Talk of the townsfolk

Will there be an attempt to restore the old-and-busted Fairness Doctrine for broadcast media? Not if Air America’s Thom Hartmann has anything to say about it:

The “progressive has failed” frame is simply wrong. In just three short years, our format has gone from a small handful of progressive stations to 10% of the talk radio content of this country. If I’d started a soda pop business in my garage and in three years had taken 10% of Coca-Cola’s market, my picture would be on the cover of Forbes! Nobody thinks of Apple as a failure, but they only have 4.8% of the U.S. computer market, and that’s taken them 20 years! What if a new music format had taken 10% of the radio market in just three years? Everybody would be talking about it, it’d be moving onto bigger and bigger sticks, and programmers would be figuring out how to clone it in every local market across the country! Conservative Talk radio didn’t catch on instantly, either. We don’t need no stinkin’ Fairness Doctrine, and we don’t need to be lectured by failing talk show hosts. We just need a few more industry pros to take seriously the very real accomplishments and the ongoing potential of this format as it matures. Add to that a few shots at bigger sticks [industry jargon for radio towers], dedicated sales forces, and decent imaging and promotion, and maybe we’ll be 20% within the next three years!”

There are a couple of things askew here — Apple, once upon a time, had a market share far greater than 4.8 percent, and 10 percent of the content does not necessarily equal 10 percent of the audience — but otherwise Hartmann’s nailed it. New formats do not flourish overnight. But should they catch on in a few major markets, others will take notice. (Jack FM was on in Canada for a year and a half before any US station picked it up.)

And the competition? There is that panoply of right-wing commentators, but perhaps the biggest threat to commercial “progressive” broadcasting is good ol’ National Public Radio, a reliably left-wing bunch, firmly entrenched, pretty much ubiquitous, and known to receive actual checks from some of us center-right types. It goes without saying, though, that there are people for whom NPR is insufficiently leftish.

I can see one other possible snag: old-time radio guys, a lot of whom are still around, hear the word “progressive” and think it’s the old FM album-rock format from the 1970s. Ultimately it may be necessary to coin another term. What is not necessary, of course, is any sort of government action.





4 comments

  1. Matt »

    2 August 2007 · 6:43 pm

    According to Jim Carlton, who was the Wall Street Journal’s reporter covering Apple when he wrote his book on the company a decade ago, Apple’s maximum share of the personal computer market, even in the heady pre-Windows early 1980s, was 16%.

    Of course, later in the same book, when it made Apple look worse, he said it was 20%, but I believe the 16% figure was correct. And I believe that was before any OS had 50% market share.

  2. CGHill »

    2 August 2007 · 7:08 pm

    I would have guessed about 25, maybe. Certainly it was never the dominant force, at least in terms of sheer sales. What perplexed me was Hartmann’s phrasing, suggesting that it took Apple two decades to build up to 4.8, which strikes me as misleading.

  3. Mister Snitch! »

    2 August 2007 · 9:41 pm

    I don’t really understand your stance on this, which way you are leaning. I myself would not try to reenact the FD. It didn’t work the first time, and besides, these days there are far more, and far more accessible, means of communication today than back then. Lots of voices being heard. Lots drowning them out, too, but that’s all part of the marketplace of ideas.

    Of course, this put me in the position of (I guess) agreeing with an Air America commentator. Which is creepy, partly because it makes me feel like I must be coming down with something, and partly because I thought AA was dead. Guess they crawled out of their bankruptcy grave and are droning on in their Zombielike way again.

    I listen to NPR, too. But they are so self-righteous and predictable.

  4. CGHill »

    3 August 2007 · 7:11 am

    I lean, as I often do, in favor of less government action, which means that I support Mr Hartmann’s premise, even if I have a few minor quibbles with the details.

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