Talk Radio Is Broken But Works Just Fine

Take an issue -- preferably a polarizing issue like immigration or the Iraq war -- turn it over to terrestrial radio and they beat it to death.

In the process, they quickly sink to the lowest common denominator and insult just about everyone who disagrees with them sometimes ending by questioning the patriotism of those who disagree.

And, of course, they get ratings -- big ratings.

It doesn't matter whether they talk from the left side of their mouth or the right, their listeners are kind of on the older side.

Now let's test my assertion.

Take the issue of Hillary Clinton and Barbara Boxer out to "fix" talk radio. Add one unreliable and biased senator, James Inhofe (R-OK) who claims to have personally heard Clinton and Boxer scheming to find a legislative "fix".

Presto - you have terrestrial radio's talk formula.

Never mind that Inhofe has backtracked on his original assertion or that Clinton and Boxer deny having it in for talk radio.

Oh, and ignore that the Republicans are screaming bloody murder that talk radio is killing them on immigration -- witness the protestations by Republican senator Trent Lott. And you've got all the ingredients for talk radio -- good or bad, win or lose.

Seems like talk radio is coming under attack from the left and the right. Inside Radio cites a report by two liberal groups that says 91% of the local weekday programming on 257 news/talk stations by the top five radio groups is conservative while just 9% is progressive. (Note the term "progressive" instead of "liberal").

What's going on?

How can Republicans attack their own talk radio pit bulls? Why would the Democrats think they could actually "fix" the formula for talk radio? Their razor slim margin in Congress hasn't allowed them to pass very much significant legislation.

Maybe its the fact that California Senator Diane Feinstein is saying that Congress is looking into reviving The Fairness Doctrine. It's all bluster. They don't have the votes. But the Fairness Doctrine is not what is broken about talk radio. It's simply a non-starter with young people -- even old young people.

Why can't we all just get along.

The Republicans liked it when their talkers followed the GOP's talking points. And the Democrats need not worry because no liberal is going to be influenced by Rush Limbaugh no matter what he says.

What we have here is a failure to communicate.

Easy. I'm having a little fun with you here.

I really don't want to see talk radio change.

I think it works better when talkers are conservative. There's something about the liberal message that works better elsewhere -- like on Keith Olbermann's MSNBC "Countdown" or Bill Maher's HBO show "Real Time". And yes, there are some excellent progressive talkers.

While everyone is getting their lapel pins caught in the wringer, we're missing the larger issue.

Why don't younger (I said younger, not necessarily my college students!) listen to talk radio?

And by the way, I listened to talk radio when I was in college. I know -- I know, I was atypical. Heck, all my atypical friends listened, too. And it was great. You know why? There were very few listeners calling in on the air back in the day. We got to hear the host instead of the boneheads that tend to call these stations.

I'm thinking, boy, is the radio industry missing the point. Younger listeners including but not limited to the next generation have the Internet. They don't have to put up with a format that is so transparent.Youg people can have instant input just as you can react to this story by simply clicking and having at it.

They have social networks. They can find like minded people to share thoughts or pick an argument with someone of a different persuasion.

Talk radio is a staple of terrestrial broadcasters. Let's not mess with it (even though I'm sure we'll beat to death the vast right wing -- or is that left wing -- conspiracy to "fix" talk radio in the process. Never mind if it is true).

Don't fix it.

It's broken, but it works just fine for lots of older listeners.

Instead, how about giving some thought to the future. Not Free FM or anything like that -- but the future of talk for younger listeners. Not on HD either because they're not going there.

There must be an encore for talk radio beyond this transparent, predictable format for people under 35 and possibly available as a separate Internet stream.

Once we finishing milking the latest unsubstantiated yet audience-provoking threat to "fix" talk radio, let's fix talk radio ourselves.

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