NEWS BLOG (WSAU) It's been a long time since I've taken a complaint from a liberal listener calling for 'balance' on the radio station. The conversation usually goes something like this. "You have Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin and Jerry Bader... they're all conservatives. Can't you put just one liberal into your line-up in the name of balance ."
The problem has always been that there are no liberal shows that have ratings that approach the programs that are in my line-up. So the response is, "Should I lower my ratings in the name of political balance? Should I explain to my advertisers that there are fewer people hearing their commercials but we have much better balance than before?"
Ed Schultz was the liberal host who came the closest to having radio success. But yesterday he announced that hes discontinuing his three-hour radio program in favor of a one-hour webcast. I'd always thought some of his success was because he sounded like Rush Limbaugh. Similar voices - completely different political views.
Schultz was one of those rare cases where people liked him less the more they knew about him. And audience members sensed he was dishonest, which is usually the kiss of death. He'd sometimes brag that he was beating Sean Hannitys ratings in several major cities. It was a transparent half-truth that his audience caught on to. He'd only reference markets where the Hannity show was tape delayed into the evening, and he was on in the most-listened-to afternoon time slot. His election-eve rant that Scott Walker was days away from being indicted as also made-up hyperbole.
Even stations that want to add a liberal host have unappealing choices. Randi Rhodes and Stephanie Miller have low ratings and very few affiliates. Jim Hightower was good but hes old now and hasn't been on the radio for years. Al Franken was a well-known name, but not particularly good on the radio. The most successful left-wing broadcast is Democracy Now from the non-commercial Pacifica network; it's not available to commercial stations.
Whether you agree or disagree with what our conservative hosts say, talent and ratings-wise there is no substitute.
Image: Ed Schultz/REUTERS