OK, that’s a “dog bites man” headline if there ever was one, but here’s the latest example. A report by CAP, the Center for American Progress (PDF is here, though I had trouble loading it into Acrobat Reader), entitled “The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio” notes how many more conservative talk radio stations there are than liberal ones. No news there.

What the report suggests is that the government should step in and “fix” this. Again, no news there. What’s really funny is how they frame it. They play both the race and gender card, and bring up the non sequiter of who owns the radio stations. From the coverage on “Think Progress”, here’s the two paragraph they quote from the report discussing this (emphasis theirs).

Our conclusion is that the gap between conservative and progressive talk radio is the result of multiple structural problems in the U.S. regulatory system, particularly the complete breakdown of the public trustee concept of broadcast, the elimination of clear public interest requirements for broadcasting, and the relaxation of ownership rules including the requirement of local participation in management. […]

Ultimately, these results suggest that increasing ownership diversity, both in terms of the race/ethnicity and gender of owners, as well as the number of independent local owners, will lead to more diverse programming, more choices for listeners, and more owners who are responsive to their local communities and serve the public interest.

So if only more radio stations were owned by women and minorities, we’d have more liberal talk radio.

Short answer: No.

Liberals once again demonstrate their lack of familiarity with that concept called the “free market”. People don’t listen to a radio program — music, talk, news, entertainment, whatever — based on who owns the station. They listen to what they want to listen to based on content. They have their preferences, and that’s what they listen to. This isn’t to say a rock-and-roller won’t occasionally peek over to the jazz station, or that folks can have very eclectic tastes, but by and large people stick with their preferences.

Now, a radio station stays in business, generally, by making money. (This is central to the “free market” thing. Liberals, please read this. Others can skip to the next paragraph.) They do this by finding a need or want in the community and filling it. Not enough hard rock? Play it! Not enough 18th century classical? Get it! Not enough hard news? Report it! Not enough comedy? Program it! But here’s the catch: if you’re wrong — if there is enough 18th century classical music on the radio — you won’t have enough listeners to allow the advertising revenue pay for your expenses.

If you’re operating at a loss, generally you go out of business, or try another idea (not enough 20th century avant-garde new age pipe organ music?). Unless you’re Air America, in which you just get infusion after infusion of cash from big, corporate rich guys, and if that fails, you legislate.

And that’s precisely what CAP is suggesting; making laws to determine how much anybody can own in a market so that they can, maybe, get people to listen to their programs. As I said, a non sequiter. When Air America came to Atlanta, the radio station carried the whole slate of talkers, morning til night. I would occasionally listen to Randi Rhodes on the way home just to hear how the other half thought, but I just couldn’t believe that’s what the other half really thought. Way too much conspiracy theory. So I didn’t listen to her with any regularity. A year or so later, the station is sold (most likely due to coming in last in the market with a 0.0 rating), changes format to an Eclectic Arts station and Air America was off the air in Atlanta. Didn’t matter who the owner was. It was unprofitable in the extreme. (And the new owner went from owning 1 to 2 radio stations; definitely an “independent local owner”.)

And that’s why Air America and “progressive” radio in general isn’t out there on the airwaves as much as conservative talk. Hardly anyone listens to them. It’s a simple business calculus. But instead of making their product better, the Left seeks to get the government to force the issue.

Are you now waiting for the Left to propose the same thing for the newspaper or broadcast TV media as well? Hold not thy breath. A “Fairness Doctrine” that covers more than just radio? That’ll never happen, because those other outlets generally lean left. Which goes to show that when the Left whines about fairness, it’s all one-sided. Nothing fair about it.

Doug Payton blogs at Considerettes.

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