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.

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.