Glenn Beck and the Economics of Crazy Talk Radio

Glenn Beck's increasingly dadaist take on the Egypt revolts prompted David Frum to reach back into the archives to pull this piece on the incentives that drive crazy right-wing talk radio. In a nutshell: The impression that conservative radio thrives in operatic indignation has set off a race to see who can stake out the position of most operatic and most indignant in a crowded field:

Conservative talk radio has never been more angry and extreme than today. You might think that's a response to the Obama presidency. But even more, conservative talkers are responding to a collapse in advertising revenues.

According to Scott Fybush, the proprietor of North East Radio Watch, talk radio has lost 30-40% of its ad revenues over the past two years.

Further, in an interview with a talk radio trade publication, Talkers Magazine, late last year, Talk Radio Networks CEO Mark Masters said: "2008 will be known as the year that weak syndicated programs began dying off in droves," adding that "it has only just begun."

In this environment, radio hosts believe that anger is their only path to survival. "If you're not the most extreme person on the radio or making the most outrageous headlines," says Fybush, "there is going to be some portion of the base that is going to ignore you and move onto someone who is more extreme."

One of the most civil voices in talk radio, Michael Medved, explains the economic pressure upon the industry. He told NewMajority: "In this [economic] environment, you have something of a push to be outrageous, to be on the fringe, because what you're desperately competing for is... P-1 listeners [those who tune in most frequently]."

The success of Rush and the rise of Glenn suggest that outrage and income grow in proportion, but I'd be interested in reading market research that looks at how audience grows after the host adopts particularly outlandish positions.

Read the full story at FrumForum.