Long-time conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh is facing troubles and the business of talk radio is on “shaky ground,” Weekly Standard associate editor Ethan Epstein recently argued in a 3,800-word dissertation published at Politico magazine.
Nothing could be further from the truth says America’s self-proclaimed “anchorman.”
The article, according to Limbaugh, is an attempt to interfere with his business model with “lies” at a time when he is known to be at the end of the eight-year iHeart Media deal that he signed with Clear Channel (now iHeart), in 2008, and is presumably in negotiations for a new one.
“The Politico story is a long and worn out laundry list of lies about my business timed to the end of my iHeart deal,” Limbaugh told Breitbart News Wednesday evening.
The numbers tend to back up Limbaugh, who isn’t showing signs of hemorrhaging audience at all.
According to ratings provided by Nielsen Audio, the Rush Limbaugh Show’s average quarter hour (AQH) audience in every demographic has increased by at least 30 percent, including overall AQH by 37 percent, over the previous year.
Despite affiliation changes in some major markets, evidence used by his naysayers as a sign Limbaugh’s future is in peril, Limbaugh has enjoyed huge gains. In the nation’s top three markets, Nielsen Audio shows the talk radio giant’s AQH is up 151 percent in New York City, 18 percent in Los Angeles and 215 percent in Chicago in the coveted 25-54 demographic.
Limbaugh’s overall national ratings continue to lead talk radio as they have continuously for more than a quarter of a century and no one else has come close. In the last year alone, his numbers in 25-54 audience is up 37 percent across the United States.
Critics, including Epstein, have been dismissive or reluctant to note this in their analyses.
In fact, Epstein’s article is the same song and dance routine that we’ve seen play out before. The mainstream media has offered up multiple iterations of the Limbaugh radio obituary since he stormed The Rush Limbaugh Show airwaves in the late 1980s.
But specifically to Epstein’s argument, two sources at the heart of Epstein’s Politico piece have questionable credentials as unbiased arbiters of talk radio status and sounding Limbaugh’s death knell.
One of those sources, Holland Cooke, is an individual that aligned himself with Media Matters and former MSNBC host Ed Schultz, whose MSNBC show was finally cancelled in 2014.
Cooke, billed by Epstein as a so-called “talk radio consultant,” has been forecasting Limbaugh’s demise as far back as 2012.
“Every shock jock goes a word too far at some point,” Cooke said on Schultz’s March 12, 2012 MSNBC show. “And until now, it seemed like Rush Limbaugh had nine lives. But I got to tell you, radio stations are nervous. I swapped emails today with a guy who runs a group of radio stations and has Rush Limbaugh on some of them. And he says he`s considering switching to that new Mike Huckabee show, which is going to debut head-to- head against Rush Limbaugh, 12:00 to 3:00 Eastern on April 2.”
Cooke went on, in his 2012 appearance, to add that Limbaugh would lose some major affiliates to Huckabee and that would be the beginning of Limbaugh’s end.
“He’ll probably still always be on the radio. But it won’t be as big a deal,” he said.
That new Mike Huckabee show lasted until December 12, 2013 and never came close to competing with Limbaugh nationally.
A source close to the Limbaugh program told Breitbart News that Cooke has been aiming to destroy Limbaugh’s business model, noting that “for Politico to quote him at length is either lazy or utterly deceptive.”
Another source, widely quoted in Epstein’s Politico piece is Darryl Parks, who is labeled “a radio industry veteran and former Clear Channel news-talk format chief.”
But Parks seemingly has his own axe to grind with Limbaugh.
According to a November 7, 2013 Cincinnati Enquirer report, Clear Channel fired Parks in what the company called a corporate restructuring. Previously, Parks served as Clear Channel’s vice president for news talk operations.
Since his firing, Parks launched a blog where he regularly criticizes Limbaugh and other top conservative radio talkers.
Parks referred to Limbaugh’s 2012 so-called Sandra Fluke incident, adding that it “did a lot of harm to talk radio.” Epstein points to liberal storefront Media Matters boycott in the wake of that incident, describing it as a “considerable success.”
“[M]ost consequentially, David Brock’s liberal watchdog Media Matters for America launched a $100,000 (at least) campaign calling for advertisers to refuse to buy time on Limbaugh’s show and for local affiliates to jettison it. The anti-Limbaugh faction came up with the social media-friendly slogan ‘Flush Rush,’” Epstein wrote. “The group’s efforts met considerable success in the months that followed. Dozens of companies, including Netflix, JCPenney and Sears, announced they would boycott Limbaugh’s show. Most have yet to return. And the increasing popularity of platforms like Twitter, which can be used to stoke outrage and promote boycotts, makes it highly unlikely they ever will.”
According to Limbaugh spokesperson Brian Glicklich, neither Sears nor JCPenney were ever national sponsors of the show, so to say they “dropped it” is simply false. Moreover, Glicklich challenged the notion that the boycott has any impact whatsoever.
“The boycott against Rush was a phony one, ginned up by David Brock’s Media Matters as a speech suppression effort. It failed, and turned out to be a handful of dishonest political activists, who have been identified in public and to advertisers. Here’s the truth: every week, The Rush Limbaugh Show is home to almost 10,000 advertisers locally & nationally,” Glicklich said in an email to Breitbart.
He continued, “They are small businesses selling their products to a receptive audience, entrepreneurs bringing new ideas to market, and everything in between. It should be self-evident, but with this year’s political process holding all of America’s attention, the business of being Rush Limbaugh has never been better.”
Over the years, there have been others who have incorrectly heralded Limbaugh’s radio funeral, and many of them have come around the time when there’s a possibility of political change in Washington, D.C.
At the end of Bill Clinton’s second term, some speculated about whether Limbaugh could maintain his popularity without having Clinton and members of his administration as a daily targets.
“Liberals are always my target,” Limbaugh told the Los Angeles Times’ Brian Lowry in a Dec. 29, 2000 interview. “The notion I’m going to have nothing to say because Clinton is gone is ridiculous.”
Not only was he correct when he said that, but the early part of the Bush administration was a time when conservative radio talk show hosts, who have since become household names, rose to national prominence.
Sean Hannity, who follows Limbaugh in many U.S. markets from 3 p.m.-6 p.m. ET came on the scene with national syndication in 2001. Laura Ingraham joined him in 2001, along with Glenn Beck in 2002 and Mark Levin in 2006 — hardly suggesting that Rush Limbaugh and the fad of conservative talk radio were on their way out.
In 2008, with the coming new age of Obama, some suggested that the long-liberal-nightmare of Limbaugh would finally be over.
Vanity Fair’s Michael Wolff told CNBC on July 2, 2008 Limbaugh’s star would finally dim, calling a newly announced eight-year, $400 million deal with Clear Channel-owned Premiere Radio Network an error.
“I think it’s a monster error,” Wolff said of the deal. “I know – I’m sitting here saying, ‘What are these people smoking?’ You know, the truth is that Rush Limbaugh has been – he’s ridden the rise of conservatism for 25 years and I don’t, maybe nobody quite, quite has been following the news, but that’s coming to an end.”
“It’s going to be over and Rush Limbaugh in a relatively short period of time is going to look like a really kind of out-of-it kind of oddity,” Wolff added. “And I cannot for the life of me imagine how someone could have made this deal.”
He too was wrong.
Eight years later, Limbaugh is still at the top of the heap. In the year of Trump, despite not officially endorsing the presumptive Republican Party presidential nominee yet, Limbaugh has continued to grow his audience.
Although the justification to suggest Limbaugh is on “shaky ground” seems to leave a lot to be desired and there was no effort made Politico to include that point of view, there is probably one thing on which you can bet: If the talk radio business model ship does begin to sink, Limbaugh won’t be going down with the ship. He’ll instead be on the beach with a drink in his hands and others are struggling to get to the shore.
Follow Jeff Poor on Twitter @jeff_poor