The former WWRL-AM NY morning driver and current NY1 cable net political anchor has penned an opinion piece about the switch of heritage progressive/urban talker (WWRL) to Spanish in the New Year—as well as the slow demise of liberal talk radio here in the states. Here are some excerpts from the NY Daily News commentary:
“Next week, when WWRL 1600 AM flips its format from progressive talk to Spanish-language music and talk, New York will have no left-leaning commercial talk station for the first time in decades — an ironic development just as an unabashedly liberal mayor and City Council are set to take office.
It’s not as if liberal voices will vanish — noncommercial stations like WBAI and WNYC are still alive and kicking — but they can’t replace the local flavor and crackling energy of commercial radio, where shows move more quickly to accommodate the ads.
The changeover at WWRL comes as a personal blow: I was the morning drivetime host at the station from June 2008 through October 2010. Sad to say, the steady elimination of progressive radio from the airwaves is part of a nationwide crisis facing commercial radio.
In Los Angeles, the last remaining all-liberal talk station, KTLK, will do an about-face and start airing only conservative talkers on Jan. 1. Ditto for KNEW in San Francisco. Last November, progressive stations in Portland, Ore., and Seattle switched to all-sports formats.
The biggest pressures squeezing liberal talk radio are commercial ones. Deregulation of the airwaves allowed conglomerates like Clear Channel to borrow billions from Wall Street and begin buying up stations by the hundreds. Saddled with debt, Clear Channel has ruthlessly standardized its 840 stations and squeezed each for maximum profit. That meant eliminating progressive talk from its stations in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland.
Angry progressives claim such moves could also have a political motivation: Clear Channel is owned in part by Bain Capital, the private equity firm once run by Mitt Romney . That’s possible, but it wouldn’t explain the problems besetting stations like WWRL, which is owned by Access 1, a family-owned media company.
A more likely culprit is the hard economics of persuading businesses to advertise on local radio. “National advertisers have pulled away from progressive stations, and not just in New York,” says Mark Riley, a New York radio veteran who just ended a great stint as WWRL’s morning man. “Stations aren’t worth what the people who bought them thought they were worth,” he says.
That has left a cutthroat competition for local advertising dollars, with low-cost options like Craigslist and Yelp and services like Groupon competing with radio, cable television, billboards and other so-called old media.
Another theory behind the collapse of commercial liberal talk radio is that it has gone mainstream. Some of the most popular personalities from the now-defunct liberal Air America radio network — Rachel Maddow and Ed Schultz — now command much larger audiences on MSNBC every night, as does the Rev. Al Sharpton, who is syndicated on dozens of black talk radio stations. Air America’s biggest star, Al Franken, is now a U.S. senator.
Millions of listeners who want left-wing talk can still find it. But that won’t replace stalwarts like WWRL, where I used to love spending three hours each day interviewing guests, arguing with callers and ranting about snarled traffic, late trains, warped politics and the state of the world.”
RBR-TVBR observation: It’s interesting how Lewis described Clear Channel’s rock-and-a-hard place situation. Of course, he’s right. With the advent of streaming on the smartphone, traditional radio stations have lost their value and CCME is now a slave to the debt it created for itself, post-consolidation. “Squeezing” and “standardizing” their stations has also not helped their value in many cases, but they have to pay the interest on their $20 billion debt—that’s the bottom line. CCME is also cutting local conservative content, not just liberal. The “Quinn and Rose” loss at WPGB-FM Pittsburgh has met with a huge outcry in that market, and on our website.