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“Even If He Wins, He Loses”: For Rush Limbaugh, The Damage Is Already Done

One week after it was first reported that talk radio giant Cumulus Media might cut ties with Rush Limbaugh and pull his show from 40 of its stations nationwide, the end result of the contractual showdown remains unclear. But we do know this: The damage has been done to Limbaugh and his reputation inside the world of AM radio as an untouchable star.

By opting to publicly negotiate its contract and making it clear the broadcast company is willing to walk away from his program, Cumulus has delivered a once unthinkable blow to Limbaugh’s industry prestige. (Cumulus is also threatening to drop Sean Hannity’s syndicated radio show.)

Even if Limbaugh wins in the end, he loses. Even if Limbaugh manages to stay on Cumulus’ enviable rosters of major market talk stations, Limbaugh comes out of the tussle tarnished and somewhat diminished.

Recall that one year after Limbaugh ignited the most severe crisis of his career by insulting law student Sandra Fluke for three days on the air, attacking her as a “slut,” the talker’s team announced the host was unhappy with Cumulus. Angry that its CEO had been noting in the press how many advertisers Limbaugh had lost over the Fluke firestorm (losses that continue to accumulate), an anonymous Limbaugh source told Politico the host was so angry he might walk away from Cumulus when his contract expired at the end of the year.

Well, last week Cumulus called Limbaugh’s bluff, plain and simple. And now the talker’s side appears to be scrambling to make sure his show remains with Cumulus. But again, the damage is done. If Limbaugh really were an all-powerful source in AM radio, he would walk away from Cumulus. But he’s not, and he can’t.

Cumulus is reportedly driving a hard bargain and wants to reduce the costs associated with carrying Limbaugh’s show, especially since he’s unable to attract the same advertisers he used to. If in the end a deal is struck and Limbaugh stays with Cumulus for a reduced rate, what happens when the talker’s contract expires with another large AM station group? Of course they’re going to demand the same deal Cumulus got in exchange for keeping Limbaugh’s show, or they’ll threaten to drop the talker, too. And then on and on the process will repeat itself as broadcasters realize that maybe they can get Limbaugh on the cheap.

By the way, this is the exact opposite of how Limbaugh renewals used to be handled. Years ago, owners and general managers at Limbaugh’s host stations lived in fear of getting a phone call from Limbaugh’s syndicator, Clear Channel-owned Premier Networks, informing them the host was moving across town to a competitor when his contract was up. But today, Cumulus negotiates its Limbaugh contract via the press, apparently without the slightest concern about ending its association with him.

Of course, Limbaugh and Clear Channel could hold their ground, refuse to budge on Cumulus’ demands and walk away from the radio giant with AM stations from coast to coast. That is an option, but it’s also an unpleasant one in terms of what it would mean to Limbaugh’s once-unvarnished reputation as the AM talk gold standard.

Just look at what would likely happen to Limbaugh in New York City, the largest radio market in America. He’s currently heard on WABC-AM, which has broadcast Limbaugh for decades and has served as his unofficial flagship station in America. But Cumulus owns the station and it’s one that Limbaugh would get yanked off if the two sides can’t come to an agreement. Where would Limbaugh likely end up in New York? On WOR-AM, a talk station that Clear Channel purchased last year, many observers believed, as a way to make sure Limbaugh would have a New York home if his deal ended at WABC-AM.

So what’s wrong with Limbaugh moving to WOR-AM? Only the fact that the station is currently a ratings doormat, ranked 25th in that market with less than half the audience of WABC-AM. Yes, it’s likely Limbaugh would improve that station’s ratings if he moved over there. But at this stage in his career for Limbaugh to have to start over in the most important radio market in the country and do it on such a low-rated station? If you don’t think that kind of demotion would sting, you don’t understand the oversized egos that fuel talk radio in America.

The move to lowly WOR-AM would also call into question why debt-ridden Clear Channel opted to boost Limbaugh’s salary by an astounding 40 percent in 2009, assuring him a $400 million payday over a ten-year contract.

Then again, Limbaugh is no stranger to sagging ratings, especially in New York City. Back in his prime a decade ago, Limbaugh helped power WABC-AM to become the number five-rated station in all of New York. Today, with Limbaugh still its marquee draw, the station has fallen to number 15 in the ratings, which may explain why Cumulus is willing to negotiate his departure.

Other cities would also pose a post-Cumulus problem. In Chicago for instance, Limbaugh would get dropped from WLS (which has also seen declining ratings in recent months), and without a Clear Channel-owned talk station in the market to pick him up, Limbaugh would have to find a new AM home. But based on the current radio landscape in Chicago, there would appear to be very few logical takers. (The city’s top-rated AM information stations lean heavy on news and local talk; less on right-wing syndicated hosts like Limbaugh.)

Appearing on CNN’s Reliable Sources on Sunday, Talkers editor Michael Harrison insisted, “Rush is going to be around as long as he wants.” He added, “He’ll be 90 years old and still have a show.” Harrison may be right. But last week’s public shaming by Cumulus will likely be remembered for years as a turning point in Limbaugh’s broadcast trajectory.


By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters for America, August 5, 2013

August 7, 2013 Posted by | Media | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Rush Limbaugh Is Finished”: With Or Without Cumulus, His Political Power Is Much Diminished

Cumulus Media, the second-largest broadcast radio station owner in the country, may drop Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity from its stations, according to Politico’s Dylan Byers. Limbaugh and Hannity are the two highest-rated right-wing talk radio hosts in the country. Byers says they currently air on “more than 40″ Cumulus-owned channels (in markets that include New York City). Limbaugh is highly rated but maybe not that profitable, especially since the boycott took off.

This would be something of a blow to Limbaugh, especially if it meant losing his “flagship” station, New York’s WABC. On the other hand, the show is syndicated by a company owned by the largest owner of radio stations in the country. They’ll likely be able to find a home for him in the most of the markets he’d lose if Cumulus ended his contract.

Of course, while Byers reports that Cumulus has decided not to renew Rush Limbaugh’s contract, reports today describe Limbaugh as ditching Cumulus for WOR, a company owned by Clear Channel.

Whether Limbaugh ends up parting ways with Cumulus or whether this entire Politico article is part of one side’s negotiating tactics almost makes no difference. Limbaugh will remain on the radio in most of the country, with millions of listeners. In a month he may still announce that his contract with Cumulus has been renewed. But however this shakes out, it will still be the case that the Limbaugh Era is over.

The Limbaugh Era spanned roughly Clinton’s inaugural through Bush’s reelection, with his powers peaking, obviously, at Clinton’s impeachment. This was when Limbaugh could create political stars, sink legislation and nearly take down a president. The mainstream press took notice of him and then became completely obsessed. At that time, his army of listeners was enough people to constitute a formidable electoral coalition.

He still has a lot of listeners. The Limbaugh problem, though, is simply a reflection of the GOP problem: His followers are an aging and, consequently, shrinking group of conservative white people, in a country that is rapidly getting less white. The Limbaugh people are still large in number, but their power is diminishing. (Their power has been diminishing for years, in fact, which is how Limbaugh and his less talented peers came to lead them in the first place.)

The first thing to remember is that no one actually has any clue how many people listen to Limbaugh with any regularity. Limbaugh’s audience certainly sounds massive at 14 million weekly listeners, but that supposedly represents any person who tunes into Limbaugh’s show for any period of time over the course of a week. At any given period in his show, though, an average of three million people are tuned to Limbaugh. That’s not nothing, but it’s close. It wouldn’t crack the top 25 broadcast TV shows. And radio ratings involve even more guesswork and estimation (and spin) than television ratings. Limbaugh said his audience was “20 million” 20 years ago and people have just been repeating that number ever since, but no one actually has any clue.

Regardless of its size, this audience is not being replenished with fresh blood. When the Obama people decided, early in his first term, to basically call as much attention to Limbaugh as possible, as part of an effort to make him seem like the unofficial leader of the modern Republican Party, that was because they knew that Limbaugh is among the least popular human beings in the country, especially with people below the age of 40. The strategy did briefly shove Limbaugh back into relevance, but what exactly did he accomplish with that relevance? After an election year in which he openly, depressingly begged for Hillary Clinton to win the Democratic nomination, simply so that he could relive his glory years of Clinton-hating, Limbaugh spent the first months of Obama’s presidency attempting to derail the stimulus for some reason, and he failed. The Tea Party freakout, and subsequently the 2010 elections, had nothing to do with Rush. He hated Romney during the 2012 primaries and his eventual awkward support for the Republican nominee was worth nothing.

Like Matt Drudge, who still drives traffic but not the news cycle itself, Limbaugh is a relic of the ’90s. He’s been finished for years. Unfortunately he and the dying conservative movement are going to do their best to destroy the country as it leaves them behind.


By: Alex Pareene, Salon, July 29, 2013

July 30, 2013 Posted by | Media | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


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