In March of 2012, Cumulus Radio made a very big deal of how they were going to bring down Rush Limbaugh with failed presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee. Even though Limbaugh’s show aired on Cumulus stations, company owners Lew and John Dickey pitched Huckabee to advertisers as the “safe alternative” to Limbaugh.
Instead of rallying around Limbaugh when Media Matters was pouring all of its resources into an effort to destroy the conservative movement’s most prominent and effective voice (after his comments about free-birth control activist Sandra Fluke), Cumulus joined the Media Matters crusade with the delivery of Huckabee as that “safe alternative.”
“Rush is talking to his audience, the governor is going to be talking with his audience. That’s a huge difference,” Dickey said. “Rush talks to people. Some might argue that he yells at people. Some might argue that he badgers people. I don’t know.”
Surrounded by all kinds of mainstream media love, fanfare, and free publicity, Huckabee debuted on 200 stations and not only flopped but was trounced by Limbaugh:
In San Francisco, where Mike’s heard on KSFO, Rush has a 143.4% larger overall audience.
In Dallas, where Cumulus seeks to remove Limbaugh from his longtime home at WBAP, El Rushbo is CRUSHING the Huckster with eleven listeners for every one fried squirrel fan. Mike ranks 40th in the Metroplex.
Portland Oregon: Rush’s ratings are 1444% higher. Huck ranks 27th there, heard on KUFO-AM.
Salt Lake City: Rush beating Mike by 13900%. The latter ranks 40th at KKAT.
Providence / New Bedford / Fall River: Huck stuck in 44th, Rush with 766% higher ratings.
Jacksonville: Rush beats by 8500%, Huck takes 27th place.
Early missteps, like a fake caller and a beatdown from Bristol Palin after he apparently used her to gin up phony controversy, made the worst possible first impression and Huckabee the subject of ridicule from which he has never quite recovered.
Over a year-and-a-half later, Huckabee is still on only 200 stations.
In June of 2012, Cumulus Media again thought they could make an end-run around conservative radio listeners with the launch of Geraldo Rivera’s radio show. Like Huckabee, Geraldo was advertised as being above ideology. Geraldo summed up his place on radio as the “militant middle“:
I’m thrilled that just as the nation hurtles toward the highly charged and hard-fought 2012 presidential election, I’ll be coming on the air nationwide. Fasten your seat belts,” said RIVERA. “With AMERICA divided along red/blue, right/left lines, I hope to occupy the militant middle and be a referee between ideologies. Everyone is welcome on the radio show, and the conversation is no-holds-barred.
Cumulus Senior Vice President Dennis Green took his own swipe at you-know-who and promised a “changing of the guard“: “When you look at the audience for these more aggressive, more vitriolic [hosts], those shows have started to show erosion,” said Cumulus Senior Vice President Dennis Green. “We think there’s a changing of the guard.”
As with Huckabee, Geraldo was an immediate disaster:
According to Arbitron, KABC’s morning programming averages 14,800 listeners six and older per quarter-hour from 9-10am. When Rivera takes over at 10am, that figure immediately drops to 6600 and remains stuck there until the conclusion of his show at noon.i
In the especially important 25-54 demographic, the numbers are bleak, averaging about 2600 listeners per quarter-hour.
When Sean Hannity airs at noon, listenership shoots straight back up to an 18,300 average per quarter-hour. By the end of his show, Hannity’s number has increased to 22,200. Larry Elder fares even better at 3pm, with 26,500….
Meanwhile, in New York City, where Geraldo has been hosting a separate program unique to that market, the story is the same. On WABC, he’s again the lowest-rated host on that station’s daytime lineup, with a 1.2 share in the 25-54 demo.
Worse, he’s actually played a key role in sinking WABC’s overall figures since joining, from a 3.6 share of the audience last December to 2.7 today.
In August of 2012, and despite terrible ratings, Cumulus took Geraldo “national,” with 54 stations (Limbaugh is on 600). John Dickey attempted to claim that the expansion was due to Geraldo’s success. Dickey’s brazen dishonesty resulted in industry-wide derision and ridicule:
It was Cumulus Media co-chief operating officer John Dickey who had the radio world rolling on the floor laughing when he cracked that Geraldo Rivera was so popular that it was time to launch a national show.
“When Geraldo agreed to host shows for Cumulus stations in New York and Los Angeles, we had a hunch there’d be national substantial listener interest in his incisive and insightful style,” he told the trades. “Now we’re thrilled that with Geraldo such a success in those two markets the show will now be available across the country.”
Why is that so funny? Because Geraldo’s most recent Arbitron ratings pegged him at a 0.5 share of the audience on KABC (790 AM), or 38th in the city. For people ages 25 to 54, the rating was even more dismal, 0.4, though it was back to 0.5 for people ages 35 to 54.
If there are any reports of Geraldo adding more stations over the last year, Google can’t find them.