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:
- …somewhere between a 0.9 and a 1.1 share.
- …(or) an average of a 2 and a zero. Do the math.
- …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.”