is to go up against Clear Channel's bigger stations WKRC (550) and WLW (700), whose formats are largely conservative talk.
Gone is ESPN Radio with the likable Mike & Mike in the Morning, as well as the fine Dan Patrick Show and The Tony Kornheiser Show. Coming in is a conservative round table featuring Michael Medved, Hugh Hewitt (who Hewitt?), Mike Gallagher, Dave Ramsey and KABC's Dennis Prager. They join Bill "No Spin" O'Reilly in a broadcast day that's wall-to-wall conservatism.
The obvious answer to the format change is ratings. AM radio is geared heavily toward males, while FM is more evenly targeted towards both sexes. "The person who can figure out how to attract a female audience (to AM talk radio) will be a millionaire several times over," says 700 WLW program director Daryl Parks. He also points out that within the format, there are differences. "WLW is big time wrestling and not fire-and-brimstone conservatism (like sister station 550 WKRC)," he says, adding that, WLW's "tongue-in-cheek approach just doesn't work on WKRC." In fact, WLW's Gary Burbank does a hilarious impression of Michael Savage, who is heard on WKRC.
Men are generally conservative, so it would make sense, as with television, that the lowest common denominator helps steer the format. WLW, naturally, has a huge advantage in that it is perceived as a talk station and a sports station thanks to Reds, Bengals and UC play-by-play.
WLW's Mike McConnell once stated on his program that there are few liberal talk shows because liberal ideas don't hold up under scrutiny. That's a fair assessment, but there is a reason why that's so. Doug Hall, who runs a place in Cincinnati called the Eureka Ranch, provides an idea factory for businesses. Companies seek his help to learn how to produce more and better ideas. One of the first things you learn is that you have to go through a lot of bad ideas to get to a good one.
This problem has always dogged liberalism which is, by and large, a string of bad ideas. Sometimes really bad ideas. Again, in order to get through to a good idea, you have to sift through a lot of crap.
Neither liberals nor conservatives seem to realize this. P. J. O'Rourke once wrote in Rolling Stone that this country's problems were hampered by Democrats who don't learn from the past and conservatives that won't stop living in it. A very astute observation from a guy who was quite liberal before he succumbed to the dark side.
The only unfortunate consequence of all this is that a lot of listeners actually believe the shtick. When WLW allegedly suspended Bill Cunningham, folks gobbled it up.
We've been told that liberals control the news media. So why the plethora of conservative talk? Is it a reaction in the opposite direction? "I don't really consider talk radio to be the media," says Parks. While many hosts sound like they're reporting facts, it's best to remember that what they're doing is clearly opinion-driven reporting. Indeed, Rush Limbaugh has often said that, while he truly believes in what he is saying, his program is still, for the most part, show businesses. Mega dittos.