Conservative radio host gives up

Charlie Sykes, probably the most well-known conservative radio voice in Wisconsin, announced today that he’s done with the business at the end of the year.

He writes on his blog that the current campaign — he’s no fan of Donald Trump — made the decision easier but it isn’t the reason he’s retiring.

I know that lot of people will assume that my decision has something to do with this current campaign and the rise of Trumpism. But, the reality (as my friends and family know) is that I made this decision a long time ago. Twenty-three years is a long time to do a radio show and most hosts don’t get to go out on their own terms. So I’m lucky to have had that chance.

It’s perfectly believable that Trump’s rise to power isn’t the reason he’s giving up on radio. There’s nothing better for conservative talk radio than having non-conservatives in charge of things.

More likely, as suggested by the interview he gave to NPR last month, it has to do with a fact of life in 2016: He’s dealing with an increasingly ill-informed audience.

Sykes said he’s noticed listeners becoming increasingly dogmatic in their rejection of mainstream sources of information and simple facts. They’ve increasingly cited sources like InfoWars, a show launched by radio host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Listeners have quickly dismissed any attempt to correct misinformation, especially if his source for those challenges are sources like The New York Times or The Washington Post.

“Rather than … saying ‘Well, thank you for correcting that,’ many people actually pushed back, and said, ‘Well, no, the source you’re citing comes from the mainstream media,” Sykes said. “We’ve been conditioned over the years not to take anything the mainstream is saying seriously, at all.'”

There’s a reason for that: Politics became entertainment to a dying AM radio industry.

This leaves Sykes wondering whether he and others in conservative media helped created an environment in which a Trump nomination was possible.

“Maybe we have been undone by our success a little bit,” Sykes says. “At some point, we went from being the counterweight to creating our own alternative reality.”

“I think among the things that have been the most the disheartening is to watch other people who do what I do decide that they are merely entertainers,” he said, “or willing to surrender some of the principles, willing to go from being gatekeepers to being cheerleaders to being outright flacks.”

Sykes has hosted his radio show for 23 years. That’s several lifetimes by today’s radio standard.

  • MrE85

    I caught a bit of the interview in the car, but didn’t hear who the speaker was. Interesting.

    “This leaves Sykes wondering whether he and others in conservative media helped created an environment in which a Trump nomination was possible.”

    I’ve been thinking the same.

    • Rush Limbaugh proudly proclaimed decades ago that he was an entertainer. His audience was entertained and over time came to become blind to the line of entertainment and information.

      Listening to those shows is like listening to the insufferable bro’s on sports radio. Except that there’s little harm in a nation of insufferable sports bro’s.

      • MrE85

        It’s a classic chicken or egg question: does listening to talk radio cause willful ignorance, or are the ignorant attracted to this kind of show? A little of both, I guess.

        Talk radio has never been my cup of tea. I have heard a few “liberal” hosts, they sound like a poor imitation of a bad idea.

        • Jeff

          Apparently it’s human nature that when confronted with facts that don’t reinforce their ideology people just double down and say the facts are wrong. e.g.,

          • MrE85

            NO! Your facts are wrong! 😉

          • Fred, Just Fred

            Facts have a liberal bias, or so I’m told by liberals.

          • MrE85


          • Rob

            It’s good that you know some liberals.

          • Fred, Just Fred

            Who said I know any?

          • Rob

            Sorry about the assumption, Wicker Dude.

          • Gary F

            Most right of center folks get their news and information from both left and right biased news sources and left of center folks only get left of center new sources.

          • MrE85

            …and all the mainstream media is “left of center,” amirite?

          • Gary F

            Lester Holt and Candy Crowley mainstream?

          • Leroy

            I think it’s all a matter of perspective. For instance right of center people tend to look at NPR as being left of center, while left of center folks tend to look at NPR as the standard for what the center is.

          • Gary F

            You just made my point.

          • Rob

            I don’t believe he did. The Nation is leftist; NPR is centrist.

          • Fred, Just Fred


          • Rob

            The Blaze is not a legitimate news source; NPR and NYT are. So the fact that you consume all of them doesn’t make you more well-informed or “right”-eous than someone who doesn’t consume The Blaze. You do get faux-piety points though.

      • Gary F

        Nothing is worse than sports radio a week or two before the NFL draft. Nothing.

        • Oh my, so very true.

        • MikeB

          Discussion about new stadiums, and financing, on sports radio

      • Magwheelz

        There’s entertainment along with the information. In other words- he’s not boring.

    • Mike Worcester

      //I’ve been thinking the same.

      That makes two of us. Twenty years ago I had friends telling me that if Rush Limbaugh said so, it is so. Now, even Rush seems to be considered “mainstream”.

      Mr. Sykes can bemoan the state of the electorate’s intellectual character all he wants, but he really did aid in the cause, and create a generation (or two) of listeners who became really good parrots, and really bad thinkers.

    • Magwheelz

      I totally disagree with that point. IMO it’s the Republican politicians who were too scared to go against Obama and didn’t really act/vote that Conservatively. Check out the Conservative scorecards for those like Ron Johnson and Paul Ryan in Wisconsin. Then the Dems…people are just sick of politicians in general.

  • Gary F

    I gave up on AM/FM conservative talk radio and TV a couple of years ago. It just ain’t worth it.

    I’ve switched to a great podcast service with no ranting and really well spoken conservative and small “l” libertarian hosts such as James Lileks, Mona Charon, Charles C.W. Cooke, Jonah Goldberg, Jim Gerritty, Kevin Williamson, Larry Kudlow, and others. Less ranting, no “talking points”, and very civil discussion. They have been doing quite well, i presume taking away listeners from the AM/FM/Cable talk people.

    I’d recommend it to libs too, it would help strengthen your argument.

    • Jonah Goldberg strengthening an argument?


      • Fred, Just Fred

        Hadn’t heard of anyone pulling the covers over their heads after listening to Goldberg.

        Maybe you should give it a try.

  • Gary F

    Rush is doing pretty good in the ratings, its the Rush wanna be’s that are getting old. Rush still brings up angles and perspectives to today’s politics that no one else can. That’s why he’s still on top and hated/revered so much.

    Its gotta be tough being “one of the other guys(gals)” and trying to stay fresh and relevant. I can see why it would burn both the host and the listener out.

    • Rush basically saved the AM radio industry.

      • Mike Worcester

        For sure.

        Here’s a possible “next question” then — as political talk radio, the A.M. broadcast kind, continues its slide, replaced by streaming and satellite and such, what really is the future of A.M. stations?

    • Re: Rush “doing pretty good in the ratings.” Um, not so much:

      “Rush Limbaugh’s claim to radio fame has always been that he is a right wing talker who brings big ratings to major markets in blue states, but this isn’t the case anymore. Since he moved to Clear Channel his ratings in the nation’s two largest markets have nosedived. Rush Limbaugh went from having the number one talk show in Los Angeles to falling down to 37th place in the ratings. In New York, Limbaugh has dropped from fifth in the city to 22nd. His audience is now so small in both markets that he is being outdrawn by Spanish language stations and NPR.”

      • EB charges a ton of money for Limbaugh. There are many alternative now to him that come at a fraction of the price for dying AM radio stations.

        • Magwheelz

          AM radio may be “dying” but many of us listen via iHeart and other streaming services. It’s pretty much satellite radio.

      • I’m still waiting for him to move to Costa Rica.

    • Rob

      Yes, no one can raise the threat of lesbian farmers taking over America quite as convincingly as Rush can.

  • Mike

    And in recent years, it’s not just a problem for self-described conservatives. MSNBC is basically a propaganda arm of the Democratic Party, just as Fox News is for the Republican Party. Somebody who watches either of these religiously and takes it at face value is going to be poorly informed.

    It’s helpful to remember, however, that advocacy journalism is not necessarily bad journalism. Part of the reason we’re in the current mess is because for many years the mainstream press essentially abdicated its responsibility to challenge the powerful. Instead, they preferred to simply print opposing statements and leave it at that. Moreover, there’s a long history of reporters at prestigious outlets being partial in one way or another, from serving the CIA’s misinformation projects to granting anonymity reflexively to favored government contacts, etc. The latter happens regularly even when the organization’s policy opposes it (e.g., NY Times).

    True objectivity almost never exists in nature. Journalists are humans.

    • You’re right about advocacy journalism but I don’t think radio talk shows are in a journalism category. They’re in the programming category of entertainment.

      I don’t have cable so I don’t know what to make of Fox, CNN, MSNBC. I get a lot of pleasure out of a darkened TV at my house.

      • Mike

        Yes, but TV networks long ago starting treating news like entertainment. So they deliberately confuse the two. How can we blame consumers for doing the same?

        People who actually want to learn something should generally avoid TV news altogether, although I like to watch local news just to laugh at the melodrama of it. How they keep a straight face is beyond me.

        • FWIW: A few years ago, Fox “News” publicly admitted that they are not, in fact, a “news” station.

          • Fred, Just Fred

            You got a link for that? Not that I doubt you.,,well, yeah I do

          • Rob

            “Fox admits to CNN that it traffics in opinion not news”

          • Fred, Just Fred

            Hilarious website, but no sign of that quote. How about, oh I don’t know, maybe a link to Fox News saying they are not news?

            I’d have thought that would be front page news on every paper in the country. Certainly MSNBC couldn’t have missed it.

      • Magwheelz

        I would say information and entertainment- which includes debating.

  • Will

    I have to say I really enjoyed listening to Jason Lewis on the radio, he wasn’t your standard conservative radio host. He tended to come down on the libertarian side of most issues and would commonly come into conflict with the GOP positions. Of course he left the radio years ago and is running for congress (good for him, putting his effort where his mouth was) but it’s hard to listen to the national hosts today. They seem to focus in on talking points and rarely take an objective look at their own political party…maybe it’s the social issues that bug me the most…I’d really like to hear a local/national host that has liberal views on social issues and more conservative views on fiscal issues. How did we get to the point where being socially liberal and fiscally conservative makes you an outcast with both of the 2 major political parties?

    • Barton

      maybe you can see if Arne Carlson is up for such a program? I’d listen to that any day.

    • Rob

      Point of correction: Jason Lewis is not a social liberal.

  • tboom

    “… dealing with an increasingly ill informed audience.”

    Are Am.History, Government, and Civics still required classes in high school?

  • Magwheelz

    Wow..if Sykes can’t handle that some people might get their information from sources he disagrees with and even may be loony…talk about thin skin. And here we, his listeners, are supposed to take him seriously when he’s #NeverTrump yet supposedly also #NeverHillary. Doing exactly the opposite of what he’s preached all these years, which was- those going on liberal shows(such as MSNBC) to bash Republicans and/or their supporters are media darlings of the left…and also- sometimes you have to vote for those who you’re not thrilled with to stop the Lefty from winning. There is none more liberal than Hillary.

    If Charlie really thinks Trump will be so bad- we can defeat him in 4 years. If Hillary gets in it’s most likely 8+ for the Dems. Just the SCOTUS issue should be enough for what common sense he has left to kick in. #NeverTrump is a bunch of hot air to help whisk Hillary into office.

    • MrE85

      I’m hoping you’ll check back in on Nov. 9th. Fred and Gary, too. I’ll be interested in your post-election analysis, as well as your take on the new President-elect.

      • Magwheelz

        Thanks. I think I may pull a Sykes though if Hillary wins- pout and quit 😉 That includes listening to talk’d be like a time warp if it’s Clinton for another 4-8 years. Although it may make me feel younger..hmmmmm. add to what I said to you below- if Conservative talk radio wants to blame itself for the rise of Trump(those who are against him)…maybe look at how they gave Republicans a pass on so much stuff. Didn’t hold their feet to the fire. Sykes was one of those who also didn’t allow Paul Ryan’s opponent to be on his fact he trashed him non-stop.

        I also want to add that I find it odd that there’s talk here of dying AM radio when public radio stations have relied for years and seem to still- on taxpayers money. There’s no excuse for it no matter how much it is, and it’s been a ton over the years. And what adds to the sickness of it all is that many of these stations are on both AM and FM.. And there seems to be NUMEROUS separate stations in each state. I wouldn’t even care if they actually sounded unbiased. The stations should actually demand they stop being funded and give the money to schools and whatever else they complain about on the shows 😉

        • MrE85

          Bob’s addressed that old “public funding” thing before, so I won’t cover that old saw. If public radio looks huge in MN, that because it is. When Kling was King, he built quite an empire. I mean Bill, not Kevin.

          • Magwheelz

            Well let him try to address it again. Public Radio had to survive with public funds, and still does. Big or “huge” does not mean good or even successful when taxpayers dollars need to be and have been used for YEARS. That goes for a lot of things that are taxpayer funded. Seriously…radio stations and TV? Decades ago it didn’t even make sense. And like I said..some of the topics and whining about money for other things on these shows..pathetic.

            On the other hand it’s hilarious that taxpayer funding is needed to keep these stations going all these years. That should tell you something.

          • MrE85

            I have never been on a submarine, but I understand my tax dollars have been paying for them for years. 😉

          • It’s a small price to pay for not hearing “Freebird” within 5 minutes of turning on a radio station in America.

          • Rob


          • Magwheelz

            So you’re comparing Defense to radio? Seriously?

          • Rob

            He isn’t; read his post again.

          • Magwheelz

            I did. He is.
            If he’s going to claim a private sub..that destroys his argument even more.

          • This is like listening to AM talk radio. The same knowledge-free thing being said…over….and over… and over…. for 30 years.

          • Magwheelz

            That would be public radio..that can’t even make it on its own.

          • Rob

            : )

          • // that there’s talk here of dying AM radio when public radio stations have relied for years and seem to still- on taxpayers money. There’s no excuse for it no matter how much it is, and it’s been a ton over the years.

            I’ll bite. There IS an excuse for it which is conveniently lost on the anti-public radio crowd because they’ve chosen to be ignorant and spend a total of ZERO time researching why the funding mechanism exists in the first place.

            Most of the people who rail on this one side of the question are people just parroting what they’ve been told with no ability to think critically and no curiosity to question anything they’re told.

            Now, they might do all that research and investigate the funding alternatives for public broadcasting (and don’t think for a second commercial broadcasters aren’t scared of the possibility that public media would someday have its revenue shackles removed by the government), and still reach the conclusion that public media should be eliminated. That’s fine with me; I just like it when people know what they’re talking about.

            In terms of “talk of AM radio dying,” as a former (part) owner of an AM radio station, I can tell you it’s not talk. It’s happening. It’s been happening for years. It’s reality. The audience is old and dying off and eventually it will die off completely, but not before even the Cremation Society of Minnesota doesn’t consider it a viable advertising option.

            My father in law — one of the greatest people I’ve ever met (a conservative and a Republican, by the way) — was one of the pioneers of radio in America. His stations, which were in small markets, were models of how AM radio fulfills its licensed obligation to “serve in the public interest.” Most of those stations are gone now in America… replaced by satellite radio and large corporate ownership, and anyone who thinks they’re serving their communities of license is an ignorant fool.

          • Magwheelz

            You totally failed to explain why public radio requires taxpayer money. Just- research it yourself you’re ignorant, the usual swipes and diversions. You do seem to be implying they couldn’t have made it which I say- who cares and it’s not the taxpayers problem..there are tons of other things the money should go to.

          • It’s up to you whether you want to educate yourself on the question or not. You either know what you’re talking about or you don’t.

            You don’t.


            for the record, I’m totally fine with eliminating public funding of public broadcasting *if* the reason there *is* public funding is removed, too.

          • Magwheelz

            I am educated on it. You’re the one having a terrible time trying to defend it. Nothing I’ve said isn’t true.

          • I don’t defend public funding for media and never have. What I’ve said is since public funding is a quid pro quo, the removal of one side of the equation has to be accompanied by removal of the other side of the equation.

            Most of the AM Talk Radio crowd that gasses on about this issue doesn’t even know there is another side of the equation.

          • Magwheelz

            Yet you tried to above.
            AM does not take funding for their programming and salaries etc. We own the “airwaves”..nobody should get taxpayer money to put their shows on those airwaves. I realize most if not all would have failed like that Air America…not the taxpayers problem.

          • Who’d you buy the airwaves from? Cuz when we were losing thousands of dollars in AM radio 25 years ago, I don’t recall any of you “owners” showing up.

            The notion that there isn’t taxpayer subsidization of commercial broadcasting is a myth. Of course they do. They have to. The spectrum has to be managed. Who do you think is paying to do that?

          • Magwheelz

            If that were the case then public radio and TV would not need this extra funding… You can claim the other stations get it somehow too but they do not. Nor do I hear them whining about any cuts in such funding

          • By the way, that whole “the public OWNS the airwaves” thing is another one of those declarations where a little education on broadcasting history would do some good.


          • Magwheelz

            You mean like we didn’t “own” the WWW/Internet ? I guess Obama didn’t actually stupidly give that away either.

          • No, actually, I mean like you don’t actually OWN it like you don’t own the airwaves. They don’t belong to you. the FCC regulates frequencies which actual people paid to purchase. The people who claim they own it paid a grand total of nothing for the frequency.

          • Magwheelz

   mean like I personally or even us taxpayers didn’t pay God to use those “airwaves”? 😉

            The FCC is “us”. If Hillary gets in we’ll probably be paying the UN instead.

      • Fred, Just Fred

        I can satisfy your curiosity right now. I won’t be thrilled either way, but will be disgusted in one.

        We’ve survived bad Presidents several times, but we’ve never had one the FBI determined had placed national security second to personal greed.

        Electing Hillary Clinton would be a watershed moment in the decline of America, in my opinion. Trump would simply be replaced.

        • The FBI might’ve dinged Nixon except for H.R. Haldeman and that impeachment thing. But as the first count was obstruction of justice, I think there’d have to be an asterisk on the “places greed/personal power above the country” entry.

          • Fred, Just Fred

            Nixon was ejected in shame and dishonor. Clinton is planning a victory lap.

            Also, Nixon’s crime put our political process at risk; Clinton, according to the FBI, put our national security at risk. I think that is incrementally more heinous.

          • I would make the case that an administration that attempts to turn its investigative apparatus loose on political enemies has qualified in the “national security at risk” sweepstakes. At least the semifinal round. Granted, it’s a low bar to entry.

          • Fred, Just Fred

            If you want to go there. We can include Obama’s IRS too

        • Rob

          I think your last sentence has the people switched around.

          • Fred, Just Fred

            You made a mistake with your first two words, and it didn’t get any better from there.

          • Rob

            Think so?

  • Rob

    Sykes”wonders” if he and other right-wing bloviators enabled Trump’s nomination? Dude just needs to connect the dots.