Hi there. Me again.
Tonight's news about Premiere suspending national advertising on Rush's show is a very big deal...but as with so much about Rush these last few weeks, it's very, very easy for those who don't work within the industry to misinterpret what's going on and jump to conclusions that aren't completely warranted.
I'd intended to write a longer essay about what's happening and how we should keep the pressure on, but the big news tonight means it's bullet points instead, just over the squiggle...
1. As Joe Biden (or Fishgrease?) would tell us, this is indeed a Big Fucking Deal
As I've been telling you (here, for instance, a week ago), Rush makes money for Premiere Radio Networks (aka Clear Channel, half-owned by Bain Capital) in two ways. Premiere sells four minutes of national ads during each hour of Rush's show, 12 minutes a day in all, to national advertisers, and it charges radio stations to carry the show, giving them 10 minutes of ad time in each hour to sell to local advertisers.
To make Rush's huge salary (probably not the $56 million a year Forbes claims, but surely in the tens of millions of dollars) pay, Premiere has to charge premium prices for those 12 minutes a day in the show.
If those minutes aren't filled, or if they're filled with advertisers getting the show at a discount, Premiere loses money on the deal.
For Premiere to essentially give up 120 minutes of Rush ad time (12 minutes a day over the next two weeks) in hopes that this will all blow over suggests that they're more worried than they've let on until now. They were almost sure that this would blow over by now, and it just keeps going. That's bad news.
UPDATE: The reporting last night was a little unclear about what ads exactly are being suspended by Premiere. Based on monitoring the show today and talking to some colleagues at Rush stations, it appears that what Premiere is actually suspending is not the 12 minutes a day of national advertising baked into the Rush show itself. Instead, what's being suspended is the "barter" advertising that Rush affiliates carry as part of their deal for the show. Most Rush affiliates pay both cash (supposedly up to $1 million a year in the biggest markets, though I have some suspicion about that number) and barter, giving up some of their ad space outside the Rush show for ads supplied by Premiere. It's that barter portion that's been suspended, and I'm still trying to piece together a completely coherent explanation of why.
1A. That other memo today? It's nothing.
At the same time, we're so desperate for good news here in the progressive community that we're latching on to things that don't really mean much. The memo that was front-paged today about national advertisers wanting to steer clear of controversial shows? It really does go out to traffic directors (the people who schedule ads at stations) every few months, and just because an advertiser is on there doesn't mean it's one that Limbaugh has "lost."
Nor was there really "5 1/2 minutes of dead air" on WABC last week. Streams often have dead air. The money's in the air signal, and we have to stay laser-focused on the spots that run there to understand what's really worrying station managers.
2. Your local station's not having a good week, either, and we can make it worse.
If your local station manager is talking to the media (and the smart ones aren't), they're probably filled with confidence about how Rush will survive this.
Behind the scenes, most of them aren't so sure.
If your local station is owned by Clear Channel, the "local" station manager has to put on a happy face: as long as Clear Channel stays behind Rush, he'll stay on the air there because corporate says so, and that's that. You can try to make yourself heard (more on that in a second), but don't expect much.
If your local station is owned or managed by a Rush true believer, we're all just a bunch of DFHs anyway. Rush has made a lot of money over the years for a lot of small AM stations that would have been in big trouble without him, and those owners and general managers and program directors can't even begin to think that their cash balloon might be in danger of springing a leak.
You might see these station owners quoted as disparaging our efforts. In particular, they're looking at letters and calls and e-mails coming from outside their local coverage areas and concluding that this is all an astroturf effort coming from "DNC phone banks" (I kid you not) and not at all representative of what their local Dittohead listeners are thinking.
Please focus your efforts on your local station. It's tempting, I know, to start sending e-mails to a whole bunch of Rush stations. Don't succumb to that temptation, especially...
If your local station is owned by someone other than Clear Channel or a small-town wingnut. It's these stations that are most worried about how this will all play out. They have contracts with Premiere obligating them to pay a lot of money for Rush, and they're starting to see that it's going to get harder and harder to make that money back if Rush stays controversial.
3. Which is why it's the local advertisers who will ultimately have a lot of the say in whether Rush stays or goes.
Local advertisers, for the most part, want to make money. They don't want controversy to get in the way of making that money. That's really where we come in. The more local advertisers we can reach in our own communities, using our freedom of speech to let them know what we think of Rush's long history of lies and bullying and hatred, the more we can persuade them that their ad dollars would be more effectively used elsewhere.
To do this, you've got to work locally. You have to listen to your local Rush affiliate over the air and then go have a chat with the advertisers you hear during the local ad slots. (You can see the Rush show clock here - the minutes marked in green are the local advertising minutes, and you can turn off the hate you hear during the rest of the hour if you like.
This is the single most effective thing you can do, much more than contacting national advertisers or stations themselves.
4. But I've just got to contact my local station! What do I do?
You do this. An in-person visit to your local station is probably more effective than 100 letters or 1000 e-mails or phone calls. The station cannot legally turn you away if you want to see the public file, and you're all but guaranteed to get to see someone in management, even if they don't much want to see you.
As explained in that diary, you can also try filing a license challenge. It won't work, but it will give your local station's owners some headaches going forward. (Some would argue that this is something of a dick move, and I'm somewhat inclined to agree, but for the fact that the FCC has carefully removed through deregulation almost any other way for the public to have any input in the license renewal process.)
5. Mike Huckabee's hateful, too. Why should I be happy he might replace Rush on some stations?
Yeah, Huckabee's no prize, and you could argue that his views are just as retrograde as Rush's, only wrapped in a more palatable shell.
Absolutely true, and under most circumstances we shouldn't celebrate the idea that he's about to get his own national platform on the Cumulus syndication network next month, in the same timeslot as Rush.
But in this case, I'd contend it's very good news, because Huckabee promises to splinter Rush badly. For 20 years now, nobody's really challenged Rush in his noon-3 PM (Eastern) timeslot. He's been the king, and anyone starting a talk radio station has had to have him (and pay for the privilege) to be considered a top-tier station.
With Huckabee in the picture, that will change. If the former ABC radio stations now owned by Cumulus (including biggies like WABC in New York and WMAL in Washington and WLS in Chicago) drop Rush for Huckabee, that will make it socially acceptable for smaller stations to follow suit. Cumulus will make sure it's a lot cheaper for stations to carry Huckabee than Rush.
Radio people are lemmings. All it will take will be a few medium-sized stations pulling comparable ratings with Huckabee as with Rush, and the stampede will be on, especially if carrying Rush continues to mean headaches for advertisers and station managers.
No, it won't be great to have Huckabee preaching hate wrapped in a velvet glove for three hours daily. But he will never be as big as Rush. Huckabee and Rush combined (and competing with each other) will never be as big as Rush was in his heyday. And Rush is so flustered lately that I wouldn't be surprised if he says or does something attacking Huckabee that will just make him look even more foolish.
Keep that popcorn popping. It's about to get fun around here.