Updated Again: #StopRush Should be Promoting Progressive Talk, Not Killing It

Beginning January 1, 2014, three huge markets; Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York, will lose progressive radio. Three of the most progressive markets in the country, and there will be nothing for people to listen to. I know many of you don’t care, since you can listen on one of a number of apps on your smartphone, tablet or computer, but you should.

The purpose of progressive radio has never been to speak to liberals, and reinforce their belief systems. The purpose  is to spread the liberal message far and wide and to correct the lies right-wing radio tells people. You can’t do that with a smartphone app, and you can’t do that with a website that most people don’t even know exists. You can’t even do that from a satellite radio service. Many of the people we need to reach can’t afford a smartphone, and don’t have regular access to a computer with broadband. Anyone can listen to the radio anywhere they happen to be with a cheap little device that costs less than a few dollars. But they can’t get progressive radio in an increasing number of places with a regular radio. Meanwhile, every city and town in the country has access to a wide variety of right wing shows.

There are two reasons why right-wing radio is dominant, and only one is because right wingers own a lot of radio stations, and radio is a reliable method for disseminating Republican talking points. The more right-wing talk there is on the radio, the greater the chance that someone will run into it accidentally. The second reason is, radio is a business, and while a lot of progressives whine when there is no liberal radio, they don’t support it while it’s there. In order for progressive talk to make inroads in the radio business, it has to make money. Trust me; if progressive radio made tons of money, no one would be canceling stations and changing formats, including the right wing owners of Clear Channel.

Progressive stations are not going out of business because Clear Channel or some other huge conglomerate is just trying to stick it to us. It’s a business decision. It costs them money to put progressive radio on the air. They already own most of the right wing talk programs, but they don’t own any progressive talk programs, except Randi Rhodes. Therefore, it makes sense for them to cancel progressive talk radio formats, because they don’t have to pay for right wing programming.  The way to counter that, of course, is to make progressive radio such a solid business model that they can’t afford to cancel progressive talk radio. We do that by promoting progressive talk every chance we get.

But we don’t do that. Instead of promoting progressive talk radio into a solid business model that no one can deny is a force among capitalist enterprises, progressives have chosen instead to target the largest right-wing talk show host in the country (in more ways than one) and try to topple his program. In business terms, this is just plain stupid.

Believe it or not, 2014 marks the 10th anniversary of the attempt to bring progressive radio out of the shadows and back into the national media mainstream, in the form of Air America Radio. Ten years later, many of the programs are still around, but most are still fledgling, and are, in fact, losing ground. And one reason for that is, instead of promoting and increasing the fortunes of progressive radio, activists have chosen to attempt to topple right wing radio, which can’t happen. And yes, I said CAN’T HAPPEN. It’s mathematically impossible. It’s about as ridiculous as those right wing gunloons who think their guns can take out the federal government when the time comes.

I supported StopRush when it first started, in part because Limbaugh needed a little scare, although I could never join in because of potential conflicts of interest. I was led to believe at the beginning that it was a limited movement to make him pay for what he said about Sandra Fluke, and that they understood they were never going to get rid of Rush Limbaugh’s show, no matter how hard they tried. I was assured they weren’t delusional and that the effort wasn’t open-ended. Yet, nearly two years later, they’re still trying to take down Limbaugh by going after advertisers for something he said almost 2 years ago. When you talk to these people, you come away with the impression that they are still deluded enough to think that they can get rid of Limbaugh. No matter how many progressive stations we lose, and no matter how many progressive programs complain about the difficulty they’re having finding advertisers, StopRush will not take a breath and reassess their methods and results.

I understand the passion, and I understand the desire to try to knock this guy down. Rush Limbaugh is a major-league asshole and a misogynist, and much of what he says should not be broadcast on our airwaves. But with every cause, there is a window of efficacy. Effective advocacy doesn’t last for 10 years, it lasts for a few months, at most. Every few months all advocates have to assess and reassess the cause and, most importantly, the effect of his or her advocacy. In two years, StopRush has never reassessed its methods. Hell, there are no signs of an inkling that they understand how the radio business works.

See, here’s where understanding the radio business comes in. The Rush Limbaugh hatefest does not make all, or even most, of its money from national advertisers. It makes a lot of money from fees paid by local radio stations to carry his show, or from a few local ads every show. Stations carry it because his crapfest sells a lot of airtime, and because he delivers a huge audience. But the audience he draws is not just for his show. He draws ears to other shows on the same stations. Unless you could get to every advertiser, you’re not making a major dent in the show’s revenue. He and Sean Hannity are back to back on many stations, with Michael Savage later on.. That’s 9 hours of BS radio with huge ratings, and a lot of audience left over for the other hours the station has to fill. And no one’s getting to every advertiser.

If a radio station sells 30 ads per hour, that’s as many as 90 advertisers per show, five shows per week, which is 450 potential advertisers per week. But there are 650 stations, so that means a potential of nearly 300,000 advertisers, large and small. And that is one week. And while a lot of advertisers are faithful and run several ads on every show, many others come and go, depending on their small business budget. In their recent childish attempts to intimidate me for bringing up the points I have, they brag about having gotten commitments from 2,950 advertisers in two years. That’s 1% of the potential number of advertisers in a week, and it’s taken almost two years. Like I said, StopRush will not put a dent in that many advertisers. The really interesting part of this; even if you got rid of every single paid ad, the show would continue because of the audience he brings to the other shows on the stations he’s on.

As for imagining that StopRush is doing major damage to Clear Channel, well…

First of all, Clear Channel owns three companies, and radio constitutes less than 50% of its revenue. And talk radio constitutes about 20% of all radio revenue. They have a lot of radio properties, including over 850 radio stations, and several dozen radio shows. The biggest radio show they have is Limbaugh’s. It’s impossible to know how much revenue Limbaugh took in before the StopRush effort, but the fact that he was being paid $100 million per year indicates he’s bringing in at least $300 million. But even if it’s that high, that is about 5% of Clear Channel’s $6 billion in revenue. Therefore, even if Limbaugh’s hatefest loses $20 million in annual revenue, which would be enormous, they won’t get rid of his show. Think. If Rush Limbaugh brings in $300 million every year (and I’m just speculating; it could be more), and that revenue drops to $280 million, who in their right mind would drop that show? Why would anyone expect them to drop $280 million in revenue because it’s no longer $300 million? Yet, this is what StopRush volunteers apparently expect. If Limbaugh’s income drops $20 million, they’re going to shave $20 million from somewhere else, including the costs of supplying programming to their progressive stations. In other words, StopRush is inadvertently causing progressive talkers to go away, as is a lack of support on the part of progressives.

I’m not saying they started out doing it on purpose, but that’s the net effect of their efforts. They’re not hurting Limbaugh, they’re hurting Stephanie Miller, and Ed Schultz, and Thom Hartmann and Randi Rhodes. They are also hurting progressive hosts who can’t get work because the number of progressive talk stations is shrinking. If this continues, the only way to hear progressive talk will be through podcasts, and that just makes it harder to get our message out.

A simple understanding of the radio business is absolutely necessary if you’re going to conduct a program like StopRush, and these realities should have been known at the very beginning. God knows, I told them what could happen, and they pretended to understand what I was saying. Advertiser appeals cannot be ham-handed. They have to be almost surgical in their approach. They cannot be threatening in their approach, and they have to be approached with the knowledge that many of those advertisers also support progressive programs, as well. And they have a shelf-life.

And you also have to support progressive radio. The only way to have a real effect on Limbaugh is to make liberal talkers so powerful that they hurt his ratings. Start a progressive talk surge with massive support and a campaign to get more progressive talkers on the air and encourage station owners to adopt a progressive talk format, and you have a winner, as long as you support these progressive talkers once they’re on the air.

It’s clear that StopRush is hurting progressive talkers, and not Limbaugh.They could simply redirect their effort to supporting progressive talkers, or quite possibly at the same time they’re trying to talk advertisers into dropping Limbaugh, they could encourage them to support progressives, because progressive talkers aren’t haters. Of course, when I mention that, I’m told that it’s too hard, and they ask me to start such an effort, in addition to theirs. I still can’t, because of potential conflicts of interest, but what would be the purpose of starting a pro-progressive movement that is working at cross purposes with StopRush, anyway? This is another example of the circular firing squad mentality that some progressives seem so fond of.

If you wonder what I mean when I say we have to stop being negative and start pushing positive memes in order to create a progressive country, this is exactly what I mean. If we had been promoting progressive radio, and using the effort to encourage advertisers to support progressive radio, the effort may have brought more positive results for our side. 

It’s time for the StopRush effort to end, or at least modify. Progressives have taken a major hit from this.

One final note to StopRush. If you can’t take constructive criticism without resorting to name-calling and attempted (very lame) “intimidation,” you don’t have the maturity level to be in the political activist game. I am not hurting you. I have not called anyone names, and I have not belittled your efforts. I have simply pointed out that you need to look at the effect of your efforts and adjust, so as not to hurt good radio programs. The only way to take down Limbaugh is through ratings, not advertisers. That means promoting competition, and propping their ratings up. The number one complaint I hear from you folks is that you “don’t have time.” Yet, you have plenty of time to try to intimidate me for several days. How’s that possible?

And to the folks who claim StopRush is not political, denial is not just a river in Egypt.

I just saw a gloating post on Daily Kos in which StopRush claimed Limbaugh was booted from a station in Port St Lucie, and replaced with Hot Country. In the piece, they edited the message announcing the new format to make it look like they were dissing Limbaugh, when they weren’t. In reality, Clear Channel owned the station, but were forced to sell it, so they put it into a trust. The programs on the station were there as placeholders, and no more. When the station changed hands, the NEW OWNERS decided to program country music. What they also didn’t tell you was, there are four other Limbaugh affiliates in the same area, and they have access to a 50,000-watt station just south of the area.

In other words, they’re claiming a coincidence as a success. If you have to fib to claim success, perhaps you should try something else. Like promote liberal talk, for example. 

Another Update: After several days of claiming they have never and will never promote progressive radio, now a number of StopRush people are now trying to take credit for Rush Limbaugh being put on a less powerful station in San Francisco, and for Randi Rhodes being “liberated” by being put onto the “more powerful” station. In other words, we’re supposed to be grateful to them because a station with 12 hours of progressive programming was replaced by two hours on a slightly more powerful station. Of course, the station isn’t all that powerful. Here’s the antenna map of KNEW, Limbaugh’s new station, that used to have 12 hours of progressive programming. And here’s the map for the station that now has two hours of Randi Rhodes.  Gosh, thank you. We are so grateful…

I should note that KNEW isn’t Limbaugh’s only station in the area, whereas there was only one progressive station within about 400 miles. Limbaugh also has stations in Fresno, Santa Clara, and an AM-FM combo in Sacramento.

First off, you don’t get to claim you have not and will never support progressive talk, and then brag when Limbaugh changes stations. Also, if you’re going to speak about the power of stations, understand what you’re talking about. 20,000 watts can reach more people than 5,000, but it’s not a guarantee. Limbaugh is moving to a “weaker” station in Los Angeles, too. But during the day, when Limbaugh is on, it will make exactly zero difference in Los Angeles and Orange County, and since Limbaugh’s on a half-dozen other stations in the outer reaches of Southern California, he’s on everywhere, anyway.

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