How’s Limbaugh’s Station in Pittsburgh Doing?

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On the anniversary of his 28th year as a national talk show host, radio historians will remember Rush Limbaugh when he called himself Jeff Christy, an AM radio Top 40 disc jockey working at KQV in Pittsburgh.

28 years is an incredible run.  Few have the talent to make it almost three decades on the same radio show.  Rush Limbaugh is to be respected and honored for his talents and accomplishments.  He will certainly go down as a legend, spoken of in the same company as people like Paul Harvey.

This month also marks the reported end of his huge contract with Premiere Networks and its parent company iHeart Media, a contract said to be worth $400 million.

28 years and $400 million has a way of insulating someone.  Private jets, private golf courses and access to the most powerful people isolate one’s thinking.  One lives in a bubble.  You can no longer relate to the daily struggles your audience goes through.  One can’t see the world changing isolated in a walled off compound, living among the rich and elite, in West Palm Beach, Florida.

70-year old listeners of Rush were just 42 when he started his national show on the “EIB Network.”  70-year olds may continue to hold those similar views today, but today’s 42-year olds sure don’t.

Over the weekend, I saw this Tweet from famed radio consultant Holland Cooke.

Even a decade ago Limbaugh’s contract would have been a big topic, but it’s not in 2016.  Some in the radio industry may be talking about it, but it’s important to note fewer and fewer listeners aren’t and don’t care. And as Limbaugh goes, so goes news/talk radio.

After almost three decades behind the “golden EIB microphone,” the world changed and Rush has not. Same tired bumper music, same worn-out topics, same overused “talent on loan from God” sayings.

Is Rush’s contract really “Topic #1” as Holland Cooke put it?  I’d guess there are a few local talk radio programmers, or as I like to call them “facilitators,” who’ve made a call to Premiere Networks (Rush’s syndication company) asking about Limbaugh’s future.  But, as is the norm in the post consolidation world, those local “facilitators” have no decision to make.  They are told by those in upper management what programs they are to broadcast on their stations.  The “facilitator’s” questions are more to satisfy their own personal curiosity than anything else.

I hate to break it to talk radio “facilitators,” if Limbaugh quits, and he won’t, you have no juice on who or what replaces his show.  If iHeart Radio says the new thing each weekday from noon-3pm is a cooking show with an old lady from Ohio, you’re carrying a cooking show with an old lady from Ohio. And judging by recent ratings, that cooking show may do as well as Limbaugh’s stations do in some markets.

You see, that’s the unspoken topic in talk radio circles and should be Holland’s “Topic #1.”  Poor ratings.

The June 2016 Nielsen PPM ratings have been posted and I wondered how some of Limbaugh’s stations are doing this election year, a year when news/talk stations are supposed to get big ratings bumps. Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh are all markets, where in recent years, Limbaugh’s show has been canceled or moved off longtime affiliates to other stations.

Years ago, Rush Limbaugh could make or break a news/talk station.  But, that was many years ago and is no longer the case.

Here’s how those June ’16 PPM numbers look for Limbaugh’s stations in the markets mentioned.  The ratings referenced are all 6+ (Mon-Sun 6am-Mid).

BOSTON.  He was canceled by management at WRKO-AM and replaced by Jeffrey T. Kuhner, “Liberalism’s Worst Nightmare!”  He is a conservative nationalist, who according to the WRKO website, champions God, country and family.  Whoa!  Limbaugh’s show has been banished to WKOX-AM, a iHeart Radio owned station, and in June ’16 that station ranked #23 with a 0.2.  That’s just two tenths of a point away from a DNS or “did not show,” meaning not having enough listeners to show in the ratings.  That’s a “nightmare.”

NEW YORK.  Limbaugh’s show left WABC-AM for WOR-AM.  The station has a 2.1 share and ranks #14 in the June ’16 PPM.  I know, you’re saying, “See?”  In January ’16 WOR had a cumulative weekly audience, or cume, of 586,600.  In March it was 689,400.  Then in April it jumped to 1,005,500 and in June 1,197,700.  The increase is due to New York Mets baseball.  Back at you, “See?”

LOS ANGELES.  Limbaugh’s show was pulled from KFI-AM, the leading talk station, and moved to a another station iHeart Radio cleverly branded just for him, KEIB-AM, as in “excellence in broadcasting.”  In June the station ranked #27 with a 0.4 share and its cume was less than 200,000 – in Los Angeles the second biggest city in America!  Not so clever and not so “excellent.”

INDIANAPOLIS.  Limbaugh show was canceled by WIBC-FM and as was the case in Boston, when no other station appeared to volunteered and take it, iHeart Radio was forced to put it on a station it owned in the market, WNDE-AM. It’s an all sports station, except for the hours of Limbaugh’s weekday show.  In June ’16 it ranked #17 and had a 0.8 share.  Sports geared toward a younger male and conservative talk focused on the pissed off geriatric male.  A winning combination.

And what about PITTSBURGH?  Limbaugh was on an iHeart Radio owned FM conservative talk station that failed and was put out of its misery.  Back then it had a morning show called the “War Room.”  “War Room” is really a morning pick me up, don’t you think?  The station now plays Bro Country.  Rush’s program, along with other company owned conservative talk shows, were sent to WJAS-AM.  Pittsburgh’s a great market for any poorly rated syndicated talk show, because WJAS is not a Nielsen subscriber and that means its ratings go unpublished.

Being unpublished, I can’t tell you exactly what the ratings for WJAS-AM were in the June ’16 Nielsen PPM’s, but let’s just say they are:

  1. …somewhere between a 0.9 and a 1.1 share.
  2. …(or) an average of a 2 and a zero.  Do the math.
  3. …low, ranking somewhere between a 20 and 22.

In all fairness, there are stations like KMOX-AM in St. Louis and WSB-AM in Atlanta that carry Rush Limbaugh and do very well.  In the June ’16 PPM, WSB is ranked #1, 6+.  In the Top 10 radio markets, three out of ten of Limbaugh’s stations crack the top 10 rankings (Atlanta #1, Dallas #9, Houston #10).  In each of these cases, the stations are heritage stations with full market signals.

Who knows if Rush Limbaugh’s new contract is done, still being negotiated or if he’s making plans for retirement and golf in West Palm Beach.  But, judging by listeners in some of his markets, fewer and fewer are caring if he stays or goes.

Sadly for news/talk radio, Rush is no longer anywhere near “Topic #1.”


  25 comments for “How’s Limbaugh’s Station in Pittsburgh Doing?

  1. Ryan
    July 26, 2016 at 3:06 pm

    Minor correction: Rush’s home and studio are both in Palm Beach, not West Palm Beach. He probably only crosses the bridge when he is boarding EIB1.

    • July 26, 2016 at 5:14 pm

      Ryan, Noted. Is West Palm Beach where people slum it? I’n guessing my mother is really slumming it in Boynton Beach. LOL. I hope your doing well. Darryl

  2. cj
    July 26, 2016 at 5:19 pm

    If I recall, aren’t the ratings for KEIB about the same as when the station aired liberal talk programming?

  3. Scott
    July 27, 2016 at 2:26 am

    How does streaming factor into ratings? I stream Rush and Buck (Sexton) every day. I never listen live. Too busy for that from noon-3. With Rush’s website and iTunes (for Buck) I don’t need radio to get “talk radio”.

    • July 28, 2016 at 8:25 pm

      While terrestrial audiences most certainly are affected by streaming, remember when it comes to terrestrial audience share ratings it’s a zero sum game. There are always 100 share point to divide up. The effect of streaming, thus, will hit all formats. Granted some format may see more streaming, especially those targeted at younger demographics. Thanks for checking out the blog. Darryl

  4. July 28, 2016 at 12:25 pm

    While I agree with the thrust of what’s being said, Daryl, one thought to ponder, though: is there any local programming, or news on some of these i-Heart stations? It’s an obvious fact that some of these signal challenged lower powered AM’s i-Heart owns get little “love” in terms of budget from the company. (I mean, when was the last time any real money was spent on stations like WFYI/Columbus or whatever the former WCOL-AM is called today to give it programming someone might want to listen to?) And, last time I saw the 6 plus on New York City…WABC was in the low ones. Some stations with a local news commitment do better, though there’s no argument, Limbaugh’s audience is getting gray around the gills.

  5. July 28, 2016 at 12:29 pm

    Hey Darryl: While I agree with the thrust of what you’re saying, it’s also true that some of these stations i-Heart has put the Limbaugh show on are throwaways that get little in terms of budget or promotion. In some cases, Rush is all the station has in terms of programming power. And last time I looked post Limbaugh’s departure at the 6 plus numbers of WABC in New York, they’re in the low ones with what they’re doing now. Though I agree talk radio is facing a graying audience and that new talent needs to be grown, ratings are a bit better when a station has a local news commitment, and a promotional budget.

    • July 28, 2016 at 8:16 pm

      And if iHeart is putting its own programming, like Limbaugh, on “throwaway” radio stations, what does that tell you of their belief and longevity of that programming? Thanks for the comments.

  6. Constant
    July 28, 2016 at 6:10 pm

    After reading this blog, I get it. Any one listening to Limbaugh must also vote for school levies. This is probably my last comment.

    I read your blog because I listen and enjoy talk radio. I am not an “insider.” I suffer from radio’s programming desert not radio’s search for relevance. If I do not like what I hear, I go elsewhere. If that same programming continues ad infinitum, I assume the station is doing well without my listening. I do not follow the ratings.

    I have listened to Limbaugh for a long time. Aside being my “voice”, in a sense, even now he is “optimistic” in his content. I like optimism. Listen to Cunningham as a contrast. Limbaugh built loyalty with me and others. How is it that my friends (and strangers) know what “Barbar Striesand” means without explanation?

    But I get tired of the same thing over time. I try looking elsewhere. I listen to Limbaugh in Cincinnati because the ALTERNATIVE in that time slot is so distasteful. Not always, enough to expend effort to move the dial (actually push a button). I even tried black radio in Cincinnati. I read your blog. Sorry, I do not share your opinions. I am not the reason this station changed their programming format.

    Have you considered that Limbaugh’s ratings are falling because this culture is becoming more politically correct? In some strange way, if I knew the ratings for Limbaugh was falling in a town where I lived, and I had the means (approval from my wife), I would move. I like people who think more like Limbaugh than the PC crowd that surrounds me now.

    You talk ratings and revenue. I assume revenue is related to sales, a separate discussion thread. So if ratings are so bad, why not try something new or different? What is it? No money? Just lazy? Or no alternative talent? If no money, do we blame the business model? Maybe it’s the avarice of the “insiders.” How long can a threat of bankruptcy be ignored? You find talent by trying talent.

    My problem is still the programming desert. I’ve even written to program directors with alternative talent suggestions. No changes, no reply. Everything must A-OK. At this point, the program director is not my friend.

    Oh, by the way, if you want to attract Millenial listeners, Limbaugh has some suggestions. Find radio talent who can talk how to survive a future dystopian world. Like Car Talk or Martha Stewart. Just a thought.

    Sorry for the attitude.

    • July 28, 2016 at 8:22 pm

      No reason to apologize. You, yourself, call it a programming desert. And that’s the problem. If you listen to AM radio, it’s either network sports, religion or basically network conservative talk. So much for variety. Do companies like iHeart or Cumulus know there’s an issue for the future and survivability of the talk format? Of course they do. They choose not to invest in its future and invest in future talent and different variations of talk (i.e. different variations of music formats), because they see no future for the talk format, as it’s aging out of sellable demographics, and they see no future to maintain the AM broadcast band – the desert talk radio is being left in. Thanks for the passionate comments. They are appreciated. Darryl

  7. Philip Victor Zmenkowski
    July 29, 2016 at 8:52 pm

    Rush Limbaugh AKA Jeff Christie started at KGMO 1550 Cape Girardeau Missouri working part time. He used to sign off the station and then clean it. His first full-time job in radio was wixz 1360 McKeesport a suburb of Pittsburgh he was the morning man. Until he was let go for playing the same song, then he was a kqv.

    • July 29, 2016 at 8:59 pm

      Many of us in radio began the exact same way! Thank you for checking out the blog. Darryl

  8. Sean Scallon
    July 31, 2016 at 7:55 pm

    I believe your point is well taken: Who cares anymore? While the legacy and history and impact are important, at present there really isn’t much to be concerned about. The Rush Limbaugh Show will be on tomorrow as are thousands of other radio shows, some of whom have better ratings or the same. Whatever happens, time marches on and the trends which led radio to this point will still be the same regardless whether El Rushbo is on the air or not.

  9. August 2, 2016 at 5:03 am

    For what it’s worth, I was an avid Limbaugh listener for years. I am even a subscriber to “Rush 24/7” where I pay to get all of his podcasts. I have listened to 90% of all his shows in the last three years. About three months ago I stopped listening to him completely because almost a year ago he began the gradual slide into ethical and moral neutrality. With the emergence of his personal friend Donald Trump as a viable candidate for the Republican nomination, Limbaugh began to stop making judgements on the merits of any issues espoused by Trump.

    Judgements on issues are pretty much the sole reason I used to listen to Limbaugh. Without that, he has become just another boring commentator covering the “horse race” of the election cycle, something that he himself has decried about Liberal Media. I don’t think he realizes that he has devolved into just that. He no longer stands up for
    conservative values, he’s more or less silent.

    I suspect there are other Conservatives who feel the same way about him, perhaps winnowing down his audience. I don’t begrudge him this new attitude, for it would be difficult for me to comment fairly on my own personal friends in public, but I think your article was spot-on when it points out that living for years as a multi-milloinaire can put someone out of touch with the daily struggles of his audience. Perhaps Limbaugh is getting too used to the good life and has lost his edge.

  10. August 2, 2016 at 1:12 pm

    BREAKING NEWS (8/2/2016) FROM RADIO INK: IHeartMedia just announced that it’s “renewed and extended its partnership” with Rush Limbaugh. Terms were not announced, but the long-term, multi-platform agreement “reflects The Rush Limbaugh Show’s status as the top program in Premiere Networks’ industry-leading talk lineup of nationally syndicated properties,” the company said.

    Limbaugh will continue to host his signature daily program; he says, “After 28 fulfilling years, I seriously considering moving on to something else, but Rich [Bressler] and Bob [Pittman] were very persuasive. I’m thrilled to be continuing. And I really want to be on the air if the Russians find Hillary’s e-mails.”

    iHeartMedia Chairman/CEO Bob Pittman said the show is “stronger than ever, experiencing continued ad sales growth and its highest audience levels of the past decade.”

  11. Mark W
    August 17, 2016 at 10:29 pm

    Consider this… Obviously talk radio is in the state it is in for all the reasons you know. But at the same time, Rush in this day and age CAN’T thrive in larger cities because those larger cities all tend to be more liberal. Funny thing is, NY is all conservative EXCEPT NYC and Long Island… the 15 million combined people make it a “blue” state… but leave the city and it is all rural and all conservative.

    Same with Illinois… the whole state is rural and conservative… but Chicago is liberal.

    Indiana same thing… Indianapolis is liberal… the rest of the state is rural and conservative. All the red states are states that don’t have those MAJOR hubs.

    So Rush’s ratings won’t thrive in the larger markets because the majority of the demographic is liberal and they aren’t tuning into conservative talk.

    That isn’t to say liberal talk would do well either because historically it has not. But I don’t know if looking at major markets is a fair gauge given the demo.

    • August 18, 2016 at 12:12 pm

      What you’re forgetting, though Mark is that those stations WERE eminently successful a few years back doing conservative talk. The temper of the community does not change overnight. But those station’s slides were swift. WABC in New York tended to be in or near the top 5. Same for WLS. So what changed? Ownership…commitment to AM programming? Techinical? Commitment to local news programming? I don’t believe simply political ideology of the hosts was the total issue.

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