November 25, 2015

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10/02/06 Talk Radio: America's True Democracy

It's hard to imagine a company hiring an employee based on looks alone, yet voters do it in all political campaigns. They make decisions based on the physical appearance of a candidate - his or her brand, ability to perform for the camera with soundbites and interviews, and 30-second television and radio image projections. Few voters research the depth of a candidate.

Talk radio is democracy at work. It has become the “research” that helps voters gain depth beyond the soundbites. Though most hosts champion their causes with one-sided monologues, this practice remains valuable because it allows voters to consider all aspects of that side of an issue. Smart voters will seek opposing viewpoints as well. In long-form discussion - Talk radio's key strength - listeners can hear how a candidate holds up beyond the soundbite.

Talk radio was the first interactive media. It places “the people” on the air and allows them to their share opinions that - on a national talk show - will be heard by tens of millions of people. One idea espoused by one listener can change the course of history. America has seen significant change as a result of Talk hosts or listeners revealing issues otherwise ignored by the press.

If I were a politician, congressman, senator, president, or political advisor, I would hire a team to monitor Talk radio 24 hours a day to ensure I knew the ideas and movements coming from the mouths of Talk hosts and their listeners. Politicos who ignore Talk radio are fools; they don't realize that listeners are spending three or four hours per day with Talk radio versus an hour or less of television, and those listeners are gaining depth they cannot glean from television.

Some in Congress feel the Fairness Doctrine should be reinstated. As an industry, we must battle every attempt to censor voices or force equal time. Talk radio barely existed before the Fairness Doctrine because it was not listenable; when stations were required to present opposing viewpoints, listeners were bored. To engage listeners, Talk radio first needs to entertain. Without the entertainment value, there would be no more Talk radio listeners, and this important tool of democracy would be emasculated.

We in the industry must realize that we carry a huge responsibility with our Talk stations. Though Talk radio is a business to us, it has become a primary source of assuring democracy in America, and we must not take that responsibility lightly.

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