When I first heard that Clear Channel Raleigh was changing the format of WRDU-FM, 106.1 from country music to something called "Rush Radio," I thought: Wouldn't it be cool, in a nerdy way, if the station was devoted solely to the music of Rush? It's a very "satellite radio" sort of concept, but why not? At least RDU would be getting back to its rock roots.
No such luck. Instead, the San Antonio-based radio giant Clear Channel has reprogrammed WRDU as a talk station with a daylong cavalcade of conservative stars, headlined by that "talent on loan from God," the gaseous Rush Limbaugh.
If you're a card-carrying liberal, you may rightly be asking yourself: Isn't there enough conservative radio in the Triangle already? Why isn't there equal counterprogramming of progressive talk across the radio band? And does it even matter that there isn't?
It may seem as though there is a lot of conservative talk on the radio, for a few reasons. It's been easy to find Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and the like for several years on locally owned Curtis Media Group's WPTF-AM, 680.
Clear Channel, which also owns G105, 100.7 "The River" and other popular FM stations in the Raleigh-Durham listening area, decided late last year to flip WRDU "The Rooster," a country station since 2006, over to the talk radio format (in an effort to take a piece of Curtis Media's top-rated WQDR), snatching Limbaugh, Hannity and a couple of other shows from Curtis Media.
So WPTF rejiggered its lineup to be more local and newsy, with Rush's former lunchtime spot now occupied by Dave Ramsey's syndicated call-in talk show dedicated to personal finances. WPTF's general manager David Stuckey says the response has been good so far.
"[Ramsey's] not going to lose any audience because of Rush," says Stuckey. "His listener and Rush's listener are typically not the same person."
But WPTF still leans right. Local afternoon host Bill LuMaye is very upfront about his conservative views, and the station retains the syndicated shows of right-wing talkers Mark Levin and Allen Hunt.
Elsewhere on the FM dial, you can find proudly non-PC, right-as-Rush sentiments on your regular morning show menu, mixed in with your Nickelback, All-American Rejects and Black-Eyed Peas.
Yep, I'm talking about G105's Bob and the Showgram, a ratings boon for the station since 1993. The host, Bob Dumas, is well known for antics such as urging drive-time listeners to run those pesky bicyclists off the road, spouting offensive stereotypes about Native Americans and African-Americans, and dispatching a producer flunky à la The O'Reilly Factor to hassle people in line for passports at Raleigh's Mexican Consulate for proof of U.S. citizenship. (Dumas was pissed because he didn't like the consulate's Mexican flag flying "right next to the Burger King.")
Oh, sure, he gets suspended for his shenanigans and slurs now and then. But firings on the order of Don Imus don't happen very often—not if the revenues are good. Like Rush, who regularly spouts racist bilge, Dumas will likely never be driven off the air, as long as he's stackin' that cheddar for the bosses. Dumas' show is also illustrative of how hate is mainstreamed in the media. In the case of Bob and the Showgram, just mix it in with some talk about the kids, marriage, American Idol, a funny anecdote about, say, mall parking—just everyday stuff.
Over at Rush Radio, that formula for the morning wake-and-hate is emulated on The Morning Rush; it's Fox & Friends for the radio, and the daily subject of hatred, of course, is The Annointed One (actually, the elected one, but no matter), Barack Hussein Obama, dubbed "P-Bo" by the show's male co-host, KC O'Dea.
For three and a half hours leading up to the 9 a.m. show by the clownish Glenn Beck, KC and his desk mate Carmen talk about local headlines and take calls about subjects ranging from the Founding Fathers being yanked out of the 11th-grade history curriculum in Raleigh schools to a dispute between the co-hosts over who contributes more to a household, a working dad or a stay-at-home mom.
And then he comes up in the conversation. Last Wednesday, Obama was talking sanctions against Iran in reaction to its nuclear ambitions, and KC and Carmen were having none of that weak crap.
"Poor Iran," KC snarked, "they are shaking in whatever they wear under the beekeeper outfits." He went on to opine that we should send troops over there and kick their suicidal Muslim asses, but Carmen lamented that Obama will never do it, and that's just a shame for our standing in the world.
"The rest of the world already looks at us like we're wusses with the election of Obama," she fretted. Fox's Gretchen Carlson couldn't have said it better.
It's a collection of talking points and articles of faith the modern know-nothings have down pat (certainly better than they know their science or American history). Heck, Sarah Palin doesn't even need to write all of 'em on her hand.
So where is all of the liberal talk radio to counter all this? Well, if you search around a little bit, you can find some. The death of Air America has not stopped Chapel Hill's WCHL-AM, 1360, a low-wattage station that carries some popular progressive talk hosts from other networks: the comedian Stephanie Miller, the brainy Thom Hartmann and the bombastic Ed Schultz, whose profile has been raised over the past year thanks to his 6 p.m. show on MSNBC.
WCOM-FM, 103.5 in Carrboro broadcasts the progressive Alternative Radio at 9 a.m. Tuesdays. Again, not the farthest-reaching signal on the dial, but at least it's something. And WNCU-FM, 90.7 runs Amy Goodman's excellent hour-long Democracy Now! program at 6 p.m., Monday through Friday.
But that's it. The best spots on the radio dial are already spoken for, and their owners just aren't going for liberal talk. The research tells them it's a bust.
"I think the key is that talk radio is part information and part entertainment," says Richard Harker of Harker Research, a Raleigh firm that helped WPTF make programming decisions after losing Rush and friends to Clear Channel. "The progressive talk show hosts have been earnest and intelligent, but not necessarily entertaining."
I disagree: Miller and her crew are funny, and Schultz is very excitable. But I have a theory: Some progressives are just turned off by the bluster of political talk in general and would rather listen to public radio WUNC-FM, 91.5 for a civil discussion on The Diane Rehm Show or just a grown-up presentation of the news, minus spin, and long on details. I base this on my girlfriend, who is as progressive as they come but threatens to leave the room whenever I try to watch the blustery Keith Olbermann on MSNBC.
Put 'em all together—public radio, liberal talk, MSNBC—and they don't have nearly the effect on the mainstream media, and the public discourse, as Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck. One crazy comment or freshly devised narrative from either of these jokers can kill a whole news cycle for those of us who want to hear facts. So how do we fight back, without becoming the flip side of the same douchey coin, as Jon Stewart would say?
We can start by demanding more from our news outlets. Tell MSNBC it's an insult to pit a credible scientist against some obnoxious climate-change denier with zero credentials who offers nothing but derisive chuckles, wisecracks and loud interruptions while the scientist is trying to have a serious discussion. Shoot off an e-mail to that TV anchor the next time he or she lets some propagandist get away with utter BS passed off as fact. And let your favorite cable news outlet know it's not necessary to file a news report about Limbaugh every time he says something vile. That's news?
Conservatives have made this term a dirty word, but yes, we need a fairness doctrine—not one that polices speech but one that limits media ownership and syndication in a market. We have to demand, as consumers, a more diverse, fact-based news media.
Because if we don't, then maybe Carmen the Right-Wing Radio Soccer Mom is right: Liberals are just a bunch of wusses.