Since Rush Limbaugh caved in to reality and hired a crisis management team, media coverage has suggested a campaign against his talk show has failed. Others involved in contacting advertisers have asserted that this is not the case. Meanwhile, commentary from longtime radio industry professionals indicates that Limbaugh's crisis team may be orchestrating a whitewash of damage inflicted by the advertiser boycott, now six weeks old. For example, on March 22 respected radio consultant Holland Cooke offered this anecdote in a discussion forum at radio-info.com:
I asked a the [sic] longtime radio network exec I got good-N-drunk @ dinner last night: "Is Limbaugh over-the-worst-of-it...or IS this story closer-to-the-beginning-than-the-end?"We knew a month ago that the corporate backlash against Rush Limbaugh had spread to other conservative talk show hosts, including Mark Levin, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, and Sean Hannity. Now, a conversation in the same forum for radio professionals indicates that the backlash is affecting not just talk radio, but radio stations with an all music format as well. And yet prospects are even worse for the embattled talk show host [more after the jump].
Short version: "You have NO idea how this has [expletive deleted]-up radio."
Some background information is necessary to understand why a boycott of a syndicated talk radio show could affect radio stations that play music. Syndication simply means that one radio service or program – for example, the news, or talk show content such as the Limbaugh show – is shared with multiple radio stations.
Fox Radio News is one syndicated radio news source, and it happens to be the vehicle by which the Limbaugh boycott is adversely affecting radio stations throughout the industry.
Individual radio stations pay for syndicated services. Sometimes, that pay is in the form of "barter" – the station allows the syndication service to run ads on the local station. The radio station contributes air time for the ads, and the syndicating service sells, and collects ad dollars for those ads. If a service costs a lot (as does the Rush Limbaugh show), a radio station gives up (or "barters") air time to the syndication service, and also pays an additional fee.
Fox Radio News, carried by Premiere Networks (Limbaugh's talk show syndicator), is purchased by music stations as well as talk radio stations. Fox Radio News comes with advertisements from Premiere Networks, such that radio stations can barter for the news content just as they do with the Rush Limbaugh show.
Because it is distributed by Premiere, Fox Radio News, it now appears, has been inadvertently hit by the same advertising boycott as the Limbaugh talk radio show. While the following comments are anecdotal and unconfirmed, this snippet of discussion between two radio professionals suggests that the mechanism by which syndicated radio services are bartered for local station ad exposure is causing difficulties for Premiere Networks throughout the radio industry.
local oscillator: "...Many in our audience – of all persuasions – absolutely can't stand the Fox commercials, and I have to say that I hear what they're saying. The usual fare of Geico, Wal-Mart, Ford, Applebee's, Home Depot, Kohl's, Progressive, Red Lobster, Lowe's, etc. has been replaced by spots for extremely conservative organizations, firearms, senior citizen health supplements, gold, retirement financial advice, etc. And, it seems that there are fewer spots running with much higher frequency. In other words, spots for a wide range of goods and services that matched our audience well have been replaced by spots that don't match up so well – even with conservatives (remember, these are conservatives who are listening to classic rock/hits radio, not conservative talk radio). The Fox News Radio newscasts are fine, but the associated commercials are a negative on our music-based station and are becoming a major liability. Something needs to give..."Crisis troubleshooter Brian Glicklich, the newly appointed spokesperson for the Rush Limbaugh Show, claims that the outcry against Limbaugh is political and has been "ginned up" by Media Matters for America as the worst sort of election year politics. To be sure, Media Matters has played a leading role in monitoring Limbaugh and other right wing talk show hosts, and in drawing attention to bigotry and misogyny. Limbaugh has alternately characterized the opposition as relentless and powerful, or puny and insignificant, once claiming they were "five or six little Democrat operatives in their pajamas in the basement of their parents' house." To accept Glicklich and Limbaugh at their word, one must believe they have no idea what their team is up against.
TheBigA: "Yep... Fox is distributed by Premiere, which also syndicates Rush. They've been hit hard by Rush's advertiser backlash."
local oscillator: "BigA, I had thought that the Rush backlash only affected Premiere's conservative talk shows, but you're probably right."
Much of the media coverage of the Flush Rush movement has been superficial and incomplete. For example, one potential nightmare for Premiere Networks and remaining advertisers – the possibility that Flush Rush organizations and Occupy might join forces with newly energized women's organizations – has already occurred. In a swift demonstration of what is possible, an alliance in California garnered a significant victory even before protesters took to the sidewalks, yet the effort received only local media attention:
Occupy Encinitas and Women's Occupy San Diego were planning to picket outside the Toyota Carlsbad dealership to protest its support of Limbaugh, who they say is guilty of recently using "misogynistic hate speech toward women..." The movement to flush Rush from his 600 talk radio stations, his much-hyped lordship over talk radio, and his putative reign as "godfather" of the Grand Old Party is a widespread, burgeoning grass roots effort taking inspiration from dramatic victories over Glenn Beck, Komen, and Don Imus. It encompasses the efforts of many organizations, yet its front line is comprised almost entirely of activists who never before considered setting foot in the political or social arena. And this army, fed by anger and outrage, is steadily growing larger. In the face of animosity, scandalous publication of activists' private information, and even the occasional death threat, these intrepid citizens soldier on, with free speech serving as their one weapon in the struggle, and information their ammunition.
Toyota Carlsbad, Lexus Carlsbad and Lexus Escondido dealerships have pulled advertising from Rush Limbaugh's radio show on KOGO-AM 600...
Allied with friends in the Twitter-verse and with other organizations, every day citizens in multiple Facebook groups are successfully spreading Rush-freak (“the talk show host is bad for your brand”) among thousands of companies, large and small, simply by calling, messaging, and sharing Youtube videos of the talk show host in action.
A very common response among companies identified as Rush Limbaugh sponsors is surprise, and occasionally, shock – "but we never advertised on the Rush Limbaugh show!" As many other advertisers have left, radio stations frequently move the ads of unsuspecting advertisers into the Rush Limbaugh show to replace them. Many advertisers, newly aware of their unintended association with the talk show, have immediately contacted the radio station or their ad buyer requesting or demanding the "no Rush list" for their ads.
Scores, and possibly hundreds – unemployed workers, retirees, mothers, husbands, singles, couples – tune in to Rush each weekday and create lists of company names, contact info, and broadcast times. Others are engaged in database design, or volunteer for daily data entry.
Professor Lissa Sellers has worn black spots on the left click button of her new computer. Middle school teacher Jay Parker – to his surprise, thrust into a leadership role – coordinates with other groups, marshals his volunteers to enhance data operations, and formulates outreach campaigns. Both are Facebook activists, newly created. Both owe their new-found activism to Rush Limbaugh's attack on Sandra Fluke.
Out of disgust over the Fluke incident, Jay created a Facebook group, one of a dozen or so with similar names – Boycott Rush, Fire Rush, Dump Rush, Flush Rush. He expected ten or twelve friends to join. Five weeks later, the group has become a beehive of anti-Rush activity, with membership approaching a thousand, and more angry Facebookers joining each day. Someone created an informal poll – something common on Facebook – inquiring how many were new to activism. More than half affirmed this was their first ever “cause”. In another poll – how did you find this group? – an overwhelming majority of those responding initiated their own search for a way to become involved.
Jay's group may be among the most active, literally buzzing with activity 24 hours a day, and its five week record – persuading a couple of hundred local and regional companies (nearly all in addition to the big corporate names noted in the media) to leave Rush – may be unparalleled. Yet other, older anti-Rush Facebook groups boast activists equally as determined, and some have attracted tens of thousands of anti-Rush participants.
Professor Sellers notes,
“My generation had come so far for women's rights, and Rush wants to throw all that away. I didn't want to see my daughter, who is Sandra Fluke's age, live in a world where she doesn't have a choice over her body. I've never been an activist before; I surfed the net and found Jay Parker's group.”Parker comes from a conservative family, but credits his broader vision to a stint in the Peace Corps. Parker explains his almost accidental introduction to activism,
“A couple of days after Rush’s national savaging of Sandra Fluke, I posted a link to an article about what Limbaugh had said on my Facebook wall. The post spawned some vitriolic defenses of Limbaugh from my more conservative family members, and I began to think about how I could expand upon my outrage. I founded a Facebook group initially as a place to post news articles to update people on what was happening with the boycotts... [but] some of our earliest members were interested in action, not just complaining.Gayla Johnson, from a military family, is the “nightmare” demographic for Rush Limbaugh, and for Republicans in general. She describes herself as a pro-life, pro-death penalty, pro-Second Amendment Christian. With an MBA in computer science and a corporate background, her skills have been crucial to the Flush Rush movement. Gayla observes,
“Our group has had some real success at convincing advertisers that they ARE responsible for the content that their ads support, that many customers are discerning people who care about where their money goes, and that it is not a good business decision to align yourself with a show that regularly demeans and bullies the most helpless segments of our society. We’ve been able to develop a sense of community that doesn’t exist on Twitter or on other Facebook groups where one person administers and everyone else just “likes.” We motivate each other to persevere in the face of what at times seems like an impossible task.”
"I never believed my gender 'kept me back' and frankly I often thought the complaints of feminists were a little whiny. But I'm also a breast cancer survivor and I refer a lot of women to Planned Parenthood for referrals to low-cost mammograms. So when the Susan G. Komen Foundation pulled its funding from Planned Parenthood, I was furious. I had never before donated to Planned Parenthood but I do now. Thank you, Komen, you awoke the Planned Parenthood supporter in me!
"I was a Rush Limbaugh listener years ago when I was commuting to work during his show. I think he used to provide a thoughtful point of view, though generally different from mine. But when he used dehumanizing language and a sexual slur against a woman simply because he disagreed with her, the scales fell from my eyes. And now I know what the feminists were 'whining' about. I'm a born again feminist and I'm never going back."
Kelly Michaels, a Microsoft Engineer for a small consulting company, ignored Rush for twenty years. That changed, however,
“...when he went on that vile and un-american three day rant about Sandra Fluke, that was the tipping point. He bullied and lied and tried to ruin her life. I became an activist for the first time in my life, and I was among the first” to join Jay Parker's group.All of these volunteers represent one front in what increasingly appears to be a perfect storm – an irresistible tempest with fronts arriving from three directions, threatening not just a career-ending crash for the “king of talk radio” and his EIB Network, but the possible decline and eventual demise of Premiere Networks and its embattled parent, Clear Channel itself.
“We inform sponsors so they can make an informed decision” about whether their values align with those of the talk show host. “Hopefully that will do away with some of the bitter and divided poisonous hyper partisan atmosphere” that Rush creates.
Premiere Networks signaled a level of infrastructure disruption when it suspended barter ads for two weeks. But the festering, as yet unseen damage, and the potential for disaster, hang over the radio network like a sword of Damocles. Premiere's parent, Clear Channel, has just been forced into a major layoff. Clear Channel, wracked with debt, has fallen prey to Bain Capital's vulture capital depradations, and is facing a shareholder lawsuit, and may be the target of an investigation. The third factor – perhaps not of overriding significance itself, but a potential death knell in light of Clear Channel's other troubles, is this week's arrival of talk show competition in the form of Governor Mike Huckabee.
Facebook was credited as a catalyst in the fall of the governments of Tunisia and Egypt, and with enabling the Occupy Wall Street movement to spread worldwide. Facebook was the organizers' forum of choice against Komen when that organization flip-flopped on Planned Parenthood, with Komen's comment threads accumulating up to ten thousand angry comments. In time, Facebook activists may help to notch another victory.
A first visit to Jay Parker's group during peak traffic can be a disorienting experience, even for experienced Facebook users. Volunteers have adopted the task of updating the group's sacred document, “the list”. These acolytes parse the data, and post information for others in the group. The messages bubbling to the top – each identifying a single advertiser who still hasn't gotten the word about Limbaugh's perceived transgressions – at times come so quickly that the group has a nickname for the process – churn. Each bit of news about victories is eagerly shared. As Facebook groups quietly implement their growing lists of small company victories – compiled quietly for companies that may wish to avoid publicity – Media Matters announces the large corporations that are less likely to be intimidated by a sudden backlash. In the long run, it is anyone's guess which exodus of advertisers is likely to inflict the greater damage.
Meanwhile, Jay Parker's group benefits from a steady influx of activists eager to join the cause. If Rush Limbaugh doesn't yet know what he's up against, he eventually will.
Because of threats and retaliation, many Flush Rush activists have learned to carefully guard their identities. While the Flush Rush activists in this diary are real, their names have been changed.
Mon Apr 09, 2012 at 3:10 PM PT: MONDAY, APRIL 9, 2012
Is Limbaugh getting the boot from his Philly radio perch?
Is Philadelphia about to become the first major media market to give conservative talk radio icon Rush Limbaugh the boot in the aftermath of the national uproar over calling a Georgetown law student "a slut"?
A leading radio industry trade publication, Talkers magazine, reported this morning that "the very hot rumor" out of Philly is that Limbaugh is about to be yanked from his powerful, 50,000-watt AM perch, WPHT -- to be replaced by Michael Smerconish, who now airs in the afternoon drive slot.
Tue Apr 10, 2012 at 5:22 AM PT: Radio industry professional Ipsos analyzes Rush Limbaugh's first major station loss: