It’s a cliche' that Rush Limbaugh is testing in his defiant response to efforts to get him fired.
(We’re going to skip a review of the controversy, but if you’ve been living under a rock, go to Google News and type in “Limbaugh Fluke slut” to get up to speed.)
We're also not going to gloat and point out that people who have declared broadcast radio dead, writing it off as totally irrelevant, are the same people who are apoplectic that a host broadcasting on this irrelevant medium can generate such passion on both sides.
As new-media centric Ars Technica observed:
It seems appropriate to make an observation that hardly anyone else has. This latest Limbaugh Eruption indicates that broadcast radio still really matters.
The teachable moment for radio is what interests us. Will the concerted effort to get Limbaugh canned succeed? Will this hobble his show, either creatively or financially?
Does this open the door for Mike Huckabee, who Cumulus was already grooming to compete against Limbaugh?
And if the effort to boot Rush fails, and it instead boosts Limbaugh’s status, what does it say to us about the kind of radio that your listeners want to hear?
A great deal has been made about “no Limbaugh” dictates coming from major agencies and businesses. While the latest dictates have fueled the debate, the truth is that every controversial host attracts similar dictates.
Howard Stern had more than his share. Virtually every controversial “shock jock” morning man has had them.
And what about upset listeners, critical tweets, and organized Facebook efforts to get controversial personalities fired?
With all this aggravation, why do stations hire shock jocks and then defend them?
Because shock sells, and it sells at a premium.
Limbaugh says outrageous things that infuriate his detractors. But he also has a loyal devoted audience that keeps coming back.
In many markets Rush delivers two or three times the audience that his competitors deliver.
“Mike Huckabee is the latest in a long line of those who have attempted to compete with Rush,” was Premiere’s response when the Wall Street Journal picked up on Huckabee’s roll-out.
And they’re right. Bill O’Reilly, television’s most watched political talking head, couldn’t. Dennis Miller hasn’t. No one at Talk Radio Network has.
Which is why 99.9% of Limbaugh affiliates have not cut him loose since the Fluke story broke.
Which brings us back to Mike Huckabee.
More Conversation, Less Confrontation. That’s the pitch, and that’s Mike Huckabee.
Perhaps America is ready for less confrontation. Perhaps America is ready for a guitar playing alternative to Rush Limbaugh.
The WSJ reports that Huckabee will launch with 140 stations. We wish Mike Huckabee and his 140 affiliates good luck.
This is a battle that every radio station with a controversial pain-in-the-butt personality should watch.
And it could produce an outcome with profound implications for the future of Talk radio.