The program director of WBEN in Buffalo, Tim Wenger, posted this the day it was revealed Sean Hannity had connections with President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen.
Hannity is not a journalist. He’s the self proclaimed “advocacy journalist” laying cover over all his opinions.
Hannity and many of the talk clones have simply sold their platforms to become mouthpieces for (in Hannity’s case) the political right. That’s what capitalism is all about. Good for Sean.
However, Tim’s tweet did get me to thinking.
Right leaning apologists that populate AM conservative talk radio will be quick to point out the Fox News channel, along with its talent like Sean Hannity, is an opinion channel and that it’s not really a news channel. It provides important social awareness, like our country’s annual December battle known as the “War on Christmas.” It’s where like-minded people who have been oppressed and marginalized by the mainstream media can gather and get the “fair and balanced” opinion so they know what to think.
But, many of the conservative, mostly AM talk radio stations across America still tell you they’re news stations, when in reality they are no different than what their talk hosts will claim the Fox News channel is, opinion stations.
Many of these stations began as news and information radio stations with news staffs that actually covered news affecting their communities. Stations, then, were very careful to avoid blurring the lines of opinion and news. Some gave themselves the marketing moniker of “News Radio.” Since producing news content was and still is expensive, this was a big point of differentiation for them, since few competing stations would be willing to spend the money to take them on. This is why in many markets (and if the market is lucky) only one so-called news radio station remains.
Then Rush Limbaugh came along, his act enabled in the 1980’s when the FCC decided it would no longer enforce the Fairness Doctrine. And with Limbaugh’s success, the Rush wannabees sprung up like weeds in fertile spring garden dirt. Where did many of these copycats and their opinions end up? On the so-called AM news radio stations.
While these AM stations kept telling themselves they were still news stations, their image as legit news organizations eventually became overshadowed by the rhetoric and opinions of Rush, Glenn, Sean, Michael and Mark with their national and some would claim extreme right wing political views.
Years ago I was in a research meeting along with other news and talk programmers and we were shown a bell curve. The middle of the curve was where most of the available audience existed. To either side were the political left and right audience extremes. We were told our news stations lived in an area to the extreme right and we must market ourselves more moderately (to the middle) in order to gather the biggest audience.
I remember thinking, how does the audience know when the real news ends and Rush Limbaugh’s opinions begin? Was it the beginning beats of Chrissie Hynde’s song about her Ohio hometown?
We were told, “They just know.”
Of course they didn’t and still don’t.
So how does a “news station” retain the image of a news station when they devote, in many cases, 15 hours a day or more to conservative, syndicated, national, political opinionated talk?
The answer is it can’t.
Smart radio programmers know to cater to the incidental audience that will tune in, especially during breaking news. Think about it. When a big news story happens, such as the recent school shooting in Florida, people searching for that news may find the AM news station. If they instead hear right wing national political opinions, chances are they’ll conclude the station is not for them, especially if they’re moderates. To them this perpetuates the image that “talk radio” really means “conservative talk radio” and “news radio stations” are in reality “conservative opinions stations.”
You only get one chance to make a first impression. It may be time for some stations to drop the news radio nickname and admit what they really are.
My thanks to “America’s Advocacy Journalist” for helping shed the sterilizing light of truth on “news radio.”