Thursday, April 17, 2014

It's Pretty Much Over For Rush

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.


  1. Huh. Never heard an OSU ad on the Limbaugh program.

    Got numbers to demonstrate "plummeted" from 20 million listeners?

    1. The OSU ads were regional ads that ran on affiliate stations in Oklahoma and surrounding states. I trust you understand the concept of regional buys via ad agencies and that I don't have to explain it here. Do I have numbers to demonstrate the plummet? How many sources do you want, Dad? Since I can't display hyperlinks in this com-box and don't want to enter a long string of characters starting with www, I'll just mention a few for you to Google. Start with AllAccess dot com, which, for the price of entering your e-mail address and getting spammed to death, will give you access to the official Neilsen radio ratings in every market in America. And you can read the dozens of articles under the tab "Talk Radio" that detail the ratings demise. Or you could Google Jerry Del Colliano, another radio guru who regularly tracks Limbaugh's numbers. Or you could simply Google the term "Rush Limbaugh Ratings" and feast your eyes upon thousands of articles that have chronicled the decline. Best estimate right now is that the audience is between 10 and 12 million. While it's still numero uno, it's PLUMMETED from the peak...and, what's even more significant, the number continues to fall, ratings period after ratings period. Wait'll the Detroit, San Diego, and other Nielson People-Meter ratings are published next week - you'll see huge erosion in those markets, mark my words. This is not some vast left-wing conspiracy to bash Rush's ratings. Call Belling and ask him about it. His second paycheck depends on it. And he'll be honest about it.

    2. thanx. yes, I get 'regional,' thought I'd put that up there to see if you were awake.

      10-12MM, eh? Egads.

      I don't buy all of Limbaugh's foofoodust, by the way; I've mentioned his shortcomings (when I find them) at the blog.

      IMHO, what hurts him now is this: he's no longer a populist.

  2. Politico reported just this week ( that right-wing groups have been subsidizing Rush and other bigtime talkers, which will have the effect of lessening the damage caused by the advertising defections. Sounds like a form of welfare, but it obviously *couldn't* be that, because welfare is demeaning to those who receive it and no self-respecting conservative would accept it.

    Related: My first exposure to Rush was at a station I worked for in the early 90s, and I thought the guy was brilliant, hilarious, inventive--one of the best radio entertainers I'd ever heard, and I'd listen to him even when I wasn't being paid to do so. But when Bill Clinton was elected, Rush went off the rails, and what had been legitimately funny curdled into meanness. A shame, really.

    1. Interesting read from Politico. No surprise that interest-groups are supporting, quid-pro-quo, radio shows.

      So what?

      Contrary to the implications in the article, none of those commentators owe "trust" to their listeners; that's clear from their own disclaimers. Belling and Sykes both say the same: '...I am a pundit, not a newspaper.'

      We might note, by the way, that newspaper readership has also "plummeted" since--what--1990 or so. And paid, non-interest-group revenues have also "plummeted".


    2. Yah, Jim, I've seen the Politico and other stuff regarding the millions Rove have been pouring into shows like Limbaugh, Hannity, Huckabee, etc. My experience with the Rush show are similar. Belling decided to put Rush's show on shortly after I moved back to WI, and just before Mark decamped to Milwaukee. Rush's show was laugh-out-loud funny, a real breath of fresh air, the kind of stuff even the music-heads at Magic 98 listened to and laughed at. When da wife and I were doing the morning show, we had Rush on live with us for 10-minute segments 3 or 4 times a month as he was building the "EIB". He was never haughty - always self-deprecating and always with an interesting take on ANY topic, and of course he LOVED to talk sports with us. He endeared himself to the TDY audience by "knowing things Madison" - which he chidingly called "The People's Republic" but NEVER in a snotty way - always with a smile in his voice and a quip or two about something Mayor Soglin had done. By this time he was on well over a hundred stations, but he did SHOW PREP (or someone on his staff did) before his live-shots on a local station! He cut promos at no charge, all that stuff, and then - he got really big, and "his people" were saying that Rush had just too many requests to do the live shots on the affiliates so he couldn't do them any more. But - that's the way it goes in the biz. I think you're right - when Clinton got elected, his dialog got meaner; now, for me, for the past 5 years, he's been just too wacky to listen to except on rare occasions when I tune in just to see if things are still the same. It's a shame, really - he painted himself into a corner with his hyperpartisan BS and then when all the wannabees (Glen Beck in particular) tried to out-Rush Rush every day, he had to become even more stridently partisan to "reinvent himself". Yah, it is indeed a shame.

  3. you're predictions are right up there with mark commie cuban and paul socialist name a couple lol