One of radio’s biggest stars has passed on.
Rush Limbaugh died Wednesday morning at the age of 70 from lung cancer. While he’ll be known for revitalizing talk radio, he’ll also be known for the divisive rhetoric he pioneered.
While conservative talkers were nothing new in radio (Howard Miller, Gary Dee, etc.), it was Rush Limbaugh who took the format national beginning in August 1988 via EFM Media and later, Premiere Networks. After basing his show in New York City, he relocated to his Palm Beach, Fla. home in recent years.
Limbaugh worked as a DJ in Cape Girardeau, Mo. and Kansas City before leaving radio to work for the Kansas City Royals’ sales department. He returned to radio in Kansas City and later at Sacramento’s KFBK.
During his time on the air, Limbaugh was credited with spearheading the conservative movement as his show reached nearly 600 radio stations across the country. His talk show helped spawned an entire format at a time when AM radio stations were losing listeners to the FM band. He was credited with helping the Republican party take Congress in 1994 and electing Donald Trump to the presidency in 2016.
And of course, there was controversy. Limbaugh’s show was known for ostracizing anyone who wasn’t a conservative white male on his show, as he targeted Blacks, Latinos, gays, women, and others and locally, scrapped with Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell. In one case I documented here in 2012, he ripped into a college student who testified in Congress on difficulty obtaining contraception and felt she needed public assistance with Limbaugh calling her a “slut” and a “whore”.
When women were atacked in the Detroit suburb of Hamtramck, the mayor told the Detroit News when she saw a link to his comments, “I thought of Rush Limbaugh, because those type of statements, left unchallenged, creates an atmosphere that devalues women.” As a result, 40 advertisers pulled out of his show.
And despite being cleared locally on WLS-AM, Limbaugh had a lot of disdain for Chicago, especially after Barack Obama was elected President in 2008. He mocked the city after losing a Summer Olympic bid in 2009 and in recent years mocked the city’s homicide rate, like other conservative talk show hosts.
His television career was less successful by comparison. Limbaugh signed a deal with Multimedia Entertainment (syndicators of Donahue, Sally Jessy Raphael, and Jerry Springer) for a late-night talk show which ran from 1992 to 1996. Although the run was respectable, it didn’t attract advertising due to his controversial persona. In Chicago, his show bounced around three stations (WGBO, WFLD, and WBBM-TV) during its run, mostly airing in late-night and early morning time slots.
In March 1990, Limbaugh filled in for Pat Sajak in the waning days of his struggling CBS late-night talk show in a disastrous stint. Instead of the usual format the genre is known for, he turned it into a discussion on hot-button topics, which generated howls from the studio audience. His stint as a panelist for ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown was short-lived after he made race-based comments about Chicago-area native Donavan McNabb in 2003.
Limbaugh was inducted into the Radio Hall Of Fame and also received the Presidential Medal Of Freedom by President Trump last year.
With the passing of Limbaugh, Premiere Networks made the following announcement on Wednesday: “Rush’s voice will continue to be heard, providing comfort and continued insight to his legions of loyal fans. All of Rush’s audio has been extensively archived and cataloged by subject, topic and opinion. His producers will be able to pull segments that are relevant for each day’s news cycle and allow us to feature the best of Rush for the full three hours of the program.”
Guest hosts will be used to “guide Rush’s audio from one topic to another, but Rush will be the predominant voice heard for the three-hour Monday-Friday show, the AM Daily Update and The Week in Review three-hour show.” The show will continue “with this transitional programming until his audience is prepared to say good-bye” with additional information posted at RushLimbaugh.com when necessary.”
Earlier, Alex Trebek of Jeopardy! died from pancreatic cancer as no succession plans were made. The show is relying on guest hosts in the interim.