Has Right-Wing Radio Run Its Course?

Rush Limbaugh's ratings are down 30%, and he's not alone

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The heavy-hitters of conservative radio talk shows are bleeding listeners according to Crain's. The industry report says Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and others hit a "slump" in October from which they've failed to recover. Limbaugh's ratings are down 33 percent, a large enough blow to prompt Salon's Alex Pareene to wonder if America might be done with Rush. However, given that Hannity's and fellow conservative Mark Levin's evening show are both down 28 percent, we have to wonder if the loud-mouthed, apocalypse-warning, slur-slinging pundits are a fad that's cooling like shutter shades or Pinkberry.

It's been a tough couple of years for conservative hosts. The Daily Beast's John Avalon reports "that hyper-partisan talk has been declining or flat-lining between ‘09 and ‘10, despite the intensity of the election year." Citing a demand for more independent, local voices, radio companies are reflecting the shift in their programming schedules. Since last fall, radio stations have dropped syndicated talk shows from Sean Hannity and Glenn Back in major markets like Salt Lake City and Philadelphia, where Beck got his start. Diversity of programming is well and good, but some think that Americans are just plain tired of hearing conservative pundits' negative rhetoric. Longtime radio executive Randall Bloomquist explained the industry's thinking to Avalon:

There are a lot of program directors whose radio ‘spider-sense’ is tingling… They're thinking ‘this conservative thing is kind of running its course. We're saying the same things from morning 'til night and yes, we've got a very loyal core audience--but if we ever want to grow, if we want to expand, we've got to be doing more than 18 hours a day of ‘Obama is a socialist.’

Who's filling the time slots? More objective hosts who can talk about a variety of topics, says Bloomquist. Tired of bad news, Americans--and, more importantly for the radio executives, advertisers--seem to be asking for "somebody that can connect with people who can do humorous topics, somebody who can have some fun on the air." Rush Limbaugh has never fit that mold. Perusing Media Matters' 168 pages worth of accusatory blog posts provide good proof of the host's backlog of offensive statements, misrepresentation of facts and surly demeanor. The chronology of transgressions shows well how Limbaugh barked something blogworthy at every available opportunity. Low points this year include the time he mocked victims of the Japan earthquake and the 17-second rant in fake Chinese ridiculing a foreign president.

There's also a point to be made about talk show hosts covering relevant topics. Pareene provides a more detailed account of why Americans don't like Rush's bad attitude. "We're still suffering from mass unemployment after decades of wage stagnation, and while it seems like no one in the press particularly cares anymore (they've all moved on to THE DEFFY-CIT), it also seems like the multimillionaire jerk-off radio shouter aggressively doesn't care, as Digby pointed out with a recent Rush transcript," he said. Fellow famously very rich host Glenn Beck might be suffering a similar fate. Reaching for a reason his show's ratings are down 50 percent, some 300 advertisers had bailed and the departure of Beck himself from Fox News, New York Times media critic David Carr wrote simply, the show can be "a bummer to watch."

A poll out last week by Suffolk University showed 28 percent of Americans counted Fox as their most trusted source of news--a comfortable ten point lead on second place CNN. As we pointed out then, when asked which political reporter they most trusted, the vast majority of respondents said either "don't know" or "none."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.