Report tunes to black talk radio

An analysis of black talk radio released today by the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA) may reveal insight into the hearts and minds of the nation’s 16 million registered black voters.

The report analyzed the content of 62 hours of programming from four shows that address politics and policy for a national audience: “The Bev Smith Show,” “The Al Sharpton Show,” “The Lincoln Ware Show,” and “The Black Eagle” hosted by Joe Madison.

Listeners were piqued at both political parties.

The two major political parties were evaluated more than 700 times by hosts, callers and guests, and 81 percent were critical of Republicans. But Democrats were not unscathed: 60 percent of the comments were critical of the party. Sixty-eight percent of the discussions concluded that Democrats took black voters for granted.

The analysis found that listeners were critical of the black community, at least in the civic arena.

“Every evaluation of the black community — 100 percent — was negative. African-Americans were criticized for not participating in elections, for blindly accepting the views of black clergy and for making bad choices at the polls,” the survey said.

“These listeners were criticizing both parties, an indicator that Democrats still have work to do to engage the black vote,” CMPA Director Robert Lichter said.

The turnout rate has risen steadily since 1994, when it was 37 percent. By 2004, the number had reached 60 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“It’s important to recognize that black talk radio is a voice coming from ‘beyond the Beltway,’ with distinct insights,” Mr. Lichter said. “We’ve already learned from conservative talk radio that the medium can effectively engage and mobilize an audience. Black talk radio presents an opportunity for all the presidential candidates.”

Ron Walters, professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland, said he was shocked at the survey’s findings.

“They do not reflect what I know about black media,” he said.

Mr. Walters, who has appeared on all four shows, said the findings are more “impressionistic” than scientific, suggesting the broadcast style might have been subject to misinterpretation by the analysts.

“It’s a question of context. There is a different dialogue on black talk radio than white, typically. Blacks call in with a sense of social justice and a community corrective style — but it doesn’t always mean they see their own community as negative,” Mr. Walters said. “They tend to parse or refine their own culture in public.”

Topics on the four radio programs were wide-ranging, the CMPA study found. Fewer than half the discussions, or 46 percent, focused on black issues alone. Listeners were most interested in the economy, followed by the war in Iraq, affirmative action, crime and drugs and education.

The role of the hosts in leading partisan discussions was paramount.

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