Obama backer in ‘right’ lineup

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Conservative listeners have a new choice on the radio dial with the arrival of WHFS-AM, a CBS Radio property that will showcase Michael Smerconish, a host who could be the wave of the future - or at least offer a hybrid take on a Democratic White House.

Mr. Smerconish is a Republican who voted for President-elect Barack Obama.

Based at Philadelphia’s WHPT-AM, Mr. Smerconish was heard for the first time on Washington airwaves at 5 a.m. Monday, followed by a formidable lineup that included Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, Lou Dobbs and Laura Schlessinger.

“I try to entertain with information. Mine is not an ideologically driven show, and my politics tend to be middle of the road. I am Republican of 28 years who voted for Barack Obama, which caused a lot of blowback with many of my Philadelphia listeners,” Mr. Smerconish said.

“I love Washington. And if I had to choose only one other market I’d want to be heard in, it would be D.C.,” he added. “I would like to think the decision makers will be listening.”

This is Mr. Smerconish’s first expansion. WHFS, billed as “The Big Talker” at 1580 on the AM band, is among CBS properties in the area, including FM’s urban WPGC, WTGB (94.7 Globe) and talk-radio WJFK.

“When we were rounding out the cluster of our stations, we knew Michael Smerconish would be great for the mix. He’s entertaining, bright, sharp - supposedly leans right but voted for Obama. An independent thinker, ” said WHFS spokesman Sam Rogers.

“The station has a good daytime signal, and we’re committed to it,” he added.

Brian Maloney, a Massachusetts-based industry analyst and blogger, is dubious. “The lineup is slapped together. And I feel strongly that Smerconish’s endorsement of Obama was meant to move his career forward in liberal CBS. It rings shallow,” he said.

“Smerconish has a lot of people mad at him in Philly. In talk radio, you lose credibility if listeners don’t trust you. You’re left, you’re right, you’re centrist - too many flips, and it looks phoney,” he continued.

While there is a scramble for advertising revenue, the field is still burgeoning. About 1,370 radio stations carry talk-radio programming and more than 47 million Americans listen each week, according to 2007 Arbitron figures.

A mixed lineup could prove prudent. Right-leaning talk radio could change if the dormant “fairness doctrine” is reinstated by Democratic lawmakers. It requires public airwaves to broadcast balanced views on controversial issues and was in place from 1949 to 1987.

Mr. Obama on Monday designated former Federal Communications Commission member Henry Rivera to head a transitional team to select the next FCC chairman; some say Mr. Rivera favors the reinstatement of the doctrine.

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