By Ellen Ratner
TALK RADIO NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON –– With the White House creating a new position to coordinate progressive media and online response, there is increasing interest in how to counter the perceived conservative tilt of some electronic media outlets –– especially news/talk radio. In late May the White House appointed Jesse Lee to the position. He had been working in the new media department of the White House. Lee had worked with both Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic National Committee on online and new media initiatives. He will have his own Twitter account.
TALKERS magazine has been following these developments in the Obama Administration and we asked two former radio coordinators from both the RNC and the DNC to weigh in on the perception of talk radio as a conservative genre.
Mark Pfeifle, who is vice president of S4 Inc, was radio director of the RNC and served as Deputy National Security Advisor for Communications in the George W. Bush Administration. He expresses concern that radio is evolving so fast that there have been “changes in the marketplace; hosts moving to different markets and stations going to all-syndicated programming. So I think it’s been the economy with so much moving around. If we’re going into a new market to do pitching, we have to start from scratch a lot of times. What is the big talk station? Who are the hosts? Do they have a producer? If they do have a producer, who is he or she? And whereas before –– from 1998 ‘til early 2000 –– there wasn’t a lot of these changes.”
Pfeifle also says that “the vitriol against the president has made talk radio more polarized. From Ed Schultz talking about Laura Ingraham’s alleged promiscuity to the center right radio shows being highly anti-Obama, it has made it more challenging. But, at the same time, if we’re trying to move an anti-Obama administration issue, it still is an extraordinarily useful mode of communication.”
He goes on to explain that the conservative hosts don’t like where Obama is taking the country and that much of the conversation has become almost all anti-federal government. But, he believes that the elections will still make talk radio and talk Internet more in demand for a candidate because of its immediacy.
Kandy Stroud of Stroud Communications served as director of radio communications for the DNC from 1997 to 2005. She also sees radio as evolving but still vibrant. She sees it as “a very useful tool that is just part of a vast spectrum of information providers. It is a rapidly moving landscape; it’s like part of a buffet you can have for breakfast, lunch or dinner during your daily commute. It’s certainly part of the mix because there are a lot of different platforms now: iPhone, iPod, satellite radio, web streaming, I mean you can get radio in a number of different ways, technology has broadened it and strengthened it.”
On the issue of how talk radio is now perceived, Stroud says, “I’ve certainly seen, since the 2008 convention, more of the sort of finger-pointing and screaming coming out of the conservatives and it is something that really is beginning to disturb listeners. I think that a lot of people kind of getting tired of it. How many times can you listen to Glenn Beck saying Obama is a socialist commie pinko who wasn’t born here? Conservatives definitely dominate the listening landscape; there’s no doubt about it. I think it definitely took a turn for the worse.”
Although Stroud has both Republican and Democratic clients she says that some of the conservative shows have taken fewer Democratic speakers and some of her clients who are Democrats do not want to go on conservative shows because they feel they just get screamed at. But she says there are still many conservative and libertarian-type shows that are very welcoming to Democratic guests. She believes that the end of Air America was a huge loss but that Dial Global and independent shows still have a huge listening audience.
Both Pfeifle and Stroud say talk hosts who are civil to guests with whom they disagree and are willing to engage in discussion about the issues can benefit from expert guests from within the administration. Meanwhile, the larger question of whether political talk show hosts who engage in thoughtful discussion about issues instead of lecturing to their listeners incessantly about why the other guys stink will benefit in increased listenership and ratings is one that is currently a hot topic in the talk media industry.
Ellen Ratner is bureau chief of Talk Radio News Service. She can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.