Is Ben Shapiro Ready for Prime Time?

Ben Shapiro, the 34 year-old conservative wunderkind whose star has risen quickly in recent years, can claim a media first today as his daily hour long online podcast expands to include broadcast radio. And not just any radio, but several of the biggest stations, including the #1 talk radio station in the country, WABC AM 770 in New York. The Ben Shapiro Show is being syndicated by Westwood One, the largest provider of radio programming in the U.S. Westwood, part of Cumulus Media, which owns and operates 445 stations in 90 media markets and provides programming to over 7,000 other stations, already syndicates Shapiro’s podcast online as a co-production with The Daily Wire, the well-funded conservative Web site that Shapiro edits and writes for. Westwood also syndicates The Savage Nation, The Mark Levin Show, and a number of other prominent political talk shows.

In a press release on March 29, “From podcast to broadcast,” announcing Shapiro’s April 2 start on radio, Westwood claims Shapiro’s online podcast has 15 million downloads a month (or approximately 700,000 for each M-F episode) – an enormous and unprecedented number that is difficult to independently confirm. (For Internet podcasts, there is no single reliable source of ratings as there are for broadcast radio and broadcast, cable, and satellite television.) Shapiro’s daily podcast is also available as a streaming video program on YouTube where each episode typically gets between 100,000 and 150,000 views, according to YouTube. The Ben Shapiro Show, however, is not on the latest list of the top 20 podcasts on Podtrac, which claims to be “the leading [audio] podcast measurement and advertising services company.” The show is #53 on the most recent top 100 list on Stitcher.

Source: WABC New York Web site March 31, 2018

Shapiro first came to public attention at age 17, when he reportedly became the youngest person to strike a deal to write a nationally syndicated column of political opinion. According to Simon and Schuster, the publisher of two of his seven books, Shapiro “graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2004, at age 20, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science, and then cum laude from Harvard Law School in 2007.” He has subsequently gained notoriety as a prolific, highly opinionated conservative writer for online publications and a provocative speaker on college campuses.

Shapiro has adeptly used social media to increase his visibility, especially when his actions have “trended,” including when he famously quit his editor-at-large position at Breitbart News in 2016 in solidarity with fellow reporter Michelle Fields (who initially claimed but was unable to prove in the absence of any corroborating evidence that she had been assaulted by Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski at a Trump campaign event). The violence that was threatened at or that accompanied some of Shapiro’s speaking engagements or planned appearances at left wing campuses in the past two years has also increased his visibility and grown his following on the right in the face of increasing concerns about censorship of and violence towards conservatives in academia.

Shapiro’s rise in popularity has paralleled almost perfectly the explosive growth of Twitter and other online social media. He has been on Twitter since the platform’s earliest days – late 2009 – and his Twitter account now has over 1.25 million followers. What also set Shapiro apart from many other public conservatives – and gained him a lot of notice in the mainstream media, as well – was his loud and consistent opposition to Donald J. Trump during the 2016 campaign and continuing up to the present time. That surprising stance, seemingly counterintuitive for a self-described staunch, non-RINO conservative, singled him out for note by media on both sides of the current ideological divide (see for example über left wing publication Slate’s January 24, 2018 article “Is Ben Shapiro a Conservative Liberals Can Count On”). Or, as an article this past January at his previous home base Breitbart dot com, put it:

Shapiro has kept up his act [of opposing President Trump throughout 2017]. . . In the process, he racked up a fawning profile in the New York Times calling him a “Provocative Gladiator” and, evidently, seeing him as their champion in the battle to keep conservatism toothless and inconsequential.

Interestingly, in 2011, four years before Donald Trump formally declared his intention to run for the Republican nomination in 2016, Shapiro was a full-throated fan of The Donald. In a column in Townhall, titled “The Magic of Donald Trump,” Shapiro gushed about a potential race between incumbent President Obama and Trump in 2012:

In the last several weeks, that ideal Republican candidate has materialized.

His name is Donald Trump. His slogan is ready-made: “You're Fired” He does not give a damn what the media thinks of him – he steamrolled Meredith Vieira during his NBC interview with her last week. He can self-fund to the tune of $1 billion.

And what’s more, he can win. . .

Is Donald Trump the best Republican candidate for president out there? It would be tough to argue otherwise. He’s got all the makings of a breakout star; he’s got bravado and the cash to back it up.

Lacking the ability to review his entire large ouevre, I have been unable to find an explanation by Shapiro as to what happened between 2011 and 2015 to turn him into a rabid NeverTrumper.

Ben Shapiro bashes his former boss Steve Bannon, appointed by Donald Trump as a senior advisor CNN August 17, 2016

On March 29, Shapiro’s show page at Westwood One directed readers to “the exclusive announcement in POLITICO” of the news about Shapiro’s podcast’s expansion to terrestrial radio – POLITICO being a reliably left-of-center online publication. Shapiro is nothing if not ambitious. He told POLITICO:

Being in a place [broadcast radio] where I’m seen as a leading voice of conservatism generally, not just for young conservatives, is certainly something I’d like.

It remains to be seen how Shapiro’s podcasting style – his extremely fast-talking and off-putting delivery is unlike anything I’ve ever heard on terrestrial talk radio – will fare on his new traditional radio outlets. In addition to WABC, Shapiro’s program, which he records in the mornings in California for his podcast and now for his radio show, will air at 9 P.M. local time on WLS in Chicago and KABC in Los Angeles, and on several other stations – meaning it will have been recorded about twelve hours before it is broadcast. This is a significant delay in light of the fact that news these days breaks constantly 24/7, and most other nationally syndicated political radio talk shows air live on their major affiliates. Depending on its performance in the ratings, The Ben Shapiro Show is expected to expand to more stations controlled by Cumulus Media in the near future.

Peter Barry Chowka is a veteran reporter and analyst of news on national politics, media, and popular culture.  He is a frequent contributor to American Thinker.  Follow Peter on Twitter at @pchowka.

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