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Will Podcasting Bring Us the Next Rush Limbaugh?

Rush Limbaugh. Sean Hannity. Glenn Beck. Mark Levin. Michael Savage. Laura Ingraham. These voices are giants in conservative media, and radio is their domain. Rush Limbaugh sits atop it all with a weekly audience of around 13 million listeners, many of whom have been following the magnetic and boisterous radio host for 20 years. That fact alone––how long his audience has been with him––should give you pause.

Limbaugh is not unique amongst his peers in that his average listener is in his 60s [1], and new, younger listeners are not materializing for many reasons. Conservative talk radio is on autopilot, coasting along with a loyal and aging audience. Only a few disruptors are in the mix, such as Glenn Beck, who left cable TV to start his own web-based company, The Blaze, which distributes to radio and satellite TV with an additional focus on podcasts. The attention paid to podcasting by The Blaze is notable because it signals an effort to reach a new audience, a younger audience, one that consumes media not when it’s live from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., but whenever it’s convenient for them.

Millennials are the largest generation on earth, and their media-consumption habits are forcing traditional news outlets to change tactics in order to stay relevant. An expectation for on-demand technology separates Millennials from older generations, whether that be in news, dining, movies, or transportation. This is why the rise of podcasting is starting to catch some side-eye from established media such as radio.

Podcasting isn’t a new medium, by any metric, but it is new to being taken seriously. In 2006 only one in 10 Americans said they’d listened to a podcast. Today that number is one in three according to Pew [2]. In that same time, the share of the public that understands what a podcast is has risen from 22 percent to 49 percent.

The demand for podcasts is exploding, and with it the number of options. Libsyn, the leading platform for hosting podcasts, boasted 12,000 shows in 2012, and by 2016 they carried just under 30,000. What was once a niche form of media for tech-savvy bloggers is becoming a mainstream industry, with $38 million dollars of advertising to support it. Furthermore, we are rapidly headed toward a future of self-driving cars, and the majority of traditional radio consumption occurs in vehicles already. Podcasts are more than likely to be built into these smart cars, such as one being made by Apple [3], and from there the on-demand nature of podcasts is only going to become more normalized.

So what does the future look like for conservative talk? A new generation of conservative and libertarian talent is rising up out of the podcasting world, and you can bet that their popularity will grow with time. Provocative political commentator Ben Shapiro, a former editor-at-large for Breitbart and now founder of The Daily Wire, hosts a daily radio-style show [4] on Facebook Live that reaches thousands and is then distributed in the form of a podcast. Shapiro offers a presentation in line with conservative talk-radio tradition: impassioned monologues and a bare-knuckled approach to discussing progressivism. On the other side are the slew of think tanks, non-profits, and policy-centered organizations in the beltway that work to further right-of-center causes: Reason, The Federalist, National Review, The Weekly Standard, AEI, Heritage, the Manhattan Institute. Their shows offer something distinct in the marketplace. They are measured and intellectual and grapple with political issues using something talk radio isn’t familiar with—nuance.

Ricochet [5], the leading network for conservative podcasts, boasts six programs with a loyal and ever-growing audience that is notably younger than that of conservative talk radio. The Ricochet Podcast is hosted by Peter Robinson, a former Reagan speechwriter, and National Review columnists James Lileks and Rob Long. They regularly feature beltway policy wonks, as well as known commentators like Ann Coulter. It’s a satisfying mix for conservatives in need of a dose of academia alongside unvarnished opinion programming. Perhaps what is most different about conservative podcasts from talk radio is the prevalence of comedic talent in the top 50 [6]. Comedians Joe Rogan, Adam Carolla, Steven Crowder, and Dennis Miller all have a sizable footprint in this market, Carolla most of all, thanks to his television background at MTV, Comedy Central, and Spike.

As a new generation of pundits and entertainers rises to the forefront of conservative culture, it may be worth considering whether the conditions of yesteryear can ever truly be replicated. The next Rush Limbaugh or Firing Line will exist in a marketplace far more crowded than ever before, so will they be able to lead a single majority of the conservative movement? Or will it be a sharper version of what we have today—factional segmentation of the movement with prominent leaders in each faction? We can never know for sure which way technology and media will break, but at this point all the market signals are pointing to the demise of the cable-TV model and talk radio. Among other things, old-school advertisers are not comfortable with the amount of exposure [7] they have to controversy in the social-media era. We saw this after Rush Limbaugh famously assailed Sandra Fluke [8] and more recently [9] with the downfall of Bill O’Reilly. As advertising dollars for radio dry up, so will the programming. On-demand entertainment that is customized with a narrow subset of consumers in mind is taking us toward a podcasting boom in the next decade [10]. With that boom you will see younger voices rise to prominence in conservative media through these channels. The question is, again, how broad will their appeal be in the age of individualized entertainment?

The future of media belongs to those who are prepared for change, and there is no doubt that a huge crop of talent within the podcasting community is readying itself in the wings for the spotlight.

Stephen Kent is the public-relations manager and spokesperson for Young Voices [11]. He hosts the Young Voice daily podcast.

18 Comments (Open | Close)

18 Comments To "Will Podcasting Bring Us the Next Rush Limbaugh?"

#1 Comment By Lee On May 15, 2017 @ 1:48 am

Not to be construed as an endorsement, but taking the time to listen to a Podcast. Not that anyone’s individual opinion matters anyway, especially the high profile MSM.

Listening to the coming along Generation is nice, and quite a bit refreshing. Discerning their world, no differently than any of us coming along.

What’s missing? The more tenured comprehension of the systemic issues where Media turns into strategy to drive ratings and advertising dollars. No different than the invisible hand of Economics, and forces daily folks simply do not comprehend, along with technology that’s part of their lives yet they do not comprehend.

As for me, I say it’s going to be their world, let them shape it…

#2 Comment By Sluggo On May 15, 2017 @ 8:37 am

When Ben Shapiro can be described as provocative and bare-knuckled NR has officially passed the point of parody and become farce.

#3 Comment By Jack Waters On May 15, 2017 @ 9:00 am

Jason Stapleton needs to be on the shortlist as well.

#4 Comment By Kent On May 15, 2017 @ 9:03 am

This way of framing the issue is far too tribal for my tastes.

#5 Comment By Josh On May 15, 2017 @ 11:18 am

Mr. King–Great article. You bring up may great points. Regular, terrestrial talk radio, unfortunately, is on it’s way out. Look at any of the current talk radio listener data, compared to years past, and it will prove as much. However, to your point, “WILL podcasts bring about a new Rush Limbaugh,” I would like to argue that, it’s not “will,” but already “has” brought about a radio host that, in my opinion, not only is like Rush, but, a million times GREATER than Rush. Not only in knowledge and understanding of current and past governmental events, but, more importantly, speaks the Truth..of which is seriously lacking in todays entertainment world…of every aspect. Mike Church of The Mike Church show, and, part of the Crusade Channel internet radio and podcast channel, is and ARE the future of internet/podcast radio.
If I were you, I’d check into this station, it’s founder and the channel’s other hosts. If you are/were unaware of this man, the Crusade Channel, and it’s lineup of shows, you are SERISOULY missing out. I urge you to go to VeritasRadioNetwork.com and look into Mike Church and the Crusade Channel radio. You will not be disappointed.

#6 Comment By Stephen On May 15, 2017 @ 12:57 pm

Are you listening TAC? When are your millennial readers going to be able to listen to an “American Conservative” podcast while we’re out for an evening run or working out in the gym?

#7 Comment By Ken T On May 15, 2017 @ 4:32 pm

Of course, one might point out that if you weren’t depending on a drug-addled woman hater like Limbaugh or a serial sexual abuser like O’Reilly to be your public messengers, you wouldn’t have to worry about advertisers pulling out.

#8 Comment By Bob K. On May 15, 2017 @ 5:25 pm

See Genesis Chapter 11.

#9 Comment By EliteCommInc. On May 15, 2017 @ 7:42 pm

I made an observation about Television this weekend. And having designed a communication lab projecting what might be needed in the future, the problem with our technological age with respect to news and information is that there are a lot of choices.

Hence the gate keeping of content, context, accuracy, etc. are sorely lacking. That’s what news sources are losing that will make them irrelevant if they choose to maintain their current course.

I appreciate having to read through the information. It’s loaded with data sets to consider as well as a thought out perspective of the issues. A pod cast may be great for a tid bit, but its hardly a snack when what is required is a full course meal.

#10 Comment By EliteCommInc. On May 15, 2017 @ 7:47 pm

“Millennials are the largest generation on earth, and their media-consumption habits are forcing traditional news outlets to change tactics in order to stay relevant.”

If the tactics are:

safe spaces, accusation as argument in full, complete contempt for context, i.e. men and women relations are the same as same sex relations, no borders, killing children in the womb, shutting down discussion (especially by intimidation), etc.

I will be quite content to leave them to their business of inanity.

#11 Comment By Bill On May 15, 2017 @ 8:51 pm

I have been a listener of The Mike Church Show for a decade and he is far from ordinary. He is engaging, entertaining, and knowledgeable. The timing of this article is fortuitous for new listeners. The Premium Channel (subscription) has been turned off this week – you can listen to the premium broadcast without commercials all week for free. Search for Veritas Talk Radio App. Enjoy – it is a life changing experience ! By the way, millennials do listen to the Veritas Radio Network.

#12 Comment By Peter On May 15, 2017 @ 10:23 pm

A few years back my car battery had to be changed. After the new battery was installed, I realized the radio in my 2005 Honda Accord would not work unless I entered a manufactuer’s code, which I kept putting off trying to find.

As a Los Angeles resident, I spend close to three hours a day commuting to and from my job so to fill those hours, I began downloading a variety of podcasts since I could no longer listen to John and Ken, a talk show on KFI 640.

Not only did I not miss the long commercials that took up most hours of a typical KFI 640 talk show on radio, I found the content on podcasts to be much more in-depth and enjoyable with very few interruptions. And some of these podcasts would run to close to three hours.

I have no desire to find that code to get my car radio working again.

Once you begin listening to podcasts, you will give up radio and never look back.

#13 Comment By Annie lewis On May 16, 2017 @ 2:41 am

I am preparing for the change 🙂

#14 Comment By Annie lewis On May 16, 2017 @ 10:14 pm

Podcast is one of the essential parts of the [12]

#15 Comment By Antoinette On May 17, 2017 @ 2:09 pm

Dear rush, if comes has a habit of righting memos on all of his meetings then all the investigation committee’s need to summons all of his memos of the hillary, wiener, and loureta linchpin meeting. OH, THAT RIGHT NO RECORDS OF THESE CONVERSATIONS!!!

#16 Comment By Antoinette On May 17, 2017 @ 2:16 pm

Sorry for the misspelled words, my note book keeps changing my words. Dear Rush,if comey has a habit of writing memos where is all the memos of hillary, wiener, and loureta linch meeting. OH, that’s right NO RECORDS.

#17 Comment By geiger counter On May 18, 2017 @ 12:30 am

I’m somewhat astonished that an article could be written about right wing podcasting without mentioning The Right Stuff family of podcasts and their ilk.
I wonder if the alt-right is popular with the young because of their mediums, or whether they use the mediums because they are young

#18 Comment By Chris Schiefen On June 12, 2017 @ 1:22 am

How does Carolla have the biggest footprint? His podcast is currently 188, while Rogan’s is 14. Hell, and Rogan even trumps Adam outside pods—he had a NBC sitcom for five years, an NBC reality show for 6, and has been the voice of the UFC for 20 (not to mention the Comedy Central and Netflix comedy specials, as well as playing theaters).