Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Market Failure of Talk Radio

It is no secret that I listen to left wing talk radio. It is also no secret I've cited the reason I tune into left wing radio is because I can finish the sentences of right wing talk show hosts.  This is not a slam on them, but more of a testament to how much of a "wonk" or a political "hack" I am.  After 20 years of listening to talk radio, not to mention that minor "economist" thing I do, nothing surprises me anymore, nothing is new, and thus for intellectual pursuit I go elsewhere.

While that may be my particular case, that does not mean it holds for others.  Sure, younger people coming into the world of adulthood tune in.  Young college boys, disillusioned why women hate them, why their professors hate them, and why they can't find jobs, start to find an explanation why the world isn't turning out they way their high school teachers said it would in right wing talk radio.  Young women who can't find a decent date might listen to Dennis Prager.  But after 5 years the "treatment" of talk radio runs its course much like an anti-biotic treatment - it ends.  It does no more good.

Now this isn't to say that Rush Limbaugh is going to fail or that Sean Hannity isn't going to be renewed for another decade on Foxnews, but this is to say there is the beginnings of an un-served market.  A growing group of people, primarily young, but old as well, who have just plain had their fill and derive no significant marginal utility from listening to an additional hour of Michael Medved.

And it is here the "right wing talk radio" industry is making their largest error and setting themselves up for spectacular market failure.

First, understand that the message all of nationally syndicated talk radio conveys can be consumed, digested and incorporated in the average human brain in about 2 years.  After that there is an "addiction" phase where you like to hear your logic confirmed by people who aren't lefitst ideologues that can easily run a decade.  As you age, however, you start to gain confidence, knowledge, and wisdom.  No leftist or media campaign can confuse you or make you second guess yourself.  YOur ideology is resolved, it's cemented, and it's verified.  You no longer need talk radio.

Second, I'm sorry, the "current" crop of talk radio show hosts are not really "current."  However, this needs some explanation.

Understand radio is a business.  YOu need to make money.  The great thing about radio, however, is that it can be syndicated or broadcasted across the nation.  So when a radio station has the choice of hiring some local talent and having to pay that individual a living wage, or merely "leasing" the broadcasting rights for a nationally syndicated show for 1/10th of the cost, what do you think they're going to do?  Yes, this results in regional superstars like "Jason Lewis" or "Michael Medved" but it also results in homogeneity.  Homogeneity that can be predicted, gets boring, and gets stale.

So while it may be financially beneficial to go with established, seasoned radio show hosts, it prevents any new talent, let alone, better talent from getting in.  Additionally, since this more or less ensconces established talent, it also ensures this talented is aged, old, and separated from upcoming generations, and thus, markets.

It is here we have the third contributing factor to the market failure of talk radio - their inability to address younger generations.  This isn't to say that Rush Limbaugh or Michael Savage don't talk about the debt problems older generations are foisting on younger generations, but rather the fact they plain don't speak to those generations.  Admittedly, this may be a losing proposition.  Most younger people are dumber than hell, ignorant as f$ck, and are so spectacularly brainwashed they'll vote to endebt themselves further, let alone, berate and mock anybody who points this out to them.  But in failing to engage the younger generations, they anchor themselves to the life expectancy of older generations.  THis brings up another point...

Fourth, legacy issues.  If I have a complaint about the work I've done it's been the outright impossibility to get any of the work I've done into the "main stream right wing media."  I've had some decent success.  Glenn Reynolds and Dr. Helen have been kind enough to mention my books.  Even Peter Schiff has been kind enough to host me on his show.  But these people can't be considered to be "chummy chum Foxnews Elites."  For the most part the Sean Hannity's and Michael Savages of the world aren't going to give their younger counterparts the time of day.  They're too busy asking Charles Krauthammer for their latest talking points, and we all know how much Charles Krauthammer jives and resonates with the hip kids nowadays.  The largest point is who precisely is going to replace the Rush Limbaughs and Dennis Pragers of the world?  Who exactly is being groomed to follow in their footsteps? About the ONLY younger person I know of ANY notoriety only has a WEEKEND show and that is Ben Ferguson.  There isn't anybody else i see under 40 being considered as candidate for any significant take over.

Fifth, an industry will arise to serve and un or underserved market.  Introduce the internet.  The internet is not predisposed to younger generations just because it's new, but talent that would have normally been recruited or attracted via traditional media norms are simply refusing to jump through the hoops to score a "gig" or a "contract" with traditional media.  It's too costly and the cost-benefit ratio between time spent and opportunities given just isn't there.  A young, intrepid and out-going individual can simply circumvent traditional media and build their own brand.  They don't need expensive radio equipment, satellites, buildings or broadcast studios, they just need a computer and internet access.  They also don't need to placate the masses, but can speak their minds.  Not just because there's no boss to relegate and regulate their speech and thoughts, but because there are no opportunities or employment opportunties elsewhere.  There is no consequence to being edgy or cutting edge, because, what?  "It was going to ruin your chances at a career?".  This presents the market with not only a more diverse "talk radio/podcast" selection to choose from, but more entertaining and thought provoking.  A talk radio selection that is infinitely more thought provoking, engaging, and entertaining that the stale, milquetoast, cookie cutting tripe that's been going on for the past decade.

Finally, the death knell for talk radio. This new media, no matter how much it is in its infancy, is more profitable to advertisers.  Because renegade podcasters, bloggers, and Youtube Peachers have no restrictions, no employment prospects, let alone, no requiements to be palatable to the masses, they have more loyal listeners.  Because their message is so focused and so directly speaks to their intended audience it is more intimate and sincere.  It is now a daily occurrence I get a "thank you e-mail" from a reader or listener who thanks me for sparing him/her from majoring in a worthless subject.  It is also becoming a semi-daily occurrence that I receive a thank you e-mail for helping a young man with his dating and courting issues.  These two narrow topics are not as wide a scope that Jason Lewis tackles on a daily basis, but advertising on my blog gets a higher rate of return than advertising on his show (AND I WELCOME ANYBODY OVER THERE WHO WANTS TO CHALLENGE IT).  In other words, because of their celebrityship and broad market, advertising on talk radio is a bubble, it isn't worth the rate of return, if positive at all.  But if you're willing to advertise on

The Tom Leykis Show
Dan Carlin
Bill Burr
Captain Capitalism
Small Dead Animals
Five Feet of Fury

or any of the THOUSANDS of smaller blogs, internet radio shows, Youtube Clergy, etc.

you'll get a heck of a lot more bang for your buck.

Besides, would you rather hear about a conservative's attempt to seduce a hot a liberal chick  or Sean Hannity say for the 8,000th time, "You're a great American, my friend?"


Unknown said...

Excellent analysis. If one were to listen to let's say Sean Hannity or watch FOX News all day, they would have blindly believed that Romney would have won in a landslide when he obviously didn't have much of a chance to begin with, especially with his connection to Clear Channel and what that has done to the radio industry. I feel that there's a Hegelian dialectic going on with talk show hosts, which is why I've stopped listening to a bunch of them frequently. At the end of the day, I get the impression that subconsciously they wanted Obama to win because that would have given these people much more to talk about.

In addition to this, I think people have grown tired of listening to pundits like Rush Limbaugh and listening to the same talking points over and over. They become unlikable because of the kinds of stuff that they say that usually becomes blown out of proportion on various websites. Here's a type of statement I'm talking about.

These people drive potential audiences away when they say absurd, obtuse, and frankly ludicrous statements like this that make them look like out-of-touch, angry radical populists rather than sane people like you who can actually get their points across, be blunt and not appear to be insane at the same time. I think geniune conservatives and libertarians need to distance themselves from people like Hannity, Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck or other kinds of pundits that make our cause look like a bunch of angry, misanthropic nutjobs who say outrageous stuff just to sell their products.

The best thing about Obama I can honestly say right now is how he appointed Chuck Hagel to be the new defense secretary and how we're not getting into some unnecessary war with Iran for nothing and in the name of "patriotism," something that the neocons love to use as a propaganda tool. Those are people we also need to distance ourselves from, as a lot of their rhetoric goes all the way back to liberalism if you've ever watched that BBC documentary called "Rise of the Politics of Fear."

Ghost of 503 said...

I was wondering if you got the chance to listen to anyone on Sirius. Although I agree most of current talk is old hat, I'll admit I like Andrew Wilkow.

Anonymous said...

Rush Limbaugh is a unique irreplaceable talent. But, the others really arent, and the young guys below them will get their chance and do pretty well. Andrew Wilcow is Glen Beck's protege, he's only 40 and he's pretty good,

Nobody wants to listen to angry gasbags say the same things all the time: Rush Limbaugh frequently talks NFL, or his hobbies like the latest Apple gadget, Glen Beck recently banned discussion & complaint about Obama from his show, and it is funny that you should mention dating as an example: one of Sean Hannity's recurring bits is interfering with the love lives of his interns, especially the ones dating liberal chicks.

These guys are popular because they are good at what they do. Good showmen will always go to the top of their profession.

Finally, it is interesting that you should mention advertising as a factor for the future: The top radio guys face many advertiser boycotts for not toeing the MSM Lin (seriously, look at the products that ad on Beck's show and tell me these are appropriate for a highly rated show). What makes you think that advertising is any mor of an attractive venue for somebody like SPLC targeted Roosh?

sth_txs said...

Rush Limbaugh and Hannity are hard core establishment whores.

If they truly believed their BS, Ron Paul would have garnered their support and at leat respect based on what they have said in the past.

I fired Rush in the late 90's once I had an internet and could look up the voting record of how much 'Team R' really cared about getting rid of government.

I had moved on to other internet talk radio shows which were far more honest and informative.

The only talk radio I bother listening to for several years now is Jim Puplava at He has gone slightly commercial, but the free shows are still worth listening to.

Anonymous said...

Michael Savage is actually really popular with the younger crowd. I wouldn't throw him in with Rush, Levin, Hannity, etc. He will Obama bash to bring in crowds and pay the bills, but he makes sure to put more interesting stuff on the show.

‘Reality’ Doug said...

While I do not contradict the analysis, I think it could be structurally incomplete. I don't know for sure.

In a nutshell, I think the Hegelian 'opposition' party is dead. The plantation system has progressed far enough that the hope of opposition will fall on deaf ears. All true, but the plantation system will progress until it is either perfected or overthrown as a result of economic collapse. They have the fiat money, a blank check on your life and actions and what you like to think of as your property.

I don't think Thrush Flembaugh is as talented as he is successful. I think the moneyed elite fund what they like and eliminate what does not serve them. I don't think there is or, more to the point, will be enough freedom for free market forces to fill the void of state opposition radio. There is adverse selection. Poor people do not get ahead until they take their political freedom into their own hands effectively, i.e. with adequate wisdom. I don't see enough red-pill money from people culturally unplugged but economically plugged in or somehow self-sufficient.

The political freedom must proceed the economic freedom. I don't think there is enough vitality left to play defense and fill the media void. I am not doing as well Cappy Cap and others, so I might be overly pessimistic on the overall situation.

If others would give their assessments on the vitality question, I think it would be instructive for having a wider perspective. Peer review is a wonderful agent of idea evolution.

Glen Filthie said...

I think they're all headed for the chit can. The flaming lefties are old and past their due date too. All they have now is shock value and maybe some use as agitators.

As you note, I heard it all, I am pretty much done listening to the crap from the other side and all I am waiting for now is for the first shot to be fired.

Anonymous said...

the dying dinosaur of mainstream media is wonderful. what, there are something like 6 major media conglomerates? and all their viewer rates are declining and people want something different, at least it needs to be thought provoking, instead of thought implanting.
the growth the the alternative media is exciting and i am glad to be a small part of it, please checkout stocktonseeker.wordpress

Unknown said...

"Michael Savage is actually really popular with the younger crowd. I wouldn't throw him in with Rush, Levin, Hannity, etc. He will Obama bash to bring in crowds and pay the bills, but he makes sure to put more interesting stuff on the show."

That's one of the things that sets Savage apart from a lot of the guys I've heard who are conservative talk show hosts. Even if you don't like his politics, he's really a great storyteller and seems like a guy you'd wanna have a conversation with at lunch or something when he's not doing his radio show or going into a (well deserved) tirade. He also said many times that Romney wasn't going to win in the first place and that he was done the minute he started running. I don't like his obsession with Iran and this mentality where America doesn't come first and anything that criticizes Israel is blasphemy type of stuff, but he's usually spot on when it comes to other issues.

He wasn't trapped in that sort of fantasy "right-wing bubble" that I've heard been thrown around by people on the centre-left or progressive left.

To be fair, the best left wing or progressive show that I've watched is The Young Turks, even though I've criticized them plenty of times on this blog before. They seem to have a lot of fun with their show and don't take themselves so seriously like that "I'm right, you're wrong, so I can talk over you" Thom Hartmann douche. In addition, they have Ben Manciewicz, who has done a great job being one of the hosts at Turner Classic Movies, working for them, so their videos are sometimes worth watching if he's in them. They have even criticized Obama many times for his hypocrisy and stances on stuff like the NDAA, etc.

David Pakman seems to be a close second, especially since some of his opinions are pretty different than what other progressives or liberals believe. I've seen a couple of interviews where he calmly talked to people from the Westboro Baptist Church without getting all angry and yelling at them back.

Anonymous said...

I agree on Sirius. I don't typically listen to normal radio unless I'm in a rental without sat.

Wilkow hates feminists and does a pretty good job breaking things down. He has a TV show now, which I avoid because it's not nearly as good as his radio show.

Mike Church is a lot of fun and makes a lot of sense without being a hardcore righty. He's way more middle, disliking a lot about either side. I'm guessing you'd actually like him, I sent him a link to your site once. You two seem have similar views on things.

Mike Slater pissed me off with a whole segment about manning up.

Bauer and Rose are pretty good sometimes... but weekends only.

Agree on Hannity and Levin. Get tired of hearing the same ridiculous stuff over and over. to the radio said...

Cap, your analysis is almost complete.

The market failure of talk radio is that it is an industry that is based on the scarcity of radio frequency spectrum.
That used to be true.
But now, the radio market is shrinking because spectrum is unlimited thanks to podcasting.

Radio is an over regulated calcified monster that has neglected and treated it's formerly captive audience with contempt for the last three decades.

Podcasts give me the radio that I always wanted.
Radio gives me straight jacketed lowest common denominator mass appeal garbage that I have hated since the money migrated from AM to FM in the late seventies.
Even AM radio was better before that happened.

And strangely, FM has largely stayed frozen in amber since the late seventies.
The classic rock stations I listened to when I was a kid are still playing the same songs they did thirty years ago.

By the way, your post reeks of sour grapes when you should be doubling down on what you are doing.
Seeking a place in an impossible market is just silly when you've already got the tiger by the tail in podcasting.

Also, I've listened to your podcasts on Box, but only on my home computer.
I haven't figured out how to save target as and therefore your podcast is not portable.
That's not good for you, because I won't listen to you on my mp3 player at work or at home when I am in an AM listening mood.

Anonymous said...

Sean Hannity is an establishment hack! He would back Bush doing the same things that he now bitches about Obama doing. He didn't seem to care to much about gov't spending when the Repub's were wasting money under Bush.

Unknown said...

I think the medium is going to die out soon too. I'm in my late 30's, and thanks to the Internet and my gadgets, I almost never listen to the radio anymore. I put on a local talk station for background noise when I have people in my car. That's it. I download podcasts from independent media producers and listen to them. No commercials, no BS. I can also listen at any point. I think people like Rush and Prager have podcasts available, but you need to pay them a subscription fee to get them. Forget that.

I'm looking forward to the day when your podcast is behind an RSS feed so it automagically downloads to my iPhone.

I do not miss the days when I would have listened to Rush, but couldn't because I had to work during the hours he was on. I could only listen to Rush on sick days.

I never miss Adam Kokesh, even if I haven't listened to his podcast in days. They just pile up in my podcast client until I feel like listening to them.

Radio is also a horrible medium in that the host has to waste so much time repeating himself every hour and after every commercial break. I've tried listenting to podcasts based on radio shows, and realized how much time I was wasting listening to the host repeat himself over and over again.

Ecclesiastes said...

Rush has been on auto-pilot. If he wakes up, you'll hear a great show.

Anonymous said...

Ben Shapiro is actually really great on our local (L.A.) morning show. You can listen live here:

Anonymous said...

You make a great point here Cappy. As much as I may agree with Hannity, I simply cannot listen his didactic spews with endless and repeating tag lines as you mention with the "you're a great american".

Rush Limbaugh, has it right nearly all the time, but he somehow manages to make a fifteen minute topic stretch into a three hour screed.

Then there is the 'shouting man' Mark Levin. Great points are made, but I do not tolerate anyone shouting at me, not even my wife.

Yes their message is repetitive and they are preaching mostly to the choir. I sometimes listen to Michael Savage for entertainment value ... he's ruthless and I find that to be a lot of fun to listen to.

I do tune in when there is a new and interesting dilemma, just hear what the take is from the various show hosts, otherwise, I like to read books and visit blogs like yours.

Unlike you, Cappy, I do not have a strong enough stomach to listen to any left wing talk at all. I know what have to say and I vehemently disagree.

Anonymous said...

Hey Capitano,

I have a university degree in economics that I've never used, and I was wondering, did you get your master's?

Anonymous said...

I was an fervid fanatic Fox watcher, r-wing talk radio junkie. Then the election. And I felt like I'd been played for a fool.

Now I avoid it all. It is recursive. Your analysis is spot on.

There is a gap-- note Tosh. There's an appetite for authenticity and freshness and consistency.

The big step is to just take it-- success & audiences will follow. We are hungry for the truth.

And I am now comfortably enjoying the decline!