Saturday, April 19, 2014

The status of talk radio...

With the fate of WBAI and Pacifica up in the air, and opposing factions deciding what to do with Lew Hill's dream, and how to do it, there is much speculation as to the current state of radio, the value of Pacifica's stations, and the order in which they might be disposable.

Of course, the listeners, who pay for all of this, are left out of the equation, but I think we all want to know what the general picture is these days. Does WBAI's middle-of-the-dial position and commercial status mean much any more? It used to be the cherry on top, but that was before we could affordably fit an entire broadcast month on a card smaller than a thumbnail.

Although it does not directly have a bearing on Pacifica or WBAI, you might find the following discussion interesting, This is from Ed Schultz's radio show and the guest is media consultant Holland Cooke, who had just returned from the 2014 NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) convention in Las Vegas.


  1. There are clearly opportunities here.

    Pacifica, unfortunately, is incapable of saving itself from itself, as it has been for decades.

    For others in the wide world, though, there is promise and possibility.

    Time to move on.

    ~ ‘indigopirate’

  2. I am glad that Rusch Limbaugh is over. Among the many things I dislike are patriotic war hawks, who themselves were draft dodgers, Mr. Limbaugh among them, having obtained a medical deferment for a furuncle (a deep infected boil). Having said that, I was one of the people who first heard Rush Limbaugh on WABC in 1990 in the cab of my truck. In the beginning, say during the first three months, he was the more moderate and more thoughtful version of Bob Grant. Since those days, Limbaugh moved in the direction of the format that made him famous, and I had become a major NPR fan.

    There is one drawback to the democratization of broadcasting via the Internet. Anyone will be able to have their own show a la You Tube, it will be hijacked by professionals and PR types masquerading as common folk, as the blogosphere has, AND, professional broadcasting a la NPR will draw the crowd with their high production values, AND, professional journalism will be out of reach of the listener supported and community radio. Consider that life insurance premium for each media worker in the warzone like Afghanistan or Iraq is $15,000 per month, only mainstream professional media outlets, like NPR, BBC, CNN, FOX and MS NBC, will be able to afford to send their journalist overseas where the stories are developing. In addition, NPR via PRI (Public Radio International), is utilizing the new popularity of English in the world, by opening news-bureaus staffed by English speaking local people in places like Ukraine, Russia, China and the Middle East. Pacifica, unfortunately, is not taking any part in this surging growth, its outlook parochial and its current ethos are no different from any other commercial media outlet. WBAI being the left wing equivalent of WABC.

  3. (Just A Listener)
    I just got around to listening to this.
    The thing that most applies to Pacifica is how Limbaugh was taken down not by a loss of ratings but by pressure on his corporate sponsors.
    Corporations don't like to get involved in controversy. Even if the CEO and board were in alignment with Limbaugh's politics they will steer their dollars away if there is negative press.
    When PBS or NPR execs are faced with the loss of major sponsor the temptation to tone down the programming is often overwhelming especially if they see their high six (or even seven) figure salaries threatened.

  4. What's this blather about Rush Limbaugh's demise -- oh, yes, the usual utopian wishful thinking. In the real world, however, here are the top five talk radio broadcasters as of April, 2014 -- according to

    1. Rush Limbaugh -- 14 million+ weekly listeners
    2. Sean Hannity -- 13 million+ " "
    3. Dave Ramsey -- 7.7 million+ " "
    4. Glenn Beck &
    Mark Levin --- 7.5. million+ " "
    5. Michael Savage -- 5 million+ " "

    Hmm...don't see Ed Schultz in that top five nor would you see MSNBC have any high ratings. Limbaugh "taken down" -- not hardly.


    1. If you listen carefully, I think you eill find some facts mentioned that don't bode well for Limbaugh. He is still speaking to an impressive number of listeners, but you have to look at the trend, as Cooke does.

  5. RJ,
    Hitler and Stalin had fantastic ratings, they were genuinely popular wit their people. If you place your faith and admiration in a political clown mocking conservatism, I applaud your brains and capacity for independent thinking.

    1. a) Where did I mention anything about 'faith and admiration' (which I might have, but did I mention that?);
      b) I did mention the capacity for utopians to suffer from wishful thinking;
      c) Are you really going to pull out the tired old Hitler/Stalin trope?;
      d) My listing of radio ratings was in response to the assertion that RL is on a decline in popularity -- a statistical slap in the face to Schultz (who is trending ever downward) et al...


  6. Mitch,
    Can you give specific instances of NPR or PBS toning down their coverage or editorial police due to pressure from outside?

  7. RJ,
    If you only knew what I know, you'd be aware how terrifyingly not old that trope really is, but that's ok, live and learn! And if you are only a "might be" in the faith and admiration department, then you are also only "may be" eligible for the kind compliments that I offered you. You might also like to take a closer look at that "trending" thing of yours regarding these two topics.

    1. Bear, do you have a problem with reading comprehension?

      As to "faith and admiration" (sounds almost religious) -- I was tweaking you as to the *fact* that I never mentioned anything along that line so you pulled that out of *somewhere*. Get it?

      As to Hitler/Stalin -- geez, from reading you here, I didn't think you were the type of lefty that exhibits a sort of Tourettes when it comes to shouting out those names. Do you also find yourself screaming out "racist" at those whom you disagree?

      And, do you honestly believe anything screaming Ed Schultz has to say about Limbaugh (or much anything else for that matter). I mean -- MSNBC - really?

      Now, let's make nice and sing the praises of Robert Knight :)


  8. (Just A Listener)
    I remember when This Old House host Bob Vila was dumped because he was doing ads for a company that competed with a corporate sponsor.When the sponsor threatened to pull out PBS dumped Vila.
    There is also the incident with PBS bending over for David Koch though he is not just a donor but a board member.

    The fact that Limbaugh has a large listenership makes his current troubles more notable. Clearly it's not a loss of audience causing him to be demoted to lesser stations but the effect of the advertisers staying away (not that I find Limbaugh's show not packed with ads, well maybe now there are less than on say Savage's show - sounds like Savage talks about 10 minutes an hour!)

  9. @ RJ, I checked out Rush Limbaugh a long, long time ago, and decided that he is not worth listening to, not to mention the insulting antics that entertained the morons in his audience and forced him to apologize at least on one occasion. As a talk-show commentator, Robert Knight was far superior to Limbaugh, if only he broadcast interesting material and knowledgeable speakers on his show. So, let's keep on trashing Limbaugh and singing praises to Robert Knight.

    @ Just a Listener - You are right, the example with Bob Vila is disturbing, however, it seems a necessary evil. It takes money to produce high quality radio journalism, such as NPR shows This American Life and Radio Lab, or to have a global network of news reporters covering the world like Reuters, or of writers and journalists, like BBC. These entities have taken State sponsorship like BBC, and remained objective on the whole, and NPR at this point does better coverage of the oil spills and climate change, not to mention police brutality and corruption, and takes money from the petroleum industry, than does BAI, which does not take any corporate money, but doesn't have the talent or engineering to compete with NPR and BBC. Then you get an entity like BAI, which does not take any advertising, but is a commercial radio station selling mostly DVD's and it has its own peculiar bias, anyhow,

    What kind of shows do you like to see on Pacifica and/or BAI and how do you propose finance it?