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Liberal radio limited by low popularity

Brian Duffy | Tuesday, October 2, 2007

After reading Andrea Laidman’s “Hosting Ignorance,” (Oct. 1), I came away fairly certain that Laidman is ignorant of how the free market really works. She claims conservative talk radio dominates the airwaves, quoting figures from the Center for American Progress. Having never heard of this group, I decided to do some research on them.

I found out that I actually agree wholeheartedly with a statement of their “About Us” section that seems to apply to this debate. They say, “As progressives we believe that America should be a country of boundless opportunity – where all people can better themselves through education, hard work, and the freedom to pursue their dreams.”

Freedom, though, seems to be what Laidman finds as the problem in the U.S. radio market. She claims that the conservative leanings of widely syndicated radio hosts are due to “structural imbalances and not popular demand.” She also later quotes the Center saying that “the relaxation of ownership rules have tipped the scales against localism.” So here we have a situation where freedom is not what we want – apparently allowing more free choice somehow “tips the scales.”

Corporations, including those in radio, are driven by profits. In radio, that means advertising dollars, and advertising revenue is driven by ratings. Ultimately, it is the listeners who decide what they listen to, and apparently they like listening to the content on the air, because Laidman says that “90 percent of Americans age 12 or over tune into radio programs each week.” Laidman says that “Radio outlets like NPR demonstrate that longer stories can facilitate in-depth discussion of controversial issues through thoughtful, well-reasoned arguments, inquiry and interviews.”

If NPR is what people want to listen to, what is really in “popular demand,” then why don’t they dominate the ratings? It is on the air – it’s just that there is not much demand for this kind programming. Air America Radio, a group that also describes itself as “progressive,” was founded in March 2004 to provide an avenue for left wing radio. In our free market, they were allowed to do this. They were also allowed to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy a little more than 30 months later, because they had few listeners and no money.

Laidman seems to believe that access to radio outlets is what limits liberal radio – this has been proven to be inaccurate by the lack of success of NPR and Air America. Americans have shown that we do not want to listen to left wing radio. I am glad that we are free to listen to whatever we want. I find it ironic that many “progressives,” who claim to be champions of free speech, selectively back this freedom when they agree with what is said.

Brian Duffy


Morrissey Manor

Oct. 1