Rush Limbaugh

With the news this morning of Rush’s passing, I thought I might bring a few remembrances of his early days. He arrived rather suddenly to Sacramento’s KFBK radio. Not as a syndicated host, but the host. He had had a number of radio jobs, all resulting in termination. I think that he chaffed at what station managers wanted him to do, versus what he wanted to do.

KFBK has over the years, been a very influential radio station in that they have many alumni around the country. I read his autobiography years ago, and he admitted that after so many failed radio gigs, if this Sacramento post didn’t work, he would have left the industry.

Fortunately the station manager gave him a lot of latitude.

Unlike a lot of “shock jocks” who will say or do anything to get an audience, Rush genuinely believed in conservatism. I can remember him with local televised debates with the mayor of Davis, which is just 20 miles or so from Sacramento.

He was, like Andrew Breitbart, a joyful warrior. In the early days he had commercials that were such parodies one wondered until half way through if they were real. Listening to him was always a fun 2 hours. When he became syndicated, and built his station reach from 50 to over 600, one could drive across the country and never be out of range of his broadcast. You could be out in the remote desert and as his broadcast got weak, turn the dial and find another one. You could be at a red light and after awhile, not be surprised that the car in the next lane had his broadcast.

Something I just thought of – although this was in his early syndication days. Since this isn’t radio, where the audio is missing, you have to imagine the pronunciation.

Rush called on women to “stop far*ing in their cars”.

Even more perplexing to millions he kept insisting that women do it a lot more than men

He had millions of people either laughing or furious. The general consensus among the furious was that he was singling out women, and men were certainly guilty of it too.

After a couple of days, he let the cat out of the bag.

Some of the 177 affiliates to the Manhattan-based Rush Limbaugh program complained last Wednesday when the cantankerous national talk show host said he endorsed the efforts of a fellow talk host in Atlanta who called for an end to women “farding in their cars.” Limbaugh, who is heard locally on WNTR-AM (1050), told listeners that “farding on the highway is very dangerous as well as offensive to others.”

Not until Thursday did Limbaugh provide listeners with the meaning of the word “fard,” which is to paint with cosmetics. In the meantime, however, affiliates heard from listeners, some tickled and some distressed.

At WNTR, general sales manager Mark P. Fisher on Friday said his station received only two calls, one from a man who said the bit was the funniest thing he’d heard on radio; the other from a woman who begged that the conservative talk host — who daily reminds his audience that he is “on the cutting edge of societal evolution” — not be booted from the air.

At Chicago’s powerhouse, ABC-owned WLS-AM, president and general manager Tom Tradup pulled the plug in the middle of Limbaugh’s two-hour program soon after the discussion began because “we didn’t know where {Limbaugh} was going with this. It was very adolescent, which is very unusual because he is a responsible guy,” said Tradup, who also said he is a personal friend of Limbaugh’s. “If we erred, we wanted to err on the side of good taste.”

Tradup said, “When we pulled the program, telephones at the station literally began levitating because they were ringing so hard. Some were offended; others were mad because they said the station censored Limbaugh.”

Tradup also called Edward F. McLaughlin Media Management in New York, Limbaugh’s syndicator, to find out what was going on.

“The woman there told me, ‘It’s supposed to be a joke.’ Well, I told her to ask Rush if he thinks it’s a joke that he is off the air in the number three market. See if he finds that funny!” Tradup said.

Then there was Dan’s bake sale, which turned into a conservative Woodstock.

He liked to use irony to make a point – to paint a hypothetical situation that was absurd then relate it to an actual situation. Some people got it and some didn’t.

I was listening to one of his good friends started in the Sacramento days, Tom Sullivan. He too has a national program now, but said that he and Rush had been friends for 37 years. He considered him to be one of the few friends he could talk about anything.
He was telling a story of how Rush became national.

KFBK was paying Rush very little, and he set up an appointment with the manager to get a raise. On the appointed hour, the manager said that he didn’t have time. Rush then went to someone who suggested he go to New York and national syndication.

A moment later on Sullivan’s show, the manager called and said that wasn’t quite how it worked, and it was inevitable that Rush would have gone national.

When he first moved to New York, things were far from certain. You have to admire anyone who can leap from the certain to the uncertain, believing only in themselves.

Over the years, I came to believe in one thing – that many of his detractors, some the most vitriolic, had never listened to his show in its entirety. National media many times would quote him out of context. Not that he was perfect.

He had a unique relationship with his audience.

For millions of us, we lost a friend today.

02-17-21 2347: Some hours after posting this, I was listening to KFBK in the car, and hostess Kitty O’Neil had talked of some of her own remembrances of Rush while at Sacramento, and interviewed some former colleagues. Many said that he was a complex man – seemingly gregarious on the radio but shy and retiring in person. One mentioned a party he hosted at home for station people, and Rush was sitting by himself.

Another agreed that even though he and Rush were opposites politically, had fond memories of their friendship. He mentioned a time when he was getting married, and because his guest list had to be small, Rush wasn’t invited. A short time later, Rush still presented him with a gift.

Another mentioned his return to Sacramento for a visit 3 years after he left, and for an appearance at Arco Arena, where the Kings used to play, tickets sold out in 2 hours. They replayed a portion of Rush’s talk there, and he said that he came to Sacramento 6 years ago demoralized with radio and lost, and in that filled arena just 6 years later, Sacramento gave him a purpose to his life.

A former program director remembered auditioning him and hearing him behind the glass thought “this might just work”.

Another mentioned that for those who thought he was a “bigot and a homophobe”, he had a black minister and Elton John at his wedding.

Another host, John McGinnis, reminded me at his own show segment of the debates I had mentioned with the then mayor of Davis, Dave Rosenberg. He reminded me that even though they agreed on virtually nothing, it was always cordial and respectful.

More on those times here.

I had forgotten about the billboard.

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