Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Coming Shout-Radio Showdown

At the very pinnacle of shout radio, there’s a huge battle shaping up – one you may not be aware of if you don’t follow broadcasting news.

Mike Huckabee is going to go head-to-head with Rush Limbaugh.

Some background for those who don’t follow closely: Limbaugh’s show is the top-rated radio show in the nation.  It’s carried largely by hundreds of local clusters of radio stations owned by the largest radio group owner on the planet, Clear Channel.  Not all stations that carry Rush are owned by Clear Channel. WIBA-AM in Madison, the local Rush station, is owned by Clear Channel.  Rush is carried by other group-owned or locally-owned radio stations in markets where Clear Channel does not have a presence.

The second-largest radio group owner on the planet is Cumulus.  In the conservative Fox Valley, Rush is carried on WOSH-AM, which is owned by Cumulus.  Rush is also carried on WTAQ-AM/FM in Green Bay, which is owned by Midwest Communications.  Clear Channel does not own stations in the Fox Valley.  In Milwaukee, Rush is carried on WISN-AM, a Clear Channel station.  Perhaps now you understand why Vicki McKenna’s show is aired in Milwaukee and Madison.  It’s all Clear Channel.

In April, Cumulus is going to begin airing a three-hour national broadcast of Mike Huckabee, which will go head-to-head with Rush in the three-hour time period of 12N-3PM Eastern time.

Limbaugh says he runs a conservative radio talk show.  Huckabee says he will be a conservative doing a talk-show.  Perhaps a subtle difference, but – Huckabee has been known to do celebrity interviews (something Limbaugh never does) and take on topics far outside the realm of politics.

As if the head-to-head aspect isn’t intriguing enough, get this: in markets where Cumulus is presently running the Rush Limbaugh show, when Huckabee’s show starts the first week of April, Cumulus will kick Rush to the curb and put Huckabee on instead.  Regardless of how good Rush’s ratings are in that market, regardless of how much money the local station makes off ads sold in the Rush Limbaugh show.

As broadcasting insiders know, Rush will still be on a lot of really top-rated stations (like WIBA-AM in Madison), and Huckabee may well end up on second- or third-tier local AM stations.  Since there’s not a Cumulus-owned AM station in Madison, it’s conceivable that Huckabee could be picked up by a station like WTDY-AM, which originally carried Rush in the Madison market.  WIBA-AM ratings are top-tier; WTDY-AM barely makes a blip on the radar.

But what a lot of folks may not realize is that by Cumulus stations pulling off Limbaugh and putting on Huckabee, it’s more than just a programming change.  It will affect Rush’s revenue – how much money Clear Channel can rake in.  Rush is expensive:  50 million bucks a year.  He has 8 years remaining on his contract.  Huckabee works a lot cheaper – a reasonable guess would be in the 4-million-a-year range for his new radio show.

There’s a huge amount of “strategery” going on here.  As a friend of mine who’s a top national radio consultant says: “In a head-to-head battle, there are two rules: bring a big checkbook, and prepare to lose”. 

It’s gonna get real interesting in April.


  1. In the conservative Fox Valley,...

    Nitpicking, I know--but "conservative" compared to what? IIRC, that area is 50/50, just like Wisconsin as a whole.

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