OPINION

Republican contenders re-emerge as radio talk hosts

Ed Pilkington

Anyone tempted to feel sorry for the Republican candidates who lost in such spectacular style in the U.S. presidential race can now relax. The 2008 hopefuls have started to re-emerge in a new guise: as the hosts of rightwing talk radio shows.

Like a scene from “Night of the Living Dead,” several political corpses left scattered across the early primary states have been spotted twitching, then crawling and finally standing up and dusting themselves down. The first to be born again as a radio host is Fred Thompson, who has just been awarded a two-hour programme with the syndicated network Westwood One. The choice of Thompson to replace the conservative talk show legend Bill O’Reilly, who is giving up his programme to concentrate on TV broadcasting, has astonished commentators. Not only was Thompson thoroughly trounced during the Republican nomination process, but his performance on the campaign stump was so lacklustre that many wondered whether he was alive even then.

From March his Tennessee drawl will be heard assailing angry Republican voters with angry Republican views — a form of preaching to the converted pioneered by Rush Limbaugh 20-odd years ago. More than 2,000 radio stations have followed Limbaugh’s suit, with news talk now the most popular format in America, ahead even of country music.

Of the top five most popular talk radio shows, four are hosted by conservatives and one by a libertarian. Limbaugh remains the king, with almost four million listeners tuning in to him at any one time.

The second figure to emerge in a radio reincarnation is Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas. The bass guitar-playing pastor will be taking his softer-spoken variety of conservatism on air in January with a show for ABC radio. The third presidential hopeful reported to have been seeking to revive himself on air is Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York City, who was in the frame for the Bill O’Reilly slot but appears to lave succumbed to Thompson. Though Giuliani’s penchant for dressing up in women’s clothes may not be ideal radio material, as mayor he put out a weekly broadcast from city hall.

Conservative talk radio specialises in abuse, usually hurled at the Liberal bogey figure of the day. When Limbaugh blazed his trail it was Bill Clinton. Today it is Barack Obama. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2008

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