I guess this is as good a time as any to wrap up this initiative, which began nearly 3 years ago. Rush Limbaugh signed off for good yesterday, passing away at the age of 70 following a diagnosis of lung cancer. A lot has been said about Limbaugh in the last 24 hours and I guess I’ll add my thoughts.
In an earlier blog, I wrote about Limbaugh. I always considered him a brilliant entertainer. Rush understood the radio business – get ratings. When Rush’s show started catching fire nationwide, program directors across the country – including me – tripped over our tongues dashing to the phone to try and secure the show. I was willing to sell my soul to put the Limbaugh show on WHAS in Louisville. And I damn near did. I gave el Rushbo 3 hours a day on the biggest signal (50 thousand watts) in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. I also threw in a lucrative $100K a year rights fee deal. I remember the sage of WHAS, Milton Metz, coming into my office protesting the addition of Limbaugh. “..but he’s a demeagogue, booby”. Demagogue Shmemagogue! I didn’t care about any of that. I only cared about RATINGS. And, the Limbaugh show turned out to be a ratings success. That was nearly 25 years ago.
In his early days on radio, Rush was always getting in trouble with management for doing things on the air that pissed them off. Mostly, breaking format rules that program directors foolishly tried to impose on very talented people. But when Limbaugh was given carte blanche to do a talk show in Sacramento, it took off. Rush used good old Americana ideals he grew up with in Huck Finn’s Missouri. He would remind listeners of the good old days, before blacks, latinos, Muslims, and gays started becoming a bigger part of the American landscape. He did it by using skits, humor, song parodies and insults. His listeners were mostly paranoid people, scared to death that their way of life was fading away. They would gather daily, sometimes over lunch in “Rush Rooms” provided by some restaurants, to listen for 3 full hours. And that is how you build ratings. I used to tell my staff that their job was just get the listener to stick around an extra 15 minutes each day. “Do that..and we win”.
I never thought of Limbaugh as a political force much less a demagogue until recent years. Enter stage right – Trump. When Trump began his bid for the White House in 2015, I don’t think Limbaugh took it seriously. But as Trumpism came over the GOP like a tidal wave, Limbaugh jumped on board bigly, offering his imprimatur to Trump. Rush always had a keen sense of what his listeners wanted. And he gave it to them.
I think Rush could have been president, but he was smart enough to know what he didn’t know. And I think I’m smart enough to shut up. And so, this is Skip Essick signing off.