I think liberals are taking talk radio far too seriously, and ascribe to it far more power and influence than it has.
Think for a second- before the rise of Rush Limbaugh, did ANY liberal think of talk radio as a potent medium, or a force to be reckoned with? Of course not! Radio was regarded as a joke! And phone-in talk shows, in particular, were dismissed as the province of insomniacs (at best) or opinionated cranks. In 1980, any prominent liberal who was offered a chance to host a phone-in radio talk show would have scoffed at the idea! It would have been BENEATH him!
After all, why would any liberal have seen a NEED for such programming in 1980? At that point, his opinions were the conventional wisdom in the mainstream media! Walter Cronkite parroted standard liberal opinion on the evening news; the major newspapers and news magazines shared his views. His political heroes were regularly given forums to speak at every major university. So, in 1980, liberals had every reason to dismiss talk radio. It was only AFTER Rush Limbaugh (et al) achieved some prominencer that liberals started paying attention to talk radio… and they panicked! It was only natural that Rush Limbaugh would want to exaggerated his own importance (he’s in show biz, after all!), but liberals played into his hands by exaggerating his importance even MORE!
It’s always the people who think their ideas are NOT being heard who flock to new or under-utilized media to get their message out. Right-wingers embraced talk radio because it was one of the few media forums (at the time) where they could hear THEIR opinions being voiced. In the same way, Libertarians flocked to the Internet.
Now, if you listen to talk radio for very long, you may get the erroneous idea that everybody out there is a raging conservative. Similarly, if you spend too much time on the Internet, you may conclude there are waaaaay more Libertarians out there than there really are. In reality, what you have in both media are (relatively) powerless, impotent minorities talking to each other.
Now, the major, mainstream media aren’t quite as liberal or as monolithically liberal as they once were (Fox is a big part of the reason), but the fact remains: liberal opinion is the conventional wisdom on the big 3 networks and in the newspapers of record in almost every major city.
Liberals have CBS, ABC, NBC, CNN, the New York Times, the LA Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and pretty much everyone in show biz on their side. Conservatives have talk radio and Fox. You’d THINK that liberals would be delighted, even smug about their advantages. Instead, they go berserk over the one medium that leans right!
I mean, PURELY from a media perspective, do you think the liberals would be willing to trade places with the Right? If a genie told Ted Kennedy, “I can wave my wand, and change everything. The Right would get all the leading liberal newspapers and the Big 3 networks, but you’d get talk radio and Fox,” would Kennedy go for it?
Now, ultimately, is it possible that a left-wing equivalent of Rush will emerge? Sure, BUT (and this is a huge “but”) I can tell you this: if the plan is to keep handing radio talk shows to leading liberals until one of them succeeds, that plan is doomed. Remember, Rush Limbaugh was NOT a right-winger to decided to get into radio to spread his message. Just the opposite! He was a radio professional who evetually used his gifts and experience as a radio entertainer to spread a right-wing message!
IF the liberals want a successful radio show of their own, they shouldn’t take a Mario Cuomo and give him a talk show (they tried that, and even Mario’s admirers were dozing off in no time. Rather, they should find a charming, funny, professional broadcaster who happens to share their views, and let HIM build an audience by being entertaining.
Even the most rabid conservative wouldn’t listen to Rush if they didn’t find him amusing and personable. A talk radio show has to be FUN for its listeners! NOBODY wants to be lectured, even if he generally agrees with the lecturer! NOBODY wants to be bored, even if he symptathizes with the bore’s political opinions.
Al Franken will fail miserably IF he creates a radio show that isn’t fun for listeners. For a radio show to succeed, entertainment has to come first, politics second. Think about it- could George Will or Cal Thomas do what Rush does? Not likely! Even people who agreed with every word they said would start tuning out before long.
If Franken creates an entertaining program with an engaging host, he can build a successful liberal talk show. But my hunch is, Franken thinks that radio listeners are stupid sheep who mindlessly believe whatever they hear on the radio. He thinks all he has to do is put an articulate, preachy liberal on the radio, and everyone will be spellbound (“why, he’s right! What could I have been thinking of, listening to Sean Hannity!”).
If he takes that approach, he’ll bomb, just as Mario Cuomo did.