Now the most-conservative title may belong to KABC. Last summer, the station bounced liberal lawyer Gloria Allred from weekday afternoons to weekends, gave the noon-1 p.m. hour of Jackson's show to Prager and replaced Ira Fistell in the 11 p.m.-4 a.m. slot with the more conservative Art Bell.
"In some sense, I think the [point] is not why KABC has gotten conservative but noting that it was really the last to go," says USC law professor Susan Estrich, campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael S. Dukakis and a KABC weekend host. "A lot of the energy in politics is on the conservative side, and that's being led by--and in turn reflected in--talk radio. The conventional wisdom right now is that that's where the ratings are."
"The talent's on the conservative side," maintains former KFI weekend host Hugh Hewitt, a conservative commentator on KCET-TV Channel 28's nightly "Life & Times." "Program directors, whether David G. Hall [of KFI] or George Green [general manager of KABC and KMPC], want talent plus interesting subject matter. It may be [that] everything on the left . . . is merely an echo or sounds so throaty. It just gets so old. . . ."
In the most recent Arbitron ratings book, from fall 1995, KFI was in third place, KABC was tied for 12th and KMPC was tied for 32nd. Much further down the list in the 86-station Los Angeles market is KIEV-AM (870), a small station in Glendale that is the home of conservatives George Putnam and Ray Briem. KLSX-FM (97.1) prides itself on being talk-lite.
Minority hosts on the three major talk stations are also Republican or conservative: Larry Elder on KABC (3-7 p.m.), an African American, and Xavier Hermosillo on KMPC (7-9 p.m.), chairman of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly of California, who likes to take jabs at "West Holly-weird."
Liberals or the left-leaning are stuck in weekend slots: On KABC, Allred (7-9 p.m. Sunday) and Estrich (10 a.m.-noon Sunday), who says she wouldn't want a weekday slot because she is busy raising her two young children. And on KFI, there's Bill Press, chairman of the California Democratic Party (noon-3 p.m. Sundays) and Tammy Bruce, chair of Los Angeles' chapter of the National Organization for Women (3-6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays).
Bruce, who touts herself as "the only open lesbian in mainstream talk radio," notes that weekends are particularly hard for finding an audience. "Also--and that's what I've had to adjust to--[stations] need it to be light."
The paucity of liberal talk show hosts extends throughout the country, although its small band now includes Mario Cuomo, former governor of New York, with a syndicated weekend show on about 40 stations, and Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr., California's former governor. Brown, who was unable to find an outlet on the major commercial stations here, began airing this month on public station KPFK-FM (90.7) (4-5 p.m. weekdays); Cuomo isn't heard in Los Angeles.
"Liberal hosts may not be as raucous and as entertaining," Cuomo concedes. "For those who enjoy watching wrestling, fencing will never do."
Will this conservative stance matter in the political campaigns of 1996? Among experts, you can get as much debate and nuance of opinion as you can at candidate forums.
"If Rush Limbaugh is so powerful," argues Randall Bloomquist, news/talk editor of the trade paper Radio & Records, "then how come Bill Clinton is president? What these [radio] guys do is preach to the choir.
"The vast majority of people will not listen to a talk show host for any length of time they are not comfortable with," he says. "Radio is a personal medium; talk show hosts are like friends. Their power is strictly defined by what the public thinks. They are most powerful riding the wave, surfing the wave, in the direction the public is already going."
What talk radio can do, Bloomquist explains, is "take widely held visceral feelings, concentrate it into a beam, shoot it out like a laser and hit Capitol Hill with it."
It's also a "hook" for other media, he says: "Come next fall, President Clinton or his Republican opponent makes a little faux pas, and [reporters] all go to the talk radio station and watch the little needles go up and down. 'Today at KABC, calls flooded. . . .' "
But Allred argues that there is a need for diverse political voices. "The lack of progressive radio talk show hosts may tend to lead people to believe that progressive thought is dying, that they're alone in it." For example, she says, "I think it matters that conservative hosts would [use the term] 'illegal aliens'; I would call them 'undocumented workers.' "
Ron Kobayashi, a jazz musician from Tustin and an activist in the liberal media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, who as a member of FAIR in 1992 picketed KFI for letting Leykis go, acknowledges that stations have the right to espouse whatever views they want.