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The Story of Talk Radio Network (TRN)

Talk Radio Network was the house that wingnuts built, with its on-air talent peddling radical views. It took over America’s airwaves—until it ran into trouble. September 6, 2013 is a day that will go down in history, at least in the minds of former staff members of Talk Radio Network. It was a Friday—payday—and for many employees, it would be their last day. At the radio syndication company’s Oregon headquarters, paychecks were distributed alongside pink slips. It didn’t take long for employees to discover that some D.C.-based colleagues, including those who worked for the news offshoot America’s Radio News Network—also owned by their boss, Mark Masters—were being handed a similar fate. Few could have predicted this hit to Masters’ talk radio empire. During the 2008 presidential election and Obama’s first term, the Talk Radio Network family was home to some of the most popular and conservative personalities on the airwaves, including Michael “America is on the brink of a second Civil War” Savage and Laura Ingraham. At its height, when the TRN family had some 350 affiliate radio stations nationwide broadcasting its programming, the independent syndicator proudly held its own in an industry increasingly co-opted by giants like Clear Channel and Cumulus Media. (Masters established a number of corporations under variations of the same name, such as The Original Talk Radio Network, Talk Radio Network Enterprises, Talk Radio Network-FM Inc., etc. to house various assets and talent.) According to a 2007 Bear Stearns report, at one point, TRN was ranked No. 2 in terms of listening share among talk show providers in the radio industry, beating out ABC Radio Networks and the CBS-controlled Westwood One. What’s more, Masters—who had taken over the Talk Radio Network mantle from his father, Roy—had ambitions to expand away from wingnut warfare and into straight newsgathering. By 2011 (PDF), he was on a hiring spree, luring in top journalistic talent to help launch a nonpartisan news network, with the ultimate goal of 24/7 nationally-syndicated programming. Yet five years later, the news operation has vanished and TRN is now a shell of its former self. What brought the TRN radio kingdom low? Was it the bad timing of a host of big lawsuits? Was it the flight of top talent to bigger stations? Was it, as some former employees allege, that the bosses bit off more than they could chew? Or that the legacy of Masters' father—a guru who performed live exorcisms, who inspired thousands of devotees to follow him to rural Oregon, and who counts among his fans the likes of Andrew Breitbart and Sean Hannity—loomed too large over the operation? The truth depends on whom you ask—and those who have the most to say about Masters’ rise and fall are also the ones most afraid to talk. To understand how the Masters family got into the partisan bullpen of right-wing programming, it helps to know a little bit about the history of its patriarch, Roy. The Rest of the Story via The Daily Beast.

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