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Aspiring Rush Limbaughs take to Web radio

The number of conservative talk-show hosts appears to be growing online. One even snagged an interview with Republican Karl Rove.

May 08, 2010|By Kathleen Hennessey, Tribune Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — Rock music blared, then faded as the host — in his best talk-radio voice — began throwing out red meat: Tea party poll uncovers liberal bias! Democrats take advantage of black voters! Healthcare reform a sham!

"The whole entire welfare system is designed to enslave you. This whole thing about the healthcare bill, this wasn't about, 'Oh, we really care about these people.' They wanted to enslave more people."

But abruptly, the speaker tossed the microphone to his partner, saying, "You continue. I've got to talk to my kid who knows he shouldn't be talking to me right now and should be in bed."

So it goes with "Two Hours of BS with EJ and the Bear."

As best it can, the show follows the format of traditional talk shows, but this is talk radio homemade-style — virtual talk radio. No fancy studios needed. EJ and the Bear use the Internet to deliver radio to listeners' laptops and PCs.

They're part of a growing group of aspiring Rush Limbaughs and Sean Hannitys relying on inexpensive, easy-to-use online technology to take their turn at the microphone. And though they're less formal than their better-known counterparts on "terrestrial radio," most take their mission just as seriously.

"The Internet is going to be the place that becomes the new farm team for traditional radio," said Michael Harrison, founder of the trade journal Talkers Magazine. "These are people who are interested in emulating terrestrial radio, and they're doing it from their kitchen table."

Not just the kitchen table. One conservative show host, Marie Stroughter of Santa Clara, Calif., often does her program from her bedroom. She interviewed former Bush White House advisor and political strategist Karl Rove over the telephone in her pajamas.

Some of the at-home talkers are bloggers learning a new medium. Some are former terrestrial radio personalities looking for a new home.

They give voice to nearly every issue and political view across the political spectrum, but the format has found a strong niche in conservative circles.

"I think that concept of talk radio is just one that resonates with more fervor in the conservative dialogue, and it's translating through to the online platforms," said Alan Levy, the founder of BlogTalkRadio, which is perhaps the largest Internet platform for free call-in radio.

It also appears to be growing. On BlogTalkRadio, the number of conservative talk-show hosts has grown 25% this year, compared with a 14% increase for hosts labeled progressive. Those shows have generated more than 1 million "listens" in the last three months, according to statistics provided by the site.

The chance to host a show has resonated throughout Stroughter's life. A homeschooling mother of three and self-described "Chatty Cathy," Stroughter said she was frustrated by how few fellow African Americans she saw in conservative politics.

Along with her husband and a friend she met on the social networking site Twitter, Stroughter created a website called African American Conservatives, and planned to use it to link to news stories and post interviews with newsmakers.

When a interviewee suggested she use BlogTalkRadio, Stroughter thought it was a "neat idea." Now, a year later, she hosts a weekly show that counts among its guests Rove, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Senate candidate and Orange County Assemblyman Chuck DeVore and conservative media entrepreneur Andrew Breitbart.

"It's just turned into a big snowball," Stroughter said.

The show — with the tagline "the soul of the conservative movement" — has had 8,000 listens, enough to make her something of a star in the BlogTalkRadio community.

"If this turns out to get bigger, that would be great," she said. "But I didn't set out to be Oprah."

kathleen.hennessey@latimes.com

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