The political advertising spend is not happening for conservative talk radio where I live in Hamilton County, Ohio. Oh, you don’t know about Hamilton County in conservative southwestern Ohio? You may know it as Cincinnati. It’s the conservative Ohio county that voted President Barack Obama into office twice, swinging the entire state to him in 2008 and 2012. And he was running against sane Republican opponents. A lot of money was spent here in candidate and SuperPAC money back then. Big money.
A while back I penned a piece about conservative talk radio’s plan on November 9th. The audience is already shrinking, old, male and basically dying off. And yet during budget time, conservative talk radio stations always plan for this huge windfall of political money. Even 15 or 20 years ago I questioned a format business model focused on hoping for political money every four years. Makes total sense, right?
I asked a few radio sales managers in this market how the political spend was this election. The response from one and I quote, “Not happening.” Of course I knew this already by listening. I haven’t heard many political commercials, except for a some down ballot candidates.
So conservative talk radio hosts, “What are your plans for November 9th and beyond?” Have you thought about this? Why not? Do you have an exit strategy? You better. You’re going to need one and quick.
November 9, 2016, the day after election day, is a very important date and it’s fast approaching. In 2012, I predicted 2016 would start the end for conservative talk radio, a format that exists mainly on the AM broadcast band, a medium with no future. I’m guessing somewhere after passing through that fancy mist tunnel in Manhattan they’re already thinking about putting this conservative talk radio dog to sleep.
The steps are already being taken. Exhibit A – “Rush Limbaugh.”
In 2012, I had no idea Rush Limbaugh would be taking a massive pay cut just to stay on the air. Weeks ago I heard his salary was cut to $15 million from $50 million a year. That’s a 70% cut in pay, if true. It may be more. If you’re a conservative talk radio host, your next contract negotiations are not going to go well – if there’s any negotiation. Do you believe you have an upper hand with declining revenues and ratings? Limbaugh, in conservative Cincinnati, was ranked #14, P25-54, in the September ’16 PPM. Is “everybody” listening as the industry trade ads say? Hardly.
The 2016 election season is almost over with little political spend and that’s not good for the 2017 budgets of conservative talk radio stations. This time consolidator companies won’t be waiting for things to turn around in 2020.
Then there’s the rhetoric. America is changing and conservative talk hosts believe they can stop it. They can’t. It is no longer the world of aging, white Baby Boomers, which I’m one. Our destiny is now in the hands of the Gen X’ers and Millennials. American society reflects their believes and desires. Conservative talk radio should be reflecting and speaking with the younger generations to survive, but have mistakenly chosen to double-down with an aging demographic providing no future for the format, that if done correctly would be viable. And conservative talk radio hosts, for no other reason than he’s running as a Republican and after vilifying him during the spring primaries, are defending the indefensible comments and behavior of Donald J. Trump.
Conservative talk radio hosts long ago forgot they’re in the entertainment business. They’d rather push agendas to further “the cause,” what ever that may be. Ironically though, Donald J. Trump is in the entertainment business and he never forgets it. The just concluded debates were “must watch” TV, for no other reason than Trump’s unpredictable comments and entertainment value. Warts and all, he’s interesting and entertaining to watch. But, the next day, following each debate, conservative talk radio was (as expected) predictable and boring, offering nothing unique, insightful or entertaining. It certainly wasn’t “must listen.”
One other thing, Mr. Trump has an exit strategy. After his scorched earth policy campaign harms what’s left of the Republican party (a draining of the Republican swamp needs to happen), conservative talk radio and its hosts will be collateral damage. At a time when these hosts should have been embracing, entertaining and focusing on the larger audience universe, they chose to parrot Trump and by doing so, exclude women, who make up 51% of the population – large breasts or not, Hispanics, African Americans, Gold Star families, prisoners of war, the handicapped…the list goes on.
When it’s all said and done Trump still has his billions, his personal mega brand and may be a TV network, although he recently denied it while “Live from Trump Tower” began streaming on his Facebook page. What will conservative talk radio have left? A shrinking, aging male audience that’s unattractive to advertisers.
Xavier University in Cincinnati does research which tracks, on a monthly basis, the consumer sentiments of people nationally. 1000 people are surveyed each month in their American Dream Composite Index. Two of the last three months the survey has asked where people get their political news. The choices were TV, Radio, Print, Social Media. Radio comes in dead last.
August 2016 – “I get most of my political news from:”
October 2016 – “I get most of my political news from:”
The irony is Millennials, in this survey, seem to be using radio more for political news than Boomers, not that the numbers are anything to brag about.
Self important conservative radio talk show hosts are delusional believing they are influential in shaping the thoughts, beliefs and future of America. Let’s take an accounting (with credit going to my friend Randall Bloomquist for this):
Presidential elections since 1990 – 6
Democrats elected president since 1990 – 4 (or 67% of the time)
(Somewhat) Socialized healthcare – Law
Abortion – Still legal
Same Sex Marriage – Now legal
Marijuana – Being legalized
Has conservative talk radio been influential? It’s time for a long overdue intervention and draining of this swamp.
Demographics are changing and driving our future and conservative talk radio and its practitioners refuse to acknowledge it.
Demographics are destiny.
Never forget it.
While millennials and Gen-Xers may be listening to “the radio” for political news, the definition of “radio” in those surveys is clearly lumping in ALL aspects of radio.
I’d love to see a breakdown of who listens to AM conservative talk radio, NPR member stations, any typical FM male/female morning show, podcasts of any sort (from Adam Carolla to “This American Life” or any 24/7 talk show streams on iHeart).
My educated guess is that less than 2% of either generation listens to AM conservative talk radio, which would be incredibly damning.
Nathan, You’re a thinking man! Have a great week. Darryl
Darryl, you maybe 100% correct. However, I’m reminded of what Jerry Seinfeld said about why his sitcom was not cancelled when it was early on and getting no ratings. He said that it skewed to a more affluent demographic, thus they were given a little breathing room. I would think talk radio skews more toward professionals and people with expendable incomes, thus it survives.
Joe, It doesn’t matter if an audience is affluent if they’re going to be dead in 5 years. There’s no future in that. Besides, all one needs to do is listen to what type of advertisers are on these shows. You’re not hearing many main stream businesses. Lots of selling gold, machines to freeze dry your food for 25 years when the apocalypse comes and other conspiratorial type stuff. I hope you’re doing well. Darryl
You too, Darryl! Your blog is always a great read.
Good points all. You may recall Rush’s rise to prominence blossomed while berating the Clinton Administration during Bill’s eight-year run. Cup-half-full radio programmers may assume a Hillary presidency would provide fresh fuel for conservative talk fires but that’s wishful thinking at best. Angry rhetoric today lives on social media where memes, links and opinions (shared and combative) play out instantly as a full contract sport staged in an echo chamber. No one “tunes in tomorrow at 10” for their personal reality check.
And as you’ve noted before, for most of these hosts, the AM band is a problem that can’t be overcome. Trying to entertain on the audio equivalent of black and white TV in the video era is a losing battle. The next generation(s) of listeners will not graze there. Moving AM streams to a mobile device won’t work either because the current style of programming is not attuned to this demographic’s sweet spot — video tied with obsessive social media interaction. Interestingly, Trump understands this better than anyone else and if he’s willing to put up the money, could create a valuable media property with Trump TV. He’s made it acceptable for his followers to unleash their inner rage, warts and all. Unlikely they will do it on AM radio.
Deke, You’re totally on point about Rush back in the early 90’s. And back then he was funny, irreverent and discussed populist issues meaningful to a viable target audience, not only politics. Now he comes across as angry, out of touch and borderline conspiratorial, playing to an audience unattractive to most advertisers. Not a good combination for any future. I hope all is well. Darryl
It was definitely a smaller media universe back in the early 90s and Rush was the 900 pound gorilla. Today, collective community is more influential than an angry talk host on a 50,000 AM soap box.
In Cincinnati, national conservative talk radio is anchored at 55KRC. KRC is a weak signal station that fades out if a bird flies over my car. It mostly runs ads that seem to be targeted at the retired and the unemployed.
About once a month, I try (and I emphasize the word try) to listen to KRC’s right-wing-only afternoon programming, but it always fails. Why does it fail, you may ask.
Am I a die-hard liberal with no common sense ? NO. what I am is someone who has seen the Bill Murray movie “Groundhog Day” way too many times (that’s ironic in own right). What I am is someone who cannot stand reliving the same moment in time over, and over and over.
If I skip an entire month of Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity, or Glenn Beck and then turn them on, I swear they are still talking about the exact same thing they were talking about a month ago.
Talk radio is in a death spiral, and for the love of God, please don’t anyone stop it. Let the monster die. I assume liberal talk radio is already dead.
I listen, in many cases, because I’m in complete awe of their oratory skills. I’m no fan of Obama, but the same thing, the guy has a way of talking that is very, very, very polished. You simply do not bump into people with such a unique skill set in everyday life. Conservative or Liberal, it is an amazing talent.
Romney and McCain were “sane”….sane Elitists who offered white working middle class listeners and potential listeners little or nothing. Trump is exciting sectors of this demographic whereas Romney and McCain could not.
Trump is most like “early Limbaugh” who in turn was like Patrick Buchanan who had a radio program on Mutual Broadcasting. Protectionist “national conservatives,” the kind Levin and Beck are condemning.
Limbaugh sold out to the Elitist GOP-opposed Buchanan’s run for the presidency in favor of George Bush, the moderate— and obviously is trying to save his skin if he’s rallying to Trump.
Populism has always had strains that lean on conspiracy theory incidentally and most conspiracy theory has an element of absolute and important truth in it, some is even objectively true.
At any rate, at least some of your analysis assumes a gradual and stable evolution of business circumstances
in the United States.
That part of your analysis is flawed, whatever the flaw’s affect on talk radio.