Talk radio veteran Darryl Parks is a harsh critic of how the format continues to lose touch with most of the radio audience who aren’t white male baby boomers. In a new post this week he takes aim at Rush Limbaugh, describing the leading conservative talk host’s “fall into oblivion.”
Parks notes that Limbaugh’s program is sinking in the ratings in New York and Los Angeles and has been shuttled off to lower ranked stations. Now it’s rumored– as first reported by Robert Feder–that his Chicago affiliate is preparing to dump ol’ Rushbo, too. A spokeswoman for WLS-AM owner Culumus Media has denied that rumor, though Parks says, “three different Cumulus executives have told me on different occasions they wish they could get rid of Limbaugh’s show and they can’t sell it.”
What’s best about Parks’ tough love missives for talk radio are the behind-the-scenes details he drops about how the business really works. It’s common knowledge that the Limbaugh show is produced by Premiere Networks, which is conveniently owned by iHeartMedia, giving it easy access to hundreds of stations. But Parks fills out the story, revealing that along with requiring stations to carry Rush, “the local stations have to pay a ‘rights fee’ in addition to the barter commercial inventory they broadcast from the network. There was no negotiation whether to broadcast the show or what fee was to be paid.” Barter inventory are the commercials included by in the show that stations air without compensation.
As a result, he says this non-negotiable requirement to carry and pay for the program, “forced local stations to lay-off other talk hosts, producers and gut news departments. Talented people left the radio business and the death spiral for talk radio began. It began years ago.”
I knew about the barter obligation, but I didn’t know that even iHeart’s own stations had to tithe, too. But I guess the heavily indebted company has to find some way to keep writing checks to fulfill Limbaugh’s $400 million contract.
It’s important to point out that Parks identifies as a Republican, lamenting how talk radio has missed the boat on reaching younger generations. He says he tried to warn Clear Channel execs of the impending fall, but his advice fell on deaf ears.
Me, I see this as just more evidence as to how the commercial radio business is a victim of its own greed, myopia, and mismanagement, typified most clearly in the way iHeart doubles-down on Limbaugh at the expense of anything that remotely resembles fresh programming. Radio isn’t dying, but their AM talk audience, and hosts, are.
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