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“In A Cellar-Dwelling Outpost”: Rush Limbaugh Demoted To Another Irrelevant, Ratings-Challenged Station In A Major Market

The good news for Rush Limbaugh: One month after being notified he was getting dumped by his Boston talk radio host station, the talker has a new AM home in New England.

The bad news: The station currently boasts a 0.6 rating, trails four non-commercial stations in the market and becomes yet another big-city, cellar-dwelling outpost that Limbaugh is forced to call home.

The station, WKOX, is the type of “bottom-rung” affiliate that Limbaugh was rarely associated with during his halcyon days as the king of talk radio. But those days seem to be dwindling as the Boston fall from grace has previously played out for Limbaugh in places like Los Angeles and Indianapolis. In each instance, Limbaugh exited a prosperous, longtime radio home and was forced to settle for an also-ran outlet with minuscule ratings.

Limbaugh’s ongoing major market woes can be traced to his 2012 on-air meltdown over Sandra Fluke, where he castigated and insulted the graduate student for three days on his program, calling her a “slut” and suggesting she post videos of herself having sex on the Internet. (Fluke’s sin in the eyes of Limbaugh was testifying before Congress in favor of contraception mandates for health care insurance.)

The astonishing Limbaugh monologues sparked an unprecedented advertiser exodus, which means selling his show has become a major lift for the affiliate stations that pay a hefty fee for the right to carry his program. The Wall Street Journal has reported on the millions of dollars in advertising revenue that Limbaugh’s host stations lose because of the talker’s stigma on Madison Avenue.

The still-unfolding repercussions? Some key stations want out of their Limbaugh deals. And when those deals are up, nobody else is stepping forward to ink new contracts with Rush.

Here’s what happened in Boston, and it’s becoming a trend. In May, WRKO announced it wasn’t renewing Limbaugh’s program, which meant the host would have to find a new home on the dial. No problem, right? Hopping around to another affiliate isn’t that unusual in the world of syndicated radio. What was unusual, at least for Limbaugh, was that not one other Boston station moved to pick up his show. Years ago, general managers lined up for the chance to broadcast Limbaugh’s ratings heavyweight show and jumped whenever it became available in the market.

But no more. With ratings issues in recent years and selling the show to advertisers becoming increasingly difficult, stations seem reluctant to pay a steep price for Limbaugh’s program. (But yes, Limbaugh’s syndicator, Premier Radio Networks, still pays the talker $50 million a year.)

In Boston, Limbaugh had to once again be bailed out by his corporate bosses. Formerly known as Clear Channel, iHeartMedia owns the syndication company that produces and sells Limbaugh’s radio show. iHeartMedia owns hundreds of radio stations.

So, with no takers in Boston, iHeartMedia turned to its lowly WKOX station, scrubbed its Spanish language format, and will flip it to “Talk 1430” on June 29, where listeners will hear a hodgepodge of far-right talk mixed Fox Sports Radio programming. “With the lack of options for gaining syndication revenue from another broadcaster, dumping the extraneous 1430 format becomes the only clear option for the company,” noted RadioInsight.

And don’t expect Limbaugh to turn things around for WKOX. His show struggled on WRKO, which boasts a 50,000-watt signal. In contrast, WKOX broadcasts from a tiny 5,000-watt signal, which doesn’t even cover the entire Boston metropolitan area.

Does this demotion sound familiar? The same Limbaugh farewell just played out in the red state of Indiana where the talker was dumped by his AM home of 22 years, WIBC in Indianapolis. After WIBC announced the programming divorce (the station was reportedly having trouble finding advertisers for Rush’s show), no other stations in the market stepped forward to buy Limbaugh’s program, which meant he had to be bailed out by iHeartMedia. The radio giant shoehorned Limbaugh onto its lowly rated all-sports channel in the market. (Current rating: 0.5.)

So why the obsession with finding Limbaugh even a low-rent home in places like Boston and Indianapolis? The answer revolves around clearance. “Rush Limbaugh is heard in every measured radio market in America, and that will continue to be the case in Boston,” Premiere’s Rachel Nelson told the Boston Globe last month. In other words, Limbaugh and his syndicator are determined that his show be heard (or cleared, in industry-speak), in every radio market in America — and especially in major markets — no matter what.

“It looks like Premiere parent iHeart will end up doing the same thing in Boston it’s doing in Indianapolis as a last resort: bringing Rush back in house on a marginal signal just to maintain the clearance,” noted NorthEast Radio Watch this week.

That, obviously, is not a blueprint for long-term success.

In terms of trying to sell the show to national advertisers as well as maintaining the Rush reputation as the most powerful talker on the dial, Limbaugh and Premiere simply cannot have Rush’s show off the air in places like Boston and Indianapolis. So Premiere’s parent company is willing do whatever it takes to make room for Limbaugh, even if it means sticking him on a ratings doormat at the far, far end of the radio dial and surrounding him with sports talk shows.

The question now is how many more cracks in the dam is iHeartMedia going to have to plug as more markets decide they’re not interested in Limbaugh’s program?


By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters for America, June 17, 2015

June 18, 2015 Posted by | Media, Rush Limbaugh, Talk Radio | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Bring On The Pajama Bashing”: Conservatives Can’t Help But Give Vent To Their Ugliest Impulses And Anxieties

Just as we understand the world through stories, our political narratives often revolve around characters, ordinary people who become momentarily famous as supposedly representative of some policy issue or cultural trend. Sometimes they’re fictional, and sometimes they’re people who have chosen to push themselves into a political debate. But often it’s someone who dips a toe into the political waters, then finds the cameras swinging on to them in what surely is a bracing lesson in the contemporary media’s appetites.

What ensues is a debate about just what this person is supposed to represent. Is she the embodiment of a problem conservatives refuse to solve? Is he the truest of Americans, held down by liberal meddling? Or is this person, down to his or her very soul, everything we want the public to hate about the other side?

I’ve written before about the standard media practice of offering “exemplars,” or ordinary people used as the vehicle through which to tell the story of a policy issue or an event. The kind of political exemplars pushed by the parties aren’t as common, but each one gets much more attention. Last week saw another episode of these exemplar controversies, and certainly one of the oddest ones yet. Despite some of the weird details, it was familiar in the way it wound up: with conservatives showing the worst of themselves. They haven’t seemed to realize that no matter who starts these arguments, the right almost always loses them. That isn’t because liberals are so brilliant at choosing these exemplars, or because liberals control the media in which the argument plays out. It’s because once things get going, conservatives can’t help but give vent to their ugliest impulses and anxieties, driven on by the mistaken belief that all Americans will see things the way they do.

Last week, the pro-Obama group Organizing for America put up a web ad with a photo of a 20-something man wearing pajamas and drinking hot chocolate in what looked like a Christmas-morning scene, to encourage young people to sign up for health insurance. Immediately, many in the conservative media reacted as though just looking at this young fellow had transported them back to the junior high schoolyard where the class bully had called them sissies. The only way to restore their manhood, apparently, was to go after some random kid in a web ad by saying he’s kinda gay.

The National Review‘s Rich Lowry kicked things off with a column imputing to this fictional character, now named “Pajama Boy,” an entire history and a series of character flaws. “He might be glad to pay more for his health insurance to include maternity benefits he doesn’t need as a blow against gender stereotyping,” Lowry wrote. But that was one of the more restrained assaults on Pajama Boy’s masculinity. A writer for the popular conservative site Pajamas Media (so named as a tongue-in-cheek reference to the belief that bloggers are just people sitting in their pajamas spouting off, though by now they seem to have changed their stance on pajamas), wrote a piece beginning, “Whatever horrifying condition deprived Pajama Boy of his genitals, I suppose we must be thankful he can’t pass it along to future generations.” He went on to assert cleverly that left-wing academics also “have no genitals” and concluded, “Side with the left long enough, and your genitals fall off. As well they should.” Lowry’s National Review colleague Mark Steyn wrote, “Obamacare pajama models, if not yet mandatorily gay, can only be dressed in tartan onesies and accessorized with hot chocolate so as to communicate to the Republic’s maidenhood what a thankless endeavor heterosexuality is in contemporary America.” Don’t even ask what happened on Twitter.

It should go without saying that if you see a photo of a somewhat nerdy-looking young man and your first impulse is to shout, “Gay! Gay! That guy’s gay!” then maybe you should do some hard thinking about where this powerful sexual anxiety comes from.

So what happens when this is all said and done? Democrats put up a web ad, then conservatives blow a gasket and end up looking shrill and homophobic. This kind of pattern has repeated itself many times. Recall Sandra Fluke, the activist who became briefly famous when she testified before Congress about a controversy over insurance coverage for birth control at the university where she was a law student. Though she said nothing about her personal life, conservatives immediately attacked her for believing that women should have the right to a sex life. Rush Limbaugh, the most powerful conservative media figure in America, called called her a “slut” and a “prostitute,” and said, “if we’re going to pay for your contraceptives and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.” And they wonder why there’s a gender gap.

It isn’t that Democrats aren’t willing to criticize the exemplars Republicans elevate. You remember Joe the Plumber, whom John McCain loved so dearly he brought him up in a debate with Obama, praised him in stump speeches, and even produced an ad with salt-of-the-earth Americans proclaiming “I’m Joe the Plumber” as though he was Spartacus. Liberals certainly chuckled when Joe turned out to not actually be a licensed plumber, and took some satisfaction when he failed to turn his celebrity into a career as a lawmaker, losing his 2012 campaign for an Ohio congressional seat by a razor-thin 49-point margin. Liberals were happy to note that the small business owner who starred in a Mitt Romney ad attacking Barack Obama for “you didn’t build that” actually got nearly a million dollars in government loans and contracts.

But there’s a particular venom that characterizes the approach many conservatives take to the liberal exemplars. For example, it’s hard to imagine a prominent liberal columnist driving to Baltimore to poke around the home and business of the family of a 12-year-old boy who advocated for the S-CHIP funding that helped his family afford medical treatment for him and his sister after a serious car accident. But that’s what conservative celebrity Michelle Malkin did in 2007, in an attempt to prove that the boy’s family didn’t deserve the help. It certainly seems as though whenever we meet a new ordinary citizen liberals are touting, the first thought some conservatives have is, “This person must be destroyed.”

There’s also often a disconnect between the attempt to undermine the exemplar and the policy argument conservatives are making. Let’s say Malkin had succeeded in uncovering some dirt on that young boy’s family. What would that have shown—that poor children shouldn’t get health coverage? It was reminiscent of something we learned more about this week, one of the most well-known exemplars in American political history: the “welfare queen” whose bilking of the system Ronald Reagan touted as proof that poor people didn’t deserve help from the government. While liberals believed for many years that Reagan had simply made up the tale (like so many others), Slate has the fascinating backstory of Linda Taylor, who not only defrauded welfare in the 1960s and 70s but may have also committed multiple acts of murder and kidnapping. The problem with Reagan’s use of her story is that he wasn’t arguing that it showed that we needed to do more to crack down on fraud so con artists couldn’t take advantage of the system. Reagan was arguing that this career criminal was actually a typical welfare recipient, and her story showed that benefits should be cut for everyone.

Reagan’s “welfare queen” story had real political potency. These days though, conservatives are more likely to get worked up over some individual liberal (or the photo of someone they presume is a liberal) and eventually find that the public doesn’t share their excitement. Just like they thought Joe the Plumber was going to win them the 2008 election, I guess they think a photo of a guy wearing pajamas is going to get Americans mad at Barack Obama and make them not want to get health insurance. To which liberals should probably respond: Go ahead. Keep telling us about how liberal men aren’t as manly and strong as you are, and how single women are a bunch of sluts, and how racial minorities are ungrateful moochers. How’s that been working out for you lately?


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, December 23, 2013

December 23, 2013 Posted by | Conservatives, Obamacare | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Unexpected Turn”: Missouri Develops Strategy To Prevent A Repeat Ghastly Rush Limbaugh Bronze Bust Statue Debacle

Last year, both Steve and I wrote posts discussing the induction of Rush Limbaugh into Missouri’s Hall of Fame. At the time, there seemed little of redeeming value to this tale but now, it has taken an unexpected, and even encouraging, turn.

Just to recap: inside the grand rotunda of the state capitol in Jefferson City sits the Hall of Famous Missourians, a stately array of bronze busts celebrating such notables as Mark Twain, Harry Truman, and as of May 14, 2012, a broadcaster from Cape Girardeau named Rush Hudson Limbaugh III. Tellingly, the Hall’s latest inductee failed to meet with universal acclaim.  According to Politico:

News of the impending ceremony broke shortly after he called Georgetown Law School student Sandra Fluke a “prostitute” and a “slut,” inspiring a “Flush Rush!” campaign against Republican House Speaker Steven Tilley, who selected Limbaugh for the honor. In the past couple of months, protesters reportedly have delivered hundreds of rolls of toilet paper to Tilley’s office and presented him with approximately 35,000 petition signatures.

Republican leaders of the Missouri House kept the induction event secret until 25 minutes beforehand, hoping to keep protesters away from the unveiling of Limbaugh’s bronze bust. The Kansas City Star reported that the doors were locked and guarded by armed members of the Missouri Highway Patrol while the ceremony took place.  Behind those locked doors, the honoree took this solemn occasion to say, “Our so-called ‘friends’ on the other side of the aisle are deranged.”

So that went well.

But now Missouri has a new House Speaker, Tim Jones, who devised this inspired online strategy to avoid any repeat of the ghastly Limbaugh debacle:

Selection into the hall traditionally has been at the discretion of the Speaker of the House. However, current House Speaker Tim Jones has empowered the people of Missouri to decide the next outstanding Missourians to be honored by induction into the hall. Please use the forms below to provide your suggestion for the next inductee into the Hall of Famous Missourians. Also include your reasoning for why your selection makes the ideal candidate to join the likes of Walt Disney, Ginger Rogers and Stan Musial. Speaker Jones will accept nominations until September 13, 2013 and will formulate a “Top 10” list of candidates based on the results and other important criteria as recommended by nonpartisan staff of the Missouri House. Visitors will then have the opportunity to cast their votes for the final 10 nominees with the two candidates who receive the highest number of votes selected for induction into the Hall of Famous Missourians. Voting will conclude October 13, 2013.

So they’re going to let Missourians decide who gets to be in the Hall of Famous Missourians? Sounds suspiciously like democracy to me.

By: Kent Jones, The Maddow Blog, August 26, 2013

August 27, 2013 Posted by | Democracy, Right Wing | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“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

“Wide Latitude To Jackassery”: Imagine If The Government Started Policing Rush Limbaugh’s Facts

Today, Philip Bump at Grist passed along this interesting story about a shock jock in Australia who, after spewing some false nonsense about climate change on the air, “has been ordered to undergo ‘factual accuracy’ training, and to use fact-checkers.” Obviously, the government has no such powers here in America, but it’s a good reminder that America’s particular version of free speech wasn’t handed down from above, or even by the Founders. The words in the First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press”) are very general; the contours and details of that freedom have been given shape over the decades by a succession of Supreme Court cases. James Madison didn’t have an opinion about whether it was OK for Rush Limbaugh to go on the air and call Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute,” so we had to figure out later how to handle that, and we chose, for some good reasons, to let it slide (legally speaking).

In other countries where people are just as committed to freedom as we are, they’ve come to slightly different conclusions about where the limits of those freedoms are. It’s not that they don’t value free expression, it’s just that competing values like truth and civility sometimes get weighed more heavily. We believe there are limits to freedom of speech no less than the Australians do; we just put those limits farther out. There are plenty of speech acts you can be sued or even prosecuted for, from intentionally libeling someone to inciting violence to revealing state secrets to conspiring to commit a crime.

I wouldn’t be comfortable with our government making decisions like the one the Australian government did, but we shouldn’t forget that our expansive interpretation of free speech comes with a cost. Because we don’t want the government policing the truth, we have to put up with a lot of lies; because we don’t think you have a right not to be offended, we have to put up with lots of offensive speech. There are countries where the consensus belief is that personal dignity is a value that outweighs freedom of speech, so you can be punished for offending someone. This is at the heart of why many people in the Muslim world can’t quite understand why our society would tolerate something like that anti-Muslim film, and why we can’t quite understand why they got so worked up over it, since it was just some jackass making a stupid video. Here in America, we offer wide latitude to jackassery.

There are lots of Americans who only value free speech so long as their own feelings aren’t being hurt and they don’t have to hear any speech they don’t like. But democracy is often painful and unpleasant. For instance, 18 days from now, half the country is going to be very, very disappointed with the results of the election. I have a feeling that when it happens, particularly if Barack Obama wins, we’re going to see how thin the commitment to democracy is on the part of some people.

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, October 19, 2012

October 22, 2012 Posted by | Democracy | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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