How Conservative Talk Radio Transformed American Politics
The rise of talk radio dramatically changed the media landscape and eventually upended the country's politics as the platform of choice for conservative candidates. Gaining the favor of popular anchors like Rush Limbaugh was significant to the success of Republican campaigns.
In the early days of mass media, lawmakers worried about broadcast networks' potential to influence the national discourse. The Fairness Doctrine was enacted in 1949, which required radio and television stations to give equal time to differing opinions on important issues.
Stations licensed by the Federal Communications Commission to use public airwaves were seen as “public trustees.” As such, their role in disseminating information and providing balanced, nonpartisan coverage was imperative.
The doctrine survived for decades, but not without challenges. Critics argued the rule suppressed more conservative viewpoints. It was struck down in 1987, meaning stations no longer had to give equal time to contrasting opinions and could lean into more partisan viewpoints. Conservative talk radio soared in popularity and Rush Limbaugh became its star.
With the infotainment format and his unapologetically conservative opinions, Limbaugh's show amassed and continues to sustain millions of listeners, giving him considerable influence over the GOP and paving the way for increasingly conservative and hyperbolic content.
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*This interview originally aired on Monday, March 2.