His piercing intrusion into the news establishment was desperately needed. His success would set the foundation of the Fox News network that would appear in the late 90’s. What would follow in the decades to come would be an arsenal of conservative opinion and news sources. Much of it attributed to the success of Rush Limbaugh.
The Perspective of an Average Listener
Today, on February 17, 2021, an iconic personality in broadcasting passed away. Rush Limbaugh was no saint. He was bombastic and in your face but with a touch of humor that made the experience digestible. He infuriated the Left and embarrassed the country-club Republicans. He was not for everybody, but he pulled in an audience of millions every weekday beginning in 1988.
Rush threw out the rule book on radio broadcast forever. He rewrote the manual.
I’ll be honest. I did not particularly like listening to Rush Limbaugh to the point where it displaced much of my day. But until 1994 I owned a business and had the liberty to be driving about town during the early afternoon rotation and had the habit of checking the local news channel occasionally. I will never forget when I first heard him. “What the heck? Who is this guy?”
What kept my attention was that he was challenging the news narrative. Anyone who followed current events could sense something was not quite right with national news. Every news network carried the same story lines. During the 1980’s there was a constant drone of negative reporting on Ronald Reagan. On hindsight historians have to acknowledge that the Reagan years were economically prosperous and that his foreign policy was instrumental in bankrupting the Soviet Union that culminated with the end of the Cold War during the George H. Bush administration. Yet if you lived during that time, you would have never known it by watching the news media.
When Limbaugh first emerged the on-going theme in news coverage was the dearth of poverty, hunger and homelessness presumably caused by the Reagan administration. I always thought that was a bit puzzling because I had been involved with feeding the homeless since the days the Food Bank was first founded in my hometown and I distributed food through Meals on Wheels. This goes back to the early 70’s in my life. I lived through the recession of the late 70’s and early 80’s, got a job in an area where unemployment had reached 12%, and bought a house only because the owner could finance the purchase. By 1988, the inflation and the unemployment were gone. America was working again. I could see it all around me.
Yet when Reagan attempted to pull back on food stamps, all hell broke loose. Part of the solution was curbing government spending, and it had to be applied somewhere. The media promptly responded by exposing the depth of poverty in our country. Anyone could see that the media had no sympathy for conservatives or balanced budgets.
Then came Rush.
What startled the media, the Left and the “establishment” in general, was that this bombastic, rough-talking radio personality was becoming too popular to drop. AM radio at that time was really struggling, having lost the music playlist to FM stations. Our local “talk radio” station was KFRU and it featured a boring litany of local news, chat programs, a trade show and probably a token program for landscaping. That line up of monotony was thankfully broken up by Cardinal baseball during the summer months.
When Rush suddenly caught on, the show became the anchor program for talk radio stations. It saved AM radio. Regardless of the politics, it was, as Rush noted, “Entertainment, entertainment and entertainment.” Sprinkled amongst his political diatribes were parodies featuring popular musicians, hit songs and controversial themes. He set the template that others have followed. In my experience, it would be a young reporter by the name of Sean Hannity. Then it would be a constitutional sledgehammer by the name of Mark Levin. The Left? Despite how hard they tried, nothing caught on. Nothing caught on because left-wing listeners could get all they wanted from the news media.
Rush and I would eventually go separate ways. It wasn’t his radio style or politics. It was the fact that I sold my business and took on a routine job where I typically worked 8 to 5. Listening to the radio at work was taboo. Even if it were an option, my mental make-up made it difficult for me to listen to the radio while working on IT projects. Even to this day, I typically write with no music unless I am writing fiction.
But there were some special moments. I worked at a sprawling medical center that was adjacent to a VA hospital. On the medical center side of the tunnel, I hardly ever heard a radio. But on the VA side of the tunnel, I could hear cascading down the halls the booming voice of Rush Limbaugh. Veterans were not ashamed of the man. Later, during the 90’s, CNN would be replaced with Fox News on the TV monitors. It was literally two worlds – two worlds that would eventually show itself during the Trump years.
After I moved to Alaska in 2002 I lost track of Limbaugh altogether. Once in a while I would pick up his show which filled in the morning slot. But by and large the type of work I did was not conducive to radio interference. The US Forest Service, where I worked for the past 12 years, did not prohibit radios in the cubicle, but did have a policy that discouraged distracting your neighbors. Yet I would occasionally walk into someone’s cubicle and hear the ever so subdued whispers of Rush emerging from a tiny radio.
On his passing, I think it is important that people realize that not everyone who admires his accomplishments was a blind enthusiast. I had my own opinions and did not always like the way he came across. But I was not in the radio entertainment business. I was in the place where I had to work with people who were liberals or Democrats and talking in the manner that Rush spoke would have been highly inappropriate.
Yet I was fully aware, and highly appreciative, of his contribution to the political narrative. His piercing intrusion into the news establishment was desperately needed. His success would set the foundation of the Fox News network that would appear in the late 90’s. What would follow in the decades to come would be an arsenal of conservative opinion and news sources that have run circles around the Left, the news media industry, the universities and the so-called “establishment.” When I sit and listen to a David Rubin or a Ben Shapiro I see two young pundits who have inherited the template that was first established by Rush Limbaugh. Those two men are part of a larger group of conservative and libertarian voices that have, in many respects, become the anchor of YouTube and will likely be the anchor of alternative streaming media platforms like Rumble. They have also posited a significant challenge to news delivery and what was once ascribed as “journalism.”
© Copyright 2021 to Eric Niewoehner