Is Conservative Talk Radio Over? Nah, It’s Just The Offseason

An article at the WAPO about declining talk show ratings has been drawing some attention around the blogosphere:

What a difference an election makes. No, we’re not talking about the fortunes of a rich and powerful democracy. This is about talk radio. And even in the nation’s capital, post-election, people seem to have had their fill of politically oriented talk on the airwaves.

The latest quarterly audience ratings spell it out: Local talk stations — both on the right and on the left — saw their audiences dwindle during the January-March period, according to Arbitron Inc.

WMAL-AM (630), home of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and other mighty righty talkers, was one of the big losers in the latest survey. WMAL lost nearly 30 percent of its core audience (adults ages 25-54) from the preceding three months, when the election was the dominant story. What had been an up-and-coming station a few months ago (WMAL ranked 11th among all stations during the fall) is now a middle-of-the-pack afterthought (it tied for 16th in the latest survey).

“For those of us in news and talk, there’s nothing like an election,” says Chris Berry, WMAL’s president and general manager. “It’s like the Super Bowl. For us, the Super Bowl wasn’t in January; it came in November.”

WMAL was at least able to record some ratings. Two of its AM talk competitors, WTNT (570) and WRC (1260), barely registered. WTNT — which features conservatives Laura Ingraham and Joe Scarborough — captured an average of just 0.5 percent of the Washington area’s 2.3 million adult (25-54) listeners; it finished in a tie for 26th. WRC, which turned to a liberal talk format in January by adding Al Franken and some of his “Air America” crew, was nowhere to be found. It captured less than 0.1 percent of the audience, too low to be counted.

What happened? “It’s a good question,” said Bennett Zier, regional vice president of radio giant Clear Channel Communications, which owns WRC and WTNT. “You would think that 90 days after an election, a lot of topics would still be very [hot]. . . . People are very passionate, but it’s difficult sometimes to tell where that passion is.”

Another possible theory: Conservative talk, the most popular kind on the radio, has long been driven by a passionate “us vs. them” underdog mentality. In case you missed the last election results, conservatives now dominate national and state politics. With fewer “thems” to bash, right-wing ranters may be finding it harder to maintain their traditional put-upon posture.”

So what caused talk radio ratings to plummet in the first quarter of this year? Is conservative talk radio over? Is the blogosphere siphoning off traffic?

Nah.

It’s a post election dip, nothing more, nothing less. Here’s proof from traffic logs of two right-of-center blogs: one medium sized (Right Wing News) and one huge (Instapundit). Here are our stats from July of 2004 (right before election traffic really started to pick up), from October of 2004 (where people were really paying attention to election coverage) & from March of this year (as a point of comparison).

Instapundit ( Numbers may be off just a bit because they’re taken from a chart)
July, 2004: 3.84 million visits
October, 2004: 7 million visits
March, 2005: 5 million visits

Right Wing News (2004 Numbers may be off just a bit because they’re taken from a chart)
July, 2004: 305,000 pageviews
October, 2004: 510,000 pageviews
March, 2005: 338,000 pageviews

As you can see, the traffic on both of our blogs got big bumps from the election and then dropped back down afterwards. This isn’t all that unusual or surprising; it works that way with everything. You wouldn’t expect a championship football team’s web page to pull as much traffic in the offseason as it did during the Super Bowl, right? You would expect the number of people reading a band’s web page to go up when they released a new album and drop while they take a break from touring, right? It works the same way with politics. When there’s a big event or an election, traffic goes up, then it drops after the event.

Whether it’s political blogging, talk shows, Cable TV, you name it, there are highs and there are lows; you just have to keep plugging through them and building an audience slowly but surely over time. Conservative talk radio has done that and despite the temporary lull, it’s not dying out or going away….Now Air America on the other hand? They MIGHT be gone in a year…

*** Update #1 ***: More from Cam Edwards.

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