Is there a future for progressive political talk radio?


MicrophoneConservative dominance of the political talk genre is a given, and what little liberal presence there is seems to be diminishing. Politico recently asked if there is a way to restore life to liberal radio in the future.

It suggested five things that need to fall into place for the format to have a chance, and said that it will be hard to pull off even with all five.

The suggestions include:

1. Avoid being a simple mouthpiece for the Democratic Party
2. Find a well-heeled backer
3. Find a hot new talent to command the mic
4. Use the internet as both a place to groom talent and a platform in its own right
5. Be on solid footing in time to benefit from the 2016 elections

Radio Ink publisher Eric Rhoads explained one of the key problems with Air America, the last concerted effort to establish liberal talk on the airwaves. He told Politico, “It seems that the hosts who have tried to make it in the progressive arena have been so driven by a particular agenda first that they have forgotten the entertainment aspect. For instance, I don’t think any of the conservative talk show hosts would be as successful as they are today if they didn’t put entertainment above and beyond whatever is their personal mission.”

RBR-TVBR observation: Maybe we’re wrong, but we just don’t see this taking off. We agree with most of the five-point prescription, but we just don’t see anybody acting on it.

Prescription #2 was part of the Air America formula, which had wealthy backers. However, we think Rhoads nailed it when he said that its air talent didn’t have the necessary radio chops to keep people glued to their receiver. We never forget that the #1 political talker of all time, Rush Limbaugh, spent years honing his talent while spinning the latest Top 40 hits. He was a radio professional before he was a conservative Talker.

We also believe liberal talk was severely challenged by for the most part having access to only second-rate facilities – by the time Air America was getting started, the blowtorches were already in use in the service of other formats, including conservative Talk.

Another problem arguing against another attempt to establish a new liberal talk movement is the trouble all political talk has had keeping sponsors, who increasingly do not want to see their product or service tied to controversial programming.

Maybe a liberal Talk movement will take hold on the internet. But we will be mighty surprised to see it take root on the radio dial.


  1. Three of the best examples of great Liberal Talkers are Phil Hendrie, Tom Leykis and Alan Colmes, and the reason is because politics is not the sole issue (well, except for Alan, but he uses a lot of humor).

    Shows about real life issues and water-cooler conversation with heavy doses of real humor will ensure success. There is incredible talent out there waiting to be discovered.

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