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Thread: Talk Radio Made Today’s Republican Party

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    Talk Radio Made Today’s Republican Party

    Talk Radio Made Today’s Republican Party

    AM stations just wanted to keep listeners entertained—but ended up remaking the Republican Party.





    No one set out to turn the airwaves into a political weapon—much less deputize talk-radio hosts as the ideological enforcers of a major American political party. Instead the story of how the GOP establishment lost its power over the Republican message—and eventually the party itself—begins with frantic AM radio executives and a former Top 40 disc jockey, Rush Limbaugh.

    In the late 1980s, AM radio was desperate for new content. Listeners had migrated to FM because music sounded better on there, and advertising dollars had followed. Talk-radio formats offered a lifeline—unique programming that FM didn’t have. And on August 1, 1988, Limbaugh debuted nationally. At the outset, Limbaugh wasn’t angling to become a political force—he was there to entertain and make money. Limbaugh’s show departed from the staid, largely nonpartisan, interview and caller-based programs that were the norm in earlier talk radio. Instead, Limbaugh was a consummate showman who excited listeners by being zany and fun and obliterating boundaries, offering up something the likes of which many Americans had never heard before.

    Limbaugh conveyed his politics through everything from soap-opera teasers complete with humorous casting choices—in one titled Gulf War Won, Betty White drew the assignment of the first lady Barbara Bush, while Limbaugh cast James Earl Jones as General Colin Powell—and gags like “caller abortions,” in which screaming and vacuum-cleaner sounds drowned out the voice on the other end of the phone.

    Noting Limbaugh’s success, radio executives started hiring conservative hosts—first local personalities, and then later national names like G. Gordon Liddy and Michael Reagan—to fill time slots on an expanding number of talk stations.

    Although leading Republicans were slow to catch on to the political potential of the medium, by the mid-1990s, talk radio was an integral element of GOP communications strategies. It provided a boost for Republicans as they pushed to enact an agenda and worked to win elections. Republicans, including House Speaker Newt Gingrich, pumped information to hosts, chatted with them regularly, and generally saw talk radio as an ideal way to reach their base with a message and learn how voters around the country felt about key issues.

    Many on the left surmised that the hosts were puppets, plugging whichever policies Gingrich and others wanted them to. But selling the GOP message was never the hosts’ top priority. In my research into the history of conservative talk radio, the executives, producers, and hosts whom I interviewed told me over and over that their main goal was to produce the best radio show each day, one that could command the largest audience possible that tuned in for the longest possible time.

    Over time, this focus on the commercial imperatives of AM radio would transform politics. To keep audiences engaged and entertained, hosts grew more and more strident as the years passed, depicting politics as warfare—and started targeting moderates in the Republican Party.
    “Totalitarianism in power invariably replaces all first-rate talents, regardless of their sympathies, with those crackpots and fools whose lack of intelligence and creativity is still the best guarantee of their loyalty.”

    ~ Hannah Arendt

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    Limbaugh declared, “There’s no such thing as a moderate. A moderate is just a liberal disguise … "

    I did not know he had said that but it makes sense considering the "no such thing as a moderate" ethos from the rightwing members here.
    “Totalitarianism in power invariably replaces all first-rate talents, regardless of their sympathies, with those crackpots and fools whose lack of intelligence and creativity is still the best guarantee of their loyalty.”

    ~ Hannah Arendt

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    Things are beginning to make sense now.
    Not where I breathe, but where I love, I live...
    Robert Southwell, S.J.

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    Quote Originally Posted by phillygirl View Post
    Things are beginning to make sense now.
    He's obsessed with talk radio because he listens to it. Well, that and never-Trumper opinion sites.
    May we raise children who love the unloved things - the dandelion, the worm, the spiderlings.
    Children who sense the rose needs the thorn and run into rainswept days the same way they turn towards the sun...
    And when they're grown and someone has to speak for those who have no voice,
    may they draw upon that wilder bond, those days of tending tender things and be the one.

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    Talk radio? Do people with phones even listen to that?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lady Marva View Post
    Talk radio? Do people with phones even listen to that?
    I do. I listen to Rush Limbaugh, Ben Shapiro, John Rothmann, Michael Savage, Sebastian Gorka, and some programs on NPR.

    I frequently just turn it off for awhile either because it's too frantic or because they are playing that god damned commercial for Kars For Kids.
    I'm thinking that once, in 1953, a group of interesting people just happened to be in a coffee shop at the same time and a great discussion of issues, ideas, and the meaning of life occurred. Since then we have been waiting at Starbucks for Lawrence Ferlinghetti to say something heavy.

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    Weren't there "Republicans" before radio existed...………...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Novaheart View Post
    I do. I listen to Rush Limbaugh, Ben Shapiro, John Rothmann, Michael Savage, Sebastian Gorka, and some programs on NPR.

    I frequently just turn it off for awhile either because it's too frantic or because they are playing that god damned commercial for Kars For Kids.


    I'm not going to waste time reading the whole Atlantic piece. I know where it will end up, but I'm curious: does the author have any idea why liberals/Democrats didn't establish a talk radio presence for themselves? Why Air America failed, for example?
    “The interesting thing about the Green New Deal is it wasn’t originally a climate thing at all.... We really think of it as a how-do-you-change-the-entire-economy thing.” —Saikat Chakrabarti, then AOC's Chief of Staff, explaining the Green New Deal for the hard of hearing.

    "We have to stop demonizing people and realize the biggest terror threat in this country is white men, most of them radicalized to the right, and we have to start doing something about them." —CNN's Don Lemon, showing how to stop demonizing people.

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    Not for nothing, radio had an earlier crisis as well, when the big studios like CBS and NBC went into television. They sold off their radio stations at fire sale prices.

    Up till then the radio programming resembled the TV programming we remember, a varieties of shows, dramas and comedies like The Lone Ranger, Amos 'n' Andy and The Shadow.

    The new station owners were virtually penniless, and stumbled upon a "Top 40" format mostly because 40 singles was about all they could afford.

    And the rest, as they say, is history.
    “The interesting thing about the Green New Deal is it wasn’t originally a climate thing at all.... We really think of it as a how-do-you-change-the-entire-economy thing.” —Saikat Chakrabarti, then AOC's Chief of Staff, explaining the Green New Deal for the hard of hearing.

    "We have to stop demonizing people and realize the biggest terror threat in this country is white men, most of them radicalized to the right, and we have to start doing something about them." —CNN's Don Lemon, showing how to stop demonizing people.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Billy Jingo View Post
    ...Noting Limbaugh’s success, radio executives started hiring conservative hosts—first local personalities, and then later national names like G. Gordon Liddy and Michael Reagan—to fill time slots on an expanding number of talk stations.
    Why not hire liberal talk hosts?

    Anyway, your excerpt doesn't read like someone who has actually listened to conservative talk radio, BJ. I don't sense that he has an explanation for the format's success. It reads as if to him it was an Act of God, a nor'easter that blew in out of nowhere and transformed Republicans....
    “The interesting thing about the Green New Deal is it wasn’t originally a climate thing at all.... We really think of it as a how-do-you-change-the-entire-economy thing.” —Saikat Chakrabarti, then AOC's Chief of Staff, explaining the Green New Deal for the hard of hearing.

    "We have to stop demonizing people and realize the biggest terror threat in this country is white men, most of them radicalized to the right, and we have to start doing something about them." —CNN's Don Lemon, showing how to stop demonizing people.

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