The Way Things Ought To Be
See, I Told You So
The Rush Limbaugh Story: Talent on Loan from God
An Unauthorized Biography
For the past two years, Rush Limbaugh III has done more to shape the tone of national political discussion than any member of the House and Senate, than any cabinet level appointee, than the chairmen of both the Democratic and Republican parties or the anchors of the major network news broadcasts.
Limbaugh has achieved this primarily through radio, an almost moribund industry which Limbaugh, and a few of his competitors, have infused with new energy and cash. Capitalizing on the low costs of satellite transmission and on the availability of huge numbers of AM stations wasting away in city after city, Limbaugh has, more than anyone else, been able to convert the specialized and geographically constricted field of talk radio into a national, syndicated marketplace, altering the competitive pattern of radio stations in hundreds of urban, suburban, and rural communities.
Satellite communications have made it possible for individual stations, unable to afford the high costs of producing their own talk shows, to pick and choose from a range of syndicated programs. The AM stations are often appendages to more profitable FM outlets, coasting on marginal profits from advertising directed to a tiny fraction of the population. Limbaugh has been the driving force in turning a sluggish market into a profit bonanza. After years of local broadcasting in the Middle West and California, Limbaugh was able to launch his daily three-hour show nationally in 1988 from WABC in New York. It reached over a hundred stations by the end of the decade and now runs on 648 stations with an estimated audience of 20 million people who hear him at least once a week. Local stations climbing on this bandwagon have seen their ratings—and profits—shoot up.
In Seattle in 1991, radio station KVI switched from rock music to Limbaugh and other talk-show hosts; since then, the station has gone from ranking twenty-third in the regional market to fourth. Brian Jennings, KVI’s program director during the time Limbaugh was acquired, says that “we added millions of dollars” to the station’s revenues in doing so. Nationally, according to Robert Unmacht, editor of the M Street Journal, which tracks market trends and patterns in the radio industry, “We haven’t seen success like this perhaps ever.” In most markets, Limbaugh leads, “and by a long way.”
In his statements on the air, Limbaugh is a clever conservative provocateur. Buthe also fills one of the traditional, now neglected, functions of radio: he has become for many listeners a kind of companion, a person with sympathetic views and opinions on contemporary events who is there, reliably and consistently, day in, day out. In this respect, he is part of a tradition dating back to Will Rogers, to Jack Benny, Amos and Andy, or Arthur Godfrey—a tradition maintained in recent years by only one other man, Paul Harvey, who has been broadcasting for sixty-one years.
Every day, Limbaugh takes events in the day’s news and reinterprets them as part of his …
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.