03/20

Talk Radio: Is it Safe to be Unpopular?

And the furor over Rushgate goes on…

Piping in from the perspective of Talk Radio talent was Tampa Bay’s Mark Larsen, who wrote this to NTS Media Online’s Al Peterson:

It’s the Internet — it has changed everything. It used to be only the immediate listening audience at the time of an ‘offense’ by a host responded to the incident — usually by calling the show or writing a snail-mail letter to the manager. If the immediate audience was amiable to the host, it was like a tree falling in the forest and no one cared. But with the Internet, incidents get Tweeted, YouTube’d, played and replayed ad nauseum. Incidents go viral and never evaporate. And folks who have never even heard of a particular host or show come running with torches and pitchforks and threaten sponsors. We even post podcasts of previous shows on our station websites so that a watchdog group need not even ‘roll tape’ on an adversary. Lastly, the country, as a whole, is as thin-skinned as I’ve ever seen. I can tell you that I am certainly not the same Talk jockey I was in the 80′s — and even since the last election. But most of my listeners haven’t noticed, because everything has evolved. That’s the key. Keep your principals, but evolve — or become a dinosaur.

I don’t think the country has become thin-skinned, but the country has certainly become empowered. With tyrants toppling all over the Middle East and Africa thanks in no small part to people-powered social media, it should come as no surprise that crowd-power can be turned on any message or any messenger at any time the crowd wishes.

As Mark writes, once upon a time the news cycle would carry old news away like rain down a drain with few but the most attentive even noticing.  But today, mass attention is sparked easily by the salacious and the outrageous.  And once sparked, social media people-power can fan the flames until fatigue sets in or heads roll, whichever comes first.

While it used to be challenging to organize effectively enough to force advertisers off a radio show weeks after the original sin, nowadays it’s easy. Even if the offended persons never were or would be listeners to the show that created the original offense.  Even if the shows that would be affected by such an advertiser boycott have completely clean hands in the matter and are guilty of nothing more than sharing the same airwaves as Mr. Limbaugh.

Social media and people-power work both ways of course.  One would think that the same social tsunami that came down on Rush for his crime could be summoned to protect the notion that, while certain statements are wrong and dumb, speech which doesn’t infringe on the rights of others is still free.

But perhaps not in a world where Rush himself discovers Twitter only last week.  Social media can be your friend, but only if your friends understand and use it.

Meanwhile, over on satellite radio, Howard Stern and Dr. Laura are all smiles. Been there, done that, took the door with the big EXIT sign overhead.  Is that what we want once again and forever?

Back in 1952, Adlai Stevenson once provided his definition of a free society: “[It is] a society where it is safe to be unpopular.”

It’s still safe to be unpopular, but it’s not safe to underestimate the audience, now empowered and firmly in charge.

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  • guest

     

    Ahhhh should the audience BE in charge??? I don’t think so.. and
    that’s no different then when Stern or Dr. Laura were on the local
    airwaves. That was always the biggest problem with management, they knew
    who they hired and when someone went off the color chart or out of the
    lines, they would succumb to the audience. I think it was a disservice
    to the talent and to the audience. They served the dinner and its what
    the audience ordered, they shouldn’t be able to take it to the back of
    the kitchen. When Imus went to Sharptons grounds as opposed to having
    Sharpton come to him he lost who he was. Protests and hysteria all of
    it, radio USED to be about entertaining and having fun and provoking
    your audience, can’t do it anymore because it creates hysteria. All of a
    sudden Rush Limbaugh woke up in 2012 and was faced with a new game
    plan.. things changed, times changed and ya know what… HE CHANGED. he
    had to and will have to in order to survive. The rules were different
    times were different there used to never be rating systems on movies on
    records .. heck there used to never be video games.. Our lives have
    changed the internet has changed the way we do things and how we view
    things. Its an open society that promotes tolerance but is driven in a
    good part by violence. Its a huge sub culture. Hard to know where the
    lines are to be drawn. Where does a talk talent with a large personality
    go? How do they behave.. who says whats appropriate or not? I guess if
    we go back to the origin of community standards which is what stations
    were supposed to abide by it becomes confusing as to exactly what
    community standards mean today.

  • Ginger Daughtry

    Few have commented on this overlooked aspect of Rush’s transgression: it wasn’t merely salacious, defaming, or outrageous.  Those are the tired, superficial elements of his 3-day tirade.  If you had been listening during that week, and I was, and if you had googled the transcript of Sandra Fluke’s actual congressional testimony, which I did, you would find that everything Rush said about her was based on lies. He didn’t simply misrepresent her, he put words – stupid, pointless, incendiary words – in her mouth.  And on that basis he proceeded to rake her and her viewpoint through the mud.

    I support the right for free speech to be hateful, as much as I hate it.  But what Rush has increasingly done over this last decade is to routinely misinform his audience about actual facts. What he hasn’t considered is that now the ‘crowd,’ which is not necessarily made up of ditto heads, has found a way to push back.

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    I appreciate your argument, but please understand that my post wasn’t about truth or politics, it was about social media.

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    The kind of “in charge” I’m talking about is that the consumer is “in charge” of the tools to empower themselves.  This may not be good or bad, it simply is.

  • Johnford

    The Rush controversy aside, a smart programmer knows that a reaction, positive or negative, is exactly what the host is hired to do. Smart talk programmers know that complaints means the programming is working, hitting buttons. That’s what hosts do, aggravate response. As Truman said, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    Sounds right to me, John! Thanks!

  • Ginger Daughtry

    Mark, I probably went a bit sideways on the political aspect of the question.  I was actually agreeing to your point that due to social media and the internet in general, the landscape has changed and that hot talk personalities such as Limbaugh find themselves dealing with people outside their own audience in a way they never would have anticipated even five years ago.

  • Ginger Daughtry

    Mark, I probably went a bit sideways on the political aspect of the question.  I was actually agreeing to your point that due to social media and the internet in general, the landscape has changed and that hot talk personalities such as Limbaugh find themselves dealing with people outside their own audience in a way they never would have anticipated even five years ago.

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