By Will Bunch
Media Matters for America
Glenn Beck’s new year started a few days late, with a signal that he’s hoping that 2011 will be even more momentous than the first two years of the Obama presidency, when his massive resistance to the White House catapulted the right-wing media icon onto the cover of Time magazine and made Beck a millionaire many times over.
"We cannot as a nation survive much longer," said Beck in a New Year’s message posted on his website, not unless there is a "fundamental transformation" — quite an ironic statement since many of Beck’s biggest fans turned away from Obama because of the president’s use of that very same term.
Added Beck: "We must take a page from our own history at the Alamo and ‘draw a line in the sand.’ We must decide who we are, what we are capable of and look to the heavens to chart our course…I will not accept that America’s best days are behind Her, that there is no such thing as American exceptionalism." To add some meat to his verbal bravado, Beck — who reportedly earned $32 million in 2009 and certainly topped that last year — also claimed he was hiring 40 more people to build a new division he called E4 Experiences, for Enlightenment, Education, Empowerment and Entrepreneurship.
The new Beckian blast of bluster could serve one other purpose: Covering up that fact that Beck’s most fundamental enterprise — the radio network that launched the one-time failed "Morning Zoo" jock to national stardom in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks — is fast imploding behind him.
Today’s blow is the most significant and the most shocking: Beck will be off the air in America’s largest media market, New York City, in a matter of days:
WOR (710 AM), one of the city’s two biggest talk radio stations, said this morning it is dropping Beck’s syndicated show as of Jan. 17 and replacing him with a familiar New York name: Mike Gallagher.
"The reason is ratings," said WOR program director Scott Lakefield. "Somewhat to our surprise, the show wasn’t getting what we wanted."
To call this a major embarassment for Beck is an understatement. After all, he’s been based in New York — where he tapes his nightly television show for Fox News Channel — for the last four years. And he’s not being replaced by some hot new up-and-coming talent, but a lower-priced and unexciting retread in longtime veteran Gallagher — a clear sign that WOR isn’t bluffing or exaggerating to say that Beck’s ratings in the Big Apple were truly awful.
What’s more, by Jan. 17 Beck is all but certain to be off the air in another major U.S. market, Philadelphia. When it was announced last fall that Philly’s WPHT, then known as "The Big Talker," was adopting a more locally oriented format and dumping both Beck and Sean Hannity, there was widespread speculation that another local station would rush to pick up the right-wing free agents. That hasn’t happened, and their Philadelphia run is slated to end next week.
And there’s also evidence that New York and Philadelphia are not a fluke, that Beck is bombing generally in the nation’s population center on the Eastern Seaboard. Check out his latest results in Boston:
Despite a lineup featuring Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, conservative-based "Rush Radio" has yet to gain any traction with listeners in liberal Boston. The latest Arbitron PPM rankings have Clear Channel’s WXKS-AM (1200) mired toward the bottom of the Beantown ratings heap, with an overall 0.7 (age 6+ AQH) in the November PPM and a cume of 81,000. The Boston Herald slices that down further, noting a mere 0.2 rating and 45th place in the 25-54 demographic. That’s lower than when the AM station played Spanish music.
These developments could have a significant and concrete impact on the radio side of Beck’s business empire, because major national advertisers typically demand exposure in all top-10 national media markets, something that Beck will soon no longer be able to provide.
Clearly, Beck’s reactionary message doesn’t resonate in some of the more progressive bastions of the East Coast; Beck’s movie-theatre events like "The Christmas Sweater" or "Broke" performed poorly in seaboard venues while selling out in the heartland. However, there may be a deeper problem for the radio host. Beck’s radical anti-Obama message — "we surround them" — struck a chord with a newly scared minority of hardcore conservatives in 2009, but since then Beck’s warnings and pronouncements have grown increasingly apocalyptic and dire in order to build and hold his audience, yet his predictions — hyperinflation, for example, which he also uses to pitch gold coins — have mostly not come to fruition.
Meanwhile, his short-term-successful efforts to cash in on his popularity have led to a strategy of massive overexposure — epitomized by the 8/28 rally in Washington but also including several books (was "The Overton Window" really just six months ago?) and a non-stop schedule of public events with massive ticket prices, often $130 a ticket to hear him speak. One such appearance at New Jersey’s Great Adventure, midway between New York and Philadelphia, drew a tiny crowd, an early hint perhaps of his radio ratings problems. So now Beck starts 2011 not by retrenching but by expanding — with new offerings, more paid content on the Internet and more shrill and desparate warnings about the fate of the Republic.
It will only mask the stench of failure for so long.