One thing that drives liberals absolutely nuts is the success of political talk radio, which is overwhelmingly conservative.
Considerable credit belongs to the man who drives liberals absolutely crazy, Rush Limbaugh, whose talk show expanded from one station to go nationwide via AM radio in the 1980s. Whether Limbaugh is right 100 percent of the time, or whether he says responsible things 100 percent of the time (see Fluke, Sandra), Limbaugh gets listeners, and through them his radio stations get advertising dollars.
That fact, too, drives the liberals who don’t like free markets crazy — those, that is, who don’t like markets that don’t favor their own beliefs. The Air America radio network was an effort to provide a commercial liberal voice as an alternative to Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Neal Boortz and other right-wing talkers. Air America, well, crashed and burned.
The only places you find commercial liberal talk radio now working is where individual talkers, such as Sly on WTDY in Madison, have generated an audience. (And truth be told, if you can’t succeed as a liberal on talk radio in Madison, you will succeed nowhere.) The loathsome Ed Schultz is syndicated, but the local radio station recently booted him from its airwaves, thus increasing Ripon’s collective IQ.
One of the phenomena of Wisconsin politics is what’s been called the “Charlie Sykes Effect.” Sykes broadcasts from 8:30 to 11 a.m. on WTMJ radio in Milwaukee, the state’s only 50,000-watt radio station. Although WTMJ has listeners as far west as Madison and as far north as the Fox Cities and the Lakeshore (based on Sykes’ calls from listeners), obviously his listenership fades the farther west you go. The Sykes Effect, therefore, is Sykes’ influence on Republican legislators, theoretically more the closer to Milwaukee you go and less the farther away you go.
When Sykes hit the airwaves in the 1990s, there was only one other conservative talker in the state, Mark Belling of WISN radio in Milwaukee. (Sykes was a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal and the editor of Milwaukee Magazine before he debuted on-air as a fill-in for Belling.) Sykes and Belling have since been joined by two talkers who work for three stations each. Vicki McKenna is on WISN from 10 a.m. to noon and WIBA in Madison and WMEQ in Eau Claire from 3 to 5 p.m. Jerry Bader is on WTAQ in Green Bay, WHBL in Sheboygan and WSAU in Wausau from 9 to 11 a.m.
Bader’s three stations are all owned by Midwest Communications. McKenna’s three stations are all owned by Clear Channel. But the spread of state-based conservative talk isn’t just about media companies trying to figure out how to spread their talent around, reports the Heartland Institute:
An ad hoc group of Wisconsin business leaders and free-market activists is hoping to prevent the recall of Gov. Scott Walker (R) and other pro-business legislators by spreading Milwaukee and Madison conservative talk radio programs to other parts of the state.
“If you look at southeast Wisconsin, where local conservative talk radio is heard, the area has turned very conservative,” said Orville Seymer of Citizens for Responsible Government, a Milwaukee-based political action group that is working on the effort. “Senator Ron Johnson publicly credits [local hosts] Charlie Sykes and Vicki McKenna with helping him to get elected. Scott Walker gives a lot of credit to Milwaukee and Madison conservative talk radio for his election both as Milwaukee county executive and as governor.”
Citizens for Responsible Government is one of the members of Businesses for Wisconsin Jobs, which has come together to get these talk radio shows heard across the state. …
Jerry Bott, director of programming and operations at WISN radio in Milwaukee, said it is no coincidence that in the 2010 gubernatorial election, Walker won by huge margins in southeast Wisconsin, and that, generally, the most conservative members of the state legislature come from the that part of the state.
“Hosts on conservative talk radio affect public opinion by making a convincing case that conservative principles are powerful, proper, and effective,” said Bott. “This has an effect on public opinion in areas where conservative talk radio can be heard which, in turn, provides a fertile environment for conservatives seeking public office to be elected.” …
“Talk radio has had a very specific impact on who represents the people of southeast Wisconsin,” said John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy President Brett Healy, a close observer of Wisconsin politics for more than 20 years. “If you can get some of these personalities on the local radio for the long term, this will be a great case study to see if it has a discernible effect on local elections and politics” in western and northern Wisconsin. …
Local conservative talk radio has been a force in southeast Wisconsin for quite some time. So why do this now?
“Recalls,” declared Rob Kiekehefer, managing partner at the Kiekehefer Group, a retirement plan consulting firm and one of the founders of BWJ. He noted last summer’s successful recall of Senator Dan Kapanke (R-La Crosse)—retribution for his support of Governor Walker’s Act 10 government labor union reforms.
Fellow BWJ founder Jim Leef, president of Industrial Towel & Uniform, cited the recent iron ore mining bill in northern Wisconsin as his reason for getting involved. The bill’s defeat cost thousands of potential jobs throughout the state. …
“The absence of conservative talk radio in northern and western Wisconsin leaves a sizable portion of the population under-informed about extremely important issues,” said Leef. “For the overall health of the business community and local economies in Wisconsin, we need voices that are pro-jobs, pro-freedom and pro-lower taxes to be heard.” …
“Any pro-business, and/or free market person should welcome the effect of conservative talk radio on the political climate,” said Marquette University Associate Professor of Political Science John McAdams. “While liberals and leftists assume there is a fixed economic pie they can divide up however they want, conservative talk radio insists that the size of the pie is not fixed, that it can be made larger with certain policies, and that when it’s made smaller by bad policies, all sorts of people are hurt, including those the left claims to be very concerned about.”
Some would argue that non-local radio is not a good thing. I am sympathetic to that point of view, although I’m guessing those stations would substitute even less local talk radio for McKenna and Bader if they weren’t available. Others, particularly those who in the last year tried to organize a boycott of McKenna’s advertisers (which McKenna’s fans turned into a “buycott”), not only do not want to listen to them, but do not want you to be able to listen to them. Others prefer the good old days of the Fairness Doctrine, which was intended to force radio stations to air opposing views but served instead to prevent controversial issues from being covered. (The Fairness Doctrine also was a blatant violation of the First Amendment, applying only to broadcasters, not publishers.)
Those who accuse right-wing bias in the employment of Sykes, Belling, McKenna and Bader ignore the fact that the bias in commercial radio is green — as in advertising dollars. If Sykes didn’t make money for Journal Communications, if Belling and McKenna didn’t make money for Clear Channel, and if Bader didn’t make money for Midwest Communications, I guarantee you none would be on the air.