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Good Air: How Union Radio Supports and Expands Labor's Base

Posted by Will Rice (will) on Nov 07 2011 at 12:40 PM
FALL 2011 >>

By Charles Showalter

“Hello, I am Charles Showalter, your host for The Union Edge, Labor’s Talk Radio.”  That’s how I begin each broadcast of the only radio show in the nation dedicated to broadcasting the message of America’s union movement.  “The Union Edge” mission is to provide an outlet for unions and their allies to express their views to the general public, engage working families on key issues, and promote action for change.

Five years ago, “The Union Edge” started buying air time on a small 750 watt radio station in Pittsburgh; it’s network has since grown to 12 commercial and noncommercial radio station in ten states. 

Too often, union and progressive positions are not fully understood; this information gap allows well-funded opposition to take control of the argument and frame the issue through anti-union media outlets. Without a clear, steady and repeated message, we have no hope of winning the public over to our side.

I believe “The Union Edge” is important because, despite falling union membership, the cause of labor is still central to American society.  Nearly 60 million U.S. workers say they would join a union today if they could, based on research conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates in December 2006.  There’s been widespread admiration of labor and progressive efforts in Wisconsin, Ohio, at Occupy Wall St. and elsewhere. The public wants to learn more; working families want to join us.  The Union Edge is an effective way to reach them.

Twenty-two percent of talk radio listeners consider themselves progressive, 30% independent and 48% conservative.  If “The Union Edge” can get a hard core conservative to take a step back and honestly listen to another opinion on one or two issues (or an independent on five or six issues), we are making progress.  We do not have to change their mind right away but we must, I believe, engage them in a conversation.

Even in the Internet Age, radio is still the best way to reach large audiences.   It is cheaper than direct mail, telemarketing, cable television or any other media.  Our own talk radio show is much more effective and less expensive then buying radio advertising.   

Conservatives have long understood this. The Rush Limbaugh Show is the most listened to radio talk show in America, broadcast on over 600 radio stations, three hours a day, nationwide.  Rush and other conservative talkers will always have a core audience, but that audience is shrinking.  Thankfully, the public is not as excited about “hate speech shock jocks” as they once were.  But even with this welcome  change in listener tastes, there are still only about 50-60 commercial radio stations in the country that are considered progressive or that have progressive radio programming as part of their daily line up.

It is my deepest hope that progressive talk radio will one day enjoy a level of commercial support sufficiently high that the producers of progressive radio are spending more time producing news and programming and less time fundraising.

Americans for Democratic Action members are in a unique position to help change the voice of radio in the United States. National Director Michael J. Wilson has been a regular on our program in the past and has done a great job representing ADA and explaining the issues to the public.  I invite Michael J. to spend an hour a week on “The Union Edge” and the Working Family Radio Network, and for all ADA members to listen in.

Charles Showalter is host of “The Union Edge” radio program.