To lefties, conservative talk radio just can’t be an organic success. There just can’t be a demand for it. There just has to be some shadowy conspiracy – a “Scaifenet” – slipping envelopes full of Jacksons to inveigle radio stations to run the stuff.
I’ve been doing a bit of digging after getting an anonymous tip that NARN may be paying for their radio time (and not disclosing it), or that townhall.com pays for it.
Now, for those of you who haven’t been paying attention for the past eighty years or so, let me give you a quick remedial course on Radio Programming; let’s call the course “Radio Programming For The Utterly Ignorant”.
There are four types of programming in commercial radio:
- Programs The Station Owns – Think programs like Joe Soucheray. They provide programming for the station; the station pays them as long as the ratings justify it (or, in the case of Tom Mischke, sometimes when they don’t). It’s a traditional employer-employee relationship, only (I say this from a career’s worth of experience) more mercurial.
- Network Programs – These are provided by a third-party production company, and provide their programming to stations; sometimes they charge the stations for the right to play the show (this is National Public Radio’s model); others provide the show for free, but get advertising slots for their networks on the affiliates’ stations during the shows. The most famous example of this is Rush Limbaugh – who is free to all of his affiliates, in exchange for eight minutes of ad time per hour, which is sold to national advertisers (for amazing prices, because Limbaugh dominates the industry and gets spectacular ratings). Hugh Hewitt, Michael Medved, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Glenn Beck, Dennis Miller, Fast Eddie Schultz, Jason Lewis, Art Bell – they all use the same model. They draw their salaries from the networks – as long as they draw the ratings, systemwide.
- “Brokered” Talk – In this example, a broadcaster “rents” airtime from a station (or several stations), either because they believe that strongly in getting their message out, or because they think they can turn around and sell enough ad time to recoup the investment (not always financially, or (often, in talk radio) some combination of the above. The Taxpayers’ League Live was an example of this. So was “Talk Education”, which I used to co-host on KYCR. Auto Talk on KSTP? Ask the Veterinarian on Air America Minnesota? Most of your “Ask the Lawyer” and “Ask the Financial Planner” shows? All pretty much the same thing. Sometimes the goal is to just get a show some time, which might not otherwise get picked up by a station (see #1, above). Note that the entire Air American lineup, for the network’s first several years, was “brokered” in New York, Chicago and LA (until the checks started bouncing).
- Commercials – These can be short-form commercials – :30 to :60 second “spots” dropped into commercial breaks during any of the types of shows above. They can also be “infomercials” – entire half-hours, hours, or longer. They can be distinguised from regular programming by the observation that they’re trying to sell you something, and the station is getting paid good money to broadcast it at all.
Now, “Jimmy Olson’s” opening graf might make you ask: which is the Northern Alliance Radio Network?
It’s simple. We are #1 – only without the money. And when I say “without the money”, I mean yeah, we get a few bucks here and there; when I do a commercial for someone, we’re getting a little money – called a “talent fee”, believe it or not. You can tell when this is happening, because the voice of Mitch Berg (or Ed Morrissey, or King, or whomever) is trying to sell you a product or service, as opposed to talking about politics. But we get no salary from Salem, from WWTC Radio (AM, from Townhall.com, or from anyone else. We never have.
We’ve also never paid for airtime at WWTC. The “Sponsors” we announce every week – Thompson, Keegans, whomever? They pay to put ads on our show, which is the only money that the station makes directly off of us.
Now, what if “Jimmy” is right – that I write a check every month to WWTC, or Townhall did? Well, we’d be under no more obligation to disclose it than Stephanie Miller is to tell you her salary.
If we were paying for our airtime – like, say, Health Insights, heard on Air America Minnesota, not that anyone cares since more people will learn about it via this post than will listen to it in a given week – we’d also be under no more obligation to tell anyone about it, since it’s a program, and there’s no real business requirement to tell people that you’re paying for your time.
Now, if you’re paid to give plugs for medical products, or for political candidates, and a few other things, there are ethical rules involved. We’ll come back to that.
The bad news is, nobody – with a few exceptions – is required to say “Somone is paying for this airtime”.
The good news is, anyone who can pony up a few hundred or thousand bucks – and convince a station that you won’t scare off the rest of their audience – can rent the time to host a talk show!
Which brings us to the part of “Jimmy Olson’s” investigation that really cuts to the chase:
Here’s (with redactions to protect identities) a letter I got back from Salem Communications re my queries about buying airtime:
Good Morning ********,
My name is ********** and I am an Account Executive here at Salem Comm, Twin Cities and ********** asked me to follow up and get you any information you need. We do sell programming on our stations both on the National and Local level.
Here’s something you may be very interested in….. Effective Monday, March 30, we are transitioning our KYCR AM1570 station to an all-business format.
Hey, that’s right – tune in to AM1570’s new BizRadio lineup, starting today!
And yep; some of the time will be “brokered” (see #3, above).
This next bit, though, Jimmy?
Also, If you could have your friend who is up here in Minnesota call me, I can get them any information they need as well..
So you lied about who you were?
I took the additional step of calling this contact, identifying myself as a journalist,…
Another lie about who you are! Dude – I’ll call you a journalist. But you gotta call me “Admiral” first.
and asking if he’d “go on record” to confirm the tip.
“Jimmy”! Slapnuts! It’s a sales pitch! Salem makes money from brokering out time on all three of its Twin Cities stations (AM1280, AM1570 and AM980).
He declined but used interesting language. He asked if we were attempting to “nail them,” meaning townhall.com.
“He” did not mean Townhall.com! Salem Twin Cities’ sales staff do not represent Townhall. Salem Radio owns WWTC/KYCR/KKMS, and they own Townhall; the only place they come together is on the stations’ websites, which are centralized. And of course the podcasts, which Townhall distributes. That’s it.
I answered frankly that I just wanted information on disclosure and if that was all it takes to “nail” them then yes, that is what I was doing.
Most informercials start with the disclaimer “the following is paid programming.” As far as I know townhall.com-subsidized shows don’t have a similar intro. They are in multiple markets, not just MN.
The call ended pleasantly and he promised to have others there call me to answer my questions.
I’ll let you know if that happens!
So here is what “Jimmy Olson” brings you:
- An “anonymous tip” that someone out there is “paying” AM1280 to broadcast the Northern Alliance. Nope. Isn’t true. Has never been true. Nobody has ever paid AM1280 to air the Northern Alliance, directly or indirectly. The station and Salem “pay” an opportunity cost, arguably – they could sell those six hours to infomercials; they choose to use that time to market the station locally, broadcasting local, entertaining, successful programming. And it is succesful; our ratings (Ed and I dominate our time slot against KSTP, WCCO and KTLK; John, Brian, King and the Stroms are all very competitive) make the “investment” more than worth it. If it didn’t, would the station have invested five years’ worth of valuable air time in us?
- A email and a conversation with a Salem Account Exec saying that, yes, Salem rents airtime to people. This is a big scoop. And if you want to play “journalist” and get that scoop yourself, you can go to the Salem website, email the Sales department, and buy yourself some air-time too – presuming that you’re either conservative (AM1280), Christian (AM980) or know a lot about business (AM1570). The upside; you’ll be every bit as much a “journalist” as “Jimmy Olson”; the downside – it’s really not that big a rush.
And that’s it.
So let’s go back to the top; Jimmy Olson’s claim that an “anonymous tipsters” told him “NARN may be paying for their radio time (and not disclosing it), or that townhall.com pays for it”.
What has “Jimmy’s” “story” given you? Other than the impression the “lad” has delusions of grandeur (“Hello! I’m a journalist!”), a sales pitch, and a tip-off that the guy doesn’t know jack about Radio?
Here is the story, the whole story, and nothing but the story; nobody pays for the NARN. There are exactly two “highly-placed sources”on this story; Salem Twin Cities’ General Manager John Hunt, who lets us use his air time, and yours truly. Me. Mitch Berg. The guy who hatched the original idea for the Northern Alliance Radio Network, and pitched it to the station, as well as my good friends John, Scott, Brian, Chad, Atomizer, JB, Ed, King and Michael.
So on the one hand, “Jimmy Olson’s” story is – I think I’m justified in saying this – a crock of bulls**t.
On the other hand, “Jimmy” can now take his place beside Grace “9/11 was an inside job!” Kelly in the pantheon of great Minnesota Progressive Project “journalists”.
UPDATE: Behold, “Jimmy Olson”:
“Igotmyreasons” is a guy named Fred Gates. He’s from New York, and I don’t know much about him, except that he was a fellow guest on Marty Owings’ now-defunct “Radio Free Nation”; Mom always said if you can’t say anything nice about someone, don’t say anything at all, so I’ll keep my counsel, except to note that “Jimmy”/Fred was completely unable to carry on a political discussion on RFN without hyperpersonalizing it (with me or anyone else, according to several of the other guests with whom I’ve spoken), and has been carrying on a rather curious little vendetta against me on Twitter and his “blog” and BlogTalkRadio “show” for a while now.
And while everyone involved is more or less anonymous, I will assume (and note the assumption) that “MNProgressive” is Eric “Big E” Pusey, of the MPP. Mr. Pusey is apparently soliciting Mr. Gates’ unsourced, un-true “story” for the Minnesota Progressive Project, without knowing any of Gates’ substantiation for any of his claims (or, obviously, that no such substantiation exists).
And the “anonymous tip” is apparently Fred Gates’ assumption that someone just has to be paying the station to air us.
They just have to!
EPILOGUE: I’ll cop to it. I resort to more ridicule than I should when dealing with the MPP. It’s not the better me speaking. I tend to work the room I’m in; if I’m dealing with responsible, intelligent, capable liberal commentators, like Marty Owings, Charlie Quimby, Liberal In The Land of Conservative, most of the Uptake crew, or the MNPublius guys (except for Landry), I’m on my best behavior. Dealing with shrieking ninnies like Grace Kelly, Two-Putt Tommy, Andy Driscoll or Fred Gates? Well, let’s just say when in Rome, I do what the Romans do, to my occasional chagrin. I will, and do, try to do better; to taunt less and prove more.
But in this case, the Romans are just plain dumb. Seriously.
(And thanks to regular commenter Tolowen for the tip!)
EPI-EPILOGUE: Fred “IGotMyReasons” Gates is apparently the same whackjob troll that Ed Morrissey wound up repeatedly banning from his old BlogTalkRadio show for being a depraved lunatic.
Well, Eric Pusey? This is what you want “Minnesota Progressive Project” to be?
My comment section is open (which is more than one can say for yours, apparently).
EPI-EPI-EPILOGUE: I missed this the first time I read this:
Gates/”Olson”: Most informercials start with the disclaimer “the following is paid programming.”
That is something the station does to distinguish commercials from programming that is within its format! It’s so that the audience doesn’t mix up commercial, off-format programming (say, a program on nutrition supplements on a political talk station) with the station’s actual programming. It is a marketing, not legal or ethical, issue.
As far as I know townhall.com-subsidized shows don’t have a similar intro. They are in multiple markets, not just MN.
Townhall subsidizes absolutely no shows! Townhall is a fully-owned subsidiary of Salem Communications, which also owns the Salem Radio Network. Townhall is not in the radio business, and subsidizes no programing.
Fred/”Jimmy”, in addition, continues to claim that he has an “anonymous source” that has all the facts on this story. Fred/”Jimmy” and his “source” has gotten every single fact in contention wrong (I said “in contention”; yes, you can rent airtime, although nobody’s doing it for the NARN) throughout this story. And now he’s backing and filling to cover his lies.
But here’s the deal; since your story has been debunked, then if you have an “anonymous source” (supposedly an “expert on the industry”), Fred/”Jimmy”, then either reveal “him” (which will be interesting, since “he” doesn’t exist),or corroborate “his” “statement”, or just crawl away.