The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

03 August 2008

Rush's Early Ambition Provides Blueprint For Future Success


Gaining Inspiration From Limbaugh's Early Goal-Setting

As Rush Limbaugh celebrates his twentieth anniversary in talk radio syndication, the program in recent days has featured a fascinating series of personal reminiscences and greatest hits.

They've reminded us of unexpected moments, such as the initial spark that led to Dan's Bake Sale, or the amazing comedic power of one snippet of Ted Kennedy's unintelligible speech.

To your Radio Equalizer, however, Rush's most important flashback was mentioned almost in passing on Friday's show as he discussed the earliest, most fledgling days of the program. Regardless of your profession or pursuits, it ought to provide inspiration:

I just, you know, my ambition was uncontrollable. My vision for this getting big was uncontrollable, and Ed was -- I think we were all -- shocked by how fast it grew, and Ed had to go out and hire a couple people to come in and actually run the day-to-day operations. He brought in John Axten and Stu Krane, and they had both been in the ABC Radio Networks in sales and management; and Stu and John were there with Ed when all this growth was happening. We went from 56 radio stations to 500 stations in three years. Long before Bill Clinton came along on the national scene. The Drive-Bys all say that it's Clinton that made the show. They're clueless about it. But these guys were just working tirelessly, and we were all having fun at the same time because it was exploding.

Everywhere the show aired, it worked. Still does. In unbelievable ways. We're not really supposed to talk about this, but we get ratings every month here. They're broken down into quarters of the year. I just got the spring report that came in. It's through the roof. A lot of it's probably Operation Chaos, but literally through the roof: nine and ten shares in places. It's just grace. It's just been fabulous. But it would not have happened if Ed McLaughlin hadn't taken the risk. It wasn't really a big risk for me because everybody expected it not to work and if it had not worked I would have just been the last and latest valiant effort, and I'd have gone back to Sacramento or maybe Los Angeles or wherever and continued my talk show career.

It was Ed. He's the one that put his money on the line, and he was just supportive as he could be. He didn't know me from Adam. He was clued into my existence by a guy named Bruce Marr, who was a great program director at KABC in Los Angeles for a while and he'd done it in the consulting business. He was consulting KFBK Sacramento where I worked. By the way, Bruce Marr was instrumental in making sure that the show you hear today is the show you hear. Because as the case everywhere, when I got to Sacramento after awhile the program director said, "You gotta get guests in here. You can't do this without guests! Everybody in talk radio has guests. You gotta get some guests." I said, "I'm not going to get guests. I want to be the reason people listen to the program. Go worry about some other show." So Bruce was the front man, and he stood in the way.

He said, "He can do it. He doesn't need guests. Worry about something else," and something similar happened in New York at WABC. There was some format pressure on my local show. "You gotta get some guests in here, Rush. You know, people in New York aren't going to understand Clarence 'Frogman' Henry and the homeless update. That's bush league. You gotta get guests here." I said, "Why? You got guests out the wazoo on every other show in this station."

So Ed went in there and provided the buffer for that. The point is none of this could have happened without the help and the courage and the risk-taking of a whole lot of people, particularly Ed McLaughlin. I remember going through the negotiating session with him. He wouldn't budge from what he was offering at first. He was a businessman pure and through, and this was a business proposition, but he was taking a real flier.

He had come out to Sacramento and he had listened and he'd taken Bruce Marr's advice, thinking this would be a good guy to fill his two hours on the satellite. But he would have been happy with a couple hundred stations. He was nearing retirement age. This thing just blew up, got larger than anything anybody expected except me. You know, my intention was to come here and own everything. I didn't go to New York to be number five or number four -- and then, of course, there's all of you. All of these people that, you know, gave me the support system and the encouragement and were working tirelessly on my behalf and in theirs as well, there's you, the audience, and you are the ultimate determining factor of the success of this program. The fact that you listen and that you admit to it is a -- I don't mean that to sound funny; it's a serious component of it -- it has always blown me away.

Is your personal ambition uncontrollable? If not, why? It's a question we should ask ourselves often.

Sometimes, we get too comfortable with our day-to-day routines and lose sight of what could be. With that ambition comes risks: we could fail miserably, or the price of success might seem too high.

Rush wasn't afraid to be number one, how about you?

For the talk radio industry, it's even more important: how often does anyone in this business really fight to be on top anymore? What has happened to the energy that made the medium such a growth industry in the 1990s?

The programming brainpower that fueled talk's rapid rise has given way to sales managers who fill programming schedules with milquetoast talk, unrealistically- long commercial breaks and weekend infomercials.

If they understood how to sell controversial programming, they'd be far more successful, but many come from music formats and have never gained an understanding of talk radio's unique audience.

Some are happy to keep low-rated talent on the air, as long as the program offends no one. In other cases, stations use Rush's ratings to prop up a weak lineup during the rest of the day.

In addition, a few "heritage" stations point to their continuing first place rankings in the 12+ ratings category, but that means they're relying on an elderly audience that unfortunately shrinks a little bit each day. Instead of planning for the future, they're coasting a bit longer on the past.

Others are distracted by the shaky financial positions of their corporate owners. With collapsing stock prices and waves of layoffs, it's difficult to remain focused on achievement.

With talk as the one format that can survive the technological trends that are killing their FM music counterparts, the stakes have never been higher. And yet, by and large, the wrong people remain in charge.

Let's thank Rush for reminding us why "uncontrollable ambition" is the only way to live. Can we get talk radio as a whole back on track?

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  • I cross-posted this at Johnny Dollar's Place:


    According to the transcript for last Friday's Meltdown, Bathtub Boy claimed that earlier that day, Bush 43, Bush 41, and Jeb phoned Rush to wish him a happy birthday.

    According to multiple sources, Rush was actually born on January 12, 1951, not in August.

    Which is more accurate: "Keith Olbermann wrong again" or "Keith Olbermann still wrong"?

    The quote:

    But our winners, the family Bush and comedian Rush Limbaugh. The 41st president, the 43 president and the innocent bystander, the former Florida governor, phoned into the Limbaugh show today to wish him a happy birthday.

    The source:

    By Blogger Chromium, at 04 August, 2008 19:32  

  • Olbermann can't get the facts straight.

    But he expects us to believe him that the "two underdressed blondes", the phallic symbols disguised as monuments, and Obama were all proof that Obama was ready to have a threeway with Paris Hilton and Britney Spears.

    Now, you can see why the left is thought of as loons.

    Of course, Olbermann conveniently omitted the famous quote back in Feb 24, 2005 where Obama said: "I've already had an hour and a half. I mean, I'm so overexposed, I'm making Paris Hilton look like a recluse."

    By Blogger The Benson Report, at 05 August, 2008 09:07  

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