Glenn Beck: Commentator and Guru
(The following is an excerpt from The Right Frequency)
Thus far, Beck has been a marketing genius, and a political one for that matter. He writes at least two books per year, has multiple websites, one magazine, and for the last two years has led rallies in Washington and Jerusalem. He is an activist and a corporation.
As reflected on in the first chapter, Beck is perhaps closest to Rush in terms of reach and influence through multi-faceted means. Limbaugh by comparison has a popular political “Limbaugh Letter,” a paid online element to his radio show, and hasn’t written a book in almost two decades. Beck, the third most listened to talker on 400 stations, still gets barely half as many listeners as Limbaugh for his radio show. The way in which the two are very different is that Rush has repeatedly said his success is not based on who wins elections or what legislation gets passed, only in rare instances encouraging listeners to call their congressmen and demand something. While Limbaugh used to hit the public speaking circuit regularly, he has never established a large scale rallies such as Beck’s “Restoring Honor” and “Restoring Courage” events. Maybe it could be said that Limbaugh cast a more looming presence over the conservative movement, but Beck works harder at it.
Otherwise, they have enough in common, a love for radio at a young age, both started out playing top 40 music, they had messy personal lives of which they both cleaned up, and have most of the same enemies.
They also have the same syndicate.
Perhaps Beck’s strongest marketing point to stations and to Premiere, a division of Clear Channel, is that he attracts a younger audience, even as talk radio generally attracts an older audience of 40 or over. For a genre that has an overwhelming older male audience, Beck also attracts more females as a percentage of his audience than other hosts.
Beck’s influence over the conservative movement might have waned marginally since losing his 5 p.m. show on Fox News. The 2 million he reached on TV is not even half of the 9 million he teaches on the radio. “I guess I’m too stupid to self-edit, so I tell people exactly the way I feel,’’ Beck said. ’’I truly believe radio is the most powerful medium there is. It’s really treated so many times as a bastard child of other mediums. It is the most effective medium, when it’s done right, because it reaches right into the listeners and connects with them on a one-on-one level.’’
Nothing seems to be really stopping Beck’s success, success that is even more pronounced when considering his personal story. Beck grew up in rural Mount Vernon, Washington. Tragedy hit his life at age 13 when his mother committed suicide, events that might have led to problems he would have in his young adult life.
It was his mother who helped shape his interest in radio when she gave him a collection of shows that were produced in the Great Depression. Beck, as a child, would imitate the voices he heard on the recordings, and record himself. As a teenager, he got his first radio job when he won a contest to be a deejay for a local AM station.
Beck later got a job, at the age of 15, at a Seattle FM station, where he would take a bus to every Friday after school, and broadcast through the weekend. Beck did not go to college and instead was determined to have fame in the radio business, ideally in New York City. He got jobs in Louisville, Kentucky; Houston, Texas; Phoenix, Arizona; and Washington D.C. It was paying off. By age 21, he was earning $70,000.929 Beck was mostly a liberal during his days as a deejay, once saying,
“I wasn’t just pro-choice, I was pro-everything, until I started taking everything off the table and began looking at things and asking if this view was consistent with that view.”
He began moving to the right during the Reagan years, or at least becoming more patriotic during his deejay show, such as expressing support for the U.S. bombing of Libya in 1986.931 But shifting right on the political spectrum did not keep him away from alcohol and marijuana.
By his mid-20s he was making $300,000, and said he was “a scumbag alcoholic with money and modicum of fame?” He recalled to The Washington Post that when he worked at a Baltimore station, he fired someone for bringing him the wrong pen as one example of how he had become insufferable.
He had a string of failed morning radio programs. His first marriage failed. After working in some of the biggest markets, he ended up taking a job at a Connecticut radio station.
He said he realized he needed to change after he had too much to drink and blacked out while reading his daughters a bedtime story. When he awoke, they asked him to finish, but he did not remember starting.
So he joined Alcoholics Anonymous. When Joe Lieberman first ran for U.S. Senate in 1988, he and Beck became friends. Lieberman wrote a recommendation letter for Beck to enter Yale divinity school. Beck started the program but did not finish.
Beck’s second wife, Tania, agreed to get married on the condition that they find a religion. They converted to Mormonism together. He was motivated to take his radio career in a more meaningful direction than the top 40. After the Connecticut contract expired, Beck in 2000 got a political talk show in Tampa, Florida. It turned out to be the perfect state to be in after the electoral mess of the presidential race between Bush and Gore. Beck was able to reach the number one spot locally.
His national syndication was modest at first.
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the beginning of the war on terror, demand for more talk radio programming increased. In 2002, he went into national syndication with just 47 stations. His stated mission was to make listeners “feel goodness from my show and accept me for who I am, flaws and all.”937 Beck moved his operation to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as the Glenn Beck Program was being carried 150 stations by 2004, and later to New York. The radio program syndicated through Premiere, reached 400 stations.