Stephen Speicher

Air America Radio -- Why such a dismal failure?

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Air America radio is almost three years old and it never achieved the success that it anticipated. Talk radio itself is generally referred to as "right-wing" radio, and Arbitron reports more than 140 million radio listeners aged 12 and older. Radio is stronger than ever, but the liberals do not seem to be able to make their way in the radio market.

Why is Air America failing, and, more generally, why have the liberals who dominate the print media failed so dramatically in talk radio?

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Why is Air America failing, and, more generally, why have the liberals who dominate the print media failed so dramatically in talk radio?

I think a key reason the left fails on the radio is they don't have the benefit of pictures to trigger their (desired) emotional reponses. I am reminded of Peikoff's "A Picture is not an Argument" talk from years ago. Leftists (and anti-abortionists, which was his main example) need pictures of starving children, ravaged forests and war torn third world pestholes to hammer home their points.

In the print media, leftists have photographs to accompany their articles. On television, they have video. On the radio, however, they have only their words. When concrete bound mentalities hit the airwaves, their words fail miserably because they have no intellectual content. Those most successful talk show hosts on the right, such as Rush Limbaugh, have principles and concepts - however mixed and confused. Whenever I hear a left-liberal complain about Rush, it's never about his principles. Why? Because the leftists wouldn't know a principle if it hit them.

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I think a key reason the left fails on the radio is they don't have the benefit of pictures to trigger their (desired) emotional reponses.

That's a very interesting response, Jason. Would you think it fair to generalize on this and note that, in general, the New Left is much less interested in ideas per se, as opposed to the Right? I often disagree with what Rush, Michael Medved, Dennis Prager, etc. have to say, but their shows are often thoughtful and provocative. Most liberals put me to sleep, not due to disagreement per se but to lack of intellectual substance.

On the other hand, despite extended effort to make something of his radio show, Peikoff, who dealt directly with ideas, also failed to garner an audience.

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On the other hand, despite extended effort to make something of his radio show, Peikoff, who dealt directly with ideas, also failed to garner an audience.

I suspect it was due to a couple things: 1) his on air demeanor was somewhat abrasive, I found, even if I enjoyed the show in general; 2) he may have been TOO radical for contemporary audiences. This isn't to say he should have tempered his ideas, just that the vast radio listening public wasn't ready for them. That's pure speculation on my part, though.

Radio, though it's much more about ideas than TV, still requires a sparkling personality. I don't think Peikoff had that.

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I used to listen to Rush on the radio quite a bit and he had a lot to say about the liberals on the radio. One reason I remember he talked about was that liberals want things "now" (remember the "now generation" from the 60's?). Rush said it took him years of hard work to establish a reputation and a voice on the radio until he finally became sucessful. The liberals want the success, but don't want the years of effort it takes to get there. They hear Rush on the radio and think all that they need to do to counter him is to put someone on the radio. They want it 'now!' So they run to some rich guy to finance them, and they put on people who have no idea how to make a radio show successful.

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I read a book by one of those leftist radio performers, What Would Jefferson Do? The book was about 10% about Jefferson and 90% about the author's own beliefs. His attacks that struck me as most odd were the condemnations of 'corporations'. He never defined what a corporation was, nor why they are so evil, but it was obvious he was so convinced and that we should be, too. Of course, what any of this had to do with Jefferson's beliefs about corporations, I cannot fathom. (The only corporations famous in Jefferson's time were probably those such as the East India Company, which was more of an extension of government.) If this is what they put out on their radio programs, it is no wonder they bombed.

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I still listen to Rush quite frequently, primarily because I think his analysis of current events from a political perspective is incredible, his show is entertaining, and mostly uplifting. I agree with Jason that you have to have a sparkling personality, and Rush has that.

But I have often heard him talk about the business side of radio and his experiences. This is a major component of his success that isn't discussed much. He understands the radio business from top to bottom. I don't recall the numbers, but he has single-handedly revived AM talk radio in terms of the sheer number of major AM stations and all the talk radio host careers he's either boosted or made. I've certainly heard a number of radio or tv hosts credit Rush for the creation of things like FOX News.

Rush also understands his medium and the requirements of effective communication in it. He describes it as an "active" medium, as opposed to tv, which is passive. Tv show you things, so description isn't as necessary. In radio, the listener is an active participant, as his mind must work more to connect with what is being said. However, a good host helps this by connecting abstract ideas or principles with concretes. But the listener actively connects the words with his own ideas, memories, experiences, etc. That may not be the case with tv.

So, you combine his personality, his ability to analyze current events and put them in deeper philosophical contexts (even thought incorrect at times), his sheer knowledge of the radio business, his understanding of the medium, and that's an unbeatable combination.

Very few, if any liberals, have this combination of knowledge, skill, and talent. And I doubt they understand either the business or the medium.

I agree again with Jason that liberals need emotional responses to achieve persuasion, their words alone are useless and boring, and I would add that most of them, to me, have miserable little personalities. It's not what they say but how they say it, too. I simply don't care to listen to them whine.

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I suspect it was due to a couple things: 1) his on air demeanor was somewhat abrasive, I found, even if I enjoyed the show in general; 2) he may have been TOO radical for contemporary audiences. This isn't to say he should have tempered his ideas, just that the vast radio listening public wasn't ready for them. That's pure speculation on my part, though.

Radio, though it's much more about ideas than TV, still requires a sparkling personality. I don't think Peikoff had that.

With all due respect to him, Dr. Peikoff does not have a good radio voice. Also, there is something about his cadence of speech and his inflection that, while unique, is difficult for me to follow at times. Or maybe I should say it "throws me off." That may say something more about me than him, but as a listener it is not as good to my ear as people like Rush, or even Sean Hannity (who I never listen to and find more distasteful over time, but believe has a very good radio delivery).

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Perhaps there are so few leftists in radio because they dominate almost all of the other cultural outlets, like the universities, TV, and the print media. People listen to Rush because they want a different perspective than the one they hear almost everywhere else.

By contrast, I don't need to listen to Al Franken to get his general perspective: I can read any major newspaper, or watch to pretty much every news-centered TV station.

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Most liberals put me to sleep, not due to disagreement per se but to lack of intellectual substance.

I agree. And the irony is that a local NPR station, KPCC (89.3 FM), has the slogan "FM with IQ." How nice. If you disagree with them, you're dumb. They're a bunch of snobs who condescend to lecture the rest of us, not with facts and reason, but conclusions, emotional outbursts, and snide remarks. Any wonder they can't stay on the air without tax support?

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I often disagree with what Rush, Michael Medved, Dennis Prager, etc. have to say, but their shows are often thoughtful and provocative. Most liberals put me to sleep, not due to disagreement per se but to lack of intellectual substance.

I tried listening to Air America a few months ago, just to see what it was like, and I agree with what you're saying. It's like left-wing radio purposely tries to side-step the ideas behind any discussion, instead just leaning on emotions and taking it for granted that the listener knows they are the good guys. For example, when discussing government health care, a right-wing radio host will usually talk about whether it is the government's place to provide health care, which is a solid question that can start a clear debate between two sides. But with left-wing radio, they'll give sob-stories, "shocking" percentages, poll results, and explanations as to why the right is the cause of all of our problems. There's just nothing there to grab hold of and debate.

Also, with right-wing radio there's usually a connect between current events and the contents of the show. If there is some big news event, it's usually discussed on right-wing radio. But with the left-wing radio, it's like they're living in their own world where they're only concerned with news that pertains to their goals.

Which brings me to another problem with left-wing radio: It's incredibly political. I thought Rush was bad, but Franken really takes the cake. A common guest line-up in his show might include a Democratic congressman or senator, a speaker from a left-wing think tank, an editor from a left-wing newspaper, and an author of a Bush-bashing book. Those might be interesting people if your life is the Democratic party, but otherwise those aren't people I'd really care to hear from.

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I think it has to do with the fact that the Right Wing talk radio people have "radio personalties," like such old-time apolitical talk show hosts as Long John Nebel (Anybody remember him?). They're thus better entertainers, even when what they say is B.S. (By the way, I think G. Gordon Liddy is more intellgent than the others, even though he seemed like a flake during Watergate.). Left Wingers, quite apart from their ideas, lack radio charisma; they seem to have personalities better suited to print and the Internet. On the air, they seem more awkward, from what little I've heard. Those I've seen on TV are more condescending to the audience, and condescension is a killer.

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