The Future of Talk Radio (and Me)

"When they say Talk Radio, they really mean Rush!" Promotional spot on Rush Limbaugh Show

The one enduring thing about right wing talk radio is Rush. He is still, after all these years, the best. He essentially created modern conservative talk radio, and is still heads above the rest. And for those who think they know Rush by reputation, they do not. Quite simply, he has to be heard in his own words.

That said, even Rush is starting to wear on me. He surely is an amazing talent and one of the best political analysts around. But the Obama election has changed his tone slightly, roughened it up a bit, which is enough for me to reach over and shut it off.

The rest of talk radio are bunch of also rans. Most aren't worth much. The only exceptions are Dennis Miller and Hugh Hewitt, who I download automatically to my iPod.

For a couple of years, Hugh Hewitt was the show I listened to regularly. His "intelligent talk" approach was appealing. And he certainly is a fine interviewer. But recently I've started to lose interest. His distinctly "Irish-American" sense of humor I find to be somewhat boorish. He too often promotes companies and charities that benefit himself, his friends, or his church.
And as the number interviews he conducts diminishes, as they seem to be, the less interesting his show is.

Therefore, my new favorite talk show host is Dennis Miller. He has a wonderful demeanor and fabulous vocabulary (except when he confuses the verbs "infer" and "imply", a common mistake and a pet peeve of mine). Talk radio is his natural medium. His chatterbox disposition and skills as a comedian bring new entertainment value to conservative talk. Additionally, his two sidekicks, Sal and Christian, are entertaining in their own right and much superior to those filling similar roles on other shows.

Unfortunately, none of the hosts allign directly with my politics. Rush stands equally on the three legs of American conservatism. Hewitt leans toward the cultural issues. And Dennis is unapoligetic about his 9/11 conversion and his interest in national security conservatism. None of them are particularly coherent when discussing conservative economics.

Which is the reason my favorite podcast is EconTalk with Russ Roberts. Rush may be Rush. Hugh may do interesting book interviews. And Dennis may be funny, engaging, and the most fun on the radio. But if you are me and you really want to be absorbed in some good talk, it's over to Russ Roberts and his econ geek guests.

So, I am left to wonder... if you add bit of Fairness Doctrine, with a bunch of iPod, with increasingly fragmenting interests/markets, what do you get? My bet is a poor future for over the air radio and tough time for present and future talk show hosts. (Most of these guys are already working part time or out of their houses!)

Now that you can download podcasts over the air onto an iPhone, it would be fair to assume that radio as we know it will be going the way of newspapers as we know them. That is, going away.

(Next... why television as we know it will follow newspapers and radio down the memory hole by 2016.)



4:21 PM

Excellent article, Jake, as usual. You did leave out one outstanding talk radio host whom I find absolutely brilliant, although a bit impatient with idiots, Mark Levin.

I can't speak for Hewitt's show or Miller's show (although I LOVE him), but Rush's show makes a LOT of money. As long as there is money in radio, radio will continue. The reasons newspapers are going by the wayside is (1) they don't fairly report NEWS (and by "fairly", I mean both sides of issues) and therefore (2) they don't make money.


4:43 PM

...waiting anxiously for your analysis of television-news's future... -- JP

Terry Cowgill

2:16 PM

Agree about the dreadful Fairness Doctrine. The "fairness" angle is a farce. In think it's "fair" to say that the very people who propose the FD would never even have advocated for it if talk radio was dominated by libs. They really just don't want all that right-wing agitprop going out on the public airwaves. What phonies!

And I largely agree with your assessment of talk radio. I can only stomach about half an hour of Rush. He is a master of grabbing a funny example of left-wing hypocrisy and holding it up like a dirty sweat sock for all to see. Of course, he conveniently ignores the hypocrisy of the right, but that would spoil his act. Rush can be funny, but his schtick wears thin, especially when he's opining on something he knows little about -- like education.

Hewitt is in some ways the thinking-man's Rush. Unlike Rush (and Keith Olbermann), Hewitt has the guts to occasionally book guests with whom he disagrees. The most fascinating shows are when he has on the two law school deans (a conservative and lib) and he asks them punchy questions about the constitutionality of various issues.

On one memorable show, which I blogged about at length, Hewitt played snippets of SCOTUS oral arguments on a 2nd Amendment case concerning D.C's handgun ban and then got reax from the two professors after each justice's argument. Quite possibly the best talk radio I've ever heard.

Hewitt is less compelling when he blathers on about politics. Plus, (I suspect) because he is a conservative defense hawk who never served in the military, he fawns over almost anyone who wears a uniform -- much more so than is necessary or appropriate IMHO.

I completely agree about Miller. Too bad his free podcasts only consist of the first 10 minutes of his show. Dennis is good, and I'd pay to see him do stand-up, but not for the privilege of listening to him on the radio.