14 February 2010
Talk Radio: It's Just Business
There was a sort of tea party outside the offices of radio station WROW yesterday to protest the station's change of format from conservative talk radio to simulcast music. The protesters' indignation was understandable, because the format change has taken Glenn Beck off the local airwaves for the time being. It wouldn't surprise me if some of Beck's fans saw some political motive in the move, but station representatives told the demonstrators that this particular lineup of talkers was silenced locally purely for business reasons. The station was declining in the ratings and it cost too much to broadcast the syndicated talkers. Lest anyone interpret this as proof of a decline in the popularity of conservative talk, I should note that the station lost much of its ratings to another conservative station whose flagship personality is a local conservative talker who had formerly worked for WROW. You could argue that the outcome represents a triumph for localism, though the rival station also carries national talkers. But such is the national mood that some people attach themselves to certain talkers who become (in their minds) tribunes of the people, on whose fortunes the nation depends. If Glenn Beck is a political figure, then his disappearance from any market (however temporary it will prove to be) will look like a political act. It's ironic, I suppose, since the "left" are the people who supposedly politicize everything, including business decisions, but if you think about it, once you assume that some faction politicizes everything, you too politicize everything. If some people think that there's less freedom of speech because Glenn Beck has no voice (apart from cable TV) in the Capital District, it just goes to show that, as some of the same people say, freedom isn't free.