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The Muting of Conservative Voices in Puget Sound Continues. Is There a Remedy?

Seattle once set a gleaming example of how all-politics talk radio could be successful on AM radio. In the span of just one year Washington state’s largest media market has seen the format’s potential to affect state and local politics made impotent, leaving conservative communicators to wonder where the new pathways will develop to balance a crowd of moderate and liberal voices discussing state, local and national politics from a local perspective.

KVI 570AM – a trailblazer in its industry – last month abandoned right-wing talk in favor of oldies programming, but in hindsight the dismantling of a broadcast giant could be seen approaching for some time. When parent company Fisher Broadcasting released long-time host Kirby Wilbur, and John Carlson began shuttling back and forth between KVI and sister station KOMO 1000AM (with Carlson finally leaving KVI taking up residence in the morning slot on KOMO doing a far less political show than his listeners may be accustomed to), the tracks were being laid.

With KVI’s resignation from its role as a conduit for conservative opinion and analysis in a town in which the range of media alternatives spans from the center to extreme left, only rival right-wing talk broadcaster KTTH 770AM remained to provide a critical counterpoint. Nestled among KTTH’s heavy-hitting lineup of nationally syndicated hosts, homegrown talent David Boze stood out in recent weeks as the lone voice speaking about Seattle and Washington State politics for three hours every afternoon. Now, even that last bastion of right-wing commentary and analysis is being squeezed toward extinction.

The announcement that David Boze’s show would be reduced to just a single hour came last week. KTTH ostensibly made the programming change in order to make space for Sean Hannity’s syndicated show. Some may speculate whether loading the schedule with outsourced programming resembles the modus operandi of a station intending to enact a full-scale format change at some point in the near future. Only time will tell.

These changes to Seattle’s right-side media are more likely to be a reaction to economic realities, not a statement on the politics of the region. Will new media alternatives – based on lighter business models in cost terms – emerge to pick up the slack? Even a lean organization needs capital, and there appears to be no sugar daddy willing to boost a conservative digital resource into existence on the basis of public service. Even progressive and centrist sites like Crosscut.com and Publicola.net – both of which provide solid reporting on developments in state and local politics – struggle to exist, by all accounts, despite maintaining efficient operations.

The problem is a critical one for Republicans who need a medium through which to reach beyond its grassroots network and interact with voters, but the implications for the partisan interests pale when considered against what happens in the absence of any balancing voice in the debate on major state and local issues. It is unrealistic to consider center and left media outlets to dutifully, routinely and faithfully construct devil’s advocate arguments against massive spending on light rail, “progressive” land use policy, and other Democratic pet projects.

Perhaps we are just in a down moment in terms of the Puget Sound’s media diversity, and just as the extreme imbalance in the 1990s created conservative talk radio, a new drought for conservatives will produce a thirst to be quenched by a new generation of entrepreneurs.

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[Cross-posted by author from Red County.]

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