A major talk radio earthquake? Media giant Cumulus is planning to dump conservative talkers Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity when their contracts run out. This doe NOT mean their style of talk will be gone — but they’ll be minus some big outlets:
In a major shakeup for the radio industry, Cumulus Media, the second-biggest broadcaster in the country, is planning to drop both Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity from its stations at the end of the year, an industry source told POLITICO on Sunday.
Cumulus has decided that it will not renew its contracts with either host, the source said, a move that would remove the two most highly rated conservative talk personalities from more than 40 Cumulus channels in major markets.
The decision comes after negotiations between Cumulus and Premiere Networks, the division of Clear Channel that distributes Limbaugh and Hannity’s shows, broke down due to disagreements over the cost of the distribution rights, the source said. Cumulus is known to drive a hard bargain on costs, and Clear Channel is known to seek top dollar for big names.
As industry insiders caution, Cumulus and Clear Channel have come to the brink before during contract negotiations only to resume talks. But the source told POLITICO that Clear Channel was unlikely to reduce the cost for distribution rights to a level that would satisfy Cumulus.
Cumulus declined to comment for this story: “Cumulus is not in a position to comment about negotiations with talent under contract, no matter what the rumor of the day might be,” a spokesperson told POLITICO.
Those who say this means Rush’s style of radio and the style of Hannity (who I’ve long called either “Rush Lite” or “Rush Limbaugh without Rush’s broadcasting talent,” because Limbaugh was a veteran broadcaster way before he hit it big nationally as a conservative talk show host) will not be accurately reflecting the impact of this apparent development:
But in recent weeks, Cumulus has been quietly reaching out to radio talent agents and political insiders about new local and regional station hosts to fill some of the airtime that will be left vacant by Limbaugh and Hannity, industry sources said. Cumulus is also expected to move some of its existing talent — which includes Mike Huckabee, Mark Levin, and Michael Savage — into one of the slots
None of the three can be considered offering highly thoughtful talk radio. But this shake up would mean at several things:
1. It would change the pecking order of top conservative talkers.
2. It will make competition among conservative talkers for audience share even more intense — which is likely to mean MORE over the top comments and MORE hyperpartisanship as they battle to advance…or hold their old or new rankings.
3. More opportunities for regional talent, especially talkers who had filled in for Limbaugh.
4. Acceleration of the Limbaugh boycott by groups that have been chipping away at his advertisers because he will be seen as increasingly vulnerable.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.