The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

04 March 2005

How's Rush Limbaugh Faring?

Rush Limbaugh has, at least in my observation, a history of stronger and weaker periods of performance. Overall, he is the one host with the stamina to carry the show forward, day after day.

No one in the industry has yet come close to matching this. If he were to leave the airwaves tomorrow forever, no one would be able to completely step into his shoes. And liberal talk radio is failing to make any mark whatsoever. See our discussion about Air America's ratings below.

That's the greatest challenge for any talk show host. Many people have one or maybe two decent shows in them but few can sustain an entertaining program for any length of time.

That's why talk radio is so much harder than it appears be. I've always compared it to tennis in how it looks easy on TV but is difficult for all but a few to master.

It takes a real performer with a long term ability to attract an audience. Some programmers make the mistake of plugging inexperienced people from segments of the community as instant talk show hosts, but the result is almost always failure, for a number of reasons.

It takes depth of discussion on compelling issues. Do you know what you're talking about? This is where many fall short but has always been one of Limbaugh's strongest areas.

It's often been said that his secret is in being funny, actually it's the above factors that have been key to generating ratings.

One Limbaugh pattern I've noticed is in being on top of his game going into elections and somewhat adrift in the months afterward. I thought this was especially extreme in 2004. After the successful election for Republicans, Rush was too focused on the single issue of the Democrats and it became tedious. He even reverted to the beaten-to-death Bill Clinton topic.

I found myself tuning out.

Ratings performance is still strong nationwide but not as solidly reliable as it once was. There has been some grumbling by programmers in recent months.

In 2005, Rush has plotted a different course, one that has re-energized him. He has expanded the types of issues he covers to be more in tune with what matters to conservatives today. I've heard him address illegal immigration, for instance, that's new to his repertoire.

A stroke of genius was his trip to Afghanistan, where he met with troops, saw firsthand the circumstances of our nation's presence there and best of all, got out of his house and into the world around him. Always good for recharging the batteries.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid's recent comments are giving talk radio hosts new ammo and Rush is taking advantage of that as he should. But I hope he will continue to broaden the topic list and refocus on what has made him entertaining to sustain the show in the coming years.

What should change about the show? First, the substitute hosts need to be rethought. They are boring beyond belief. This has been a common complaint by listeners and programmers for years but there's been a stubborn reluctance to do anything about it.

Second, it's time to permanently ban allowing callers to spend two or more minutes talking about how long they've listened to the show, how much they love it, etc. It's incredibly tedious. We know the callers like the show. Get to the topics, please.


  • Brian: A few thoughts:

    I agree about the substitute hosts, especially Roger Hedgecock. It is my theory that former politicians make lousy talk show hosts, both on radio and TV. Reason: because rather than present passionate arguments about their beliefs, their basic reflexes are to get the callers to agree (i.e. get their vote), no matter how diametric their view. And this applies to both liberals and conservatives.

    On many mornings, and depending on his topics, I find myself listening to O'Reilly instead of Rush, especially when there is not something big happening in the news.

    Finally a question. The last two days Rush has "watermarked" his soundbytes, preventing other talk show hosts from copying. Who do you think this practice is aimed at? My guess: Michael Savage. I noticed yesterday that the only soundbytes that Savage played were 2001 remarks from Ward Churchill, courtesy of a Denver radio station.

    And if it is indeed aimed at Savage, I say Go Rush! Maybe Savage has uttered one too many "Hush Bimbos!"


    By Anonymous ira, at 04 March, 2005 15:25  

  • Ira:

    Always appreciate your contributions about radio here and at

    You're right about politicians as hosts, but for some reason there are still a few programmers who think this is a good idea. It doesn't seem to matter how many times it's failed before.

    I heard Rush talking about sound byte rip-offs also and didn't know who he was referring to. I'm not sure why he brought it up as a topic. I wasn't aware that other hosts used his show to capture audio. Could be Savage or someone else.

    However, Rush hasn't always been the best about crediting sources for his audio. In 1997 his producers asked me for cuts from an interview I did with Jay Leno where I asked him about Rush. At the time they were sparring in public.

    I sent Rush's people the audio, he mentioned it on the air, but didn't give me credit by name, just that I was the "talk show host from KOH in Reno." I met him a year later but didn't mention it.

    By Blogger Brian Maloney, at 05 March, 2005 01:26  

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