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Issue of the Week: The Big Lie: Liberal Talk Radio Doesn't Sell

Event of the Week: Fighting Bob Fest X

Sep. 14, 2011
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Back in the 1980s, Rush Limbaugh was just getting his radio career off the ground. In 1984, the conservative pot-stirrer launched his local talk show on Sacramento's KFBK AM station before syndicating his show nationally and becoming a dominant force in conservative politics.

Limbaugh's success is often chalked up to market demand. According to this line of thought, conservatives listen to talk radio, while liberals don't. And if liberals wanted to listen to programs that are more in line with their beliefs, then the market would provide it, right? After all, huge corporate radio station owners like Clear Channel are only interested in making money. If they could make profits off of liberal talk shows, they'd do it, conservatives argue.

But Sue Wilson, who will screen her documentary Broadcast Blues in Madison on Saturday as part of her media reform tour of Wisconsin, has a much different take on Limbaugh's success and liberal radio's alleged failure in the marketplace.

As Wilson, who is based in Sacramento, explained during her interview with the Shepherd, Sacramento's 50,000-watt KFBK is the powerhouse station in the area and reaches 10 million people throughout California's Central Valley. And Limbaugh got a 7 rating.

But Limbaugh wasn't the only political pundit on the air. Air America, which featured liberal commentators, also began airing in Sacramento—albeit on a 1,000-watt station that could reach far fewer people. And guess what? Even on that weak station, Air America's programming earned a 1.7 rating. So, Wilson argued, if Air America had the kind of wattage that Limbaugh had, its ratings would be through the roof, leaving Limbaugh in the dust.

But Air America—and other progressives who want to get on the air throughout the country—has been shut out of the radio market. Not because liberal programs cannot attract listeners, but because large corporations snapped up the biggest, most powerful stations around the country after the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which vastly increased the number of stations one corporation—like Clear Channel—can own.

“All of the progressives got the crumbs after the banquet,” Wilson explained.

So when conservatives brag that they're beating liberals in the marketplace of ideas on the radio, they're telling you a big lie. Progressives simply do not have the kind of resources on the public airwaves that the corporate-backed right-wing pundits currently enjoy. Once again, conservative corporations are using public resources to advance their political agenda.

Event of the Week

Fighting Bob Fest X

Celebrate progressive politics and network with like-minded Wisconsinites at the 10th Fighting Bob Fest in Madison. On Friday, Sept. 16, the Barrymore Theatre will play host to an event featuring Congressman Dennis Kucinich as well as commentators and journalists Thom Hartmann, Jim Hightower, Greg Palast, Ruth Conniff and John Nichols. Tickets are $8 in advance or $10 at the door. On Saturday, Sept. 17, the action moves to the Alliant Energy Center's Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Speakers include Princeton University professor and activist Cornel West, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, activist Ellen Bravo, former Congressman David Obey and musician Peter Leidy. For more details, including information on a Milwaukee-Madison bus, go to www.fightingbobfest.org.

Heroes of the Week

Literacy Services of Wisconsin Volunteers

Adults who can't read face additional hurdles when looking for employment in a fiercely competitive job market. Literacy Services of Wisconsin (555 N. Plankinton Ave.) strives to help individuals and the community by ameliorating the problem of adult illiteracy.

For a token fee to cover the cost of materials, LSW offers one-on-one tutoring to adults who want to improve their reading and spelling skills, learn English as a second language or prepare for their GED certificate. Volunteers make up the bulk of the tutors and also help to staff the nonprofit's special events. One such event is the LSW Book Sale, taking place 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Sept. 15-18 at the former Borders bookstore (101 W. Wisconsin Ave.). Readers interested in becoming tutors are encouraged to call 414-344-5878 or visit www.literacyservices.org.


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