Headlines have been blaring all over the digital universe about Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity being tossed off the air by Cumulus and losing 40 stations in key markets.
However, in the words of the legendary Paul Harvey, readers are not being told the rest of the story. Cumulus and Clear Channel have been buying up stations in major markets. Limbaugh and Hannity are syndicated by Premiere, which is owned by Clear Channel. Rather than pay fees to Cumulus to carry these shows it makes more sense to put them on their own properties, reduce local talent costs, and save those fees. The two top-rated talkers aren’t going anywhere. They’re just changing dial positions and, in many cases, to better signals.
Seeing liberal bloggers declare victory about how a boycott of these shows’ sponsors led to this makes my hair stand on end for four reasons.
First, that’s not at all what happened, as these shows will land elsewhere.
Second, and even more importantly, these two broadcasters, with whom I vehemently, vocally, and publicly disagree politically, have done more to keep the talk radio industry alive than anyone else. It’s because of the success of these two shows that many stations have stayed in the talk format in the first place, allowing other shows to be heard. Much as liberals don’t have nearly as many outlets as conservatives (According to TALKERS magazine, conservatives own the lion’s share of the news/talk market), it would be even worse for the left if these shows weren’t making it, because the industry would be closer to collapse at a time when terrestrial radio is struggling.
Third, a boycott hurts the entire business. Advertisers run scared and are encouraged to avoid controversy, and that affects all programming, including progressive hosts.
Fourth, what kind of liberal wants to clamp down on free speech and celebrate shutting someone up? The best antidote to free speech is — free speech. As the German theologian Martin Niemoller famously said, “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist…” If I, as a liberal, didn’t speak out against those who would squelch the free speech of conservatives, I wouldn’t deserve to call myself a liberal.
I will continue to speak out against the views of both Limbaugh and Hannity when I feel it’s warranted, meeting their free speech with my own. But I will never forget that, without them, I’d have a much smaller platform on which to do it.