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The invisible hand of free market is, in theory, supposed to bring people what it wants, right? If there’s a market niche to be filled, the Hand will fill it. There are exceptions, though — called “market failures” — and we’re seeing a big one right now. The market for progressive talk radio isn’t nearly as big as that of its incendiary right-wing cousin — but it’s there, and it’s successful, and it’s an effective tool of organizing across progressive communities across the country.
Oops! Can’t have that! And so, suddenly this month, progressive talk radio is being strangled in its bed. That hasn’t happened so far in Los Angeles, where it resides at KTLK 1150 — owned, somewhat incongruously, by right-wing Clear Channel Communications, a major distributor of right-wing talk radio shows.
Clear Channel is itself owned, disturbingly enough, by Mitt Romney’s own Bain Capital. (Bain, by the way, has loaded it up with debt and is in the process of gutting it — but that’s another story, which you can read here.) Clear Channel has been facing some bad economic times of late; aside from Bain’s “management.” Like other companies such as Dial Global and Cumulus Media, this has largely due to a failure in its talk radio stations. That failure is known by the name “Rush Limbaugh” – and it’s killing off radio stations across the country.
This is the year that advertisers, spurred on by activists, finally got sick of Limbaugh. This intensified after his protracted attack on newly minted Southern California attorney Sandra Fluke (Georgetown Law, ’12 — and “Fluke” rhymes with “shook”) as a “slut” and “prostitute” and worse for her resistance against her university’s health insurance program blocking access to birth control — and particularly on the tragic consequences for one of her classmates who did not want to testify before Congress herself. The ”Flush Rush” movement has been highly successful – as recently described in this Daily Kos essay. (If you like your schadenfreude on the informed side, go ahead and read it.)
But there’s something else in that essay that really caught my eye. It’s this: in the wake of the election, Clear Channel Communications has decided to pull the plug on its progressive talk radio format in Portland — liberal Portland. Progressive talk is pretty much the only ideological balance to conservative talk and thunderous religious program scams on the radio. (Yes, there is Pacifica, parts of NPR/APR, college and university stations, and various ethnic/racial minority shows, but these are largely smaller and uncoordinated.) Up and down the West Coast and in college towns to our east, Clear Channel and its competitors are converting progressive talk stations to sports talk radio — because God knows that AM radio doesn’t already have enough of that.
(As an aside, KPCC long had Patt Morrison – whom I classify with the best progressive interviewers in the country despite her not being really ideological, because “smart, incisive, deft, funny, and fair” are good enough traits to attract most progressive listeners — with her own regular show. Then, they dismantled the show a few months ago, while retaining that of whiny and self-impressed libertarian Larry Mantle. This is a crime against humanity, but apparently no court has jurisdiction to hear the case. Morrison still remains with the station as a fill-in host, so I presume that she can’t be as loud in objecting about it as she otherwise might — or maybe she just really is as good-natured as she seems. Along with the unceremonious sacking of Michelle Brand‘s show, it makes me wonder whether the station is being run by men who walk around their office with their hands covering their genitals because they’re convinced that some successful woman might spring out of nowhere and castrate them at any moment, and the only way to protect against this that is to get rid of them all. Poor Alex Cohen looks like a possible success as well; if so, she may be doomed as a PCCC host. Perhaps she had best develop an on-air stammer so that her bosses feel less threatened by her.)
Anyway … Los Angeles has one of those progressive talkers, as you may know. It’s called KTLK AM 1150 — owned, of course, by Clear Channel — and at this point, without any other knowledge than what has happened this month in Seattle and Portland (and the layoff of an entire staff in Madison, Wisconsin, the day before Thanksgiving) , I would have to list its format as an endangered species.
Portland came first, on November 9. As described here, Portland’s progressive talk radio station KPOJ was unplugged — or rather “converted to a sports talk radio format” — in the wake of the election.
Without warning or explanation, Clear Channel Media, partly owned by investment firm Bain Capital, decided late Friday, Nov. 9 to replace the left wing talk radio station 620 AM with “Fox Sports Radio 620.”
Some fans suspect political motives behind the change which leaves Portland with only conservative talk stations.
When KPOJ morning host Carl Wolfson of Portland, a voice of progressive causes in Oregon and the nation for the past six years, announced the decision on his Facebook page, listeners were shocked and responded with disappointment and outrage.
Meanwhile, in Seattle, progressive talk station KPTK seems to be headed for the same fate.
Progressive talk radio may soon be done in the Seattle-Tacoma market. Various sources are reporting that Seattle’s KPTK-AM (1090) will soon switch formats, from political talk to sports.
When reached for comment KPTK program director Carey Curelop said, “There’s nothing I can confirm or deny.” But CBS Radio – the conglomerate that owns KPTK – has changed the station call letters to KFNQ on its web site. And local radio insiders expect there to be an announcement that the format will flip on Jan. 2.
Rumors have persisted since Portland’s progressive talk station, KPOJ-AM (620) – which is owned by Clear Channel – switched to sports with no warning last week. Earlier this week, political pundit Ed Schulz brought Ring of Fire radio co-host Mike Papantonio onto his show, which airs on KPTK, to speculate on a link between the format changes and last week’s election results. The exchange generated the video embedded in this post.
KTLK already suffered a blow to its progressive offerings back in March — around the time of Limbaugh’s attacks on Fluke — when it took Thom Hartmann off of the air entirely (rather than running his show on delay) after its owner moved its hours to directly opposite those of progressive standout Randi Rhodes. (Ironically, one of the comments to that article suggests just listening to Hartmann streaming live on Portland’s KPOJ. Nice idea while it lasted!) I’m not sure whether to list that act as a murder or a suicide, but either way it disappeared Hartmann from our region.
I have no inside information here that anything is planned — but it seems to me that fans of KTLK might want to get together and let Clear Channel know to leave its format as is. Yes — that could backfire as these thralls of Bain decide to teach progressives a lesson. For political rather than business reasons — remember, that’s called a “market failure” — Bain has a serious stake in progressive talk being unsuccessful. But keeping quiet hasn’t helped things in Seattle or Portland — and I don’t see much reason that it would fend off a sudden commando raid in LA.
My vote is: be loud about protecting KTLK — and start now!
[Disclosure: I have my own bone to pick with KTLK its standing me up for an interview regarding Prop 35 -- which I'll write about eventually -- but that pales next to what they face now. Better a somewhat compromised progressive talk station than none at all!]