(Fred Weinberg/The Penny Press) – Regular readers know that I have extensive investments in radio and many of those stations, both past and present, are AM talk stations.
That said, I don’t carry Rush Limbaugh anywhere. In fact, I have dropped his show whenever I have purchased a station which carried him.
It’s certainly nothing personal, nor does it signal a fundamental disagreement with his politics because there is none.
It is—as Don Corleone once said—just business.
He is so divisive that you simply cannot sell advertising in his show. Worse, where most talk shows are syndicated on what is called a “barter” basis—that is, you split the advertising time between local and national—he charges a radio station cash.
So when you add up a significant cash outlay and the inability to sell much time in his show, it’s a net loser for the owner of a radio station no matter how much you may agree with what he has to say.
And, let’s make one thing clear: Radio is a business.
Lest you think that not being able to sell advertising in Rush’s show is a phenomena restricted to conservative talk radio, trust me, I couldn’t sell advertising in Ed Schultz’s show either. In his case, it’s not interesting enough to attract very many listeners.
My first experience in dropping Rush came back in the early 90s when I bought KBIX in Muskogee, Oklahoma—the town that Merle Haggard immortalized in “Proud to be an Okie from Muskogee.”
I went to the large car dealers and was told quite simply, liberals buy cars, too.
And, believe it or not, that was a sizable piece of business in Muskogee.
So, I dropped Rush.
I actually got a few death threats and one guy who called up and said, “The only reason I listed to your damn station (I’m cleaning this up a bit) is for Rush.”
I told him the truth. That he was a listener I couldn’t afford.
Our sales went up and the calls stopped after a few days. And many of the death threats I got came from people who kept listening to our then, mostly local line-up.
If you ran a radio station in a large market, back in the day, you could run Rush solely for ratings purposes. In Tulsa and Las Vegas, that’s what my competitors did.
I preferred to make money throughout my entire day.
To a great extent, Rush is a good deal like Bill Maher. He thinks he can be as outrageous as he wishes because his success has made him a protected species.
The truth is that if you have Rush on in the top 10 markets, you can probably make money with him.
But if you’re going to depend on flyover country for your listeners, you are going to have to bow to some convention and, as an example, not call a female activist a “slut.” Remember, when he called Sandra Fluke a slut, he didn’t do it on his radio stations. He did it on radio stations which, for the most part, are owned by businessmen trying to serve the communities they are licensed to. And while I can guarantee you that most of those businessmen are not liberals, very few of them would have chosen that language either in public or private.
If Rush had been in my living room, I would have been just as uncomfortable as I was when I heard it on the air.
Further, given the 24-hour news cycles of cable news channels and the easy availability of audio and video on the Internet, anybody saying anything on any mass media is likely to hear it over and over.
I try not to say things my 85-year old mother would not appreciate, and Rush’s problem is he keeps forgetting that limiting factor.
His message would resonate much more robustly if he minded his manners.
Just like Maher—who’s almost made me turn off HBO—Rush needs to clean up his act.
Sadly, that will probably never happen in either case.