When I saw this headline in The Week, I was confused --
How a new generation of left-wing podcasters are dethroning Rush Limbaugh and right-wing talk radio
-- because I don't remember anyone from The Week dropping by our hobbit hole to interview the cast and crew of The Professional Left Podcast. Or even calling us on the "telephone" machine now that we have regular, party-line service here in the middle of Middle America,
At any rate, at first I was excited, because apparently "we" are 'sploding! And who doesn't like to be 'sploding!
...Starting with Rush Limbaugh in the late 1980s, influential personalities have projected their grievances and biases onto millions of listeners, who have rewarded these hosts with wealth and incredible influence in Republican politics. Efforts to deliberately build an alternative network of left-wing radio shows have all ended in the same way: with failure, none more spectacular than the 2010 implosion of Air America.Suddenly, though, Limbaugh has company.Since the election, subscribership to a series of left-leaning podcasts has exploded...
Then I read a little further and became a little less excited:
The most prominent is Pod Save America, the brainchild of former Obama administration speechwriters Jon Favreau and Jon Lovett, as well as former Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor. Episodes draw anywhere from 800,000 to 1.4 million listeners. Those numbers rival major cable programs, and in some cases eclipse household name shows like Morning Joe and Anderson Cooper 360.The Pod Save empire also includes programs like Pod Save the World and Pod Save the People, all of which have strong numbers. Vox's podcasts, including The Weeds and The Ezra Klein Show, are also extremely popular......The left's new stars are actual experts in public policy — people like former Obama strategist David Axelrod (of The Axe Files) — more than people who are famous for being famous.
It appears that as long as you're a former Obama speechwriter ... or you can get Jeff Bezos to finance your new media platform ... or you're a former Obama speechwriter ... or you're a former Obama spokesperson ... or a former Obama political chieftain ... or a former Obama speechwriter ... this new "podcast" thingie may open a door into a whole new future.
Because it is indeed undeniably true that the Left needs a reliable way to reach a broad and diverse audience as inexpensively and effectively as the Right used talk radio:
Conservative dominance of the airwaves allowed the right to do one of the most important things in public life: "agenda-setting." By communicating to conservative listeners what is important and what they should care about, Limbaugh and his fellow movement conservatives were able to direct which issues their listeners would feel most passionately about. Not only that, but they also engaged in "framing," which means they were not just setting the agenda but also offering a set of preferred options about how to achieve it.In a 2000 study, David Barker and Kathleen Knight found that Limbaugh was able to move the needle on the issues he was most hopping mad about at any given time, and that his listeners showed "hostility toward those items beyond what can be accounted for by ideology, party identification, exposure to other conservative messages, affect for Limbaugh, or a host of other factors." Limbaugh's withering attacks on "the beautiful people," as well as "feminazis" (a disgusting term he helped popularize on the right), for example, were so effective that this year the scholar Robert Brown deemed him the "president of talk radio."That is incredible influence for someone who possesses no meaningful advanced background in politics or policy....
And with the ubiquity of smartphones, this new "podcast" doohicky may finally begin to do for the Left what talk radio did for the Right: defeat the limits of geography and allow us to reach people wherever they are, from wherever we are.
Right-wing radio's success was partly geographic. Republicans, who, very broadly speaking, tend to live outside of major cities and prefer the car-centric lifestyle of ranch houses, strip malls, and sprawl, spend more time driving to work than the average Democrat, making them available in huge numbers for over-the-air or satellite radio programs piped directly into their cars. By contrast, many urban-dwelling liberals walk, bike, or take public transit to work, and in many major cities, radio signals as well as the internet are unavailable on trains. Podcasts resolve this issue by downloading automatically onto smartphones for all subscribers, who can listen to the show even when they are being shunted to work 50 feet underground.
Provided "wherever we are" is Los Angeles.
Or New York.
Or Washington D.C. :-)
Behold, a Tip Jar!