5 Reasons Glenn Beck is Radio’s Brightest Star

by Russ Hill on March 30, 2010

Love him or loathe him, the fact is Glenn Beck is radio’s brightest star.  No one is gaining listeners faster.  No one is drawing more ink and links.

No one has a brighter future right now than Glenn Beck.

I’m in a unique position to write about Beck for two main reasons.  First, I’m Mormon.  Second, I am the director of programming for a major market radio station that airs Beck.

As a Mormon I have some insight into Beck that others don’t.  As someone in radio’s trenches I have seen the research and the numbers that reveal just how massive his rise has been over the last two years.

As an “insider” it’s become clear to me that there are five reasons Glenn Beck has become today’s hottest radio star.

1. Beck is an alcoholic, depressed, khaki wearing, chubby guy

The bottom line is Beck is normal.  Or, in other words, he’s one of us.  Beck shares something in common with Oprah in that he has warts and isn’t afraid to reveal them.  Those of us in media have watched an amazing trend over the last several years.  The era of the polished, flawless, perfect, fake, Teleprompter-reading media anchorman is over.  Beck clearly gets this.

Other conservative talk radio icons, like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, aren’t as real as Beck.  Both keep their audiences at arm’s length.  When Rush had to admit to his pain killer addiction he barely acknowledged it on air and made sure he never handled the issue in a way that would allow him to appear vulnerable to his audience.  Rush doesn’t have children.  He’s had three failed marriages.  Rush knows these aspects of his personal life could be unappealing to some conservatives in his audience so he avoids them.  When you listen to Rush you don’t picture him sitting next to you, you see him at a podium with a syllabus.

Hannity is a man dedicated to faith and family.  But, neither are topics you should expect him to dive into too deeply on his radio or TV show.  He keeps his personal life personal.  And his audience at a distance.

Beck does the opposite.  Heck, he’s the guy who made a home movie and posted it on YouTube of when he almost died in the hospital.  While media executives cringed at the video, his audience actually embraced it.  When Beck talks of when he considered suicide his listeners value his risky honesty.  When Beck discusses at length his challenges in raising his kids, his audience relates.  When Beck talks about his first failed marriage he connects with millions of divorced Americans.  Beck is real.  He’s authentic in an age when the Internet has convinced media consumers to attach a premium to real and raw.

2.  Beck is one of them Mormons

Mormons are a loyal bunch.  And, while there are millions of them spread across the United States, there are still relatively few Mormons in prominent media roles.  Those few end up attracting a very large amount of Mormon viewers and listeners.

Beck knows how to play to the Mormon audience.  He uses phrases and references that  people who don’t belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wouldn’t notice but that Mormons latch on to.  When Beck talks about the Constitution of the United States hanging by a thread under Barack Obama many Mormons believe he’s referencing the LDS prophet Joseph Smith’s prophecy made in the 1800s.

When Beck advocates storing food in case of emergency he’s supporting a directive of LDS church leaders.

When Beck talks about the evils of government he finds an incredibly receptive audience who will never forget that their government issued an order demanding the murder of any and all Mormons.  My Mormon ancestors were among those who gave up all their possessions and walked across these United States to escape this government sanctioned murder sentence.

If there’s any doubt of how many Mormons feel about Beck just look at who’s delivering sermons in front of thousands of faithful at the LDS Church’s Brigham Young University.

A few weeks ago I actually heard Beck quoted from the pulpit on Sunday.  That would never be condoned by the LDS Church.  But, it’s a clear sign of how average Mormons feel about Beck.

3.  Beck is controversial

Beck is a former rock jock.  He knows the value of controversy.  He knows it is an easy way to get people to talk about you.  I have met and spent some time talking with Glenn.   I believe his statements that have drawn ire aren’t things he’s made up for effect.  Still, he clearly grasps the need to do or say things often that will draw attention.

4.  Beck is a multi-platform brand

Glenn Beck understood several years ago that being on multiple media platforms would be critical to success in this informational age.  As talented and smart as Rush Limbaugh is he is not drawing new listeners because he exists on only one platform: radio.  Beck is on radio, TV, stage, movie screens, books, and the Internet.  He excels on all these platforms with the exception of the Internet.

Hopefully his just launched expanded website is the beginning of a campaign that will include iPhone and Droid apps, two way text messaging, expanded Twitter and Facebook presences, staff character blogging, and creative digital grassroots community contesting and promotion.  He could be doing such a better job of mobilizing his millions of loyal listeners to help him build his media empire.

5.  Beck is a work horse

I have seen Beck backstage and off mic.  In my office several months ago I worried he might fall asleep during our conversation.  He had been on stage the night before in another state, flown on his private jet overnight, hosted his radio show from our studios before sunrise, met with clients after getting off the air, met with me, was on his way to a TV station to do his Fox News broadcast, had dinner scheduled with a few select fans and clients, was set to take the stage in front of thousands of raving fans, and then was to make his way back to the executive terminal at the airport and depart for his next tour stop.

Beck knows he is the flavor of the month.  He knows he has a limited window in which his star will be this bright.  And, he intends to maximize every minute of it.  In recent months he’s increased the size of the staff around him, moved into a larger office space, and delegated more to others.

There’s no way he’s going to let this moment pass without doing all he can to have the most impact possible.

Oh, and I guess I should squeeze in a sixth reason for Beck’s success here.  He’s saying what a whole lot of people are thinking.

Those are the reasons he’s currently radio’s brightest star.

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