Massachusetts is known as a liberal haven — home of the Kennedys and birthplace of same-sex marriage. But it’s also become a new frontier for conservative media.
At least three right-leaning outlets — two talk-radio stations and an online newspaper — are setting up shop in this bluest of blue states, knowing not everyone will listen or read but betting that the overlooked, red-tinged minority will form a loyal following.
The sudden sprouting of conservative news and commentary in Massachusetts fits a national trend toward media fragmentation, with Republican-friendly content among the most common splinters, industry specialists say. From the Fox News Channel to “The Rush Limbaugh Show,” many stations and publications are deciding to target particular audiences and not even attempt to win broad appeal.
The strategy is not confined to conservative or even partisan media. Whether it’s Re/code for technology news or Food Network for cooking tips, narrow offerings for specific interests are now the norm.
Massachusetts isn’t bereft of conservative voices, with popular talk-radio personalities such as Dan Rea and Howie Carr, plus the opinion pages of the Boston Herald.
But in a state that has backed a Democrat in 18 of the last 22 presidential elections, it makes sense that new enterprises looking for a piece of untrampled territory would see opportunity on the right side of the media landscape, said Matthew A. Baum, a communications professor at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy.
“This is a niche-marketing strategy, but there certainly are conservatives in Massachusetts,” Baum said. “You don’t have to be all things to all people to run a profitable media enterprise.”
Still, the conservative push seems to be coming all at once.
Daly XXL Communications, a radio startup based in Wilmington, N.C., plans to make 1510 WMEX-AM in Quincy its first purchase later this summer and is already operating the station under a lease-management agreement. This month, Daly introduced a new lineup of local, conservative talk show hosts who are billed as lighthearted alternatives to more strident personalities like Limbaugh.
“I saw a huge void here,” said Brian Berner, one of Daly’s three cofounders and the general manager of WMEX. “I think the stereotype of a conservative is a cranky old man — the ‘get off my lawn’ type — but we’re going for common sense and a little laughter. Talk radio has become very serious.”
At 1430 WKOX-AM, parent company iHeartMedia Inc. is switching the format from contemporary Spanish-language music to conservative talk starting June 29. A station that used to broadcast Air America liberal talk programs will soon feature Limbaugh, whose syndication deal with 680 WRKO-AM is about to expire, plus Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Mark Levin.
An online newspaper called NewBostonPost is assembling a team of journalists who, it says in job postings, “should be attracted to presenting news in a way that is both balanced and friendly towards conservative values.” Founded by Tina McCormick, a contributor to the Catholic News Agency, and Robert Bradley, cofounder of the Massachusetts Family Institute, NewBostonPost has not announced an initial publication date but intends to start this summer, according to its website.
And a third radio station, 1260 WMKI-AM, looks poised to switch to a conservative talk format soon, said Scott Fybush, editor of Northeast Radio Watch, an industry newsletter. Salem Media Group Inc. of Camarillo, Calif., bought the station from Walt Disney Co. this month.
While Salem declined to disclose its plan for WMKI, the acquisition creates space on the local dial for conservative talk programming that it syndicates in other markets. Salem already operates three religious stations in Boston.
Fybush said the radio stations launching conservative talk face a stiff challenge — but not because Massachusetts is a liberal state.
“You look nationally and try to find a successful launch of a new talk station in the last 15 years, and almost no one has done it,” he said. “It’s a really hard thing to do.”
In Boston, 96.9 WTKK-FM had a 13-year run but ultimately switched to a music format in 2013 amid sagging ratings.
WMEX, WKOX, and WMKI must overcome the additional hurdle of AM signals, which once dominated radio but accounted for less than 15 percent of all listenership by 2011, according to Veronis Suhler Stevenson, a private investment firm in New York that tracks the media industry. Nielsen Audio reports the percentage of Americans who listen to any form of radio at least once a week is slowly falling, from 96 in 2001 to 91 in 2014.
At the same time, there is a growing audience for podcasts, which compete more directly with talk radio than do streaming music services like Pandora.
The percentage of people downloading and listening to podcasts at least once a month rose from 9 in 2008 to 17 this year, according to Edison Research of Somerville, N.J.
IHeartMedia’s Boston market president, Alan Chartrand, did not respond to e-mail and phone messages seeking further comment.
As an online publication, NewBostonPost could benefit from the growth of digital news consumption. The publication’s profile on the LinkedIn professional networksays it will cover politics, business, culture, and entertainment, and feature a mix of original and aggregated news and opinion pieces. McCormick, the site’s publisher, declined an interview request to discuss detailed plans.
Its stated mission to “appeal to a common patriotic spirit” recalls a successful media venture that came before it, said James L. Baughman, chairman of the Center for the History of Print and Digital Culture at the University of Wisconsin.
“I thought Roger Ailes was nuts,” he said, referring to the Fox News founder, “but that’s why he’s a millionaire and I’m not. The prevailing model now is you simply divide the market.”Callum Borchers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.