Saturday, October 08, 2005

More Kool-Aid, Please....

It's as lame, predictable (and factually dishonest) as a Nancy Pelosi speech. Every six months or so, the MSM trots out another article, touting the "growth" of liberal talk radio, suggesting that conservatives may be losing their hold on the medium.

The latest offender is Steven Thomma, a writer for the Knight-Ridder news service. Mr. Thomma recently filed an article that claims that talk radio is undergoing a "shift," based on (slightly) lower ratings for Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity in some markets. Thomma also claims that liberal hosts, including Al Franken, Stephanie Miller and Ed Schultz are "carving out a niche," while acknowledging that conservatives still have a huge advantage in listenership.

Exaggerated claims about the "growth" of liberal talk radio are laughable. First of all, the "niche" established by Air America--the flagship of liberal talk radio--is marginal (and declining). Brian Maloney of Radioequalizer has been at the forefront of cataloging Air America's scandals and stumbles, and he does a nice job exposing the numbers game the network is using to tout its supposed "growth." In one case, as Brian points out, Air America brags about the growth of Al Franken's show on a Providence station that recently cancelled the program.

Here are a few more salient numbers. In New York, the audience for WABC (which airs both Rush and Sean Hannity) climbed over the summer, while listenership for the Air America affiliate (WLIB) remained stagnant. Beyond that, Air America has lost almost half its audience in New York after the network's much-hyped launch last year. WLIB had higher ratings under its previous, Carribean music format.

In Los Angeles, dominant talker KFI (another Limbaugh affiliate) remains the #1 AM station in Southern California, with an average rating of 3.9. KABC, which carries the Sean Hannity program, saw a modest audience increase, moving from a 2.1 to 2.3. KTLK, the Air America outlet, remains mired near the bottom of the ratings heap, with an average rating of 0.8. The network's claims of "phenomonal growth" are based on a ratings spike for KTLK in late 2004 and early 2005, when its average rating jumped from 0.3 to 0.9. But over the summer months, the station's audience actually declined slightly, falling back to 0.8. Overall, KTLK is the #30 station in the Los Angeles market; by comparison, KFI is #6; KABC (which also carries Bill O'Reilly) is #13.

Of course, Thomma doesn't mention any of this in his report. He also fails to note the legal and financial scandals that now engulf Air America and threaten its future. In fact, the situation at Air America has grown so desperate that the network is now encouraging listeners to donate money to the enterprise, suggesting that it is in dire financial straits. Appearing on The O'Reilly Factor this week, Brian Maloney suggested that Air America may be out of business in less than two months, unless it receives a major cash infusion very soon. The network has resorted to "creative financing" in the past (as evidenced by the illegal loans from the Gloria Wise Boys and Girls Club); the appeal for donations may represent a last-ditch effort to keep Air America afloat.

Liberal talk radio is in big trouble, but you wouldn't know that reading the Knight-Ridder article. Funny, I always thought news articles were supposed to be based on facts, not fantasy.

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