… in which his microphone is not so golden. 42 advertisers and counting…
When Rush Hudson Limbaugh started as top 40 DJ “Jeff Christie” in Pittsburgh in the early 1970s, the radio landscape was far different. AM stations played music. People dialed it up in their cars and homes.
Rush found his niche as a conservative talk host on Sacramento’s KFBK-AM in 1984. His blustery, self-revering style appealed to blue-collar white Americans alarmed by what they saw as a headlong retreat from traditional values. Limbaugh spoke for a post-Roe v. Wade, post-busing, post-Vietnam generation hardening itself for the culture wars.
Limbaugh attracted the attention of ABC Radio Networks’ then president, and in 1988, took his act to New York’s WABC 770 AM. The repeal of the Fairness Doctrine a year earlier — Ronald Reagan’s gift to the conservative movement — meant stations no longer had to provide equal time to rebut highly partisan views on their airwaves.
Texas-based Clear Channel, the company that would become Limbaugh’s home, took advantage of broadcast deregulation under the new president, Bill Clinton, and started buying up stations across the country.
They bought small, struggling AMs that couldn’t compete with more powerful FM signals — sometimes two or more in one market. They vacuumed up individual radio and TV stations and clusters and entire media companies. They even started a concert company, LiveNation, later sold. By the time the Supreme Court decided Bush v. Gore, Clear Channel owned more than 1,100 radio stations, almost two dozen television stations and some 700,000 outdoor billboards worldwide.
For Limbaugh, and his advertisers, it meant a guaranteed national audience — his mythic (though likely mythical) 20 million listeners. Clear Channel owned the product, the syndicator — Premiere Radio Networks — and the distribution outlets. They were literally selling programming to themselves. It was a brilliant business model that by 2006 attracted a buyer: none other than Mitt Romney’s old company, Bain Capital, and Thomas Lee Partners. Two years later, Rush signed an eight-year, $400 million contract that reportedly includes a stake in the ad revenue. …
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