There are plenty of people listening to talk radio. But over the past three years, it has become increasingly difficult to make money off it.
More than 50 million people in the U.S. tune in each week to news-talk radio stations that carry advertising, making it radio’s second-most popular format, behind country music, according to Nielsen.
But many national advertisers have fled from such stations in recent years, seeking to avoid associating their brands with potentially controversial programming. As a result, advertising on talk stations now costs about half what it does on music stations, given comparable audience metrics, according to industry executives.
Talk and news stations combined generated $1.5 billion in revenue in 2013, down from $1.6 billion in 2011, according to the latest numbers from media research firm BIA/Kelsey. Pure talk-station revenue fell to $205 million, from $217 million. The number of talk stations shrank to 510 from 546 over that time period, while the number of news stations increased by 150 to total 1,524.
Radio executives said the erosion of ad dollars from talk stations was driven in part by a series of organized social-media campaigns by liberal activists in early 2012 that scared away advertisers.
Activists were encouraged to record the exact time that companies’ ads ran on Mr. Limbaugh’s show, and because stations occasionally broadcast ads at the wrong time, brands suddenly had reason to reduce any risk of inadvertent appearances.
A year later, brands including Lowe’s and J.C. Penney were warning media buyers not to air their ads on news-talk stations. Others, such as Clorox and Domino’s Pizza, forbid media buyers to run their ads near, or within 30 minutes of, certain programming, listing dozens of talk shows—some conservative, some liberal, some religious—as examples in their instructions.
I prefer that the left use market forces to silence opposing voices, rather than its previous tactic of governmental censorship, but it would be a shame if one of the few sources of conservative opinion was closed down.