Listening to radio host Rush Limbaugh and former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, you’d think all newspapers, radio and television stations are owned by the pinkest of leftists.
But a series of moves by the nation’s largest owner of radio stations, Clear Channel (controlled by the Bain Capital firm once headed by 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney), means the most-heard medium in California will now carry almost exclusively conservative material.
That medium is talk radio, where until this month at least a couple of high-wattage liberal or “progressive” oriented stations in this state’s biggest metropolitan areas offered a semblance of competition to the far-right voices whose ratings are tops here even as California voters mostly register and vote Democratic.
Here’s what Clear Channel, which owns all stations involved, is doing: It has taken liberal talkers including Stephanie Miller (daughter of Barry Goldwater running mate Bill Miller), Randi Rhodes and Bill Press off its KTLK 1150 AM station in Los Angeles and removed the liberal hosts who worked at KNEW 960 AM Oakland-San Francisco.
Into their places go Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and other ultra-conservative hosts. All are syndicated by Clear Channel-owned Premiere Networks. KTLK has even been renamed The Patriot, KEIB AM 1150, taking its letters from the satiric, fake “Excellence in Broadcasting” network that originates in Limbaugh’s fertile imagination.
Clear Channel made these moves for reasons of profit. The three conservatives bring far higher ratings than any liberals. All were already on the air in the same markets, while their most left-leaning colleagues will probably disappear from California’s publicly-owned airwaves.
The sheer number of cars stuck in traffic in the two big metro areas at times when Clear Channel’s favored hosts appear guarantees higher advertising rates for the stations they’re now on.
Liberal talk won’t quite completely disappear from California’s airwaves. The Pacifica Foundation’s stations KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angles and KPFA 94.1 FM Berkeley will continue operating as before, as will the 39 National Public Radio stations, which carry a decent share of liberal-leaning programs mostly underwritten by large corporations.
But virtually all those stations broadcast on the FM band, where signals are much less powerful and far-reaching than many AM stations. Where FM radio signals often don’t make it even over low hills, the nighttime signal of Clear Channel’s KFI-AM Los Angeles can be heard throughout most of the West.
Limbaugh says he happy with the shift. He should be; he’ll have many thousands more listeners than before to his constant commentary. “(Limbaugh) has built the ratings and revenue of hundreds of America’s most successful radio stations and is looking forward to doing the same at these new Clear Channel homes,” said his spokesman, Brian Glicklich.
The other view is that the move leaves a major medium in extremely one-sided condition. “This leaves radio listeners completely unserved by anything but corporatist, right-wing radio over our publicly-owned airwaves,” griped liberal blogger Brad Friedman.
Because Clear Channel controls so many stations, both in California and across the country, there’s not much listeners can do. A liberal boycott of stations like KEIB and KNEW would likely have low numbers and little impact, because Clear Channel already expected those listeners to leave those stations the moment it moved in the conservative hosts.
The bottom line is that the old shibboleth of liberal media has just been debunked again: Two of the nation’s largest and most liberal metropolitan areas will have nothing but rightist rhetoric on their AM airwaves, which far outdraw whatever liberal talk might be available via FM. That’s conservative domination, not the other way around.