The earthquake that has shaken the political establishment these last six months of the 2016 Presidential race is being mirrored in the most non-establishment of venues: talk radio. No other political or news event, not even the election of Barack Obama, has created such turmoil between long-established hosts and their once loyal listeners.
Many hosts are engaged in open warfare with their audiences. Even among those who are not, there is a palpable awareness that this election is different from any other and may well change the future of talk radio and their individual careers.
Indeed, I predict that many of the hosts on the air nationally and locally today will be gone, or their audiences much diminished, one year from now.
What’s going on?
I’ve worked in this business for twenty-five years and understood from the outset who my audience was and why they listened. Following on the great success of Rush Limbaugh, radio stations across the country embraced the talk formula which was, at root, a very simple one: give people what the mainstream media will not.
Give them a haven where they can express themselves without being treated with contempt. Give them the news behind the news. Give them a voice, yours, and be willing to lead the charge against the ridiculous and cynical machinations of the left, taking the inevitable hits from the liberal establishment on the listener’s behalf.
Talk radio has never been entirely conservative, entirely populist or entirely Republican. Rather, it is and always was a fusion of these things — with a significant and increasing number of independents and Democrats thrown into the mix. Plenty of Americans oppose the progressive agenda, and it is that opposition which has rightly united us.
Far too many hosts have revealed themselves to be wildly out of step with the revolution that has been brewing- right under their noses- for many years. The electorate has had it with establishment Republicans, yet some hosts haplessly continue to batter their listeners for supporting the insurgent candidacies of Donald Trump and/or Ted Cruz.
Others have jumped so deeply into the camps of one or the other of the insurgents that they are rhetorically aligned against a big segment of their audience. The language they use to hector these non-compliant listeners echoes the attacks of the establishment media and far-left.
Tune into many programs today and listen to hosts acting like surrogates for the DNC or the Washington Post. And, like the totally discredited Republican National Committee, they even seem prepared to see Hillary win if “their guy” doesn’t.
One prominent syndicated host was called a “weasel” on-air by a caller disgusted by his stalwart defense of an establishment intent on selecting its own candidate — and ignoring the will of voters.
Another fill-in host got the boot in Boston after mocking Trump voters, half his audience, for an entire shift. Even hosts who’ve struggled to remain fair and respectful while straddling the divide in the Republican electorate have gotten hammered.
So what is a loyal talk radio listener, who fled the contempt of the establishment media, who sees his nation in real peril, going to do?
It’s not a tough call, folks.
Talk radio burst into being as a reaction to the unremitting scorn and propaganda of the left media. To the extent that a talk show host battles his own audience and recreates a similar climate of scorn and narcissism, where only HIS views and endorsements are correct, it differs not at all from the repudiated old media.
Listeners to such a show will leave. Permanently. And the landscape of talk radio will change: the solid shows and hosts will hold on to their listeners during this volatile time. They will continue to thrive. But those who put themselves ahead of their listeners will not. And this is just as it should be.