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Rush Limbaugh has died. He was 70. Complications of advanced lung cancer took him.

I know Rush was a polarizing figure. If you fall on the side that reviled him, please don’t vent your venom in my comments. But I’m happy to have healthy discussions there.

I worked as a DJ in AM radio in 1990, at a “full service” station that played inoffensive music with happy DJs and news on the hour. That summer, we jettisoned our midday show and put in Rush.

At the Golden EIB Microphone

AM radio was in steep decline then. Through the 1970s and 1980s, music formats increasingly moved to FM, leaving AM to flounder and lose its identity and purpose. Rush’s compelling show brought large audiences back to AM and, for a long time, showed AM radio how it could remain relevant.

What an entertaining revelation Rush’s show was! While I’m sure he believed the core principles he spoke of and advocated for on his show, it was clear that the way he did it was a shtick. He even used to say it in those days: his job was to deliver a large audience to advertisers, and he was very good at it.

I was a young skull full of mush then, as Rush would say. What he said on his show largely resonated with me, and helped shape my political views. I leaned conservative anyway; he pushed me the rest of the way over.

As the years passed, I found his show to be less fun. His shtick had not only gone stale, it had turned foul. I found myself pushed away, and eventually I quit listening.

I don’t know whether I’ve moved to the center, or the Republican Party has moved farther to the right, or both. What I do know is that a couple years ago when I sampled Rush’s show again for a while, I found myself repelled by most of what he said. I guess I’ve moved on.

But I will always respect Rush as a broadcaster. He really did save AM radio, staying its death for a couple decades at least. Thanks for the memories, Rush, and may you rest well.

Remembering Rush Limbaugh

Aside

10 thoughts on “Remembering Rush Limbaugh

  1. Christopher May says:

    “I don’t know whether I’ve moved to the center, or the Republican Party has moved farther to the right, or both.”

    I think there’s a strong rightward movement component there that gets amplified by the need to deliver controversy as a means of theater. Commentators like Limbaugh use controversy as dramatic flair that deliver the ratings. It’s like what the WWE is to wrestling. Sure, at some base level it’s wrestling. The need to entertain has turned it into such a melodrama that it doesn’t bear much resemblance to the real thing.

    The problem is that just like in the WWE, some people, either out of ignorance or willful suspension of cognition, choose to believe that the theatrics are true . I think the result is that it causes a feedback loop whereby what was controversial and dramatic yesterday is no longer so today. The commentators are forced to ratchet it up another notch and pretty soon that will become the norm and the goalposts will again have to move. Enough cycles of that and we’re left with the likes of Alex Jones.

    Of course, I see some of the same things happening on the other side, too, though they haven’t managed to get to the Jones level yet. I think what leaves me the most upset is that, as someone who is registered as an independent and who is pretty centered with some leftward and some rightward leanings by issue, I’m finding it harder and harder to find candidates to speak to my ideology. The right keeps moving to the right and the left keeps moving to the left. There’s not much left in the middle anymore. One can only hope that maybe someday Limbaugh-esque commentators can stir up controversy and ratings by suggesting that their respective parties do something completely outrageous — move to the center and work with their counterparts across the aisle…

  2. Hi Jim:

    I started listening to Rush in 1989 soon after I went to work as a VoEd instructor in the local state prison about 100 miles north of Philly. Many of my peers were “Yellow Dog Democrats” and absolutely hated Rush’s show. The inmates I taught….they were so far to the LEFT they made Bernie Saunders look like an extreme right wing conservative!!. Needless to say during class we listened to the local oldies station!

    I, like you, fell away from Rush after a few years. His vitriolic rantings did nothing but inflame the “Ditto Heads” and further cause the divide between conservative and liberal to widen to the point that the resultant chasm could seldom be beached. If you were a “Republican” you were automatically a “Ditto Head”. If you were a “Deamoncrat” you were a baby killing evil bastard! All semblance of constructive discourse was impossible. Ergo, look at where we are at today.

    Rush certainly did rescue AM radio (I started in AM radio in 1964 and worked my way through college as a DJ/on-air personality at four different broadcast venues). I vividly remember the days when our UPI teletype would go silent due to lack of advertising revenue from local businesses and we ended up reading the local obits and wheat/corn/barley prices in place of any news! Let’s not forget the local “swap and shop” ads and endless PSAs!

    God, I loved AM radio. My wife of 40 yrs use to get a kick out of the characters on “WKRP in Cincinnati”. In reality I knew EVERY ONE of those characters….it seems that AM radio was a breeding ground for them!

    Jim, I hope you are happy…..I am nostalgic and must now go listen to my seven foot tall stack of 45s!

  3. Roger Meade says:

    Christopher- I feel about the same. Stuck in the middle without much to say to either extreme. I think that is why Biden is sticking with center/left appointments. He is hoping to pull some of the Republicans back toward the center, while not worrying to much about disappointing the left wing.
    I think he is looking at those who moved to the Democrats (suburbanites) and those who stuck with him (conservative blacks), and he sees a winning combination for 2022. He needs to deliver at least some of “the goods” though. Infrastructure building would put to work folks from coal and oil who are going to be out of that work no matter what in the next few years. The problems facing middle class working folks are real, and have been ignored far too long.
    As for Limbaugh, if entertaining is a synonym for irritating, then I guess he was an entertainer. A chance encounter while passing by on the dial was plenty for me.

  4. Limbaugh was a force of nature who went from obscurity to fame in a relatively short time. I never had the kind of job where I could listen to him regularly, but would listen in the car when his show was on. I am not sure when I stopped listening (or why), but it was quite awhile ago. What I remember most was that he could be hilarious.

    I think his importance goes beyond radio. Among non-politicians, he was probably the first “public conservative” to appeal to something beyond the Buckley/WSJ demographic. I see America’s political parties engaged in a massive shift right now – The super rich and the union steelworkers still vote for different parties, but those parties have switched. I think Rush was THE guy who started pitching conservatism to working folks. Notice that the only two Republican Presidents of modern times who could make that same case were former Democrats named Reagan and Trump. I detect in the modern left the kind of class-condescension I used to see from intellectuals like Buckley.

    Limbaugh was also the first who really provided an alternative to the worldview that worshipped FDR and JFK, a worldview that prevailed almost universally in broadcast and print. Rush gave a voice to a huge group of people who had been ignored by broadcasters. I don’t buy that he created all of the divisiveness we see today, unless he did so in the way that a battered spouse who “misbehaves” creates divisiveness. That “prevailing” worldview has always resisted and reacted badly to pushback. They hated Reagan and they certainly hated Limbaugh.

  5. I think many of us moved beyond Rush’s theater after a while, sorta the same thing happened for me with Howard Stern … they both were entertaining for a while, but eventually they got stuck in their schtick. I feel bad for his friends and family, he died too young but the cause was self inflicted. the libertarian side of me says it was his choice and not ours to judge.

  6. I think I fall into the same bucket. Rush Limbaugh’s presence was so strong in my early childhood that I remember asking my mom at the age of three or so if he was president!

    As I grew up I listened to WOWO out of Fort Wayne, where Limbaugh was a constant presence. I found most of his arguments well articulated, if a bit showy, and found many of his points to be misconstrued by a media looking for a scapegoat. But at some point within the past decade I found that his schtick drew further away from satire and theater as Rush became less of a “happy warrior” and more of an aggravating annoyance. I found the same with Glenn Beck once he started crying and shilling for disaster-prep groups. Maybe that was part of growing up, as my brain converted from mush to mashed potatoes. Today, it’s a mushy baked potato full of butter.

    I echo your thoughts about moving center or the Republican Party moving right. I’ve never been partier, and I’ve not had much fun at any that I’ve been to during my college years or otherwise, including the local Republican one here.

  7. I listened to him pretty regularly in the 90’s. Early to mid 90’s anyway. As I approached the age of 30, I finally started connecting the dots between fallacious logic that I’d learned about earlier in life, and Rush’s flawed arguments that he presented on a daily basis. The repeated ad hominem attacks and constant black/white thinking errors were enough to turn me off for good. In the end, his show appealed to those prone to believing in conspiracy theories and accepting of white supremacy.

  8. Unfortunately, I never listened to him when he was younger. For the last 20 years I found him mean, rude, prejudiced, closed-minded, and so predictable in his reactionary views that he wasn’t worth listening to.

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