Report: Rush Limbaugh may leave Cumulus Due to CEO Blaming Fluke Comments for Ad Loss

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Are we on the verge of a major media story that could shake up talk radio? Or will this report be one that sparks a new round of (sigh) left and right skirmishing? Or will it turn out to be merely a contract negotiating ploy? According to The Politico, conservative talk show host king (and in many ways the de facto strategist of the Republican Party, if you look at how the party ultimately follows his wishes and how partisans pick up many of his riffs) is considering leaving Cumulus Media because Limbaugh is irked that the company’s CEO has blamed a loss in ad revenues on him.

SNL even did this sketch on the theme last March.

The Rush Limbaugh Program is considering ending its affiliation agreement with Cumulus Media at the end of this year, a move that would bring about one of the biggest shakeups in talk radio history, a source close to the show tells POLITICO.

Should the move take place, 40 Cumulus-owned radio stations would lose the rights to the most popular talk radio program in the country. In addition, the show might be picked up by competing regional radio stations in Washington, New York, Chicago, Dallas and other major markets.

According to the source, Limbaugh is considering the move because Cumulus CEO Lew Dickey has blamed the company’s advertising losses on Limbaugh’s controversial remarks about Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown law student. In Feb. 2012, Limbaugh referred to Fluke as “a slut” because she had called on congress to mandate insurance coverage of birth control. The subsequent controversy over those remarks resulted in a significant advertising boycott.

So since his contract is up this could be perceived as a negotiating ploy as well as an attempt to silence the CEO from talking about the negative impact of Limbaugh’s over-the-top comments (some say almost slanderous) about Fluke.

But it could be serious: Rush could always get stations to carry his show.

In case you forgot, GO HERE and read this column on the controversy and context of it. More from The Politico piece:

The true extent of Limbaugh’s effect on Cumulus’s advertising revenue is not known. In an August 2012 earnings call, Dickey said Cumulus’s top three stations had lost $5.5 million, in part because of the boycott. In a March 2013 earnings call, Dickey said the company’s talk radio side had “been challenged… due to some of the issues that happened a year ago.” Nevertheless, Limbaugh remains the most highly rated talk radio host in the country.

Cumulus Media, which has a contract with Limbaugh through 2013, declined to comment for this report….

Will Bunch writes:

Indeed, Limbaugh’s fall here is so epic that he may be taking down the entire industry; many advertisers have been adverse now to running their spots on any kind of talk show (which is unfortunate, and is unfair to decent conservatives who — unlike Limbaugh — wouldn’t dream of calling someone a “slut” because they disagreed with her). The irony is that Limbaugh could avoided a lot of this with a sincere apology, but just like in most Greek tragedies, hubris is always the greatest of the tragic flaws.

Also, the fact that stations even stick with Limbaugh at this point reminds me a lot of those GOP and pseudo-Democrats sticking with the NRA on background checks, and now paying the price in diminished popularlity. I guess some folks never learn…until it’s too late.


Some thoughts from yours truly:

1. I really think the days of Baby Boomers walking around with 1960s-based hubris are slowly coming to a welcome end. Limbaugh and many of these polarizing talk show hosts (right and even left variety) are Baby Boomers, or close to it. Many young people sadly shake their heads at name calling, demonizing, rage-filled radio and cable partisans. We’re likely to be headed to a new kind of political talk radio — passionate, yes, but framed in a way that the other side feels is hate radio, less likely. Don’t say “more cerebral” or you’ll doom a talk show host’s career. In 2013, at least.

2. Expect partisans to react to this report, if it has “legs.” Cumulus will be under pressure to keep Limbaugh and the CEO will be under pressure to never again blame Limbaugh for their loses. Leftists will gloat over Limbaugh’s problems and declare that the boycott of Limbaugh was a success and to keep it up.

3. None of this will diminish Limbaugh’s hold on many Republicans. You can tell when someone is a Limbaugh fan because they will almost reguritate his riffs, and deny facts are facts because Rush didn’t say them or Rush denied them. While many Republicans idolize him, others consider his impact on American politics and the demonizing way in which parties talk about each other has been toxic and undermined the once-cherished concept of seeking consensus, versus winning through political power only. The popularity of Limbaugh’s show spawned a host of Limbaugh wannabes (some better than others) and also transformed politics in the late 20th and early 21st century into entertainment, much as professional wrestling was the big entertainment ticket in early television.

But the bottom line will be this: if Limbaugh leaves Cumulus, he and his fans will say he left but many media types will conclude that, yes, he did pay a price for his behavior in his comments about Fluke and no matter how much bluster there is about how there was no real impact, yes, were some consequences. Don’t expect to hear that on Fox News or see that IN BIG HEADLINES on the Drudge Report.

It’s unlikely if Rush moves he’ll be bigger than ever on new stations; most likely, he’d be in a holding pattern or feel he has to be more outrageous to gain more audience share. Which he could then gain — no matter what it does to already sagging attempts to “rebrand” the Republican Party.

UPDATE: Gawker:

So, would the top-rated radio host in the country actually leave the stations that broadcast him in his largest markets? Maybe. Less Rush would certainly be a good thing, though that seems very unlikely to happen.

The New York Daily News:

Rush Limbaugh insists it’s not his fault that ad revenue has dropped at his flagship WABC radio station — and if his boss keeps saying it is, Rush just may pack up his megadittoes and leave.

In New York, that would very likely take him to WOR, which would create the biggest shakeup in city talk radio since WOR scooped up Bob Grant after WABC fired him in 1995.

Limbaugh’s contract with WABC expires at the end of the year.

Lew Dickey, the CEO of WABC parent company Cumulus, has said Limbaugh’s controversial comments have diminished ad revenue for the past year — and the slump remains a “residual hangover” for the station.

But the rift blew open over the weekend when a source close to the Limbaugh told the Daily News: “Lew needs someone to blame, (so) he’s pointing fingers instead of fixing his own sales problem.”

It’s an old kind of statement: Rush is NEVER to blame or at fault (unless he is..)