Why do the media villagers even care what talk radio has to say?

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

Every field has its own measure of greatness.

Take baseball, for example. A career .300 hitter (meaning three hits in every ten at bats – less than one-third of the time) may qualify as one of the greatest players of all time and be enshrined into the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, NY.

Or take recording artists. We're all familiar with the concept of gold records and platinum records. The Recording industry Association of America (RIAA certification) awards certification based upon the number of albums and singles sold. Presently, an American RIAA-certified gold record is a single or album that has sold 500,000 units (records, tapes or compact discs). The platinum award was instituted in 1976. Presently, an American RIAA-certified platinum record is a single or album that has sold 1,000,000 units (records, tapes or compact discs).

The population of the United States as of January 1, 2009 was estimated by the Census Bureau at 305.5 Million. US Census Press Releases

One million records doesn't sound as impressive when it is reduced to a fractional share of less than 1/300th of the U.S. population, does it? Or conversely that 304 million Americans did not buy the recording.

All of which led me to wonder how talk radio programs are measured and rated. Turns out that it is pretty subjective, if not entirely arbitrary (I wonder if this is where Arbitron ratings derived its name).

TALKERS magazine is the leading trade publication serving the talk media industries in America.

TALKERS magazine 2009 Talkers: 100 Most important radio talk show hosts in America (a graphic intensive presentation that may take awhile to load)

The editors of TALKERS magazine, with input from industry leaders, present the 250 Most Important Radio Talk Show Hosts in America — a popular annual feature that includes what has become know as the "Heavy Hundred."

This is one of the most challenging tasks that TALKERS undertakes each year considering that there are thousands of talk show hosts across the country, ranging from national icons to those laboring in relative obscurity.

Aside from the hosts whose sheer numbers and fame demand their inclusion on this list, the selection process is subjective with the goal being to create a list reflective of the industry's diversity and total flavor as well as giving credit where credit is due.

The TALKERS magazine editors who painstakingly compile this super-list draw upon a combination of hard and soft factors when evaluating candidates. These include (in alphabetical order): courage, effort, impact, longevity, potential, ratings, recognition, revenue, service, talent and uniqueness. We acknowledge that it is as much art as science and that the results are arguable.

The top talk radio programs and their estimated number of weekly unique listeners was reported in the New York Daily News in April 2009 Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity rule talk universe:

1. Rush Limbaugh – 14.75 million weekly listeners
2. Sean Hannity – 13.75 million weekly listeners
3. Michael Savage – 8.25 million weekly listeners
4. Dr Laura Schlessinger – 8.25 million weekly listeners
5. Glenn Beck – 8.25 million weekly listeners
6. Laura Ingraham – 5.75 million weekly listeners

According to Michael Packer, who gives tips on programming talk radio Packer Smart Talk Tips:

On average, listeners will invest around 50 minutes per day for News Radio.
The average for a good news/talk or talk station is 75 minutes.
Exceptional talk stations will report time spent listening (TSL) of 80 – 90 minutes daily.

This helps to explain the subjectivity of the weekly "unique listener" criteria. If I stumble across a talk radio station and stop to listen for five minutes, this counts the same as a devoted "ditto head" who listens to Rush Limbaugh religiously for his entire three hour program.

Radio audiences can only be estimated. There is not a diary log system for radio listeners to report their listening habits nor is there a "black box" like Nielsen families use to record their televison viewing habits.

It would be statistically inaccurate and entirely misleading to simply divide Limbaugh's 14.75 million weekly unique listeners by 5 days of programming to derive a daily average number of listeners of 2.95 million listeners.

But let's use this average daily listener number solely for the sake of comparison to answer the question,"Why do the media villagers even care waht talk radio has to say?" The answer lies in their own ratings numbers.

Here is a comparable example of Nielsen ratings for cable television news magazines from April 23, 2009. Cable TV News Nielsen Ratings for Thursday, April 23, 2009

5PM – P2+ (25-54) (35-64)
Glenn Beck – 1,997,000 viewers (487,000) (817,000)
Situation Room—953,000 viewers (162,000) (346,000)
Hardball w/ Chris Matthews —448,000 viewers (111,000) (228,000)
Fast Money—290,000 viewers (80,000) (102,000)
Prime News—246,000 viewers (76,000) (112,000)

6PM – P2+ (25-54) (35-64)
Special Report w/Bret Baier – 1,910,000 viewers (374,000) (796,000)
Situation Room—790,000 viewers (206,000) (318,000)
Ed Show —472,000 viewers (125,000) (225,000)
Mad Money—203,000 viewers (59,000) (81,000)
Prime News—291,000 viewers (108,000) (141,000)

7PM – P2+ (25-54) (35-64)
Fox Report w/Shepard Smith– 1,951,000 viewers (386,000) (704,000)
Lou Dobbs –835,000 viewers (228,000) (394,000)
Hardball w/Chris Matthews—752,000 viewers (213,000) (324,000)
Kudlow Report —211,000 viewers (64,000) (108,000)
Issues– 553,000 viewers (249,000) (308,000)

8PM – P2+ (25-54) (35-64)
O’Reilly Factor —3,712,000 viewers (819,000) (1,452,000)
Campbell Brown—744,000 viewers (192,000) (275,000)
Countdown w/Keith Olbermann —1,353,000 viewers (455,000) (650,000)
CNBC Reports – 162,000 viewers (a scratch with 47,000) (57,000)
Nancy Grace –1,229,000 viewers (449,000) (634,000)

9 PM – P2+ (25-54) (35-64)
Hannity– 2,621,000 viewers (622,000) (966,000)
Larry King Live—982,000 viewers (275,000) (374,000)
Rachel Maddow Show —1,140,000 viewers (303,000) (551,000)
Dirty Money—414,000 viewers (190,000) (187,000)
Lou Dobbs Tonight- 498,000 viewers (158,000) (234,000)

10 PM P2+ (25-54) (35-64)
On the Record w/Greta—2,387,000 viewers (627,000) (939,000)
Anderson Cooper—955,000 viewers (304,000) (359,000)
Countdown w/Keith Olbermann —808,000 viewers (242,000) (381,000)
On the Money—155,000 viewers, (a scratch with 45,000) (63,000)
Nancy Grace –518,000 viewers (196,000) (273,000)

11 PM P2+ (25-54) (35-64)
O’Reilly Factor —1,814,000 viewers (580,000) (914,000)
CNN Special Invest. Unit—748,000 viewers (290,000) (321,000)
Rachel Maddow Show –509,000 viewers (162,000) (242,000)
Mad Money—125,000 viewers (a scratch with 51,000) (82,000)
Showbiz Tonight– 388,000 viewers (187,000) (199,000)

P2+ = viewers over the age of 2

(25-54) = Adults 25-54 viewing

(35-64) = Adults 35-64 viewing

It turns out that the media villagers and Beltway bloviators draw lower numbers of average daily viewers than Rush Limbaugh's radio show. They only wish they had his numbers. It comes down to professional jealousy and envy, apparently.

It makes one wonder how few televison viewers it takes before a television program turns a profit? Nearly all of these programs have fewer than 1,000,000 viewers, and thus reach far less than 1/300th of the U.S. population on any given day. Or conversely, 304 million plus Americans are not watching.

Rush Limbaugh's 14.75 million estimated weekly "unique listeners" may be substantially overstated by the number of casual listeners. The actual number of devoted "ditto heads" who listen to his entire program every day is certainly far fewer. In any event, 3/300th (or 1/100th) of the U.S. population may listen, if only in passing. There are over 290 million Americans who do not listen to Rush Limbaugh, many of whom do not care what he has to say or may even know who he is.

Which brings me back to my original question: "Why do the media villagers even care what talk radio has to say?" The universe of listeners of any one program is only a small fraction of the U.S population as a whole. The only answer that makes any sense is that the media industry has set an exceptionally low bar by which to measure its own success, and it is congratulatory of anyone recognized within their industry as a success by meeting that exceptionally low bar. This speaks more to the sad state of the American media than to Rush Limbaugh.

By the way, for NPR fans the Washington Post reported in March 2009 Good News for NPR: Its Most Listeners Ever that "Washington-based NPR will release new figures to its stations today showing that the cumulative audience for its daily news programs hit 20.9 million a week, a 9 percent increase over the previous year [2007].

The weekly audience for all the programming fed by Washington-based NPR — including talk shows and music — also reached a record last year, with 23.6 million people tuning in each week, an 8.7 percent increase over 2007.

So NPR's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" have a larger weekly "unique listener" audience than Rush Limbaugh or any of the conservative talkers.

You would never have known this from the media villagers and Beltway bloviators who fixate on Rush Limbaugh.

0 responses to “Why do the media villagers even care what talk radio has to say?

  1. Andy, thank you for the correction. I relied on a resource that apparently was inaccurate. Your correction is duly noted.

    Still, you are the only person I have ever heard say they have participated in the Arbitron ratings. Arbitron’s sampling size must be very small. It can still be accurate if done scientifically. If you want to explain more about how it works, knock yourself out. I’m curious.

  2. “Radio audiences can only be estimated. There is not a diary log system for radio listeners to report their listening habits …”

    Huh? Of course there is — Arbitron has been doing radio ratings based on listener logs for years. In fact, my wife and I got a little thing in the mail from Arbitron, asking if we’d be interested in keeping a record of all of our radio listening for a week, and we did.

    Basically, you get a little log book, and the request is that you write down any radio listening that’s at least five minutes. They include stuff you overhear in a business while waiting, and they also include internet listening.

    I would imagine that KUAZ and KXCI had better ratings that week.


  3. You mean the “permanent Republican majority” and one party rule of the Bush years, right? Supported by the mighty Wurlitzer of the conservative echo chamber (did you check out the top 100 list?) of talk radio and the “top rated” cable network Faux News, and its pathetic imitators at CNN and CNBC? Conservative opinion dominates the media — the American people just reject it.

  4. I think the answer comes in the form of not wanting any opinion but the one side. This nation was formed on inviting varying opinions. When you see one majority party trying to stamp out another you know this is not the nation of our forefathers.