Conservative Talk Radio Sees Golden Opportunity in Trump Administration
Conservative talk radio helped transform Donald Trump from political oddity to POTUS—and now it is poised to cash in on its investment.
Bill Mitchell is putting his money where his mouth is: The online conservative talk radio host has built a reputation over the course of the past 18 months for his staunch support for Donald Trump. Now that the election is over, he will soon be quitting his job as an executive recruiter to expand his radio show after being picked up by a radio station in Cleveland.
At the beginning of the presidential campaign, when Mitchell began as a host, he had 140 Twitter followers and was working on a online radio show part-time. Now he has 150,000 followers and a national following.
“People like to hear themselves talk. And when they hear talk radio that agrees with why they think, they like that. It’s affirming,” Mitchell told The Daily Beast. He compared his radio show to a psychiatrist who agrees with patients and through long therapy sessions helps the listener with “self-actualizing.”
His optimism is shared by conservative radio hosts nationwide.
After eight years of bashing President Obama, they are now looking to capitalize on four years of the Trump administration to vastly expand their clout, ratings, and revenue.
And their clout will be greater in the Trump administration than ever before.
Come January 2017, the first in the presidential line of succession will be Vice President Mike Pence, who was a radio host before his election to Congress. Trump will be staffed by former SiriusXM radio host Steve Bannon, who will act as his senior strategist. And rumors have swirled that Laura Ingraham, another conservative talk radio host, is under consideration to be a White House spokesperson.
“The fact that these [talk radio hosts] are talked about in the general news, in the same level as politicians are, means their influence is growing… and people are used to having talk radio,” said Michael Harrison, editor of Talkers, a trade magazine for talk radio. “I safely believe that talk radio is more influential today than it ever was.”
The president-elect himself cited a talk radio personality when he was in a bind: confronted over his record of supporting the invasion of Iraq, Trump said he had always opposed it, and pointed to years-old private conversations with Sean Hannity to support his claim.
“I was against the war in Iraq,” Trump said during the first presidential debate. “Everybody refuses to call Sean Hannity. I had numerous conversations with Sean Hannity… Sean Hannity said, very strongly… I was against the war.”
Prior to Trump’s rise, talk radio had fallen on hard times over the past decade—revenues have become stagnant due to competition from digital media, debt from industry consolidation, and the still-lingering effects of the 2008 financial crisis, Harrison said. But Trump is a tremendous generator of interest for talk radio—hate him or love him, listeners are tuning in.
“This guy is a buzz generator. He is the greatest buzz generator the media has seen since Winston Churchill... and that’s what talk radio really thrives on,” Harrison said.
Trump’s uniquely polarizing persona helps both radio hosts who love him and those who oppose him, as conservative host Michael Medved found out. Medved was solidly anti-Trump throughout the primary and general elections, even to the chagrin of many of his listeners.
But listen in they did, even though he frustrated their expectations—something Medved found out when he looked at his show’s surprisingly high revenue for the last quarter.
“The Trump revolution has been very good for me,” he said. “The fact that I never got on board the Trump train… I have more credibility to talk about any of the good things that Trump may do.”
Trump’s continued domination of the news cycle has also been good for talk radio because he has obliterated traditional political dynamics. The old divide between left and right has been utterly shaken up: Some conservatives loathe him; other conservatives love him—and it makes for a powerful new storyline that prompts listeners to tune in.
“Donald Trump being elected president, whether you like him or not… is the best thing to happen to talk radio in over ten years,” Harrison said. “It’s shuffled the deck. It’s created all sorts of new alliances, a new paradigm of left and right… Trump is a disrupter.”
Influential conservative talk radio hosts like Glenn Beck have dramatically changed their minds over the course of the campaign. In the heyday of the Tea Party movement, Beck accused President Obama of being motivated by Marxism; faced with the specter of a Trump administration, which he opposes, he now believes Obama “made [him] a better man.”
Mark Levin and Rush Limbaugh, meanwhile, were wary of Trump during the primaries, but later made their peace with his nomination—with Limbaugh rallying his listeners daily on his show to go out to the polls for the businessman, and Levin endorsing more skeptically.
As long as Trump is around, there will be targets for conservative talk radio to direct their passions. Limbaugh, the nation’s most listened-to talk radio host, famously rose to prominence in the late ’90s with critiques of the left. Trump’s election and administration will present far more opportunities, industry experts predicted, for railing against the media and protesters.
“The one thing that has helped a lot since the election has been the almost comical overreaction of the left,” Medved said. “What helped to establish this medium, and it was really Rush Limbaugh, was just making fun of the comical excesses of the left. And that’s not going away—you could almost say that since the election that’s almost intensified.”
The Trump drama has former hosts itching to get back into the game. Harrison, who still guest hosts radio shows from time to time, says he’s hearing a siren call to make another run at talk radio.
“I’m even tempted to get back into it,” he said. “It was just boring before.”