The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Rush Limbaugh, R.I.P.

Posted on | February 17, 2021 | No Comments

The talk-radio legend has died at age 70, and his frequent guest-host, Mark Steyn, has a tribute to the man who attracted the largest radio audience in the world. Did you catch that?

Throughout his entire time on air, there were genius GOP consultants who, in reaction to any electoral setbacks, would insist that what the GOP needed to do was come up with a way to ditch Limbaugh. As I said on air many years ago: Really? For almost a third of a century, Rush’s audience was over half the total Republican vote. How many do all you genius “Republican reformers” bring to the table? I’ve recounted previously the first time I was asked to guest-host, back in 2006, when I happened to be down in Australia and the Prime Minister, John Howard, asked me to some or other event a day or two hence. And I politely declined, saying I had to get back to America to host The Rush Limbaugh Show. “I hear that’s a pretty big show,” said the PM.
“Yeah,” I replied. “Twenty-five, thirty million listeners.”
“‘Strewth,” said Mr Howard. “Rush has more listeners than we have Australians.”
Indeed. And all these GOP clever-clogs never explain, once you throw Rush and his millions overboard, what’s going to replace them.

Most critics of Limbaugh simply never acknowledged this truth. From the time Fox News began to be recognized nationally — the 2000 election was a turning-point of sorts — there was an inordinate amount of attention paid to Fox while, the whole time, Rush was reaching a larger audience. Five days a week, three hours a day.

Rush was the best there ever was, and to all intents and purposes invented an entire new media category. Until Rush came along, “talk radio” was about interviewing guests. Rush seldom had guests, and instead focused on using actualities (“sound bites”) from current news events as the fodder for his commentary. His use of sound bites was the real innovative breakthrough in what Rush did, more so even than his interactions with call-in listeners. The main thing about Limbaugh was, he was a radio professional before he ever became a political commentator. He had worked as a Top 40 deejay from the time he was a teenager, and understood how radio works. His braggadocio — “Talent on loan from God,” etc. — was part of his genius as an entertainer.

To be successful on radio requires that the host establish a personal connection with the audience, and so Rush had to humanize himself for his listeners, to get them to think of him as a friend, to create a sense of shared experience — “we’re all in this together.” Listeners would sometimes complain when Rush would talk about anything except politics. He’d come on the air Monday afternoon and start talking about the previous day’s NFL games, or he’d talk about playing golf, and after 15 minutes or so, he’d remark that the callers were on the line complaining that he wasn’t talking about politics. But you can’t be 100% politics all the time, or you’ll burn out. Politics isn’t everything in life, so there was Rush on the radio talking to millions of people about the football game he’d watched on TV Sunday. This is what I mean by Rush humanizing himself to the audience. Radio was his job, and doing an occasional change of pace — that’s called entertainment.

Three or four times, Rush actually read my articles on his show, and I’d get phone calls and messages from friends I hadn’t heard from in years: “Man, I heard you on Rush!” It was a pretty big deal.

One of the oldest maxims in show business is “always leave ’em wanting more,” and Rush Limbaugh has certainly done that. R.I.P.




 

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