As California Goes
I hesitate to celebrate too soon, but this seems to me to be a very good sign:
Tune in to conservative talk radio in California, and the insults quickly fly. Capturing the angry mood of listeners the other day, a popular host in Los Angeles called Republican lawmakers who voted to raise state taxes "a bunch of weak slobs."
With their trademark ferocity, radio stars who helped engineer Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's rise in the 2003 recall have turned on him over the new tax increases. On stations up and down the state, they are chattering away in hopes of igniting a taxpayers' revolt to kill his budget measures on the May 19 ballot.
But for all the anti-tax swagger and the occasional stunts by personalities like KFI's John and Ken, the reality is that conservative talk radio in California is on the wane. The economy's downturn has depressed ad revenue at stations across the state, thinning the ranks of conservative broadcasters.
For that and other reasons, stations have dropped the shows of at least half a dozen radio personalities and scaled back others, in some cases replacing them with cheaper nationally syndicated programs.
Casualties include Mark Larson in San Diego, Larry Elder and John Ziegler in Los Angeles, Melanie Morgan in San Francisco, and Phil Cowen and Mark Williams in Sacramento.
Two of the biggest in the business, Roger Hedgecock in San Diego and Tom Sullivan in Sacramento, have switched to national shows, elevating President Obama above Schwarzenegger on their target lists.
Another influential Sacramento host, Eric Hogue, has lost the morning rush-hour show that served as a prime forum to gin up support for the recall of Gov. Gray Davis. Now he airs just an hour a day at lunchtime on KTKZ-AM (1380).
"It's lonely, it's quiet, and it's a shame," Hogue said of California's shrinking conservative radio world. "I think this state has lost a lot of benefit. I don't know if we can grow it back any time soon."
Many of the others on California's conservative radio circuit are less belligerent. "It doesn't need to be ranting and raving all the time," Hedgecock said.
And apart from KFI, whose morning show with Bill Handel draws 652,000 listeners a week, the California shows are far less popular. The only hosts of conservative programs with a weekly audience of more than 100,000 are Doug McIntyre of KABC (790) in Los Angeles, Lee Rodgers of KSFO (560) in San Francisco and Rick Roberts of KFMB (760) in San Diego.
"The content is the same," said Hogue, "but it doesn't have the reach it once did. There are major players gone."
It's a tired schtick. There will probably always be some kind of know-it-all conservative blowhards on the air. They've been around forever. But they are terribly overexposed and out of fashion at the moment, spouting tire, stale bromides that just don't seem to have much salience.
The top national guys will keep their audience, but if we're lucky we'll see a time when you can drive through rural America and something besides fatuous wingnut gasbags and fatuous wingnut preachers will be on the radio dial. The country will be far better for it.