After long days of right-wing domination, talk radio is at last returning to its roots as a medium open to all voices.
The political Right gained its hold on talk radio in the 1980s when the Reagan-era Federal Communications Commission abolished the "fairness doctrine" - the long-established practice that required radio and TV stations, as a condition of periodic FCC licensure review, to offer all voices the chance to be heard in their public affairs programming. The doctrine was the legal underpinning for a truly fair and balanced treatment of topics in the commercial radio public square.
What followed can be summed up in two blood-curdling words: Rush Limbaugh. With no remaining legal or licensing obligation to offer programs that spanned the opinion spectrum, talk radio soon morphed into a one-sided rant against anything that wasnt right-wing conservatism. Progressive voices who tried to break into the medium in the mid-1990s - former California Gov. Jerry Brown, former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, and Texas populist Jim Hightower - were simply squeezed out of the marketplace of ideas. Only a few emphatically progressive voices have staked out niches in radio, particularly the five listener-owned stations of the Pacifica network and the growing success of its morning news program "Democracy Now," hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez.