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How Conservative Talk Radio Transformed American Politics

Image by Andrzej Rembowski from Pixabay CC0: http://bit.ly/2whQIZS

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.

Guest: Brian Rosenwald, author of "Talk Radio's America: How an Industry Took Over a Political Party That Took Over the United States"

"The Source" is a live call-in program airing Mondays through Thursdays from 12-1 p.m. Leave a message before the program at (210) 615-8982. During the live show, call 210-614-8980, email thesource@tpr.org  or tweet @TPRSource.

*This interview originally aired on Monday, March 2.

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Kim Johnson is the producer for Texas Public Radio’s live, call-in show The Source. She is a Trinity University alum with bachelor’s degrees in Communication and Spanish, and a Master of Arts Degree from the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin.
Dallas Williams is a Producer for The Source at Texas Public Radio. With a degree in Mass Communication — Broadcast Media, Dallas brings a unique perspective and a passion to producing a live, call-talk show.