Arbitron, the national radio ratings company, finds that among radio formats, the combined news/talk format, which includes personality-driven talk shows, is estimated to reach more than 50 million listeners each week. The format is second only to country music in terms of national audience share.

So what is being broadcast on news/talk radio stations to attract such a large audience? The Center for American Progress asked that same question. Two years ago, it joined forces with the Free Press and completed an extensive study on the subject. The conclusion, as stated in its report “The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio,” conservative talk radio undeniably dominates the format.

The data in the report shows the following:

  •  In the spring of 2007, of the 257 news/talk stations owned by the top five commercial station owners (CBS, Clear Channel, Citadel, Cumulus, and Salem), 91% of the total weekday talk radio programming was conservative, and 9% was progressive.
  • In terms of broadcast hours in a week of talk radio programming, ten times as much conservative talk as progressive talk was aired, that’s more than 2,000 hours of conservative talk heard compared to 254 hours of progressive talk.
  • And, in that same time period, the spring of 2007, looking at the top-10 radio markets, 76% of the programming was conservative versus 24% for progressive talk; the only exceptions were New York and Chicago, where they had more balance in their programming.

Some of the reasons researchers point to for the gap between conservative and progressive talk:

  • The repeal of the Fairness Doctrine. This has allowed station owners to broadcast more opinionated, ideological, and one-sided radio hosts – whether conservative or progressive – without having to balance them with competing views.
  • Consumer demand. Research by Pew indicates that 43% of talk radio listeners are conservative, 23% liberal, and 30% moderate.
  • Consolidation or group ownership vs. local ownership. It appears to be most cost effective and equitable for large, non-local owners to air syndicated programming on a wide scale. Syndicated programs tend to be dominated by conservative talk.

Here is the bottom line for media representatives. If you have a controversial topic with a bent to the left, you may struggle to get air time for your spokesperson and you will definitely need to have a very strong pitch to get the interview booked on conservative talk. You should also prepare your spokesperson for a spirited interview.

 by Martha Sharan