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Rush Kids: Talk radio's generation

By Hans Zeiger
web posted December 20, 2004

When I was younger, I dreamed of someday being a radio talk show host. I distinctly recall the evening in 1993 when, at the age of 8, I turned on the Kirby Wilbur show on Seattle's "Hot Talk" 570 KVI. Talk radio thereafter became a sort of second classroom for me, a weighty counterbalance to the moral neutrality and civic illiteracy of my public school.

I count among my teachers Mr. Wilbur, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Medved, John Carlson, Michael Reagan, Floyd Brown, and others who came over the airwaves at various times during my growing-up years. Rush calls his program the Limbaugh Institute for Advanced Conservative Studies, and this student of talk radio has school spirit. I've never known a time when there wasn't conservative talk radio.

Talk radio grows larger in bandwidth, talent, and influence as time goes on. When Rush first came on the national airwaves in 1988, his Seattle affiliate was an Oldies station. Today, the burgeoning demand that has developed around the Rush Limbaugh Show has brought two conservative radio stations into prime competition in the Seattle market. Twenty million Americans listen to Rush on over 600 stations every week. According to the American Radio News Audience Survey, 30 percent of Americans who listen to radio news can be classified as light or heavy listeners to news through talk radio stations.

But I never truly appreciated the importance of talk radio in American political culture until Rush Limbaugh read one of my columns on his program last March. "This op-ed here by Mr. Zeiger is just an example of the kind of thinking that's going on out there in young people's minds and hearts," he said, "because they're just as frustrated as you are. They're mature beyond their years and they're just as frustrated as you are this stuff is happening, but they look at it: all this stuff has been tried isn't working. They want to fix it, not just talking about it. So there's reason to be optimistic is the point."

Indeed, it is an optimistic time to be a patriot. There are plenty of reasons to be pessimistic too - there always are, and quite literally the world is dying - but pessimism has a funny way of becoming self-fulfilling. We ought to be optimistic about the future of this country, not because everything is going the right way, but because we have the right ideals. We should have such confidence in the strength of our ideals, such faith that they will endure, and such trust in our God, that we never hesitate to partake when a feast of hope is presented before us.

And I am convinced, having grown up on talk radio, that Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Dennis Prager, Laura Ingraham, Larry Elder, G. Gordon Liddy, and all of the others have played a significant part in the battle of ideas in our time. It is largely due to their presence on the AM dials of the big cities and small towns of America that many of the most important advances have been made in the popular revival of conservative ideas. It is because of Rush Limbaugh in particular, that as he said, "there's reason to be optimistic."

ABC News correspondent Carole Simpson is quite pessimistic about the fact that young people are tuning into talk radio. At a post-election National Press Club forum, as transcribed by David Wilmouth of the Media Research Center, Ms. Simpson erupted, "The children are saying, 'Well, I hear Rush Limbaugh,' and I said, 'That's not the news.' And they go, 'But he's talking about news things.' Okay, that's really scary when I hear them say that they think they're getting the news, they can't make the separation between the New York Times and ABC News and NPR and the talk shows Hannity and Colmes or Bill O'Reilly. It's all the same to them. That's all the news, Entertainment Tonight, it's all the news. So it's been a very frightening thing to me. I am scared. I am going to admit to you that I'm scared."

While Ms. Simpson is scared, let us take heart that the talk radio revolution is bearing fruit.

Young conservatives are on the move, thanks to motivation from our teachers on the air. Rush says that conservatism is advancing among young Americans because "they've grown up this way. They've had it around them, which is new."

Conservatism is cool these days. Combined with the internet, FOX News, and vibrant conservative print publications, talk radio has the potential not only to shape public opinion, but to mobilize public action for a generation of young conservatives.

Finally, parents should never underestimate the power of talk radio in the hearing of their kids. It just might save the country.

Hans Zeiger is president of the Scout Honor Coalition and spokesman for the Scouting Legal Defense Fund. He is a student at Hillsdale College.


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