KATYA ROGERS: Hi, OTM listeners. This is Katya. You are listening to episode three of The Divided Dial, our brand new five-part series about the power of talk radio and of one company in particular, Salem Media. This episode and the next one, look at the history of talk radio to uncover how early ideas about liberal bias helped fuel right wing radio's growth.
But if you haven't heard the first two, we recommend that you go back and listen before you start this one. Enjoy.
KATIE THORNTON: Fourth of July, 1973, in Philadelphia was hot as hell. But that didn’t deter the 50 or so protesters who gathered outside Independence Hall for a makeshift funeral. Dressed to the nines as the founding fathers — powdered wigs and all — they were there to mark the end of an era. They were there to mourn.
The leader of the group, a fundamentalist preacher named Carl McIntire, approached a homemade coffin, adorned with the words “Freedom of Speech.” And into it he placed a replica antenna of his radio station, WXUR.
[TAPE] CARL MCINTIRE: WXUR died tonight. There's one issue, freedom of speech, free exercise of religion. My religious and liberal opponents were successful in securing the aid of the federal government to silence a voice of a religious minority.
KATIE THORNTON: On WXUR, Carl McIntire repeatedly broadcast scathing screeds against the Civil Rights movement.
[TAPE] CARL MCINTIRE: Then let the guilt lie squarely upon such philosophers as Martin Luther King and President Johnson … What did the Negro apologists of our time expect?
KATIE THORNTON: He espoused paranoid ideas of communist penetration into the U.S. government …
[TAPE] CARL MCINTIRE: Slap at the white Americans, what the world ought to see is that the communists are so evil…
KATIE THORNTON: … and trumpeted anti-Semitic comments.
[TAPE] CARL MCINTIRE: The Jews at the present time are in darkness. They are going back in unbelief.
KATIE THORNTON: But all of that was legal. What did his station in was his lack of ideological balance, and when the license came up for renewal, the FCC denied it.
[TAPE] CARL MCINTIRE: Remember, when the rapture comes the FCC cannot stop us from talking. And we’ll be with Christ.
KATIE THORNTON: It was fellow clergymen who led the campaign against WXUR. But its demise turned McIntire and his station into martyrs among some conservative broadcasters. The incident was even invoked more than three decades later as evidence of liberal bias in a senate hearing by Salem co-founder Stuart Epperson.
[Radio click, dreamy music ends, snaps back to reality/present-day reporting]
KATIE THORNTON: I’m Katie Thornton and this is The Divided Dial, a five-part podcast series from On the Media, about how one side of the political spectrum came to dominate talk radio — and how one company is using the airwaves to launch a right wing media empire.
In the next two episodes, we take a detour from Salem’s story, and shine a light on the larger history of the right's ascendency on the air — which they achieved while simultaneously arguing that they were being silenced. It turns out, this boogeyman of liberal media bias has been animating conservative movements — and conservative radio — for nearly nine decades.
And we begin today’s story at a time when radio sounded very different.
[TAPE: Roosevelt’s first Fireside Chat]
[TAPE] ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.
KATIE THORNTON: In March of 1933, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office, Americans were freaked out.
[TAPE] FDR: My friends, I want to talk for a few minutes with the people of the United States about banking…
KATIE THORNTON: It was the height of the Great Depression. The entire banking system appeared poised to collapse. So Roosevelt took to the still-new medium of radio to offer straightforward financial lessons and reassurance.
[TAPE] FDR: When you deposit money in a bank, the bank does not put the money in a safe deposit vault. The bank puts your money to work, to keep the wheels of industry and agriculture turning around.
KATIE THORNTON: And it worked. The huge “bank runs” economists had predicted for Roosevelt’s early term never happened.
[TAPE] FDR: I can assure you, my friends, that it is safer to keep your money in a reopened bank than it is to keep it under the mattress.
KATIE THORNTON: Roosevelt had, as we say in radio, great pipes. But he also owed the success of his regular “fireside chats” in part to good timing: by the 1930s, most Americans had a radio in the house. And a network of long-distance phone lines brought a select few programs to stations across the country.
But radio wasn’t just the province of presidents.
NICOLE HEMMER: The radio dial really was the sort of cafe culture of the 1930s.
KATIE THORNTON: This is Nicole Hemmer. She is an author and historian who studies media and conservative movements.
NICOLE HEMMER: It was the place where debates about politics, debates about the future of the United States were all taking place. Because remember it's in the middle of the Great Depression and people are pretty panicked. They don't know that the United States is coming out of this.
KATIE THORNTON: From the left, Louisiana’s Huey Long roasted Roosevelt for not going far enough with the New Deal.
[TAPE] HUEY LONG: I must say to you that help from Mr. Roosevelt’s administration appears to be practically extinct…
KATIE THORNTON: And coming at Roosevelt from the right, blasting Depression-era efforts like the Works Progress Administration, was one Father Charles Coughlin.
[TAPE] CHARLES COUGHLIN: You people living on the WPA envelopes, WPA envelopes filled, partly, from the money confiscated from industry and commerce, and from the envelopes of those who are working…
KATIE THORNTON: The Catholic radio priest, once a supporter, became one of President Roosevelt’s loudest critics. In his Detroit suburb, he had wires running from his church to his local radio station, and sent his sermons out across the nation through a costly syndication network of early telephone lines. He hated the New Deal, and considered Roosevelt a dictator. At one of the huge rallies Coughlin organized he said that the president should be taken out, quote, “with the use of bullets.”
He was controversial — but controversy was allowed on the radio.
At least for a while.
[TAPE] PATHE PACIFIC: The shadow of the goose-step falls on Austrian soil. But in Vienna, Austria’s Nazi leader watches a gigantic parade…
KATIE THORNTON: Toward the end of the 1930s, the news focus shifted from the U.S. economy to the brewing conflict in Europe. At first, the idea of staying out of the war predominated — even Roosevelt didn’t want in. Popular sentiment shifted as news of German atrocities crossed the ocean.
[TAPE]: Hitler (German)
KATIE THORNTON: But not everyone changed their mind. And many who didn’t began lacing their anti-interventionism with vicious anti-Semitism. Here’s Father Coughlin in a broadcast from 1938, after the violent events of Kristallnacht.
[TAPE] CHARLES COUGHLIN: Students of history recognize that Nazism is only a defense mechanism against communism and especially that persecution of the Christian always begets persecution of the Jew.
KATIE THORNTON: In the late 1930s, Coughlin had an estimated 15 million people listening each month — almost one in every nine Americans. His presence loomed large, landing him in newspapers of the day, and in the Woody Guthrie song “Mister Charlie Lindberg,” about the famed aviator-turned-Nazi-sympathizer who was a leading force in the isolationist America First committee.
[TAPE] WOODY GUTHRIE SINGING “MISTER CHARLIE LINDBERGH”: Yonder comes Father Coughlin, wearin' the silver chain // Cash on his stomach and Hitler on the brain // In Washington, Washington
NICOLE HEMMER: The FCC saw that in Italy and Germany leaders were using radio to propagandize to their people. And they were really concerned about that happening in the United States.
[TAPE] WOODY GUTHRIE SINGING “MISTER CHARLIE LINDBERGH”: They say “America First,” but they mean “America Next!” // In Washington, Washington
KATIE THORNTON: So Roosevelt’s FCC chairman took to the national airwaves with an ominous warning to those who used the medium as quote, “an instrument of racial or religious persecution.” Soon, Father Coughlin’s homegrown syndication network crumbled.
He and other anti-Semitic ideologues were being edged out of radio’s “town square.” And an idea began to crystallize among his fellow travelers.
NICOLE HEMMER: They began to see broadcast platforms and media outlets in the United States as sort of captured by elite opinion. They understood their loss of platforms as a kind of censorship of their ideas.
KATIE THORNTON: And then in 1941, the government did something that they felt confirmed those suspicions.
NICOLE HEMMER: The FCC puts a blanket ban on editorializing on radio.
KATIE THORNTON: Fearing the spread of fascism, the FCC passed the Mayflower Doctrine, which prohibited broadcasters from sharing opinions over the airwaves. With this, anti-Semitic hate speech really was pushed off of radio. And many on the right felt that the die was cast: the media was a tool of the U.S. government, and the government was silencing conservative voices.
But Nicole Hemmer says that the effect wasn’t just quieting anti-Semites. It also helped rally support for the U.S.’s entry into the war.
NICOLE HEMMER: Non-interventionist voices were finding it harder and harder to find a platform and particularly once the U.S. goes to war, there is no space in media for people who are arguing that the U.S. should not be involved in the war.
KATIE THORNTON: It wasn’t just non-interventionists on the right, like Father Coughlin, who were feeling the chill.
NICOLE HEMMER: There were socialists and pacifists who opposed the war.. There were communists who were for the war because the U.S. was allied with the Soviet Union, but who had other opinions about the United States and about the U.S. economy that were not welcomed on air.
KATIE THORNTON: In truth, many on the left had found it hard to get on the radio long before the war. Back in the earliest days of the medium, when radio was an unregulated free-for-all, there literally weren’t enough frequencies for everyone who wanted to broadcast. So in 1927, the federal government created the Federal Radio Commission (later renamed the Federal Communications Commission) to reduce interference by issuing licenses for the first time. And they decided that licenses would be granted based on the station’s ability to serve the “public interest.”
KATIE THORNTON: But the federal government’s idea of “public interest” in the 1920s was pretty conservative — often anti-immigrant, pro-temperance and all in for big business. The FCC served as gatekeepers, denying some licenses to labor or educational groups and keeping Black Americans and Jewish Americans out of ownership for years. The station owners who did make the cut were mostly wealthy, conservative white men — business owners — who also helped keep progressive voices off the air.
With the wartime restrictions on speech, it was the far-right's turn to feel the sting of censorship. But it didn’t last long.
In 1949, the FCC did a complete 180.
NICOLE HEMMER: The FCC says, actually, stations have an obligation to cover controversial issues. They have to. We give them a license. This is the public service that they provide.
KATIE THORNTON: And here’s the kicker: The on-air coverage had to be “fair.”
NICOLE HEMMER: It's kind of a compromise, that, alright, we're going to let you editorialize, but we still don't want you to turn into propaganda outlets.
KATIE THORNTON: This is the basis of what comes to be known as the Fairness Doctrine. It required stations to present multiple perspectives on controversial issues. And if a group felt maligned or under-represented, they could request airtime to refute the claims made about them — and that airtime had to be given for free.
It’s the same policy we heard about last episode, whose eventual end would later help Salem stations expound on issues like abortion and gay marriage without any obligation to present the other side. But when the Fairness Doctrine first got going, it wasn’t a problem for conservatives.
NICOLE HEMMER: Conservative broadcasting really starts to take off after the Fairness Doctrine is implemented because they're considered to fulfill a public interest obligation. Or that they're introducing controversial ideas.
KATIE THORNTON: This mid-century rush of conservative broadcasters included one-time FBI agent Dan Smoot, who was a firm believer that communists had infiltrated the highest levels of U.S. government.
[TAPE] DAN SMOOT: This empire building of power hungry bureaucrats is implementing the communist plan for conquest of the United States.
KATIE THORNTON: And conservative Catholic Clarence Manion.
[TAPE] CLARENCE MANION: I am not afraid that some communists will shoot my son from the front. But I resent any activity in this country which will cause my son to be shot from behind.
KATIE THORNTON: And preacher and confidante of Joseph McCarthy, WXUR’s Carl McIntire.
[TAPE] CARL MCINTIRE: As far as I’m concerned I’m ready to die any time any moment for the cause of liberty and the cause of the gospel. Give me this, give me liberty or give me death.
KATIE THORNTON: By the early 1960s, what was regarded as the “radical right” and their media mouthpieces were the hot gossip. Publications like Time and The Nation wrote about what one article called “Hate Clubs of the Air.”
Newly appointed President John F. Kennedy was no fan of these broadcasters. And in 1961, he worked with two friends of his, labor leader brothers Walter and Victor Reuther, to hatch a plan.
NICOLE HEMMER: Victor Reuther puts together this memo on how Kennedy can use the powers of the federal government that he's just acquired in order to battle back against this anti-labor radical right. There are things like the IRS, you can audit people. And there’s the FCC. And he talks about conservative and anti-union broadcasters and says, you can use the FCC to shut these voices down.
KATIE THORNTON: Kennedy’s FCC liked the idea and sent notifications to stations highlighting conservative talking points with a reminder that under the Fairness Doctrine such controversial opinions needed to be countered.
And when the Reuthers’ memo to Kennedy was leaked, conservatives used its existence to say...
NICOLE HEMMER:“Aha! We are victims of federal censorship, give us money, support our programs. This is evidence of what we've been telling you all of this time.”
KATIE THORNTON: Some right-wing hosts were dropped from the air after the memo. Though historians like Nicole Hemmer say it’s hard to know exactly why that happened.
NICOLE HEMMER: Do they think you're kind of boring? Do they think you're just not the right fit for their lineup? Or did they get the memo, and they freaked out and said, well, we, we, we don't want to be in the midst of all of this political controversy?
KATIE THORNTON: While conservatives lamented the effects of the Reuther memo, there was a movement that was unequivocally finding it very difficult to get airtime.
[TAPE] BAYARD RUSTIN: The first demand is that we have effective civil rights legislation. No compromise, no filibuster …
MARK LLOYD: The folks who had money and made determinations about what got on television or radio, they were not interested in the appeals of the Civil Rights Movement.
KATIE THORNTON: Mark Lloyd is a lawyer and former associate general counsel at the FCC. He says leaders of the Civil Rights movement were not always welcomed on the mostly white-owned stations which played primarily to white audiences, and appealed to white advertisers.
MARK LLOYD: They weren't interested in what it was that Thurgood Marshall had to say about the Brown v. Board of Education and how it was being implemented in schools. That's not what they wanted to hear.
KATIE THORNTON: These remarks about Brown v. Board that Mark is referring to ended up kicking off a long legal saga that would change the American radio landscape. That’s coming up after the break.
KATIE THORNTON: This is the Divided Dial, I’m Katie Thornton. Now let’s get back to that legal saga I mentioned before the break. In 1955, after future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall had argued the case that desegregated the schools, he went on NBC to talk about it.
[TAPE] THURGOOD MARSHALL: We do believe that this decision in itself will encourage people to take steps without litigation in many areas and that’s what I think is important.
KATIE THORNTON: But that didn’t go over well with the owner of an NBC affiliate in Jackson, Mississippi — at a combination TV/radio station called WLBT.
JOSEPH TORRES: Thurgood Marshall was on a national program and they cut the feed, you know, when he was on.
KATIE THORNTON: This is Joseph Torres, who co-wrote a book titled “News For All The People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media.” And he says that, instead of playing the segment, WLBT’s TV station showed a slide reading “Sorry, Cable Trouble from New York.” And it wouldn’t be the only time WLBT cut the NBC feed during coverage of the Civil Rights movement.
[TAPE] NBC COVERAGE OF LUNCH COUNTER SIT-IN: The targets of the Nashville students were the lunch counters of the cities two largest department stores and four variety stores, and for the first time the community was confronted by Negroes where they had never been.
JOSEPH TORRES: The general manager of the station was a member of the white citizens council. And he was, you know, a staunch segregationist.
MARK LLOYD: Black folks in the Jackson Mississippi area, which were roughly 40% of the population, were not allowed to even buy time on the station.
KATIE THORNTON: Mark Lloyd.
MARK LLOYD: The editorials that would come out from the station manager all supported the position of the white citizens council, which was against integration.
KATIE THORNTON: Throughout the Civil Rights era, a small number of very influential Black hosts were broadcasting on a handful of more progressive stations. But over the years, the KKK and other racist groups ransacked, bombed and destroyed offices, tramsitters, and towers of some stations that played so-called “race-mixing” rock and roll or that broadcast left-wing content. And intimidation was commonplace.
[TAPE] CBS DOC: The Klan moved this year against radio station WBOX, whose owner invited former Arkansas congressman Brookes Hayes to make a speech on race relations. Klansmen made hundreds of calls to the station sponsors; the effect was immediate. Seventy-five percent of the commercials were canceled.
KATIE THORNTON: On many mainstream stations, the lack of media coverage of the Civil Rights movement was so pervasive that leaders like Martin Luther King started explicitly calling it out in the 1960s, and asking allies to help the movement get attention. And in the case of WLBT in Mississippi, a liberal-minded church group, the United Church of Christ, answered the call.
MARK LLOYD: The United Church of Christ office of communication joined with a local Jackson, Mississippi chapter of the NAACP, and sued the federal communications commission. And won.
KATIE THORNTON: The years long legal battle eventually ended with a federal court ruling that, under the direction of a dedicated white supremacist, WLBT was not serving their local community’s “public interest.” WLBT could stay on the air, but their license would be transferred to a nonprofit — a group made up of Black and white broadcasters.
But even before the WLBT case was settled, it was sending shockwaves through the media world. Just by allowing the case to move forward, the court had set an important precedent.
For the first time, members of the public could ask the FCC to investigate a broadcaster if they didn’t think their station was serving the public interest or being fair. Joseph Torres.
JOSEPH TORRES: It was monumental, right? The idea that U.S. citizens had legal standing to challenge a broadcast license.
KATIE THORNTON: Across the country, listeners filed hundreds of license challenges.
JOSEPH TORRES: The broadcast industry considered this an assault on them. They use that language, they're being assaulted.
MARK LLOYD: The stations began to understand that if they did not begin to follow these guidelines, if they didn't follow the fairness doctrine, then local communities would challenge their licenses.
KATIE THORNTON: Broadcasters were panicked. So the FCC started laying out some guidelines of how they could avoid the same fate. How they could better serve the “public interest.” And they start pushing something they called “ascertainment.”
JOSEPH TORRES: Where the station had to go out and ascertain the needs of the community as part of its license renewal process.
MARK LLOYD: People who were never asked before, you know, what do you think ought to be on radio? What do you think ought to be on TV? Now they were being asked these questions. This was done by radio stations and television stations, commercial stations, public stations across the country.
KATIE THORNTON: In fact, doing these “ascertainments” was part of Mark’s job early on in his career.
MARK LLOYD: I had to go out and do migrant fields and church basements and women's shelters and ask leaders in their places of power what they thought were the important issues facing the local communities.
KATIE THORNTON: The FCC was asking more from broadcasters, and listeners were expecting more. Though the Fairness Doctrine had been on the books since 1949, it hadn’t actually prevented stations from running racist, one-sided programming. But with the legal challenges of the 1960s, that started to change.
NICOLE HEMMER: Pro-segregation forces are right that there's a big shift that happens in national media and that happens in the country at large.
KATIE THORNTON: Nicole Hemmer.
NICOLE HEMMER: And they're on the losing end of that shift.
KATIE THORNTON: The decline in segregationist broadcasts led many on the right to double down on an old trope.
NICOLE HEMMER: As they're no longer seeing their viewpoints reflected in positive ways, they read that as liberal bias.
KATIE THORNTON: Although when some broadcasters asked the FCC to clarify the doctrine, the government made it clear that they didn't expect the stations to give airtime to some leftists like say, communists, or to atheists. But even so, all of the Civil Rights-era changes kicked off what Mark Lloyd refers to as broadcasting’s “public interest moment.”
MARK LLOYD: As a result of the public interest moment we had an explosion of not only news programs. We had an explosion of Sunday morning public affairs programs.
KATIE THORNTON: The FCC would come to require stations— even those that played mostly music — to run at least a little bit of educational programming. There were wellness shows…
[TAPE]: Guide to Good Living, a program designed to help you enjoy a full and healthier life.
KATIE THORNTON: Shows about social justice…
[TAPE RADIO FREE ALCATRAZ]: Indian Land Radio, Indian Land Alcatraz Island, on behalf of the Indians of all tribes.
[TAPE MPR]: We understand that the only thing that’s Black people down this long is rampant racism.
[TAPE KUT]: Probably my first step in becoming a separatist was realizing that I was gay and finding that the only literature on gays was about men.
KATIE THORNTON: There were shows about Farming and labor…
[TAPE RURAL AMERICA RADIO] My name is Ray Carr, I have a 280 acre farm, we have a 50-cow dairy herd. I raise about 80 acres of corn. I would like to know how I could cut down on my harvest losses on corn.
KATIE THORNTON: And conservative voices were part of this public interest moment, too. This is the era that pioneering conservative radio host Bob Grant got his flagship show.
[TAPE] BOB GRANT: They’re part and parcel of that vast army of bleeding hearts who make up the ACLU and other organizations who have no concern for the protection of society, no concern.
KATIE THORNTON: And TV, also overseen by the FCC, had its own, huge public interest moment.
[TAPE 60 MINUTES]: This is 60 Minutes. It's a kind of a magazine for television. And if this broadcast does what we hope it will do, it will report reality.
MARK LLOYD: This is, [laughs] this was the time when we really began to see news and public affairs programs become really important in the American culture.
KATIE THORNTON: Let’s make something clear: this sea change in the media wasn’t because the FCC was going around and punishing stations for not adhering to the Fairness Doctrine or not serving the public interest. They rarely actually enforced these policies. The threat alone of citizens taking legal action was often enough to get stations to change their coverage. In fact, only one radio station ever lost its license for falling foul of the FCC’s fairness and public interest guidelines.
KATIE THORNTON: It was WXUR, owned by fire-breathing radio reverend Carl McIntire, who we first met at the beginning of this episode as he laid his antenna in a homemade coffin. His station was pulled from the air in 1973, after local religious leaders challenged WXUR’s license accusing them of being quote, “highly racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Negro and anti-Roman Catholic.” And, crucially for the legal challenge, without offering another perspective.
KATIE THORNTON: But while WXUR was deprived of air by the FCC, Christian broadcasting writ large was not in mortal danger, just the opposite.
TERRY HEATON: Hello, Katie?
KATIE THORNTON: Hi, is this Terry? How are you doing?
KATIE THORNTON: Terry Heaton is a TV guy, always has been. But a lot of the work he did on TV helped shape what was heard on Christian radio.
TERRY HEATON: Well, The 700 Club was — when I got there, it was just, it was a television talk show at the time.
KATIE THORNTON: The 700 Club was a little more than that — it was a wildly popular, early televangelist show.
[TAPE] PAT ROBERTSON: Well thank you and welcome ladies and gentlemen to this edition of The 700 Club.
KATIE THORNTON: Launched in 1966, it went national in 1974. And at its heart was minister Pat Robertson.
TERRY HEATON: Pat Robertson was the son of a U.S. Senator in Virginia. So politics was in his blood.
KATIE THORNTON: From the start, the younger Robertson was well-connected.
TERRY HEATON: He had friends amongst the big wigs of, you know, a lot of them supported the ministry or supported him.
KATIE THORNTON: Robertson was an early mover and shaker in the Religious Right, a close confidant of many conservative politicians. He was also an early leader of the Council for National Policy — that secretive group of conservative strategists, donors, and media personalities, founded after Reagan’s victory, which would come to welcome the Salem co-founders into its fold. The 700 Club was a megaphone for the group’s goals even before Salem was.
TERRY HEATON: And I became the executive producer of that show during a time when it was transforming from what was a religious talk show into a propaganda sort of news organization with a conservative news bent.
KATIE THORNTON: Pat Robertson’s show was savvy and smart. And his Christian, conservative message broke through in a way no religious program had ever done before.
[TAPE] PAT ROBERTSON: Young people are bombarded by distorted visual images and twisted music messages that are saturating their minds and, yes, sabotaging their futures.
TERRY HEATON: We sold it as news from a Biblical worldview, but it was funny how that Biblical world view seemed to line up with Republican party politics.
KATIE THORNTON: The show didn’t just push conservative politics, it peddled in persecution.
[TAPE] PAT ROBERTSON: If you’re a feminist, if you’re a homosexual, if you’re any of those things, you can say what you want to about your preconceptions. But if you are a Christian and you write in favor of the Christian point of view, then you are considered a right wing and you can’t work any longer in a, quote, “objective” news orientation.
KATIE THORNTON: I asked Terry if there was ever an implication that followers should tune in to The 700 Club because it offered an alternative to liberal mainstream media. Terry said it was much more than an implication.
TERRY HEATON: That's kind of what we did at The 700 Club, like there's a spectrum, a straight line. And on this line we put all of the media companies, all of the NBC, CBS, everybody on that line. We argued that these all represent a liberal point of view. And so we were justified in putting ourselves on that same spectrum only to the right. You know, we had no business doing that, we just made that up, you know.
KATIE THORNTON: Pat Robertson didn’t just inspire other Christian broadcasters with his politicized content — he inspired them with his strategy, too. He pushed the idea that Christian producers needed to not just make media, but to own the means of distribution. He founded the first Christian TV network — which eventually helped spread The 700 Club across the country. And he owned a small string of radio stations, too. That network model was a blueprint for other Christian communicators.
TERRY HEATON: All the leaders of all of these organizations, they all looked to Pat, Pat knew them all. All of these Christian radio stations and other TV networks, they all had the gospel at core, but they also had this Republican, this “God needs us to take over the world” kind of mindset.
KATIE THORNTON: By the start of the 1980s, one out of every seven radio stations in the country was Christian. Though they pushed the idea that conservatives were being silenced, the Religious Right had established a comfortable place for themselves in the new media ecosystem.
And yet, they didn’t dominate. Thanks to the victories of the Civil Rights movement and that public interest moment, the radio dial was still a place that welcomed and protected a diversity of voices.
But all of that was about to change. Next time on The Divided Dial...
[TAPE MONTAGE]: News time, five minutes past the hour. Welcome to the Rush Limbaugh program, a program exclusively designed for rich conservatives and right-minded Republicans, and those who want to be either or both. Why would we wanna have any Democrats on? They’re losers? I'm never gonna speak to either Bill Clinton or Joe Lieberman or any of them again.
KATIE THORNTON: How new technologies and a stampede of deregulatory decisions worked together to alter our radio dial forever.
KATIE THORNTON: The Divided Dial is written and reported by me, Katie Thornton, and edited by Katya Rogers. We had help from Max Balton and Graham Hacia.
Music and sound design is by Jared Paul. Jennifer Munson is our technical director.
This series is a production of On the Media and WNYC Studios with support from the Fund for Investigative Journalism. Listen to the upcoming episodes of the series wherever you get your podcasts and follow my work on Instagram at @itskatiethornton. Thanks for listening.