In 1972, an executive at ABC Radio told Rush Limbaugh, "If you want to stay in this business, you had better go into sales, because you just don’t have the talent. You’re never going make it’". Now, 25 years later, you know the rest of the story.(Sorry for stealing a line from another radio icon, Paul Harvey)
Actually most people working in the radio industry have a story like that to tell. I know I do, but I'll save that for another time. But Rush's story is an interesting one in that he blazed a new trail with the start of his talk radio show. After his start in Missouri and stints in Kansas City and other places, Limbaugh was on WABC Radio in New York City when his show syndicated on August 1, 1988.
In 1988, who would have thought that someone would listen to three hours of someone talking on the radio? What about the music? I remember joining WBEN in 1988 as a part time newsman and the only talking came in between the songs and the news at the top and bottom of every hour. In Buffalo, the likes of Tom Bauerle and John Otto were doing some longform talking on WGR and WKBW, but it was relegated to late nights and weekends. That would never work during the day, right?
I still remember the day at WBEN when I heard the rumblings in the hallways that we would soon begin to air a three hour talk show at 12n. Huh? What would this guy Rush Limbaugh possibly talk about for three hours? And who would listen? Well Rush took off in a short time on WBEN and dozens and dozens of radio stations across the country. Now his affiliates are measured by the hundreds, not dozens.
Rush blazed the way for Phil Donahue, Dr. Dean Edell and Dr. Laura on the radio. And soon the format of talk became a "real" thing and saved the AM dial from the fidelity FM had to offer the music formats. Today talk radio is a top radio format in the country and the stations are now migrating to the FM dial and the format has split off into multiple genres that attract different demographics.
WFAN followed the talkradio model and went all sports. Sports 24/7 on the radio? Who would listen to that? Today sportsradio is one of the hottest growing formats on both the AM and FM dials.
Rush Limbaugh was truly a pioneer in radio. Set his politics and opinions aside, he recognized that there was a place for talk on the radio and he knew how to build a loyal following. Rush isn't just a guy on the radio who talks, he is a guy on the radio who his faithful can identify with. He shares his listeners ideals, lets them know they're not alone and he represents their ideals on a national stage.
If your own personal politics are on the other side of Rush's, you might be ready to cast Rush aside and disregard what he's built on the radio. Like his beliefs or not, you really need to credit Rush for a style of radio that has changed the way a nation uses the radio.
Rush is the reason you have a radio station like WBEN where the conversation continues 24/7 with Sandy Beach, Tom Bauerle, Sean Hannity and others. Rush had a vision for a new kind of radio where the person on the air replaced the music as the star.
Rush Limbaugh may not always be "right". But he sure got it "right" when he launched his nationally syndicated radio talk show.