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How the Feds Gave a Competitive Advantage to Conservative Radio

Summary:
This point is obvious once you think about it. It’s basic economics. It’s just that I had never thought about it. It is also worth noting that talk radio in the 1980s was a much more ideologically diverse industry than it is today, with many hosts from both the political left and right. Contrary to conservative talk radio hosts who explain their dominance by the existence of a silent majority of average Joe listeners, ironically it was the federal government that boosted right-wing dominance of talk radio. As historian Brian Rosenwald argues, left-wing talk radio hosts had to compete for listeners with government-subsidized, center-left NPR affiliates, while right-wing hosts had a clearer competitive field. Station owners could guarantee a larger audience to

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How the Feds Gave a Competitive Advantage to Conservative Radio

This point is obvious once you think about it. It’s basic economics. It’s just that I had never thought about it.

It is also worth noting that talk radio in the 1980s was a much more ideologically diverse industry than it is today, with many hosts from both the political left and right. Contrary to conservative talk radio hosts who explain their dominance by the existence of a silent majority of average Joe listeners, ironically it was the federal government that boosted right-wing dominance of talk radio.

As historian Brian Rosenwald argues, left-wing talk radio hosts had to compete for listeners with government-subsidized, center-left NPR affiliates, while right-wing hosts had a clearer competitive field. Station owners could guarantee a larger audience to advertisers simply by picking right-wing instead of left-wing talk radio programs. Talk radio’s conservative bent is the unintended product of the government’s halfhearted attempt to create a nationalized broadcasting system in the 1970s. (Though I wouldn’t expect a “Rush was Made Possible By Listeners like You” slogan to appear on a complimentary NPR tote bag any time soon.)

From Paul Matzko, “The Fairness Doctrine Was the Most Deserving Target of Rush Limbaugh’s Rage,” Reason.com, February 19, 2021.

David Henderson
David R. Henderson (born November 21, 1950) is a Canadian-born American economist and author who moved to the United States in 1972 and became a U.S. citizen in 1986, serving on President Ronald Reagan's Council of Economic Advisers from 1982 to 1984.[1] A research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution[2] since 1990, he took a teaching position with the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California in 1984, and is now a full professor of economics.[3]

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