Fairness Doctrine, more watts not the cure for progressive talk radio

Looks like another progressive radio operation has folded, this time Nova M, founded by former Air America founders Sheldon and Anita Drobney. My prediction, this will be used as yet more “evidence” of the need for a return of the so-called “Fairness Doctrine” (I have a custom Magic 8-Ball that I use in these situations for guidance).

According to Brian Maloney of the Radio Equalizer web site, Nova AM is closing its doors:

Libtalk network Nova M Radio has been shut down, according to the attorney for Randi Rhodes, Robert V Gaulin of New York.

Moments ago, Gaulin sent this letter to your Radio Equalizer:

Randi Rhodes’ on-air home for less than a year will shut its doors. In an email message of February 17th from counsel for Nova M Radio, Inc. to Randi’s entertainment attorney, Robert V. Gaulin, the company is said to have been advised to file for bankruptcy protection next week. All payroll deposits were reversed on Tuesday, leaving Nova’s employees unpaid for the past two weeks.

First Amendment fans have seen more and more calls lately for the so-called “Fairness Doctrine,” which would put political speech on talk radio under the thumb of government bureaucrats, overseen by political appointees.

One of the claims of “Fairness Doctrine” advocates is that progressive talk would succeed on the radio if only it wasn’t relegated to low-powered radio stations. A quick look at the stations carrying Nova M programs, however, would seem to refute this charge.

Nova M didn’t own or manage any stations, instead they syndicated progressive talkers to radio stations (Air America, on the other hand, owned or managed stations). They syndicated their two hosts, Randi Rhodes and Mike Malloy, to 32 stations (according to Nova M’s list of affiliates). Among these stations:

KABQ (Albuquerque, MN), 5,000 watts, covering the Albuquerque area (reception outside the population center can be an issue, according to the Wikipedia entry – but not being able to reach sparsely populated areas shouldn’t be a problem, now should it?)

WPEK (Asheville, NC), 5000 watts, this is a Clear Channel station (you know, one of those big corporate media conglomerates that keeps progressive talk off the air)

KUDO (Anchorage, AK), 10,000 watts

WWKB (Buffalo, NY), 50,000 watts, which is the most allowed, making this a “clear channel” station (not to be confused with a Clear Channel station). Owned by Entercom, the 4th largest broadcast station owner in the country.

WCHL (Chapel Hill, NC), 5,000 watts

KMNY (Dallas, TX), 50,000 watts (at night it reduces power to only 1,000, there are some stations in Mexico that interfere with the signal at night)

KKZN (Denver/Boulder, CO), 50,000 watts (also reduced power at night, same reason as Dallas I suspect)

KTLK (Los Angeles, CO), 50,000 watts, reduced to 44,000 watts at night

WINZ (Miami, FL), 50,000 watts, reduced to 10,000 at night

KNUV (Phoenix, AZ), 5,000 watts

KPOJ (Portland, OR), 25,000 watts, reduced to 10,000 at night. Probably the most successful of all progressive talk stations, also a Clear Channel station

KKGN (San Francisco, CA), 5,000 watts. Another Clear Channel station

KPTK (Seattle, WA), 50,000 watts, owned by CBS radio, the 4th largest owner and operator of radio stations in the country.

KPTQ (Spokane, WA), 5,000 watts, another Clear Channel station

By my count (and layman’s understanding of broadcast signal strength and range), nearly half of the stations carrying Nova AM programming have signals that are strong enough to reach the immediate metropolitan area and population center they broadcast from, and several of them are 50,000 watt stations, the most powerful signal you can transmit on in the U.S. And many of the smaller stations, with wattage of 1000 or less, are in smaller markets where stronger signals would be overkill, to say the least (Astoria, OR; Bellingham, WA; Brattleboro, VT; Eureka, CA, among others). So any claim that these talkers would have succeeded if only those wicked radio conglomerates would put them on stations with decent signals doesn’t hold up to closer scrutiny.

Sadly, my Magic 8-Ball is now telling me “unlikely to matter to Fairness Doctrine zealots.”

Sean Parnell


Center for Competitive Politics 


[email protected]