By Kevin Casey
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Contrary to the stereotype often depicted by the mainstream and political press that news/talk radio hosts all fit a standard model, TALKERS magazine observes that this is hardly the case – especially now that the all-consuming election of 2012 is in the history books and political talk show hosts are assessing their personal position strategies for the new chapter of history at hand. Actually this is a process that has been in play for several years and not exactly a brand new trend sparked by the election. Key players such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage, Jerry Doyle, Rusty Humphries and Michael Smerconish have had significantly different takes on the conservative side of the dial as have hosts the likes of Ed Schultz, Thom Hartmann, Stephanie Miller and Alan Colmes been diverse in their approaches from the left. However, recently concluded elections – especially presidential contests – have a way of making talent in this arena reassess and reflect upon their strategies.
Sean Hannity of Premiere Networks and Fox News Channel is one of the steadfast GOP supporters who does not waiver in his basic position from election-to-election and year-to-year with continued success by all measures of radio achievement – an accomplishment attributable to what TALKERS publisher Michael Harrison describes as “the man’s inherent classiness, charisma, gentlemanly nature and mastery of both radio and television skills.” So what are his plans now that this big election is over and “his man” did not win? Hannity tells TALKERS, “My strategy is simple: to read every newspaper, every blog, watch every show that interests me, and talk about the most compelling issues of the day in as fun, enlightening, and entertaining way as possible. Great talk topics almost are so obvious they almost choose themselves. We are a 51-49 electorate. The political aspect of this will almost write itself, as two governing philosophies are destined to collide head on.”
Slightly right-of-center Michael Smerconish of WYD Media (who has interviewed President Obama seven times) tells TALKERS, “You can’t help but look at the post-election breakdown of the demographic shift in the nation and how it bodes poorly for the long term survival of the GOP, without thinking about what that also means for talk radio. The parallels are plain to see. Just as the Republican Party needs to grow its base beyond older, white males, so too must talk radio. We too are devoid of support among minority groups, the young and women listeners. And like the GOP, we need to assess our message and question if it suits the times. Not only is that smart business, which might help us grow market share and attract advertisers instead of relying on a loyal but small base, but it is also good for the country. People are tired of the polarization. The reason that Hurricane Sandy was a key moment at the end of the campaign is that voters liked seeing the Democratic standard bearer standing with the man who delivered the keynote address to the GOP convention. That is the sort of bipartisanship the nation needs. And we, as an industry, should be promoting that change, not fomenting division and standing in its way.”
Devout conservative Lars Larson of Compass Media Networks and KXL, Portland says, “The election results are deeply disappointing to me personally. But my approach on the air is not one of resignation. I’m determined to keep inviting both sides on (when it comes to guests) and giving time on the air to naysayers. Topic-wise we’re loaded for the next four years. Since the election I’ve had to use the dump button more in a day than I usually do in a year and all of those potential $325k fine words have come from Democrats! Go figure. As for the show, a slow growth economy is likely to be a bad one for radio revenue. I had planned to add new staff in the new year, but if the tax hikes come then that revenue goes to Uncle Barry for his wise redistribution to those more deserving. Voters have given America’s talkers full-time employment explaining and exposing the circus of divided government, fiscal cliffs, exploding debt, and time-bomb sequestration cuts to listeners and giving them a venue where they can shout their frustrations with Barry & Harry & John…unless the Obama FCC brings back the Fairness Doctrine to shut us all down!”
Conservative Rusty Humphries of Talk Radio Network (TRN) believes that there has to be more to political talk than just a constant dose of politics telling TALKERS, “I’m staying true to myself. Yes, politics is important but I always try to find those entertaining angles on the issues that impact the lives of my listeners. Hosting a show that airs in afternoon drive as I do requires a sense of humor, news of the day and a bit of relief from life’s daily stresses.”
Alan Colmes, a rare liberal among the ranks of talk talent at Fox News Radio and Fox News Channel comments, “One thing the election taught us is that the country doesn’t like wingnuts. Mourdock in Indiana and Akin in Missouri lost, and Michele Bachmann barely held on. And while being a left- or right-wing nut job will get you a niche audience, we must take a cue from the electorate and regulate our tone to be more inclusive. The left-right paradigm in which a host spends all the airtime demonizing the other side has gotten old. Forget whether you’re left or right. It’s not the political view that matters here, it’s the tonality, and a kinder, more open presence that lets those of all political stripes know they’re being heard and responded to is what the electorate wants, and so it is also what will garner the largest and most responsive audience.”
Todd Schnitt, a conservative, syndicated nationally by Compass Media Networks also takes the approach that talk radio must be mindful of the disparate tastes and opinions out there, regardless of personal political opinion: “It is crystal clear that we live in a fractured country. It’s also evident that many Americans do not have a grasp of economic policy and just accepted the effective Romney stereotyping cast by the Obama campaign and its surrogates. My job is to entertain and inform at a time where there has been significant ratings erosion in conservative talk radio. With my unique background (18 years in topical morning radio), I am ‘broadcasting’ to all possible listeners instead of ‘narrow-casting’ to a small group. It’s all in delivery and storytelling and in no way do I need to compromise my core principles.”
Noted liberal multi-platform host and author Thom Hartmann of WYD Media adds his take: “I think we need to do a lot more talking about issues and a lot less ‘your team-my team’ stuff going forward. I regularly have people on from the other side discussing issues on our program and expect to expand that approach, and take it into the realm of issues more than partisan politics. I think what we’re seeing is the fraying of the Reagan Revolution and a return to the FDR/Eisenhower New Deal era. The next two years are going to be very interesting – there’s so much that’s going to be coming before Congress and SCOTUS.”
A year and a half ago, moderate conservative talker Jerry Doyle of TRN actually predicted on the air that he thought his fellow conservatives were wrong in thinking it was a foregone conclusion that the country would oust Obama in the next election and in an act of daring radio showmanship stated that if Obama lost the election of 2012 he would quit his job as a talk radio host. Listen to the clip by clicking the player below. If you are reading this on a mobile device click here. As reported yesterday (11/7) in TALKERS he called out many of his fellow conservative colleagues on his show for “cheerleading the tarnished GOP brand.” This morning he triumphantly tells TALKERS, “Well, well, well. Your mention in TALKERS and my three hour post-election analysis of the tarnished brand of the GOP resulted in the highest number of emails I have received in my eight and a half years on the radio. They ran about 85/15, positive/negative. I spent the better part of the last two hours responding to them all. I think there is something very interesting to pursue here. As for the future of talk radio? Field of Dreams – If you build it, they will come!”
Noted talk radio impresario Ron Hartenbaum of WYD Media and WYM Media whose stable of talk talent runs the gamut from the far left to the far right sums the discussion up as follows: “First, the campaign for 2016 has already commenced. On the Republican side – Christie, Bush, Rubio, and Ryan. Unlike 2012 — an actual intelligent and experienced group of conservative legislators and executives. On the Democratic side – Biden and Clinton, also intelligent and experienced. No lack of experience, no lack of brain power in this group on either side…an excellent, positive prognosis for our nation going forward. Second, the public wants compromise; the public wants their government to move forward and resolve issues. What the broadcast talk industry needs to deliver every day is an entertaining discussion about our nation being competitive on a global basis.” Hartenbaum concludes, “Compromise is not a dirty word. It is a reality word. If we don’t continue to move forward, by definition we fall behind.”
Kevin Casey is the executive editor of TALKERS magazine. He can be e-mailed at email@example.com.