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Last week it was announced that Rush Limbaugh's radio show will continue to be carried by all but one of the Cumulus stations he's on, and he will be moving to Clear Channel's recently acquired WOR in New York. The much ballyhooed boycott campaign has failed, much as I said it would.

Tune in for more below the orange swirl...

Like all commercial radio programming, Limbaugh's show is essentially bait. Its purpose is to attract listeners to advertising messages. From the stockholders' point of view the content is irrelevant; Limbaugh can whistle La Marseillaise or count backwards in Albanian for all they care, as long as people keep tuning in to hear the ads. That is the essence of the commercial radio business model.

Radio listeners today have so many choices that it usually doesn't make sense for a broadcaster to try to attract every listener in his community. Instead, a station will aim at one segment of that community -- say, women aged 25 to 54 -- and focus on serving it exclusively, ignoring the rest. All of the station's programming and promotions will be designed to appeal to its target audience, the goal being to make that station a "must buy" for advertisers looking to reach that segment of the community.

Rush Limbaugh's program is intended to appeal to men over 35, and is generally carried by stations that appeal to that group. The same stations often carry college sports, which is why I see posts here accusing various colleges and universities of supporting Limbaugh's venomous pontifications. The colleges are, in fact, playing much the same game as the broadcasters, positioning themselves where they can reach their target audiences most effectively. The stations win; the colleges win; the advertisers win. It is a Ferengi's dream.

One of radio's dirty secrets is that there is no such thing as bad publicity. If Limbaugh calls Sandra Fluke a whore, he alienates a lot of women -- who are not his target audience -- while entertaining his male listeners and encouraging them to stay tuned to see what he might do next. The subsequent firestorm of bad press won't hurt him at all; at the worst, a few advertisers might make a show of moving their ads out of Limbaugh's time slot, running them at other times of the day. The stations still get the advertisers' money, listeners continue to tune in, and Limbaugh gets a lot of undeserved media attention. What's not to like?

In 1957, when I was born, there were many fewer stations than now. With the rise of television, radio stations moved away from national radio networks controlled by the likes of RCA's David Sarnoff and began running local programming with live disk jockeys and recorded music. FCC rules limited a broadcast station owner to just seven AM stations, seven FM stations, and seven TV stations; almost all stations, even in the largest cities, were locally owned and operated. Broadcasters had a stake in the communities they served and reputations to maintain; licenses came up for renewal every three years, and broadcasters held their licenses as public trustees. At renewal time, anyone could file a competing application for a station's license, so station owners went to great lengths to build impeccable public service records.

At its core radio is relationship building, whether between an advertiser and a station, or between a station and its listeners. The broadcasters of my youth built their modest fortunes on personal connections with the banker down the street, the restaurant owner across town, the car dealer over the hill, the ministers of local churches, and of course the local mayor and police chief. It was an intensely personal business, with deals being struck at golf courses or Rotary Club luncheons. In some smaller markets radio is still like that today, but in most places it has become a very different business.  

Stations now tend to be run by large publicly traded (and highly leveraged) corporations; one company -- Clear Channel -- owns more than 800 stations and programs many of them from distant cities. There are few live local voices; satellite technology and the Internet have brought network radio back with a vengeance, and computers take the place of disk jockeys. A broadcasting corporation today has little or no stake in local communities; most of its business is done with national or regional ad agencies, and since the Telecommunications "Reform" Act of 1996, it need not fear license renewal challenges. With the demise of the Fairness Doctrine and the relaxation or outright abolition of most of the old public service obligations, the rise of Limbaugh and his imitators should be no surprise.

Radio has become an arms-length business in which all that matters is the bottom line; unchecked by any public outcry, broadcasters race against one another to cut costs but pay little heed to the corrosive effect of their sensational, provocative, simplistic, and one-sided program content on the communities they claim to serve. In this context, boycotting Rush Limbaugh's advertisers is clearly pointless; until his target audience tires of him, he's going to keep his bully pulpit, whatever you, I, or millions of our friends may do or say.

What is needed is the wholesale re-regulation of broadcasting in the interest of the listening public. Until that happens, we can expect only more of the same.

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Comment Preferences

  •  How many people are listening? (25+ / 0-)

    That Cumulus does not have a better alternative to Rush for their stations does not mean that they are reaping the same number of advertising dollars that they once did, nor does it mean that Rush retains the same audience that he once did.

    Your pronouncement of failure seems quite premature.

    I'm on a mission! Testing the new site rules.

    by blue aardvark on Mon Aug 26, 2013 at 09:45:05 AM PDT

  •  Sadly, I think you are correct. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rashaverak, Victor Ward

    Radio is big business now, and it's all about the money.  As long as Rush pulls in large numbers of listeners in the desired demographic, he will be on the air.

    •  It's always been about money. It's a BUSINESS! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      The Marti

      It was based on paid advertising from the start. Sponsors actually paid for the entire programing at one time, not just for the commercials.

      Jack Benny (Jell-o, Lucky Strike), Fibber McGee and Molly (Johnson's Wax), etc had only one sponsor for a season or seasons (although except for Fibber, did change from time to time). The commercials were sometimes part of the program's script.

      It’s the Supreme Court, stupid! Followed by: It's always the Supreme Court! Progressives will win only when we convince a majority that they, too, are Progressive.

      by auapplemac on Mon Aug 26, 2013 at 01:07:49 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  advertising money is gravy to this propaganda op (0+ / 0-)

      ad money keeps the stations happy but RW radio has been worth trillions selling war, deregulation, tax breaks, global warming denial, RW supremes, and loony GOP representatives.

      This is a list of 76 universities for Rush Limbaugh that endorse global warming denial, racism, sexism, and GOP lies by broadcasting sports on over 170 Limbaugh radio stations.

      by certainot on Tue Aug 27, 2013 at 06:59:53 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'm a little afraid to ask, but (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    ... what, exactly, do you mean by

    ...wholesale re-regulation of broadcasting in the interest of the listening public.
    Rush Limbaugh and his particular brand of verbal diarrhea are something to challenge on the merits and, if necessary, by the means available to a free and democratic society.  He does, however, have a right to say what he pleases and if enough people will pay him to say it, then he can make a good living doing it.
  •  The listener/advertiser/profit connection (6+ / 0-)

    Agree with you that the content is there to draw ears to the advertising. But with most advertisers pulling out because of his controversial statments - and,yes, activist pressure - that means profit it dropping too. Somebody is losing money over this. Not being privy to the recent negotiations we can't say for sure who, but it's understandable that many hope and believe it's Rush. So who scores a 0, again?

    “Texas is a so-called red state, but you’ve got 10 million Democrats here in Texas. And …, there are a whole lot of people here in Texas who need us, and who need us to fight for them.” President Obama

    by Catte Nappe on Mon Aug 26, 2013 at 10:59:39 AM PDT

  •  The problem with the Ferengi Circle of Life (14+ / 0-)

    As I see it, the Circle of Life is

    1 - content
    2 - audience
    3 - advertisers
    4 - Profit!

    Remove any of the first three, and you don't get the fourth.

    I don't think we ever attempted a boycott. As you say, our ears aren't the desired demographic.

    But we have been pretty successful at removing Item 3 - Advertisers.

    It matters not how big your audience of the desired demographic is, if you don't have the advertisers, you are sunk.

    We are winning.

  •  Cumulus renewing broadcasting (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    but ... the real test, and I admit I don't have the guts to do this: are there now markets where something else is on in addition to / instead of Rush Limbaugh's voice?

    LBJ, Van Cliburn, Ike, Wendy Davis, Lady Bird, Ann Richards, Barbara Jordan, Molly Ivins, Sully Sullenburger, Drew Brees: Texas is NO Bush League!

    by BlackSheep1 on Mon Aug 26, 2013 at 11:42:21 AM PDT

  •  This post is laughable on so many levels (9+ / 0-)

    The whole "I told you so" meme begins the laugh track followed by a "few" advertisers moving their ads.

    The last time I checked any advertiser that wanted to appeal to a broad segment of America, dropped their sponsorship of Limbaugh. This has also worked its way down to the local level. Very few car dealerships want to be known as supporters of Rush and his venom.

    Lately, Rush has been running an increasing amount of PSA's that don't pay. Cry all you want about "I told you so," but while you are entitled to your own opinion, you are not entitled to your own facts.

    I'm just so happy a concern troll such as yourself has an outlet to express themselves.

  •  if the sole measurement of success (8+ / 0-)

    or lack thereof you are using is whether or not he remains on the air -- then yeah, right now Flush is not winning.  but that's only one way to think about it.  if, as reported the show remains but with PSAs and/or dead air during the commercial breaks -- then Flush has been incredibly successful -- and Cumulus and CC are going to continue to lose millions as long as they keep Rush on the air.
    vigilance!  it's just going to take longer.  but he's definitely going the way of Glenn Beck.

  •  Sean Hannity (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eyesbright, diffrntdrummr

    He was the one who was pushed out instead of Limbaugh. But I have no doubt Flush Rush will eventually win. Clear Channel is paying Rush so much money that it will probably go down right along with the Limbaugh ship. I wouldn't be surprised if it turns up that wingnut money is going to both Clear Channel and Cumulus to keep Rush afloat.

    On November 6, 2012, Mitt Romney finally convinced the 47% to take "personal responsibility and care for their lives"...and another 4% more agreed with them.

    by nmjardine on Mon Aug 26, 2013 at 12:24:57 PM PDT

  •  And the knights rode off. The black knight (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    The Marti, Eyesbright

    guarding the bridge was still yapping. (See the Holy Grail)

    In fact his ineffectual yapping may be useful.

    Obama says Republicans privately tell him they're scared of Rush Limbaugh

    And now the followers of the true head of the Republican party have found the rock and the hard place.

  •  What is the purpose of this diary? (6+ / 0-)

    There is never a situation where only one type of action produces the desired effect. Re-regulation might be helpful but to discredit an entire movement that has been very successful seems pointless, unless the diarist just wanted to tell everyone he is "right", when he isn't.

    Most great victories are won incrementally.    

    "Southern nights have you ever felt a southern night?" Allen Toussaint ~~Remember the Gulf of Mexico~~

    by rubyr on Mon Aug 26, 2013 at 12:42:39 PM PDT

  •  Flushing rush is still happening (6+ / 0-)

    The flush rush program is still happening. Nobody thinks that something like this will happen overnight.

    clear channel and cumulus are losing a lot of money.

  •  Who is supporting these parasites? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    It seems every recognizable advertiser has left Rush, yet he still gets his lotto ticket?

    The nation is fucked if that filth wins. And ask MSNBC who is winning.

    Time to remove the parasites.

    What is so unnerving about the candidacy of Sarah Palin is the degree to which she represents—and her supporters celebrate—the joyful marriage of confidence and ignorance. SAM HARRIS

    by Cpqemp on Mon Aug 26, 2013 at 01:24:51 PM PDT

  •  Forgive me for saying this. (0+ / 0-)

    But your proposal seems terribly paternalistic.

    I mean, who the hell are you to decide what speech is in the interest of the listening public to hear? No one is forcing anyone to listen to Rush Limbaugh. You don't want to hear him? Fine. Do what i do and don't tune in.

    I think this part is telling:

    until his target audience tires of him, he's going to keep his bully pulpit, whatever you, I, or millions of our friends may do or say.

    What is needed is the wholesale re-regulation of broadcasting in the interest of the listening public. Until that happens, we can expect only more of the same.

    Translation: I disagree with your speech, therefore you must be silenced.


    •  fuck hate speech and its supporters. (0+ / 0-)

      Righteousness is a wide path. Self-righteousness is a bullhorn and a blindfold.

      by Murphoney on Tue Aug 27, 2013 at 12:49:05 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  garbage (0+ / 0-)

      RW radio is free speech like corps are people

      You don't want to hear him? Fine. Do what i do and don't tune in.
      in most parts of the country there are no free alternatives for politics or current events while driving or working.

      silence nor music nor a periodic pissant broadcast from npr are alternatives, nor challenge the fact that the 1%'s think tanks have been using 1200 coordinated radio stations for 25 years to lie and disinform 50 mil people every week.

      the really stupid part is that much of the idiot 'left' thinks that's no big deal.

      you can't defend RW radio nor it's coordinated GOP think tank script reading liars with "free speech!"

      This is a list of 76 universities for Rush Limbaugh that endorse global warming denial, racism, sexism, and GOP lies by broadcasting sports on over 170 Limbaugh radio stations.

      by certainot on Tue Aug 27, 2013 at 06:52:06 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Your concern... (0+ / 0-)

    is noted.

  •  The median listener age is 67!!!! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    67 years old. That's why boner-pill companies and retirement savings scammers are pretty much the only companies left willing to pay to advertise on his show. So yeah- they are reaching their target audience. Yay. Good for them.

  •  it's not all about business. the boycott's not poi (0+ / 0-)


    RW radio's primary purpose is selling propaganda for the right. it so happens that they can do that practically for free- paid for by advertising. the boycott is making it harder for the right to enjoy all that free propaganda.

    limbaugh is not a monster success on 600 stations, or hannity on 500 because of their skill and personality, wit and wisdom. they are there because the loudest stations in the country, maybe as many a 30-40% piggybacking college and pro sports, were bought up for them to create a propaganda blowtorch, short circuit democracy, and keep dinosaur republicans and their industries and scams and corruption going until we fall off a cliff of stupidity.

    the pool of small and large companies that are taking a passive approach to radio advertising is shrinking. many of them barely thought of limbaugh as a problem. some were just packaged and didn't know they were supporting limbaugh and were pissed to find out they were. many, like most liberals believed the bullshit that limbaugh was just another political entertainer selling advertising.

    RW radio and limbaugh are a success because they are a protected and cultivated monopoly used very successfully as a propaganda tool- the ad money is gravy and keeps the stations going. stations are hurting- probably moreso in blue communities where there are active flush rush activists at work.

    at some level the right knows that and if the record and contracts were open i'll bet you'd find there's money flowing that's not ad money, and it's there to keep limbaugh on his pedestal - and keep the whole RW radio machine humming.

    and when the left figures out how much  RW radio depends on college and university sports - to help them sell voter suppression and destroy public education, for instance - maybe they'll take the boycott a step further and make advertising on RW radio even more distasteful for american businesses.

    This is a list of 76 universities for Rush Limbaugh that endorse global warming denial, racism, sexism, and GOP lies by broadcasting sports on over 170 Limbaugh radio stations.

    by certainot on Tue Aug 27, 2013 at 06:40:17 PM PDT

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