CNN's John Avlon Pushes 'Right-Wing Talk Is Dying' Line

CNN "centrist" analyst John Avlon is cheering the idea of conservative talk radio slipping in the ratings, and at The Daily Beast, his Wednesday article even wondered "Is Right-Wing Talk Dying?"

Here’s another sign that the tide might be turning against the Wingnuts—Glenn Beck’s TV ratings are down 50 percent and major market radio stations are dropping him.

That’s not all—a look at radio ratings shows that hyper-partisan talk has been declining or flat-lining between ‘09 and ‘10, despite the intensity of the election year. There’s a demand for something different—smart, un-predictable, non-partisan news is gaining market share because it stands out from the pack. And leading industry analysts say there is a market for more independent voices.

“There are a lot of program directors whose radio ‘spider-sense’ is tingling,” says Randall Bloomquist, a long-time radio executive and president of Talk Frontier Media. “They're thinking ‘this conservative thing is kind of running its course. We're saying the same things from morning 'til night and yes, we've got a very loyal core audience—but if we ever want to grow, if we want to expand, we've got to be doing more than 18 hours a day of ‘Obama is a socialist.’”

A look at radio’s PPM ratings for the largest talk radio market in the nation bears this out. An apples-to-apples comparison of ratings between November ’09 and November ’10 in the New York area shows that Rush Limbaugh’s ratings on WABC declined from 5.4 to 5.0—despite the crescendo of a GOP election year landslide. Likewise, year-end to year-end comparisons of the crucial 24 to 55 demographic show that Rush declined from 3.7 to 2.6—while his packaged follow-up acts Sean Hannity and Mark Levin narrowly declined and flat-lined, respectively.

Wait a minute. So the current ratings in New York City show Hannity's audience measurement in one demographic "narrowly declining" and Levin's stayed the same, and he's asking "Is Right-Wing Talk Dying?"

How does Avlon explain the ratings of "Parker Spitzer"?

It turns out that Avlon's claim of "dying" talk radio is based on the anonymous testimony of some expert we're supposed to believe without knowing who they are: apparently, talk radio will die off with the old ideologues who like it:

“I will tell you that a very senior talk radio executive, somebody with responsibility for a large number of talk radio stations, expressed to me just this week his concern that talk radio as we know it could be largely gone in five years and the reason for that is, just plain and simple, the aging demographics of the format,” explains Bloomquist. “Depending on who you talk to, the median age for talk radio is somewhere between 52 and, and, and 63, and it's just going up… for the most part political talk, particularly ideological political talk of any stripe, appeals to old people.”

Unsurprisingly, liberal talkers played Avlon's claims up. Take Randi Rhodes on Thursday. She decried the sellout of The Huffington Post, and then took comfort in Avlon: 

When she started putting up,  you know, pictures of uh buxom blonde beauties and things like – everybody knows what was going on there and that’s when I said OK, enough – I’m not doing this anymore! But uh – so that’s over, the Huffington Post is over. And – the only thing that makes me happy is I think right wing talk radio is over! Glenn Beck’s ratings are down 50%, which means Americans are only half as dumb as we thought – or half as dumb as Glenn Beck hoped?

...The powers that be would like to get rid of Mark Levin on their radio stations - but they can't because Sean Hannity says things like you know, if you uh take away Levin's show, I'll pull mine too - and now they're saying that program directors across the country are going, uh, you know we're not really uh sure that we care if he pulls his show. Not really sure!

This, again, is based on Randall Bloomquist's survey of anonymous program directors who aren't "thrilled" with their conservative talkers. Rhodes, the woman who was dumped for calling Hillary Clinton a "big f---ing whore," suggested "People have had it with the same old nasty, angry, name-calling, no-solutions crowd!"

CORRECTION: Rhodes mangled the facts for her listeners. Hannity and Levin are not a package deal for program directors: Hannity is syndicated by Premiere Radio, Levin is syndicated by Citadel Media.  There is absolutely no truth to the claim that stations have to take both, and they often appear on competing stations.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis