Editor’s note: As many talk radio hosts take a break over the Christmas holiday, Kathy Shaidle will not produce a Dec. 26 Talk Radio Watch, but will return with her weekly radio recap on Jan. 2.

“Talk radio, a largely conservative format, turns out to have fewer fans than previously thought,” trumpeted the New York Times this week.

That’s because the radio industry is switching to a supposedly more accurate ratings measurement system, with some surprising results. One Spanish language station in Los Angeles has apparently “lost” half its (alleged) listeners over last year.

So how drastic is that drop in conservative talk radio ratings? The format’s market share declined … 2.6 percent. Barely a blip, but enough to warrant an “end-is-nigh” story in the Times (whose readership has fallen far more than 2.6 percent in recent years …).

If you believe in “following the money” (and the technology), then talk radio is as popular as ever: witness the growing number of special talk radio applications being developed for the iPhone.

Liberals can’t have it both ways. Either conservative talk radio is declining into oblivion, or it is a major political force that must be destroyed. The latter belief is especially strong in “progressive” Washington circles.

Case in point: the FCC’s new “scholar in residence,” Duke University Law Professor Stuart Benjamin. According to The Radio Journal, Benjamin would regard “the demise of broadcasting” as “a win-win,” and believes increasing fines and taxes on radio stations would be “a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow” for government.

Meanwhile, Benjamin’s FCC colleague, chief diversity officer Mark Lloyd sarcastically assured a meeting of the Media Access Project that he is not carrying out a “secret plot funded by George Soros aimed at getting rid of conservative talk-show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.” He quickly added, however, that Limbaugh and other “right wing haters” were running a “smear campaign” against him.

Rush Limbaugh

Rush began the week apologizing in advance to listeners for broadcasting “a sub par show,” citing a pinched spinal nerve.

“And as you know, I can take no pain medication,” explained Rush, who has battled an addiction to such drugs. “I’m stuttering on some words today, or mispronouncing a couple. I’m just distracted by it. I’ve done part of the show standing up today because sitting makes it worse. It’s just difficult to concentrate on this. So I haven’t sounded my broadcast excellence professional best.”

Limbaugh soldiered on, issuing “the Limbaugh Strategy for 2010”: His talking points for future candidates? “Confront Democrats with conservatism; no more RINOs; pledge to reverse – and shut down government if necessary.”

He also explained “why the job market is in the tank” (FREE video).

Glenn Beck

It was news to many that broadcasters could get in trouble for endorsing products they believed in; aren’t they normally chastised for pushing products they don’t use? No matter. The usual rules apparently don’t apply to Glenn Beck, who “progressives” are desperate to bring down.

This week, the liberal media are criticizing Glenn Beck’s “controversial” relationship with one of his sponsors, GoldLine.

Fox News promised to investigate the matter, while Beck issued a joke “apology” (FREE video).

He also interviewed the Weekly Standard’s Michael Goldfarb about his shocking allegation that the White House has threatened to close a military base in Nebraska if Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., doesn’t support Obamacare (FREE video).

On Thursday, Glenn retold the story of Christmas, set to the music of Amy Grant. It’s a segment Glenn calls “the most politically incorrect on radio today.” Normally, Beck’s audio archives are only available to paid subscribers, but this segment is FREE.

Mark Levin

After 20 years on the air at WABC, Guardian Angel founder Curtis Sliwa is heading over to New York’s conservative talk radio station 790 The Apple. On his last show at his old station, Sliwa welcomed long time friend and fellow talk show host Mark Levin (FREE audio):

One might expect these two “tough guys” to spend their time out-shouting each other, but in fact, Levin and Sliwa enjoyed a truly thoughtful conversation about the unique nature of talk radio, and the intimate bonds a host can build with listeners. Budding broadcasters won’t want to miss this insightful conversation.

Back on his own show, Levin warned, “America is being turned into a desperate welfare state before our eyes.”

Calling Obama a “liar,” Levin issued a clarion call to patriotic citizens to fight back against creeping socialism and “soft tyranny” (FREE audio).

Fred Thompson

In another radio shakeup, Westwood One is ending its radio simulcast of Larry King’s CNN show, as of Dec. 31. The time slot will be filled by rebroadcasts of Fred Thompson’s radio show, which will introduce him to a whole host of new listeners.

This week (when guest hosts weren’t sitting in) Thompson welcomed former Governor of Virginia George Allen and Byron York of the Washington Examiner. Lots of “inside the Beltway” chat for political junkies – all available as free audio.

Laura Ingraham

Thousands of Americans rallied in Washington, D.C., this week, at the behest of Laura Ingraham and other conservative foes of Obamacare. The Code Red rally featured Ingraham reading her version of the famous poem by Pastor Martin Niemöller, who opposed the Nazis in Germany. This (predictably) led the mainstream media to report that Ingraham was “evoking Nazis” in her speech to the crowd. In any case, you can read her poem here.

As we told you last week, Ingraham was auctioning off the red jacket Sarah Palin wore on the cover of her book Going Rogue, with the proceeds going to Wounded Warriors. When the auction ended on Thursday morning, the winning bid was an incredible $57,000, placed by author John G. Miller.

This week’s highlights include Ingraham’s interview with Internet phenomenon Lt. Col. Allen West, who is running for Congress in Florida next year and a look back at the Code Red rally (FREE audio).

Hugh Hewitt

This week, Hugh Hewitt talked to up-and-coming GOP star Mark Rubio and had a must-hear talk with New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff, who talked about one of the “lost boys” of Sudan:

Valentino walked all across Sudan with other kids. He saw children being attacked by lions; he had to eat leaves; he almost starved to death; he was shot at. Finally, after unbelievable adventures, he ended up in a refugee camp learning to write letters in the dust with his fingers. And somehow, out of this experience, instead of some kind of a hard-boiled, antagonistic personality, he emerges this just incredibly sweet, cheerful, optimistic person who just treasures absolutely everything, and also is a brilliant student.

(Hewitt’s audio archives are members-only. To learn more about conservative talk radio premium memberships, click here.)

One of Hewitt’s most popular guests, author Mark Steyn, didn’t join Hugh on Thursday as usual. Steyn, however, offered an enlightening “year in review” interview with Australian radio (FREE audio/transcript) and even produced his own very entertaining two-hour Christmas special via podcast (FREE audio).

He explains:

For many years, starting back when I was a teenage disc jockey, I hosted Christmas shows on radio or TV. And, for some reason, back in late summer I started thinking about reviving the tradition. Initially, I planned just to raid the archives and produce a Best-of-Steyn Christmas Compilation. But one thing led to another and we wound up producing two hours of new audio entertainment, including good conversation with guests from at least three countries and live music in at least four languages – plus a couple of highlights from the vaults. We hope you enjoy the results.

Finally, on the left side of the dial …

Liberal radio hosts unleashed a predictable avalanche of abuse onto Senator Joe Lieberman this week, when it looked like he would refuse to support Obamacare. Bill Press went so far as to say, “I think the man is evil” (FREE audio).

I wonder if Press ever bothered to describe, say, Saddam Hussein in those terms. Somehow I doubt it.

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.