10/08/2005

Long an outlet for the GOP message, talk radio undergoes a shift - Yahoo! News

WASHINGTON - When the White House wanted to talk to its political base about a Supreme Court nominee this week, there was no doubt where to go: talk radio.

Vice President Dick Cheney took the administration's case to the Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity programs, speaking simultaneously to the normally sympathetic hosts and their audiences of like-minded Republicans.

A decade after Republicans credited Limbaugh with helping them win control of Congress - they called him the Majority Maker - they still look to his conservative-dominated medium for a lopsided communications edge over Democrats. Today, they count on talk radio to rally support for President Bush, attack those who criticize or question him, and stir passions leading into the 2006 midterm congressional elections.

There are signs that the Republicans could be losing some of their overwhelming edge, however. Ratings for Limbaugh and Hannity slipped this spring in some markets. Liberals such as Ed Schultz, Stephanie Miller and Al Franken are carving out their own radio niche. And Democrats argue that they have an edge on the Internet, where explosive growth could dwarf the political impact of radio.

Some of that could be just wishful thinking by Democrats. The slip in ratings, for example, could be a normal drop in political interest after an election year. They also could be untrue - radio ratings are difficult to measure. And even if Limbaugh and Hannity have fewer listeners than they did in the past, they still have millions more than liberal talk show hosts.

"We're not there yet," Franken said in an interview.

"My numbers are going up, and theirs are going down. But if I have a million and half people listening to me, that's still just one-tenth of Rush's audience."

Like most people in and around radio, Franken credited Limbaugh's personal talents for creating the genre of conservative talk radio in the late 1980s and dominating it ever since.

"He's very talented, I'll give him that," Franken said. "He's a good storyteller. He's good at framing an issue, whether honest or not. ... He's very good at kicking dust up in the air so you don't see the crap on the ground. It's an evil talent. But he's talented."

Long an outlet for the GOP message, talk radio undergoes a shift - Yahoo! News

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