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Thank You Rush Limbaugh

“There is a big difference between talents and legends. Rush Limbaugh’s legendary status was sealed a long time ago, but his impact remains as important as ever to a format that desperately needs him.”

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Why do you need to listen to Rush Limbaugh’s show and familiarize yourself with his background? Let’s start with Reason 1: it is going to make you better at uncovering your purpose or passion; whether it be a career or hobby or something waiting to be unearthed. There’s nothing more helpful in identifying the missing piece from a year that was so challenging and with more potential shutdowns in the works, now is the ideal time to find a way to triumph the 2020 spell with a commitment to organize the required steps that put you on track to reasonably accomplish your goal.

I highly doubt that Rush’s motivation for all he has done to guarantee AM stations nationwide weren’t forced into obsolescence. I’m also not ashamed to acknowledge that the talent in the industry can be appreciated on a scale that has little to do with political issues and rather the widespread lack of acknowledgment or appreciation for a pioneering contribution to salvaging AM radio stations, allowing to pave this universal path of success with his show airing on nearly 650 stations nationwide reaching nearly 26 million listeners at any given time. I have immense respect for the way in which we refuse to speak about the issues that are rarely received as you intended, rather met by considerable judgement.

Despite Limbaugh’s story of success, paying it forward in his field, earning multiple NAB awards and the latest being the presidential medal of freedom, Rush changed the game so that it could never be played the same way again. Yet he’s met by opposition who still overlook his contribution. The amazing way in which he has been intrinsically aware of what the medium was lacking and how to benefit the format, appeal to listeners, and have the space for his Excellence In Broadcasting empire to take off to have over 43 million guests weekly. The Time Spent Listening for the three hour show (TSL) was two hours and 28 minutes as of mid 2020.

The ability to become the breath of air that’s able to be traced back to the restoration, revitalization and transformation of the NTS Format, should be credited and accurately described in the future. The Mount Rushmore monument that would be honoring what Rush Limbaugh’s been able to accomplish would also require the assistance of the people who’ve made such a product in the radio business. Contributions from the brave, committed vision that included tweaking the prime time slot and being able to inform listeners through talk that would be criticized in every way imaginable. Then there’s the show format along with the vulnerability of AM stations News Talk Sports programming which was salvaged from the looming, unavoidable fact that the format went from an extraordinarily quickly depreciating, depleted financial landscape into the limitless potential awaiting the format, AM radio stations nationwide had a second chance—this is a result of Rush Limbaugh’s formula and hands on involvement to ensure the band provided layers of success for News/Talk/Sports and a second chance to prevent a seismic shifting that had remained unaltered since Rush’s 1988 launch. When you’re the show being picked up by 100+ affiliates to add to the 56 stations already airing your program nationwide, you’ve done something worth being proud of.

The format was a perfect fit for the personality of Rush Limbaugh. It involved some serious Clinton administration Freudian slips, but also a style in which he tackled historical information that had been widely adopted by others in the industry today; the parody song or the news with an audience that was listening for unique content.

We also learned that whether you love or hate his political beliefs and on-air style, you have to respect Rush for staying consistent. He stated the EIB Network would not be exiled for broadcasting Gitmo for not agreeing with him on his show. His aim was to show that the conversations that were discussed on his program could continue to grow, take their own shape and eliminate the barrier that once existed.

I’d like to make it clear that I am not sharing my political affiliation in this column. But what I am going to share is the immense pride I have in my first job offer as the EP of The Morning Show with Rush Radio and what the National Brand Manager Ken Charles taught me that resonated so significantly throughout my radio journey. I was taught to never alienate or try to limit our listeners and P1’s. A person may hate your show, but they could also have a meter.

I asked Ken how Rush (el rushbo-damus) knew about the necessary adjustments to perfectly appeal to listeners in the mid 1980’s and what he uncovered that had gone unnoticed by the industry to that point; especially, considering the estimates to be over 43 million weekly listeners.

The Longtime National News/Talk/Sports Brand Manager for iHeartRadio andProgram Director of KNX NEWSRADIO1070, Ken Charles has been one of the most interesting players in the Rush format reset. Ken and Rush have both been huge catalysts of significant growth, development and will forever share a bond that defined the success seen by each of the players. A great number of Ken’s professional years have been spent studying, formatting, and launching a brand ‘ Rush Radio’ that in name alone, appeals to those who have no problem with being the enigma that the audience is so drawn to. Rush has been continually framed as someone who should be ashamed or blamed for failing to share the incredible success he’s attained throughout his professional journey.

“I was the guy who had Rush on his station as a first time PD in 1988′ said . I ran him on weekends. We were live and local during the week. I got a call that the competition wanted to air him live M-F 12p-2p but they’d stay with us if we ran him live. We were local and I passed. They took him and 32 years later the station that took him is the dominant player in the market and has been for over 25 years. I’m still here but that station isn’t. So what did I learn? Talent beats everything.

The audience didn’t care that Rush wasn’t in Orlando. They cared that he was entertaining and talked about things that they cared about. He connected with their hearts and just cut through the radio in a way very few talk talents had before him. I never made a mistake like that again.

So, I can speak about what makes him great from day one. I heard it. It’s why I was first to put him on in my market. But, I missed the other part. At the time, he was so unique that live and local didn’t matter to an audience that had been waiting for someone to speak to them. Outside of morning news magazine type shows most talk talent were either liberal or non-political fluff doing book interviews and talking about nothing.

Rush turned it on its ear. He took a right political slant but also did it with an FM morning man’s understanding of entertainment and turned talk radio on its side.

He single handedly saved hundreds of AM stations ratings wise and revenue wise and changed the dynamics of what talk radio could be.

I could go on forever. I made a huge programming mistake but making it and learning that lesson helped guide my career.”

Today we salute you, Rush.

There is a big difference between talents and legends. Rush Limbaugh’s legendary status was sealed a long time ago, but his impact remains as important as ever to a format that desperately needs him.

It’s well documented that Rush is battling cancer. His overcoming the disease should be the top concern but it’s human nature to expect station executives to contemplate a future without one of the most dominant radio voices of all-time appearing on their airwaves. Tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us, and Rush’s time behind the mic will eventually come to an end, but the longer News Talk radio can hold on to him, the better it is for everyone. When he finally steps away, an entire format could find itself lost and unable to recapture what he delivered them for decades. As the old saying goes, sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

When I was employed full-time as a NTS executive producer in radio. I had just turned 21. I learned so much about radio from two industry titans, Ken Charles and Rush Limbaugh. Rush has made a lasting impact on many of us. I hope we never forget how important of a contribution he’s made to this industry!

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Dee

    December 10, 2020 at 1:21 am

    Amazing testimony to Rush’s brand! Great article!

  2. Rick

    December 10, 2020 at 2:17 am

    What a tremendous tribute to a guy that changed my thinking and my way of life over 30 years ago. God bless Rush and Kudos to Chrissy for an excellent column

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BNM Writers

The Power of “No”

It explains so many of the past, present and future problems with an industry trying to survive in a crowded content space.

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Whenever I speak with friends or colleagues, the topic of “what’s wrong with radio” constantly comes up.  Everyone has different theories and many of them are valid.  Upon further reflection, I feel that it all boils down to one word.

No.

In nearly three decades of working in spoken word media, “no” is the one word I’ve heard more than any other.  It explains so many of the past, present and future problems with an industry trying to survive in a crowded content space. 

No.

It’s a word that has been said about every facet of the business.  For those of you that have worked in radio, tell me if any of these phrases are familiar.

NO, YOU CAN’T TALK ABOUT THIS

The recent memo Cumulus reportedly sent out censoring their talk hosts from opinions on the 2020 election did not surprise me in the least. 

Companies are infamous for knee-jerk reactions to quell potential controversy.  Don’t get me wrong, there is ALWAYS a line and some of the mandates that companies hand out are justified. 

Many are just over the top and end up doing more harm than good.

I recall one time as a young Program Director, my morning show host took a very hard stance against affirmative action policies that the local university had been adhering to.  Within an hour after his show ended, the station’s General Manger stormed into my office with a sheet of paper in his hand.

“I need you to sign this,” he said. 

The document was an edict that, as PD, I would have to enforce a strict policy that matters of race could never be discussed on the station again.  I would be solely responsible for said policy and that any violation by any host on the station would result in my immediate termination. 

“Hey, why don’t we talk about it first,” I said.  “Don’t you think this is an overreaction to this morning’s show?”

The GM went on to explain, in no uncertain terms, that I could either sign this document or clear out my office.   Since my rent was coming due, I signed it.

The next thing I did was start calling anyone and everyone to see if they were hiring.  I wanted out.  A short time later, I landed a new gig.

Radio has lost a slew of talent to different content channels because they didn’t want to be censored or overly controlled.   It’s understandable why companies would want to avoid controversy.  Far too often, the cost of doing so has been worse than the controversy itself.   

NO, WE CAN’T SELL THAT

Yes, the pandemic has hurt many businesses, radio being no exception.  The reality is ad revenues for radio have been on the decline since 2006.  While digital services jumping into the competition pool has been a big reason for this, so has radio’s stubbornness.

It was shocking at times sitting in sales meetings with fellow Program Directors and hearing how often they would shoot down a revenue idea.  Often the phrase that was used was “We’re not doing that; it would be a ratings killer!”  Many former colleagues would try to protect ratings points like they were their own children. The irony was, they often did so at their own peril. 

Radio is a revenue, not a ratings business.  People lose their jobs for reasons related to the all-mighty dollar; not because their AQH shares went down because of Neilson’s nonsense. 

While I was never one to roll over and rubber stamp any idea that an account exec would bring to the table, I always did my best to find a solution.  I grew up in a family of salespeople.  I understood what life was like cold-calling and living on a commission-only basis.   You don’t sell, you don’t eat.  I would never tell a DOS, GSM, or AE ‘no’ without trying to come up with an alternative that would work.  There is ALWAYS a middle ground that can be found.  Working on compromises with the sales staff was an opportunity for mutual education.  I’d have a chance to explain to the salesperson WHY their idea wouldn’t work for the brand.  The salesperson, in turn, could explain to me their client’s needs and how I should align my thinking. 

NO, WE CAN’T SPEND THE MONEY

I’ve found far too many radio execs that are comfortable playing defense rather than offense.  Quite honestly, I can’t blame them.  Companies have made it a capital crime for GM’s who can’t properly justify an expense.  In doing so, they’ve created an atmosphere that isn’t about winning, it’s about simply not failing. 

I remember in one market; we had the opportunity to make a bid for the broadcast rights to a popular local sports team.  Getting them would have been an absolute game changer for us.  At the time, the station we were bidding against had been paying $4 million a year in rights fees.  When we put our proposal together, our counter to that was to offer no rights fee at all. 

When we were finishing our proposal, the GM looked at me and our sales managers and said with a laugh, “It will be a fucking miracle if this works.”

Feeling like I had to speak up, I countered, “Aren’t you afraid we’re going to get laughed out of the room when we propose this?”

“Hey,” the GM responded, “I’d rather be laughed out of the room than ask (our company) for $4 million a year!”

Our presentation was an absolute embarrassment.  The Team President looked offended afterwards and insinuated that we were wasting his time.  It was a bad look for us and left the impression that we were low rent in front of a multi-billion-dollar company.  We didn’t get the radio rights and continued to struggle to gain traction in a competitive talk market.

But hey, we didn’t have to ask for any money.

NO, WE CAN NEVER DO THAT! 

Innovation has been sorely lacking from the radio space for far too long. 

I’ve written columns in the past that radio needed to embrace technology, not ratings.   As streaming services continue to haul in billions of dollars, I’ve pleaded for radio to put a value on their content and to not be afraid of the paywall.   These progressive, forward-thinking ideas have generally been rejected. 

Much of this is because many radio fears failure.   

This ultra-conservative approach has not only stymied the industry’s growth, but its ability to be creative.

While a good deal of progress has been made in the digital space, radio has embraced new ideas at a snail’s pace compared to other content providers.

Facebook built a company worth over $700 billion and did so living under the mantra to “move fast and break things.” 

Amazon has a trillion-dollar empire and got there by “treating every day like day 1.”

Apple is a $2 trillion dollar company whose bedrock is coming out with the coolest new tech toys every year. Radio’s mantra?  “Hey, we’re surviving!”

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BNM Writers

Stuart Varney Connects in the Morning

The qualities that set Stuart Varney apart are priceless and sometimes rare for network business anchors to possess.

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Oh, the pain of selling your shares of Microsoft, only to have the stock proceed to hit record highs. Especially after years of proudly standing by the holding and proclaiming great pleasure in it’s slow, steady and safe growth. Such was the plight of the jovial, ever-informed and curious Fox Business anchor, Stuart Varney. (he has since re-purchased a chunk of Microsoft.)

On any given weekday morning, you’re likely to hear Varney mentioning his infamous sale, or discussing gas prices near his home in New Jersey and near his vacation spot in upstate New York. In Varney, viewers get exactly what so many of them are searching for as they reach for their next cup of morning coffee. Most notably, he is able to build a bond and a connection with his viewers. Yes, he knows the market. He knows trends, PE values and economic indicators. But you also feel as though you truly know him as well.

The qualities that set Stuart Varney apart are priceless and sometimes rare for network business anchors to possess. You start with knowledge. Sure, he knows his niche – the market and its impact on the everyday Americans who tune in to see him every day. He can tell you what the numbers say and what it all means.  He also matches that knowledge with a real-world persona that viewers can identify and connect with. 

For example, he sold that Microsoft stock too soon. 

“I did that too!,” says Joe Six-Pack. 

But he turned around and bought some shares of Boeing. 

“Ok, we’ll see,” you think.

During the prosperity of the Trump years, Varney was downright giddy, and happy to say so, about the falling price of gas. 

“Hey, I can fill MY truck up for a few bucks less too!”

He came to this country from the United Kingdom and learned the value of hard work by washing dishes in a restaurant. 

“I washed dishes at my first job too!”

Through his stops at other networks, including CNN and CNBC, Varney has always been able to connect – with the market and, more importantly, with people. He asks the questions we want answers to, and follows up with a non-pretentious curiosity. If he doesn’t understand how Peloton works, he asks for clarification. If he is still confused about Bitcoin, he asks for clarification from his expert guests. As a result, his morning program, “Varney & Co.,” has the feel of a gang of buddies, rather than some stuffy money show. 

In his role as the traffic cop, Varney spends his mornings discussing issues and stock trends with market analysts, network correspondents, CEO’s, political leaders, entrepreneurs and socialites. In one minute, he’ll be asking his correspondent, Susan Li, about the latest move on the big board. In the show’s next segment, he’s talking football with Joe Namath or economics with Art Laffer. 

Varney’s intellect and knowledge brings us in, but it is the connection that keeps us. That, and his unbridled pride in being an American citizen, which he became in November of 2015. 

“I became an American because I believe America is fundamentally good,” Varney told his audience in January of 2020. “Where else in the world can someone with a foreign accent go on national television and tell people what’s going on in their society?” 

And tell us he does. Legions of Americans wouldn’t start their day any other way.

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BNM Writers

FOX News Enjoys Ratings Climb, CNN Takes a Step Back

“Fox News Channel was cable’s most-watched network during the week of February 15. CNN experienced its lowest-rated week in both total viewers and the 25-54 demographic since before the election.”

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Fox News Channel was cable’s most-watched network overall for the week of Feb. 15. They continued topping prime time in total viewers; this past week, they averaged 2.486 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. The Feb. 17 edition of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” (3.69 million viewers) led all cable news telecasts for the week.

Fox News also led in total day (6 a.m. to 5:59 a.m.) and notched its best performing week with the daytime average since the week of October 26th leading up to the 2020 election. “The Faulkner Focus” at 11AM/ET anchored by Harris Faulkner posted 1.5 million viewers and 214,000 in the 25-54 demo, earning its highest-rated week in viewership since its Jan. 18 launch and surpassing the competition on CNN and MSNBC in total viewers. From 1-3PM/ET, “America Reports” with John Roberts and Sandra Smith garnered 1.5 million viewers and 213,000 in the 25-54 demo, also seeing its most-watched week since program inception.

CNN experienced its lowest-rated week in both total viewers and in the key 25-54 demographic since before the election (9/21/20) as well as its lowest-watched week of the year in primetime in the key demographic. Nonetheless, CNN still managed to best both Fox News and MSNBC in 25-54. The cable news network’s demos were most assisted by its telecast of the week’s most notable news event: President Biden’s town hall from Milwaukee, WI from Feb. 16. It was the first time in prime time Biden took centerstage since his inauguration. He answered questions from Americans about multiple aspects of the coronavirus pandemic, including vaccines, school reopenings and economic recovery.

CNN also benefited from its Sunday night programming. “Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy”, which was picked up for a second season by CNN on Feb. 24, was the most-watched program in cable news for the day (Feb. 21) among both total viewers and adults 25-54. In total viewers within the 9pm ET hour, CNN was top-rated with 1.635 million, Fox News’ “The Next Revolution” followed with 1.130 million and MSNBC’s “The Week with Joshua Johnson” had 613,000; in the key demo adults 25-54, CNN averaged 385,000, +192 percent advantage over Fox News’ 132,000 and +442 percentage more than MSNBC’s 71,000, outperforming both networks combined.

At 10pm ET on Feb. 21, CNN’s “Lincoln: Divided We Stand” was cable news’ top rated in the hour with 1.229 million total viewers and 257,000 adults 25-54. Fox News’ “Rush Limbaugh: In His Words” special (999,000 viewers/145,000 25-54) and MSNBC’s “Richard Engel: On Assignment” (627,000 viewers/61,000 25-54) lagged behind; CNN also beating FNC and MSNBC combined within the demo.

Here are the cable news prime time averages for Feb. 15-21, 2021:

Total Day (6 am-5:59 am)

  • Fox News Channel: 1.325 million viewers; 212,000 adults 25-54 
  • MSNBC: 1.185 million viewers; 174,000 adults 25-54
  • CNN: 1.032 million viewers; 238,000 adults 25-54

Prime Time (Feb. 15-20 @ 8-11 pm; Feb. 21 @ 7-11 pm)

  • Fox News Channel: 2.486 million viewers; 366,000 adults 25-54
  • MSNBC: 1.987 million viewers; 296,000 adults 25-54
  • CNN: 1.634 million viewers; 395,000 adults 25-54

Top 10 most-watched cable news programs in total viewers:

1. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 2/17/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.690 million viewers

2. President Biden Town Hall (CNN, Tue. 2/16/2021 9:00 PM, 73 min.) 3.639 million viewers

3. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 2/15/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.558 million viewers

4. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 2/16/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.502 million viewers

5. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Thu. 2/18/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.468 million viewers

6. Hannity (FOXNC, Wed. 2/17/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.461 million viewers

7. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Wed. 2/17/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.420 million viewers

8. Rachel Maddow Show “Justice After Trump” (MSNBC, Tue. 2/16/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.216 million viewers

9. Hannity (FOXNC, Mon. 2/15/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.177 million viewers

10. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Mon. 2/15/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.137 million viewers

Top 10 cable news programs among adults 25-54:

1. President Biden Town Hall (CNN, Tue. 2/16/2021 9:00 PM, 73 min.) 0.902 million adults 25-54

2. CNN Tonight (CNN, Tue. 2/16/2021 10:13 PM, 47 min.) 0.661 million adults 25-54

3. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 2/17/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.580 million adults 25-54

4. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Thu. 2/18/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.569 million adults 25-54

5. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 2/16/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.549 million adults 25-54

6. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Wed. 2/17/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.549 million adults 25-54

7. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 2/18/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.530 million adults 25-54

8. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 2/15/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.522 million adults 25-54

9. Hannity (FOXNC, Wed. 2/17/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.521 million adults 25-54

10. Cuomo Prime Time (CNN, Thu. 2/18/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.520 million adults 25-54

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