Thursday, April 24, 2014

Rush Limbaugh Is Toast (Part 2)

Several days ago I wrote a piece about how the nation’s top news-talk radio consultant, Holland Cooke, said the latest round of ratings shows El Rushbo has already failed in the nation’s largest markets, and as ratings in more radio markets have come out in the past few days, he’s dropped several more notches even in the medium-size markets.

There was a small amount of static regarding that post, mainly from the gang who thought Karl Rove was right when he said Mitt Romney was going to win the Presidential election….you know, the folks who assimilate only material which agrees with their point of view or disposition.

Rush’s increasingly rapid descent doesn’t make me cackle with glee; more than anything else, it’s sort of sad.


Long before Rush started calling himself “America’s Anchorman” and pretending that his program was news rather than entertainment, he was actually a great radio personality who made the audience laugh out loud at his antics.

I was reminiscing with some broadcasting pals about Rush, and what his show was like in the late 80’s, when he single-handedly revived AM radio in general, and talk radio in specific. Rush was FUNNY. That’s what drew so many people to his program – the bits he did were funny! The giant vacuum-cleaner sound effect when he’d talk about abortion; his “37 Undeniable Truths Of Life” (or whatever the number) were just as comedic as Dave Letterman’s nightly top ten.

In the early days of his show, working like a fiend to build his audience and reputation, Rush often did live spots with the morning hosts of his local affiliates.  Back in the late 80’s the lady who would become my wife and I were doing the morning show (“Madison’s Morning News”) on WTDY-AM (a station which no longer exists) and we’d have Rush on with us for a ten-minute segment about once a month.

Rush did his homework for those little sessions, which were primarily intended to promote his show, which was on later in the morning. He – or his staff – would look up little tidbits about Madison, and Rush would make some good-natured jibes at whatever Mayor Paul Soglin had done lately in what Rush called “The People’s Republic of Madison” – good-naturedly, with a smile in his voice.  Rush was FUNNY. He was a brand-new honest-to-goodness radio personality, with a self-deprecating sense of humor and production effects (sorry for the radio lingo) that were top-notch.

But, in his constant need to reinvent himself, Rush had to get harsher and harsher and meaner and more pointed.  At least, that’s what I think happened.  He had to cut through the clutter on the AM band that he had created.


He had his bout with drug addiction and rehab, like so many other celebrities.  He went through three marriages. His show wasn’t funny any more.  It was all politics; all right-wing diatribe; and above all, there was definitely a very mean tone to the program. Lots of anger.


The meanness started sometime late in the Clinton administration, but when Barack Obama was elected – and then re-elected – much of Rush’s fare became simply hate speech dressed up in politics.

 Holland Cooke says the show began emitting death rattles when Rush called a young woman a whore for wanting health insurance companies to pay for birth control pills. When the pushback came, Rush doubled and tripled down on the meanness, which gave birth to groups which have worked very effectively to kill the show by simply getting advertisers to avoid Rush.

He’s already lost his advertising base, and now, gradually but decisively, his ratings are plummeting. His show, as Cooke says, is “no longer sustainable”.

Yesterday I was in my giant gas-sucking SUV coming home from the west side and at 11:05 AM, instead of listening to Jay Moore Sports Fox Sports Radio on WTSO-AM, I flipped the dial from 1070 to 1310 just to catch Rush, knowing that I was going to write this post.

They had some guest-host that I’d never heard of, some guy who started out Rush’s show by idolizing this varmint who refuses to pay his bill for grazing rights (or whatever the flap is about), and called this guy a hero. (HERO – old definition: someone who voluntarily puts themselves in serious if not mortal danger to accomplish an extremely difficult feat. HERO – new definition: anyone who does anything.)
Then this fill-in guy ranted about how wrong and bad it is that the Bureau of Land Management has armed agents. He somehow tied this to the “Democrat” administration (lovers of Rush never refer to it as the Democratic Party, it’s invariably the “Democrat Party”). I chuckled at the illogical meme that everyone should have guns except Federal agents, and then punched the radio dial back to the sports-talk station, knowing that if this is the kind of fill-in talent Rush is employing while he’s off smoking expensive cigars with famous people, the end is truly nigh.


  1. My first introduction to politics, really, was "El Rushbo" and Mark Belling on AM radio in Milwaukee. As a college kid, I listened to them and became pretty conservative. For a while, at least. You're right: Rush used to be more entertaining, while not being wishy-washy at all. He was smarter then, perhaps, than he is now.

    I think people like Glenn Beck ate into his base and like Romney tacking right, Limbaugh went for the conservative base and alienated a lot of listeners who never came back. That meanness sells to the Tea Partiers but not many others.

    It's too bad. I would listen to a funny, smart, conservative, but like you, when I tune into Rush's show now it's disappointing. As is much of news coverage, though. Too often it feels like they pick a side to support their perspective, rather than simply having a perspective. Like Cliven Bundy, Racist Rancher: The conservatives took a simplistic "Man Stands Up To US Government" approach, sided with Guy instead of Govt, and got burned -- but the racism was hardly the most hypocritical or important thing. The IMPORTANT thing was that they were siding with a guy who stood up to rules made permanent by Reagan and who threatened to shoot anyone who tried to enforce the rules. The racism thing just allowed Fox to back off without any further embarrassment.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Briane. Since around '94 or so when Rush became the absolutely dominant figure on AM radio, the wannabees and sound-alikes flooded the market, forcing Rush to keep creating more narrow niches for his "message".

  2. Cantor is dead. Long live Limbaugh, Levin, and Beck!

    Still think that the Conservatives can't make it?

  3. Hmmmm. If Limbaugh is dead, MSNBC is zombie.

    For Q1 2015, MSNBC’s weekday primetime experienced a 45% decrease in key 25-54 demo viewership from Q1 2014. The network’s total daytime demo viewership declined 39% from Q1 2014. Additionally, a key program like The Rachel Maddow Show hit an all-time low in quarterly demo ratings since its Sept. 2008 launch.

    In total day and weekday primetime demo ratings, MSNBC hit its lowest quarterly levels in 10 years (since Q2 2005), and its lowest quarter of total viewership since the last quarter of 2007.

    Oh, well.