Thursday, February 12, 2009

You can't win if you don't play

For the past two decades this country has been treated to the rantings, ravings and, what passes for deep, thoughts of Rush Limbaugh.  Despite what you might think of him, he has been an absolute genius of cornering, marketing and imaging making of talk radio.  I first heard of him as the subject of a newsgroup title on usenet.

It was kind of strange seeing a newsgroup devoted to discussing and disseminating his teachings as if he were a prophet from God, his or herself.  He had a following even then and quite a few detractors.  But that newsgroup and others about him that followed, were the bellwether to not only his talk radio dominance but of the successful  use of mass media to promulgate the neo-con message, dog whistles and furtherance of it’s oft hidden agenda.

We laughed and underestimated and we lost the ability to play.

Liberal and progressives have had to play catch up. Even as Clear Channel and other mass media companies grew in size and power and little local stations were gobbled up and cast aside, we woke slowly. We either did not understand the threat of being defined by those that oppose us, or what the cost of the loss of the microphone, any microphone, would do to us. In that failure we did not move to protect assets, like small radio stations, or pick up a network on the nascent cable (network explosion) when it was much cheaper to do so.

So we sit here now. After years upon years of hard work to gain some of our democracy back we have:

1. We are only now showing a benefit to programming progressive television talk and opinion shows. Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow have the only two shows of this type that are exceeding their market projections and helping MSNBC to finally, steadily, march up the ratings in the key demographic (sorry BillO you need to look at the whole book not just the demographic of 70 to dead)

With those positives why has it been so hard to get MSNBC to program more progressive political talk shows? There is a market, and it is growing. Now I know there are rumors that MSNBC is looking for another progressive talker to host a show and names have been flying, Aaron Brown, Stephanie Miller, Thom Hartman, etc.

To those who want to get the gig I say look at what Rachel Maddow did prior to her show. Her “Campaign Asylum” vids on youtube are essentially audition tapes. She showed that she has camera presence. She spoke directly to the camera, no interviewer, no interviewee, no audience, just her. Currently Cenk Uygur is doing much the the same thing.

2. We still haven't been able to get MSNBC on to basic cable packages to compete with Fox News. What's good about that is that even with an artificially engineered decrease in viewership opportunities, Keith and Rachel's shows are growing.

What's bad, well that's obvious, there is no counter message to Fox News. In a democracy, more than one side of the political spectrum must be represented. The right will yell that the left has PBS. They know it's comparing apples to oranges, commercial and public TV are not the same thing.

It's also pretzel logic because they want it both ways. They say liberal thought can't exist but on public tv/radio no one will pay for it, but then say we can't demand a commercial station because we have public radio/tv.

When I was in Pakistan I also learned that MSNBC had been made unavailable on satellite packages. As in it WAS available, but now it's not. Fox News, however, was still available. So overseas only one side of our political discourse is being heard. With that kind of news it is no wonder their view of us has tanked even lower.

3. We have Democratic Senators and Congresspeople who still don't understand or care that part of the 2006/2008 success is due to the free exchange of the internet. It has been one of the only avenues available to project progressive/liberal thought, to connect liberals and lead them out of the right wing imposed cone of silence, is the internet.

Without the internet, the web, liberal blogs, on-line magazines, live streaming of radio, we would not be as far as we are in coming back. Net neutrality is a big part of that.

If big Republican owned companies can tier the speed of which web sites get loaded onto a browser the fastest, based (they say) on payment from the site to get into the fastest tier (like the difference between 1st class and coach on an airplane) who do you think will go to the end of the slow tier line?

Like it or not, the internet has made us rather impatient. If a site takes too long to load (in a person's mind) people will move on to another site. Opposing ideas to conservative/Republican/neo-con speak will be lost, and we will go back to being isolated.

Net neutrality is very important to us, and it is one of the reasons they push so hard to end it.

Make sure our senators and congresspeople know and understand it.

4 Liberal Talk Radio.

Liberal talk radio has been credited with greatly assisting our wins in 2006 and probably 2008.

For years Rush Limbaugh et. al. have pushed the idea into the American collective thought that liberal talk radio isn't on because it is not commercially viable. This thought persists and is championed by the right even though it goes against every idea of capitalism; find an unmet need, fill it, be successful. The right wing used to say that there weren't enough pockets of liberals to make it economically feasible, except:

A. there have always been states and large cities that have always voted for the Democratic candidate.
B. people of like minds like to meet with and talk to each other
C. there were no liberal talk stations in these place to give them the opportunity.

Now I don't think it's to hard to understand why the Republican leadership would not want there to be liberal talk radio even though it goes against their vaunted laissez-faire capitalism (hell, these people will tank/crater/dismember an entire national economy and risk the international economy, thousand and millions of lives just rid the US government of the ability to offer safety nets, provide for education and infrastructure and to make themselves even more obscenely wealthy)

But the disconnect of average people have from saying they believe in capitalism , to looking but not seeing the evidence before them, to spouting the right wing bull shit is amazing. Now, despite more states turning purple and blue, the right still says uses these talking points, though their reasons are more transparent.

They point to Air America going bankrupt, saying that it totally failed. Even though they started saying that the day AAR started (they were a failed concept even before words were spoken into the microphone of the first AAR show). They totally ignore that AAR was on an advertisers blacklist. It's now out of bankruptcy.

They try and say that all progressive/liberal talk show hosts are from Air America (there fore they by extension must be failures). Only a fraction of liberal talk show host are with AAR now, but we also propagate that lie by thinking hosts like Ed Schultz, Bill Press, Stephanie Miller, Mike Malloy, Randi Rhodes, etc. are with AAR.

Progressive Liberal Liberal talk radio is now more diverse in talent and in management.

While some progressive talk radio stations were created by companies like Clear Channel, they have also changed more progressive talk radio station formats away from it. Sort of like giving someone a lollypop just to shut them up and then taking away because it was too successful.

Even progressive talk radio stations that were once thought of as "safe" have been turned to music or sports formats.

Often times the changing of formats defied reason. Take Boston for example. The radio signal Clear Channel had given it's progressive talk station was a crappy daytime signal. It wasn't very powerful and if you were lucky to get it, you lost it at sundown unless you lived IN Boston itself.

The station was also run on autopilot. There was no local talent on weekly, just national shows which switched between offerings automatically (Rachel Maddow (then Young Turks), to Stephanie Miller, to Al Franken, to Ed Schultz to Randi Rhodes, etc.) and there wasn't a sales department. Really, a commercial radio station with no sales staff, in short, a lollipop.

When Clear Channel switched the format to salsa music (the 5th such station in the market) they also upgraded the signal (which we had long pleaded for) and got local on air talent and a sales staff..... ooh looky there!, and actual radio station with desires to actually succeed.

Despite that their ratings for many quarters did not come close to or much less meet the ratings they had with the crappy signal autopilot progressive talk station, they never turned back. The argument that this is a money making decision is laughable.

(update from trojanrabbit: the Boston salsa station that WAS Boston Progressive Talk Radio has "disappeared off the chart for the latest Fall ratings book." )

Many progressive talk radio hosts have said this is all about ownership, and they are right. As John Mayer sang "when they own the information they can bend it all they want." But for the Drobneys attempts to organize to start buying stations I've not seen much in that area, it seems that many progressives want to abandon terrestrial radio all together.

There are several problems with this idea.

We cannot keep, maintain, or turn red to blue if we cede the terrestrial airwaves to right wing radio. In doing so we will fail to reach with our message those who cannot afford satellite radio. We will in effect give our message only to the first class passengers and give the finger to the majority in coach.

The right wing will again get to define what and who we are. And we could begin to see our gains slip away.

We will confine ourselves to a smaller number of media options, with less flexibility to meet challenges, changes and risks. What happens if space debris takes out the satellite? It's not as far fetched as you might think.

We must maintain if not expand ourselves on terrestrial radio. We have the means to start buying stations, we have wealthy progressives/liberals who could invest and thousands upon thousands of liberals who could give $5.00 to an actblue type effort. Starting with the newly blue and purple states/cities we should be buying troubled stations (don't think the Republicans are waiting to gobble up more land, assets, media, etc. whose owners are in trouble, they are it's part of Disaster Capitalism.)

Then move either to red states/cities to start chipping away at it. Or go to blue cities and states to maintain and reward, I'm not sure what order is best for 2 and 3 or even a sort of alternating approach 2,3,2,3,etc.

In short, of this long winded diary, we must do, it is imperative that we compete in all forms of media, just as we have competed in all states. To cede any media is to let the right wing have a chance, and an opening to define what we are. We've seen the disastrous results.

When we compete in every state, in all media, we win, on our ideas alone.