Conservative talk radio

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Conservative talk radio is a talk radio format in the United States and other countries devoted to expressing conservative viewpoints of issues, as opposed to progressive talk radio. The definition of conservative talk is generally broad enough that libertarian talk show hosts are also included in the definition. The format has become the dominant form of talk radio in the United States since the 1987 abandonment of the Fairness Doctrine. [1]

Talk radio is a radio format containing discussion about topical issues and consisting entirely or almost entirely of original spoken word content rather than outside music. Most shows are regularly hosted by a single individual, and often feature interviews with a number of different guests. Talk radio typically includes an element of listener participation, usually by broadcasting live conversations between the host and listeners who "call in" to the show. Listener contributions are usually screened by a show's producers in order to maximize audience interest and, in the case of commercial talk radio, to attract advertisers. Generally, the shows are organized into segments, each separated by a pause for advertisements; however, in public or non-commercial radio, music is sometimes played in place of commercials to separate the program segments. Variations of talk radio include conservative talk, hot talk, liberal talk and sports talk.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or simply America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, it is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe. Most of the country is located in central North America between Canada and Mexico. With an estimated population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City.

Conservatism in the United States is a broad system of political beliefs in the United States that is characterized by respect for American traditions, republicanism, support for Judeo-Christian values, moral universalism, pro-business and anti-labor union, anti-communism, individualism, advocacy of American exceptionalism, and a defense of Western culture from the perceived threats posed by socialism, authoritarianism, and moral relativism. Liberty is a core value, as it is with all major American parties. American conservatives consider individual liberty—within the bounds of American values—as the fundamental trait of democracy; this perspective contrasts with that of modern American liberals, who generally place a greater value on equality and social justice and emphasize the need for state intervention to achieve these goals. American conservatives believe in limiting government in size and scope, and in a balance between national government and states' rights. Apart from some libertarians, they tend to favor strong action in areas they believe to be within government's legitimate jurisdiction, particularly national defense and law enforcement. Social conservatives oppose abortion and same-sex marriage, while privileging traditional marriage and supporting Christian prayer in public schools.



Early years

Notable early conservatives in talk radio ranged from commentators such as Paul Harvey and Fulton Lewis (later succeeded by Lewis's son, Fulton Lewis III) to long-form shows hosted by Clarence Manion, Bob Grant, Alan Burke, Barry Farber and Joe Pyne. Because of the Fairness Doctrine, a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) policy requiring controversial viewpoints to be balanced by opposing opinions on air, conservative talk did not have the hegemony it would have in later years, and liberal hosts were as common on radio as conservative ones. Furthermore, the threat of the Fairness Doctrine discouraged many radio stations from hiring controversial hosts.

Paul Harvey American broadcaster

Paul Harvey Aurandt, better known as Paul Harvey, was a conservative American radio broadcaster for the ABC Radio Networks. He broadcast News and Comment on weekday mornings and mid-days and at noon on Saturdays, as well as his famous The Rest of the Story segments. From 1952 through 2008, his programs reached as many as 24 million people per week. Paul Harvey News was carried on 1,200 radio stations, 400 American Forces Network stations, and 300 newspapers.

Fulton Lewis III is an American journalist, the only son of the late network American news commentator Fulton Lewis Jr. and Alice Huston Lewis.

Clarence Manion was an American conservative radio talk show host and dean of the Notre Dame Law School. He hosted the radio show Manion Forum which later aired on television.

By the 1980s, AM radio was in severe decline. Top 40 radio had already migrated to the higher fidelity of FM, and the few remaining AM formats, particularly country music, were headed in the same direction or, in the case of formats such as MOR, falling out of favor entirely. Talk radio, not needing the high fidelity that music does, became an attractive format for AM radio station operators. However, in order to capitalize on this, operators needed compelling content.

In the music industry, the top 40 is the current, 40 most-popular songs in a particular genre. It is the best-selling or most frequently broadcast popular music. Record charts have traditionally consisted of a total of 40 songs. "Top 40" or "contemporary hit radio" is also a radio format. Frequent variants of the Top 40 are the Top 10, Top 20, Top 30, Top 50, Top 75, Top 100 and Top 200.

Country music, also known as country and western, and hillbilly music, is a genre of popular music that originated in the Southern United States in the early 1920s. It takes its roots from genres such as American folk music and blues.

Middle of the road is a commercial radio format and popular music genre. Music associated with this term is strongly melodic and uses techniques of vocal harmony and light orchestral arrangements. The format was eventually rebranded as soft adult contemporary.

Deregulation of talk radio

Rush Limbaugh (seen in the studios for The Rush Limbaugh Show) emerged as one of conservative talk's earliest and most influential hosts. Rush Limbaugh (4377537515).jpg
Rush Limbaugh (seen in the studios for The Rush Limbaugh Show ) emerged as one of conservative talk's earliest and most influential hosts.

Conservative talk radio did not experience its significant growth until 1987, when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) stopped enforcing the Fairness Doctrine. The Fairness Doctrine had previously required radio stations to present contrasting views. Subsequent to the FCCs decision to stop using the rule, radio stations could then choose to be either solely conservative or entirely liberal. [2]

Another form of deregulation from the American government came from the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which allowed companies to own more radio stations and for some shows to become nationally syndicated. Before the deregulation, radio stations were predominantly owned by local community leaders. [2] In 1999, following the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, more than 25% of US Radio stations had been sold, with many more being sold each day. As of 2011, Clear Channel Communications (now iHeartMedia), an industry giant owns over 800 radio stations across the United States, and its largest contract is with Rush Limbaugh, worth $400 million over a span of 8 years. [3] Clear Channel Communications rose to become a major figure in talk radio in the United States; although it only owned one major "flagship" caliber radio station (KFI Los Angeles), Clear Channel owned a large number of key AM stations in other large markets, allowing it to establish a national presence. [3] Thus, the deregulation from the abolishment of the Fairness Doctrine and the institution of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 have assisted conservative talk radio as a whole gain popularity throughout the United States.

Telecommunications Act of 1996 US 1996 Act of Congress

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was the first significant overhaul of telecommunications law in more than sixty years, amending the Communications Act of 1934. The Act, signed by President Bill Clinton, represented a major change in American telecommunication law, since it was the first time that the Internet was included in broadcasting and spectrum allotment.

iHeartMedia, Inc., formerly CC Media Holdings, Inc., is an American mass media corporation headquartered in San Antonio, Texas. It is the holding company of iHeartCommunications, Inc., a company founded by Lowry Mays and B. J. "Red" McCombs in 1972, and later taken private by Bain Capital, LLC and Thomas H. Lee Partners through a leveraged buyout in 2008. As a result of this buyout, Clear Channel Communications, Inc. began to operate as a wholly owned subsidiary of CC Media Holdings, Inc. On September 16, 2014, CC Media Holdings, Inc. was rebranded iHeartMedia, Inc.; and Clear Channel Communications, Inc., became iHeartCommunications, Inc. On March 14, 2018, the company filed to operate under Chapter 11 bankruptcy, dealing with a debt load in excess of $20 billion.

KFI clear-channel news/talk radio station in Los Angeles

KFI is an AM radio station in Los Angeles, California, owned and operated by iHeartMedia. It received its license to operate on March 31, 1922 and began operating on April 16, 1922, and after a succession of power increases, became one of the United States' first high-powered, clear-channel stations. KFI is a Class A 50,000 watt, non-directional station. It airs a talk radio format, with mostly local hosts and frequent news updates.

The rise of conservative talk radio

Paul Harvey receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 Paul Harvey.jpg
Paul Harvey receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005
Michael Medved, originally a film critic, joined the early wave of conservative talk hosts in the 1990s. Michael Medved by Gage Skidmore.jpg
Michael Medved, originally a film critic, joined the early wave of conservative talk hosts in the 1990s.

Within the next decade, conservative talk radio became the dominant form of commercial talk radio in the United States; those stations that had homogenized to an all-conservative format soon came to garner more listeners than those that followed the older full-service model (at the time, progressive talk radio did not have enough hosts for a station to field an all-liberal lineup). By 1991, Limbaugh had become the number one most syndicated radio host and AM radio had been revived.

Progressive talk radio is a talk radio format devoted to expressing left-leaning, liberal or progressive viewpoints of news and issues as opposed to conservative talk radio. In the United States, the format has included syndicated and independent personalities such as Thom Hartmann, Stephanie Miller, Norman Goldman, Randi Rhodes, Mike Malloy, Bill Press, Alan Colmes, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Mike Papantonio, Sam Seder, Kyle Kulinski, David Pakman, Leslie Marshall, John Fugelsang, Hal Sparks, Brad Friedman, Arnie Arnesen, and Ed Schultz.

With multiple large-market stations now owned by a small number of companies, syndicated programs could be disseminated more easily than before. During the late 1990s, political t radio (other than Limbaugh) was still only a portion of the talk radio environment; other subgenres such as lifestyle talk (Laura Schlessinger), truck talk (Bill Mack, Dale Sommers) or paranormal talk (Art Bell's Coast to Coast AM ) and general interest political interviews and talk (Jim Bohannon, Joey Reynolds) generally made up AM talk station's lineup.

The September 11, 2001 attacks brought on a wave of nationalism and a desire to rally around the United States and its government, which was led at the time by the Republican Party. This environment led to a large increase in national conservative talk radio hosts: The Glenn Beck Program , The Sean Hannity Show , The Laura Ingraham Show , Batchelor and Alexander (which follows a news magazine format) and The Radio Factor all launched into national syndication at this time; The Savage Nation , which had launched nationwide a year prior, saw a large increase in syndication around this time as well.[ citation needed ]

The popularity of conservative talk radio led to attempts to imitate its success with progressive talk radio in the mid-2000s, led by the launch of Air America Radio. Air America did not have the success that conservative talk had, due in part to weaker stations and management that was inexperienced with the radio medium. Air America ceased operations in 2010, and by the end of the decade, the format was near extinction. Even longtime noncommercial progressive talk outlet Pacifica found itself in dire financial straits, being forced to end local operations of its New York outlet WBAI in 2019.

Audience and advertising

Sean Hannity was part of the early 2000s wave of new national conservative talkers. Hannity.jpg
Sean Hannity was part of the early 2000s wave of new national conservative talkers.

Listeners of conservative talk radio in the United States have predominantly been white and religious Americans as they are more prone to being ideological conservatives. [4] Furthermore, men were more likely to be listeners of conservative talk radio than women. Recent Arbitron polls have shown that the vast majority of conservative talk radio station listeners are males over the age of 54, with less than 10 percent of the listener base aged 35 to 54. It is also shown that less than one tenth of one percent of conservative talk radio listeners participate (or call in) to the hosts to make comments. [5] This specific knowledge of the audience assists advertisers in their goal to attract potential customers, and the stations found that listeners of conservative talk radio are more involved and responsive in AM radio in comparison to music listeners of FM radio. [2] Talk radio programs allow for a more personal approach to their shows, which helped contribute to the rise of revenue and popularity of conservative talk radio stations: [2]

“Glenn Beck's relationship with Goldline International is illustrative. When he tells listeners to his radio program that these perilous times make gold an attractive investment, it helps Goldline's potential investors overcome concerns about the wisdom of moving into a market they likely have little understanding of. If Glenn Beck says gold is a good investment, many in Beck's audience are going to feel that he is giving trustworthy advice. Because the host is already talking, the segue into or out of a commercial can be relatively seamless." [2]

Thus, advertisers have found that AM listeners have more trust in the radio personality and use that to their advantage.


The controversial nature of political talk radio also exposes hosts to boycott campaigns against their advertisers, such as the one instigated as a result of the Rush Limbaugh–Sandra Fluke controversy that spanned from February to March 2012, in which syndicated host Rush Limbaugh made comments against a Georgetown University Law student, Sandra Fluke, calling her a 'slut' under the logic that only a slut would use so much birth control as to be unable to afford it without government-mandated insurance coverage for it. [6] After the comments were made, Sandra Fluke called Rush Limbaugh a misogynist. [7] Limbaugh made a public apology on his show. Fluke refused to accept it, calling the apology insufficient. In response to these events, 12 sponsors withdrew their support of Limbaugh's show. [8]

Sean Hannity and Michael Savage, two nationally syndicated hosts, began a feud that began in January 2014. The conflict started when Savage decided to move the live broadcast of his show, The Savage Nation , from his original 6-9 p.m. ET timeslot (which is timed to mid-afternoon in the Pacific Time Zone; Savage originates his program from San Francisco and it was formerly an afternoon drive show for that market) to 3–6 p.m. ET, directly challenging the New York-based Hannity on the East Coast after Cumulus Media dropped Hannity's show from their stations in major markets and picked up Savage from the Talk Radio Network to be syndicated by their Westwood One division. [9]

Internet Broadcasting

A few conservative talk radio hosts also syndicate their shows on the internet. In 2011, Glenn Beck started his own television channel initially through Viacom networks, however as of 2014 Suddenlink Communications is the outlet for the channel. TheBlaze, which also has an internet-radio component on their website employs Beck and many other hosts on their shows. [10] The radio channel, TheBlaze Radio Network broadcasts on the internet as well as on satellite radio, Sirius XM.[ citation needed ] Rush Limbaugh’s radio show is also streamed on the internet through iHeartRadio, which ClearChannel Communications owns as well. [11] [12]


Dennis Miller, with no prior experience in radio, hosted a national conservative talk show from 2007 to 2015. Dennis Miller.jpg
Dennis Miller, with no prior experience in radio, hosted a national conservative talk show from 2007 to 2015.

There has been a relative dearth of new radio hosts launched into national syndication since the late 2000s, in part due to personnel declines at local talk stations; most new national hosts have jumped to talk radio from other media (examples include Dennis Miller, a stand-up comic; Fred Thompson, Herman Cain and Mike Huckabee, all former Republican Presidential candidates; the late Jerry Doyle, an actor; and Erick Erickson, a professional blogger). This has also opened up opportunities for less orthodox hosts than were common in the 1990s and 2000s; civil libertarian/nationalist Alex Jones, who spent most of the 2000s as a radio host heard primarily on shortwave, began securing syndication deals with mainstream conservative-talk radio stations during the presidency of Barack Obama.

The genre has also lost ground in listenership. By 2014, at which point Limbaugh had been moved to less-listened-to stations in a number of major markets including New York, Los Angeles and Boston, Limbaugh was no longer the most-listened-to radio host in the United States as he had been for over a decade prior; by this point, classic hits disc jockey Tom Kent had surpassed Limbaugh, estimating his listenership as having nearly 10 million more listeners across his numerous programs (unlike Limbaugh, Kent hosts multiple shows, tallying at least 50 hours a week on air, spanning numerous formats from classic hits to top-40 radio, as opposed to Limbaugh's singular three-hour daily program). [13] NPR's drivetime programs, Morning Edition and All Things Considered , surpassed Limbaugh in 2016. [14]

See also


  1. "Radio".
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Berry, Jeffrey; Sobieraj, Sarah (October 20, 2011). "Understanding the Rise of Talk Radio". PS, Political Science and Politics. 44 (4): 762–67. doi:10.1017/s1049096511001223.
  3. 1 2 McBride, Sarah. "Clear Channel, Limbaugh Ink $400 Million New Contract". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved November 18, 2014.
  4. Wicks, Robert; Wicks, Jan; Marimoto, Shauna (17 October 2013). "Partisan Media Selective Exposure During the 2012 Presidential Election". American Behavioral Scientist. 58 (9): 1131–43. doi:10.1177/0002764213506208.
  5. "Public Radio Today" (PDF). Arbitron. 2012. Retrieved 18 November 2014.
  6. The Week Staff (March 9, 2012). "Rush Limbaugh vs. Sandra Fluke: A timeline". The Week. Retrieved November 18, 2014.
  7. Fard, Maggie Fazeli (2 March 2012). "Sandra Fluke, Georgetown student called a 'slut' by Rush Limbaugh, speaks out". Washington Post. Retrieved 15 December 2014.
  8. "Rush Limbaugh Continues To Apologize As Advertiser Boycott Rises To 12". All Access Music Group. March 5, 2012. Retrieved November 18, 2012.
  9. Weiniger, Mackenzie (January 24, 2014). "Savage, Hannity dial up radio feud". POLITICO.
  10. Steinberg, Brian (October 1, 2014). "Suddenlink Launches Glenn Beck's TheBlaze After Removing Viacom Outlets". Variety. Retrieved December 15, 2014.
  11. McDuling, John (4 April 2014). "The remarkable resilience of old-fashioned radio in the US". Quartz. Retrieved 15 December 2014.
  12. Sisario, Ben (16 September 2014). "Clear Channel Renames Itself iHeartMedia in Nod to Digital". New York Times. Retrieved 15 December 2014.
  13. Tom Kent Radio Network history Archived 2015-07-21 at the Wayback Machine "TKRN reaches 400 station affiliate mark with over 23 million weekly listeners!" This figure encompasses all of Kent's various programs.
  14. "NPR Reaches 99 Million People Monthly, GenXers And Millennials Drive Growth".

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