On Wednesday, February 29, 2012, the world of any talk show host changed. That was the day Rush Limbaugh verbally attacked Sandra Fluke on his show.
In his commentary opining she wanted government to pay for her sexual activities he said, “What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex.”
The next day I sent a note to a colleague in the radio industry saying, “Uh oh. Everything changes.” The reason wasn’t politics, conservatives, liberals or Obamacare. The reason this was so bad was it was an older male verbally abusing a young woman. In our society this type of behavior is NOT tolerated.
On March 3rd and again on March 5th Limbaugh, correctly, apologized.
Whipped up by social media, advertisers began bailing not only on Limbaugh’s show, but talk radio in general. Radio networks, which were always licenses to print money, quickly began losing advertisers, even if the networks had no association with Limbaugh. Advertisers said they wanted no spots broadcast in Limbaugh’s show or other conservative talk shows that were guilty simply through association. There were always “no buy” lists in radio, as advertisers tried to avoid controversial programs, but now the “no buy” lists were being expanded to entire stations.
Ever hear of “toxic” and “non-toxic” stations? That’s how talk radio stations were grouped after Limbaugh’s mistake. When I was first informed of these terms, I thought it was a joke. It wasn’t. If a station carried Limbaugh or other shows like Hannity, Beck and others, they were considered toxic by networks, rep firms, agencies and advertisers. If a station didn’t carry those shows they were categorized as non-toxic and considered advertiser friendly.
In the months that followed, one radio network’s revenues dropped by 38% as many long time advertisers wanted nothing more to do with what was considered toxic talk radio. You see, it wasn’t advertisers dropping from Limbaugh’s show, as bloggers, social media and Limbaugh’s enemies would have you believe. It was advertisers avoiding toxic talk radio stations all together!
Over 2 years later, advertisers still look at talk radio as toxic and non-toxic.
At least sports talk radio wasn’t toxic, right?
Enter Kirk Minihane from WEEI-FM, a non-toxic sports talk station in Boston. Minihane is another misogynistic radio character out of touch with the changing norms of society.
On July 16th, after the 2014 MLB All-Star game he went on a rant calling Erin Andrews of Fox Sports a “gutless bitch.” Like Limbaugh he saw the errors of his ways and was (I’m sure) “encouraged” to apologize. He did, but Kirk lacking the skills to punctuate a thought went on to suggest Andrews has her job not for her skills as a reporter, but for her looks and then said, “if she weighed 15 pounds more she be a waitress.”
So much for the apology on that “gutless bitch” thing.
First, I have to agree with Kirk and what he said about Andrew’s looks and her weight. Yes, she has skills as a sports reporter and TV performer, but her attractiveness really can’t be considered much of a handicap. It’s that “gutless bitch” phrase that fired people up and made me say, “Uh oh” again.
Kirk, a guy who according to the WEEI website thinks “Slapshot” is the greatest movie ever made (I agree with him again), failed to understand what is acceptable and not acceptable in today’s society. A man verbally abusing a woman is not acceptable. Ever.
Professional and college sports teams see their future growth coming from women, while sports media remains an exclusive guy’s club. ESPN.com claims 94% of it web traffic is from males, displaying a disconnect between the sports media consumers it targets and the teams it covers.
Conservative talk radio, meanwhile, keeps catering to a shrinking audience of aging white males and is disconnected from the society it’s supposed to reflect.
Terrestrial spoken word radio, conservative talk radio and sports talk radio, can’t stop shooting itself in the foot. 25 years ago Minihane’s and Limbaugh’s comments would have been shrugged off. That’s not going to happen today.
So I come with solutions.
Here are a few talk show rules every talk host should follow and understand:
- Never attack a woman.
- Never attack a child.
- Never attack a student.
- Attack the idea and not the person.
- Understand society’s sensibilities continue to change and you must reflect those changes.
Talk radio already has a stigma with consumers and advertisers of being rude, crude and misogynist. In other words “a place not for me” in the consumer’s mind
Why do we continue selling this perception?
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