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The real threat to conservative talk radio is not what you think

The real threat to conservative talk radio is not what you think

You already know how Media Matters, Think Progress, and other left-wing groups are targeting Rush Limbaugh’s advertisers with threats of secondary boycotts.

The Rush secondary boycott is part of a strategy which has been refined by left-wing groups like Color of Change over the past several years to bully advertisers into dropping right-wing speech.  That strategy has resulted in several of the highest profile conservative talk show hosts being put on an advertiser blacklist, including by companies such as Ford, Sony and Amex which still do business with left-wing websites like Gawker.  (added:  see comment re Amex)

It’s not clear how financially effective the threats have been in Rush’s case.  While Rush has lost numerous high profile advertisers, many of the advertisers who have “dropped” Rush never advertised in the first place.

The NY Times reports today that the financial effect on Premiere Networks, which syndicates Rush’s show, has been minimal.  A report yesterday that Premiere was suspending “barter spots” was taken as a sign that Rush’s programming was in trouble, but The Times reports that isn’t the case:

On Monday, Premiere caused a stir by telling its news and talk affiliates — the ones that carry Mr. Limbaugh’s show — that for the next two weeks, they could stop running the barter ad spots they were normally required to broadcast….

Premiere said the suspension of its barter spots (which are played by stations in lieu of paying for services directly) did not affect live programs like Mr. Limbaugh’s show, but its critics interpreted the move as proof that local radio stations were being affected by the boycott.

That said, something in The Times article caught my attention:

Media Matters found that on Tuesday, on the New York City station WABC, nearly every commercial spot was a public service announcement, typically played free by stations for nonprofit groups and causes.

That Media Matters narrative of dead air time, based entirely on the “online feed” from WABC in NYC, has received enormous attention and given hope to those who seek to force Rush off the air.

WABC is owned by Cumulus Broadcasting Media, which bought Citadel Broadcasting last year and now owns all the ABC radio stations.  Cumulus is experiencing financial difficulties as a result of the Citadel acquisition, and needs a big winner.

Numerous Cumulus stations now broadcast Rush, but Cumulus has bigger plans for the 12-3 p.m. time slot, namely Mike Huckabee.  Cumulus’ CEO admitted as much the other day:

Cumulus CEO Lew Dickey isn’t rooting against Premiere-syndicated Rush Limbaugh, which clears on a number of important Cumulus-owned stations. But Dickey tells this morning’s Q4 conference call that “there are pluses and minuses associated with this.” He says Cumulus has “seen a real opportunity” to talk about Cumulus Media-syndicated Mike Huckabee, whose daily three-hour show launches in April. Dickey says Huckabee has already signed up 110 affiliates, with the tagline, “more conversation, less confrontation.”

There is a strange confluence of interests here.

Moving in on Rush’s territory makes economic sense for Cumulus, which would rid its stations of high cost deals.  Replacing Rush with Huckabee, an in-house personality who presumably would allow Cumulus to keep more of the pie, may make economic sense given the financial pressure on Cumulus.

More worrisome for the future of conservative talk radio is that Cumulus is using Huckabee to advance a “more conversation, less confrontation” conservative talk radio strategy.

Watered down conservate talk radio fits in perfectly with the Media Matters/Think Progress/Color of Change demand that confrontational conservative talk radio hosts like Rush be taken off the airwaves.  Not surprisingly, Media Matters was gleeful at Dickie’s talk about replacing Rush with Huckabee.

Cumulus’ “more conversation, less confrontation” approach waters down the one media outlet (radio) where conservatives are dominant and replaces those who are willing to push back with milquetoast.

Rather than the fairness doctrine being imposed by government, it will result from intimidation by left-wing groups so that the only acceptable conservative talk show host will be someone who avoids confronting groups like Media Matters.

Replacing Rush and other boycotted talk radio hosts with “more conversation, less confrontation” as a result of the left-wing secondary boycott of conservative talk radio would be a capitulation of the highest order.

Which brings me back to WABC’s dead air time.

That sounds like the perfect excuse for Cumulus, which owns WABC, to announce that it is replacing Rush on its flagship station with Huckabee, doesn’t it?


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Prof., got this in response to my email of yesterday…

Dear [Ragspierre],

We appreciate you reaching out to us to address this situation. We would like you to know that at no time did American Express or our media buying agencies send a letter to Premiere Radio Networks or its parent company, Clear Channel Communications, providing any direction concerning adverting placements, and specifically related to conservative radio programming. As a result of your communication, we have reached out to our media partners to correct any miscommunication and reconfirm that that they are not limiting the placement of our advertisements.

We value you as an American Express customer and appreciate you reaching out to us directly to help resolve this issue.

Thank you,


(I guess “reaching out” is the new InSpeak at good business schools. Heh!)

But it was a nice…and very quick…response. Now for follow-on…

And, as to Hucksterbee as competition for Rush…

OMG! Booooooooorrrrrrrring…

    I listen to Rush’s show all the time – I will NEVER listen to Huckabee, period.

      Ragspierre in reply to TennOne. | March 14, 2012 at 11:58 am

      Oh, there might be occasional acts of god that take Rush off the air…

      though they’d have to take out the interweb, too…

      It could happen…

      Enolagay in reply to TennOne. | March 14, 2012 at 12:48 pm

      Ditto! I watched Huckabee on FNC a couple of times. Once he had this guest, Patty Stanger from the show Millionaire Matchmaker. I checked out the show and she had the most vulgar mouth. I couldn’t believe Huckabee would have her on. I also know he brought Michelle Obama on for her Let’s Move program.

    Some other station will pick Rush up and a head to head with Huckabore would be a winner for Rush. Stupid move, but one of the joys of capitalism is that people are free to do stupid things. They just tend to go out of business quicker. As will be the case here.

    axxan3 in reply to Ragspierre. | March 15, 2012 at 9:51 pm

    We dont have to buy from your sponcer. Too long has someone been able to say something that is not true, almost true. It is time that the FCC did their job and when some one make a statement that is not true they need to pay a fine and or lose their license.
    If I do my job and it is not a good job I would lose my job.
    Best thing for Rush to do is to say at the start and end of his show is I am only tell jokes and do nbot believe anything I am saying.

Relate to Obama’s fake “War on Women”, which is nothing more than “Wag the Dog” on steroids: No, the real Conservatives are NOT going after OUR LADY PARTS!!! As a former PUMA participant, I had a front row seat to Obama’s first “War on Women” against. Now, he targets Sarah Palin (who is at least game enough to return fire). This time, I think he has badly miscalculated which organ women are going to be using Nov. 6th to vote.

Huckabee’s a bore. I’m sorry. He seems like a very nice bore, but he won’t sell. I can’t watch him on Fox because he’s so “nice,” which means he kowtows to the establishment.

One of the reasons Newt excites people is that he speaks fluently and the truth.

I HAVE noticed a terrible increase in those hideous “1 in 6 people are starving” and “Mommy, why don’t we have a diverse neighborhood” ads. They’re on all the time. I feel like Michelle Obama is reaching through the radio clawing at my neck. Ugh.

    I’m sure that they mention that those “1 in 6 people [who] are starving” happen to be on a Michelle Obama inspired diet.

    It is really confusing to most folks that anybody could be starving, hungry perhaps, but starving when Michelle Obama has been telling us for 3 years that too many of us are obese.

    Apparently the CDC does not track deaths from starvation, or rather they call it malnutrition. I wonder why ?

Rush vs Huckabee should keep it lively and fill in those dead spots where Rush doesn’t play.

WABC has the strongest transmission signal in the NY metro area. Anyone who thinks they can sell three hours of Huckabee in that market is going to go the way of Carbonite.

    DINORightMarie in reply to Burke. | March 14, 2012 at 9:33 am

    Sounds like another “brilliant” leftist letting his unicorns-and-rainbows utopian/totalitarian leftie ideology dictate how he runs his business. Do the shareholders agree?! Do they care about the bottom line?!

    Hello, Mr. CEO Dickey: take a look at Mr. CEO Friend and *learn* something about how the REAL world works:

    You will destroy your business if you kill the golden goose of Rush drawing MILLIONS to your station(s).

    Blind. Tool.

    Can he learn?! Or are leftists just too far gone?

    OcTEApi in reply to Burke. | March 14, 2012 at 11:22 am

    Here in Michigan Rush is on WJR talk radio 760 and their broadcast range supposedly only reaches to parts of northern Ohio, but I swear on our trip to DC a couple years ago we listened to Rush while we were almost into Pennsylvania.

    There are a dozen or so stations you can listen to Rush LIVE online, and last week WJR had some charity programing on during Rush so I listened to WABC online… the dead air happened and all the ads were PSA’s

Huckabee will have a hard time surviving against Rush.

I believe he is stronger now since this controversy started.

Liberals have tried to go after Rush on the radio before. Anyone remember Air America? No? Don’t blame you. It died because no one listened.

Economically, a move to replace Rush’s show with anything else simply makes no sense. It cannot succeed.

    Ragspierre in reply to irv. | March 14, 2012 at 9:35 am

    Dennis Prager is on against Rush, and basically he’s a place-holder, despite being WAAAAAAYYYYYY more intelligent and honest than the Hucksterbee.

    Someone’s been in the dream-smoke.

I don’t see how economically this is a good thing for Cumulus or WABC to drop the biggest ratings driver and thus, moneymaker for radio. Even the Philadelphia WPHT kept Rush’s show when they dumped Beck and Hannity for their local guys. They knew the station was sunk without Rush’s ratings draw.
Rush’s 25+ millions of listeners are not going to start listening to Huckabee. They’ll just dump WBAC and move to a station that does carry Rush. I know I will.

Don Surber is reporting Rush won this battle. We will see. I do listen to Rush on the radio. I cannot imagine listening to Mike Huckabee on the radio.

And this was the point that the Fluke story “jumped the shark.”

I live out on the East End of Long Island, so I have a number of Connecticut alternatives to WABC that I can turn to. I usually listen to WABC because their signal carries the 100 miles from NYC so well. I understand that WABC has the area locked up so other more, local outlets can’t carry Rush, even on FM.

WABC, please switch to Huckabee so I can listen to Rush on an outlet with an FM signal, or an outlet that is local to the Island. I will not listen to Huckabee!

Midwest Rhino | March 14, 2012 at 10:22 am

Obama’s extremism has forced the left’s astroturf machine into absurd attacks against majority opinion. Propaganda is supposed to be more subtle. When they start defending Fluke’s charade, more of the center will notice, as polls already show.

No Rush listeners will leave because of this, others might START listening. Companies like Carbonite, or Ford and Sony, are advertising that they think conservatives should shut up, while liberals can express vile language and hate toward conservatives. Amex seems to understand that is the wrong message, according to the response Ragspierre posted.

This whole kerfuffle has been one big advertisement about the double standard of the hateful left. It also exposed Obamacare as heavy handed obscure laws that would put bureaucrats in control of individual choice, and will callously dictate that religious institutions must act against their age old beliefs.

    Uncle Samuel in reply to Midwest Rhino. | March 14, 2012 at 11:06 am

    Don’t forget the ‘contraceptive’ issue was initially targeted toward defeating Santorum (thus increasing votes for Obama and Romney) but it backfired.

    Santorum got a huge female vote in AL and MS – and KS.

    Shows women want respect, committment more than access to raw, frequent, non-committal sex where they must supply the contraceptives and absorb the negative physical/emotional consequences.

      Ragspierre in reply to Uncle Samuel. | March 14, 2012 at 12:02 pm

      I bet a lot of women felt that Obama’s call to FLUCK was extremely patronizing…which it was, of course.

      Then he infantilized her with that whole “Sasha and Melia” riff.

      Women can see that Obama never calls strong women who, along with their children, are savaged by punks on the Left.

My guess is that if Rush wanted to, he could syndicate himself. (That’s what Glenn Beck did.) Replacing Rush with Huckabee wouldn’t make sense and wouldn’t work.
As far as PSA’s, I’ve noticed in recent years they’ve made up a larger percentage of advertising on Orioles’s games. It might just be part of a larger trend.

OT – Gateway Pundit publishes video of person disrupting campaign stop, gets good clear pictures from a second source, publishes with request for identification.

It’s a way to keep ’em honest.

bob aka either orr | March 14, 2012 at 10:28 am

Re: the Philly experience. I’m in the Philly market. There were pluses and minuses to ditching Beck and Hannity. Dom Giordano is a top-notch guy who had been floating around PHT’s schedule and got the Beck time slot. Net plus. But Michael Smurfconish (I will not use his real name) got the afternoon drive slot (he had been morning drive) that Hannity had. Smurfconish is a self-proclaimed moderate; in reality, he’s an Obamaite. More accurately, he’s a spiritual descendant of (and, as an attorney, he’s affiliated with) Arlen Specter.
Dom G is pulling at least as strong an audience as Beck did, and occasionally stronger. Smurfconish? Who cares?

    I remember Smerconish from kolledge days in ’95. For a few weeks, I would listen to him while on the train to some early classes. He positioned himself as a conservative at that time, but he completely lost me when he started pushing for Hillarycare.

Mark Levin will be next.

And, if Mike Huckabee pushes his pro-life convictions too strongly, they will give him the AX also.

As for ownership ties, remember there are connections between Media Matters and Clear Channel and Romney:
– Clear Channel / Premiere Broadcasting Networks is owned by Bain.
– Drudge’s former radio show was syndicated through Premiere Broadcasting Networks, but that went off the air in 2007.
– Drudge fills in as a guest host on Clear Channel syndicated shows at times. There doesn’t seem to be a direct ownership link to his web site, however.
– Breitbart also worked with Drudge. They were close friends.
– Two Washington Times ‘journalists’ Joseph Curl and Charlie Hurt work for Drudge too now.
– Story of Drudge/Romney axis –

Next on the fire – Glenn Beck – He’s getting threats from the Nation of Islam, Beck: “You Haven’t Lived Until You’ve Been Threatened By The Nation of Islam”

All being targeted with the Alinsky M.O – Silence, Ridicule, Marginalize, Extinguish All Dissent.

Larry King is branching out in a venture with a Mexico media mogul, Carlos Slim:

Seems like a business thing to me in that Cumulus was already launching Huckabee in direct competition to Rush on at least 110 stations. Someone on the Cumulus Q4 results conference asks Dickey whether the Rush-Fluke dustup affects this and he answers, in effect, that it can’t hurt

Whether Cumulus decides to bump Rush from WABC in NY in favor of Huckabee will be, I’m sure, a business decision driven by actual or expected ratings and related profit potential. I kind of doubt that Cumulus really would sideline Rush in big markets. After all, they can have the benefit of Rush on their big ABC stations and Huckabee in the same markets on other stations. Bumping Rush would only mean competing with Rush on someone else’s station!

    quiznilo in reply to JEBurke. | March 14, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    I have come to believe that some of these business owners truly care more about their liberal beliefs than profits. How else can you explain the decline of the establishment media?

    Don’t try to tell me that the editorial content had nothing to do with the collapse of the old media, I’ve been hearing that line for years. I’ve heard all the excuses like the weather, rise of the Internet, recessions, difficulty finding paper carriers(!?).

    Pinch Sulzberger has already declared that he is perfectly willing to drive the NYTs out of print rather than make necessary changes to attract more readership. Conservative and mainstream Americans are tired of having themselves and their beliefs criticized, mocked, and blamed for all of the woes in the world, day after day, in the media.

      JEBurke in reply to quiznilo. | March 14, 2012 at 8:40 pm

      No doubt that the Times owners are driven by ideology, as are the people in charge of some other leading media companies (eg, the Washington Post). But Cumulus is in the business of running radio stations that broadcast in all sorts of formats. And we’re talking here about their putting Huckabee, another conservative, not Al Franken, into competition with Rush. In any case, their bumping Rush off WABC is something being speculated about. It’s not a Cumulus plan. I doubt it will happen for the reasons I stated.

      It is all too easy to get paranoid about this stuff. Cumulus is not the New York Times.

Rush is not confrontational, he stays on topic and has a command of the language (articulate, not eloquent), his opponents do not and it enrages them. Government spending is spending, not investment. Bill Maher is an ugly, foul mouthed, wise-acre, not a comedian. Communism and its leaders are responsible for fifty million deaths, not famine. Suicide bombers (Islamist or otherwise) are murderers, not freedom fighters. The list is long. Whatever else one does today, one must never make others feel uncomfortable, inferior, incorrect, or, God forbid, wrong. I have never seen or heard a single word of any Mike Huckabee programming (full disclosure, as opposed to Rush who I hear occasionally if in the car at the right time, but suspect he’s a one-man representation of Republicans and conservatives in congress for the last umpteen years – someone who will go along to get along lacking either the skill and knowledge to stay on topic, or the backbone to do so.

Cumulus needs to brush up on its language skills. “Verbal” communication can be either oral or written. Conversation is talking-controversial, confrontational, or boring describe it; it’s all “conversation.” Cumulus will get not one more second of it with Huckabee than it does with Rush unless they shrink their ad segments. What they really (think they) want is conversation that will “offend” fewer people. With Huckabee they’ll likely get it – for a year or so, by then no one will be offended any longer and the bored audience will have moved on.

2nd Ammendment Mother | March 14, 2012 at 11:28 am

One big point here is that if Cumulus drops Rush in favor of a cheaper in house product, it’s not difficult for him to exercise his options to take his show to a competitor in the same time slot. Knowing that the majority of Rush’s audience will follow him “down the dial” how many struggling stations are there in every market that would love to pick up Rush’s market share? And Rush gets to be the hero making sweetheart deals with new stations who had previously been shut out because of Cumulus’ contracts.

Rush comes out golden no matter what happens.
Cumulus will either lose a little or lose a lot.
Some unknown competing station will win big.

Huckabee vs Limbaugh?

Competition, right? I mean, our beloved Capitalism is based on it, right? What survives just gets better, right?

Huckabee is heading for a huge defeat and he knows it. He’s after the crumbs that drop from Limbaugh’s table while the crumbs are dropping. He knows Limbaugh will clean his clock.

And Limbaugh will come out of this stronger and even more forceful on our behalf.

Bring. It.

PatriotGal2257 | March 14, 2012 at 11:30 am

I tune in to WPGB-FM to listen to Rush, but I also compiled a list of alternate stations that carry his show – both online and not — when the station has preempted him for Pirates games. That was always annoying. But I don’t think I’ll have to worry about finding other stations this baseball season, as I believe the Pirates are going to an all-sports station. Finally, as if anyone but a die-hard baseball fan wanted to listen to a team with 19 losing seasons.

I discovered other options for Rush other than his live broadcasts, because some days, I can’t always tune in. His website has an RSS feed and he posts quite a few of his most important discussions to read; of course it’s not the same as listening live, but it is better than nothing. And I have been contemplating a subscription as well.

In any case, this seems as though Cumulus is getting ready to shoot themselves in the foot if they think that going to Huckabee in place of Rush is going to increase their revenue. Maybe it will, but I bet people will abandoned WABC in droves the minute it happens.

That online feed is how I listen to Rush everyday. It’s been odd hearing all the dead air, of which there has been A LOT.

There is a lot of dead weight on talk radio and if it weren’t for Rush Limbaugh there would be a lot news, community programing and probably programming geared towards liberals that would be lost.

Liberals do not care if they destroy talk radio, or harm advertisers in the process, that is why I don’t believe a negative campaign against advertisers on liberal programming will work… nobody cares if Gawker falls.

The only thing that will be effective is a positive campaign to promote the Rush Limbaugh show.
Make it the most listened to program, it will negate the liberals efforts.

Turn on your dang radio 12-3 for Rush Limbaugh, America’s best conservative radio talk show host eva !!

Advertising is very important to corporations. Rush has the largest radio audience by far. I’m sure the advertising firms can produce mountains of evidence proving the value of advertising on Rush’s show. He’ll not only be fine, this will probably be a boon to his show.

Rush’s newest advertiser. Be sure to watch the last few seconds for the special tribute. H/T Instapundit.

    LukeHandCool in reply to LukeHandCool. | March 14, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    Not only saying, “We will not be intimidated” and, invoking Andrew Breitbart … I almost want to move to Knoxville so I can hire these guys to clean my windows.

    I’d like to open up a franchise here in L.A. …

first question to ask on the new Huckabee show:

I want to have a conversation with you concerning why you pardoned a murderer that had given no indicaton that he was a changed man who later killed four Lake Wood police officers here in Wa state? Even his family new he was messed up but someehow you felt that you knew more that they did.

Henry Hawkins | March 14, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Huckabee vs Rush? Yikes. That’s Lawrence Welk vs Ted Nugent, Ward Cleaver vs Tony Soprano, or Barney Fife vs Dirty Harry.

Moderation in politics might attract a wider swipe of right-leaning independents, but in the entertainment business, moderation is death. On FOX, Huckabee is about as entertaining as watching water evaporate. His show is like some mad cross between Meet The Press and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, drawing from each its worst attributes.

“The Huckster” vs. Rush? I don’t see that working out. Unless ABC Radio has way more money than they want or need. I know I won’t be listening to “The Huckster” if they dump Rush.

Now if they but him on late night with “Fightin'” Joe Scarborough I might at least get some sleep…

Professor, The story about dead air time on Rush’s show was bogus. Apparently dead air happened on his online streaming, not the radio, and it is a technical thing – some adds just don’t play online. I know this is true as I used to listen to sports talk radio online, and there were often dead spots where advertising would normally be. I read the report about Rush on a lefty site – I will look for the link, as I don’t remember where. They were very dejected.

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