The guy in the picture above, Holland Cooke, is the number-one talk radio consultant in America. I knew about Holland for years before he became my coach in 2004, back in my radio days. The professional relationship ended when my station didn’t renew his contract in 2008, but we’ve continued a personal friendship ever since. So, when Holland Cooke says it’s the beginning of the end for Rush, I don’t argue.
Long the nation’s most-listened-to talk show, Rush Limbaugh’s ratings – and fortune – have taken quite a fall over the past couple years. Cooke says the end began for Rush on February 29, 2012 – leap day.
That was the day that Rush began his attack on Sandra Fluke, the young law student (pictured above) he singled out and called a whore because of her stance on having health insurance cover birth control pills. That three-day screed against Fluke is what gave birth to what Cooke calls “a very-well organized and relentless advertiser boycott effort which remains underway today, rendering that business model inviable”.
In other words, the boycotters turned Rush’s constant defense of free speech against him.
No advertisers, no money. At first it didn’t mean much to Rush, who still has a multi-million dollar contract and an estimated net worth of 370 million dollars. But week after week, the boycotters used another one of Rush’s favorite things against him: the boycotters went to the advertisers and played audio clips of Rush’s show.
When advertisers actually heard the kind of things Rush was saying, many of them cancelled. Many of the BIGGEST advertisers, whose advertising dollars are placed by media buyers at advertising agencies. When the people who actually run the companies being advertised were forced to listen to Rush, the bottom fell out of Rush’s advertising base. Since “Sandra Fluke Day”, more than 31-hundred companies that advertise on radio have ordered that their ads not appear on Rush’s show.
That was piece number one.
Piece number two happened a few days ago when the latest radio listening ratings came out. Now, Rush’s station in New York (WOR-AM) is #22 in the ratings. Four of the stations in New York that are beating rush are foreign-language stations. One plays classical music. His Los Angeles station is #37. Eleven of the L-A stations beating Rush in the ratings are foreign-language stations (no surprise in L-A, where Spanish is the universal second-almost-first language). And the scenario is similar in many of the other large radio markets in the nation.
Failing sales and failing ratings = the end. Cooke says Rush is doing better in small and medium markets – like Madison – than he is in the bigger markets, and that is a trend which is unsustainable. Before you dismiss Cooke as another Rush-hater, you should be aware that Cooke consults stations which carry Rush’s show and stations that compete with Rush’s show. He develops strategies for both the Rush stations and the non-Rush stations on how to best position themselves and make money.
And, as illustrated above, more than a few conservatives have realized that Rush is now doing more harm than good to the cause because of his caustic attacks and divisive rants.
Here’s a 1967 shot (above) of “Rusty Sharpe” at his first radio job, working for his dad’s station in Missouri. He got disenchanted with radio, left the industry to work in P-R for the Kansas City Royals for a while, and then got back into it. In 1988, I moved from Los Angeles to Madison and began work at WTDY-AM, which was one of the original 53 AM radio stations in the nation to carry Rush’s show. Credit that decision to the irascible Mark Belling, who was WTDY News and Program Director at that time. Mark is now at WISN-AM in Milwaukee and frequently fills in on Rush’s show when El Rushbo is on one of his many vacations.
By 1990, Rush had added hundreds of stations to his “Excellence In Broadcasting Network” – EIB – and had successfully led a Renaissance in AM radio in general and talk radio in specific. He was the man behind the golden microphone – literally. His was the most-listened-to radio show in America, peaking at nearly 20 million daily listeners a few years ago. But those numbers have plummeted.
Here’s an aerial shot of “The Southern Command”, Rush’s palatial home in Palm Springs, Florida, where his show usually originates. He has enjoyed the fruits of his labors and lives the lavish lifestyle. He’s on wife #4 now.
But, after leading the talk radio revolution and amassing a fortune, he’s essentially a victim of his own success. He’s had to constantly be harsher and more acidic, more outrageous and more hateful, just to be heard above the talk-radio clutter he himself created. And now, the chickens are coming home to roost.
Case on point: earlier this week, Oklahoma State University – one of the reddest campuses in one of the reddest states in America – pulled its ads from Rush’s show. Why? The StopRush volunteers simply played their tape of Rush excerpts to the leaders of the University.The end is nigh.