Limbaugh’s replacements are no Limbaugh
There was always a bit of mystery surrounding the success of radio talk host Rush Limbaugh, who passed away this past February 17th. Not that there should have been, but there most definitely was: to this day, few seem to understand what made him successful.
Yes, I know there are those who will analyze the show and say that it was his conservative views presented in a liberal-dominated media world. But this absolutely misses the real reason he was popular. And the lesson not learned is the reason that so many competitors on all sides of the political spectrum have missed the boat … few conservatives ever matched his success, and liberal Air America failed miserably.
What made Limbaugh tick was that he was an entertainer first, political talker second. There were times his show segment didn’t even feature politics at all, with football being his main diversion. The point is that he was fun. And while I am sure to get a ton of hate mail (mostly from those who never heard his show), it is an absolute fact. Especially in his early days, it was not just conservatives who listened. He didn’t insult listeners who disagreed, instead embracing them. In the political arena, he was friends from the full spectrum of politics.
I bring this up now because I’ve been sampling his supposed replacements, Dan Bongino — heard locally from 9 a.m. to 12 noon on KABC (790 AM) — and (Clay) Travis and (Buck) Sexton — heard locally on KEIB (1150 AM).
Both shows are fine, for what they are: political commentary mixed in with interviews of political leaders. But they are not Limbaugh … they are the equivalent to the shows that ran on many stations that carried Limbaugh, and were just there to fill space on the hours Limbaugh was not broadcasting himself.
That doesn’t mean they are bad, and it doesn’t mean they can’t become something better. But when I listen, I cannot get past the “preaching to the choir” feeling that was never there with Limbaugh. They are informative, and of course similarly biased … but lacking the fun.
Part of that fun came from Limbaugh’s first jobs in radio: playing top-40 music. He honed his craft making the most of his limited time in between the records, and as my RadioWaves podcast partner Mike Stark always says, it is what is between the records that counts.
Limbaugh didn’t bring people back to the AM band and launch a talk-radio revolution by sounding like everyone else, and he never did sound like everyone else. Bongino, Travis and Sexton need to think about what they are doing and make their shows not only more entertaining, but present their views in such a way that they, too, can attract those who may disagree but are willing to listen to views other than their own.
I just don’t see that right now. But they can do it. And should.
The mail was almost 100% in agreement with my commentary last week on KROQ’s (106.7 FM) has-been status. Only one letter disagreed, and it pointed to a website of supposed radio insiders who disagreed. I am absolutely wrong, they all said.
I know them well … I call them the corporate radio apologists. They will defend to the death what iHeart, Audacy and Cumulus have done to radio, which is to send listeners to alternative sources such as Apple Music and Spotify, make radio a background entertainment service minimizing ad rates and station value, and in general make radio less important in the lives of people.
They are the rearranging the deck chairs as Radio Titanic sinks. You, on the other hand, said this:
“Unfortunately the state if radio is more concerned with the bottom line instead of evolving a brand into the tech era. “ — Don A
“You nailed it. Good job. It’s about time.” — Max Tolkoff
“Been listening to KROQ since their AM days. Regarding your brief article, they let go of all their talent. I could list them but you know who they are starting with Ralph and Lisa. I finally cut the cord and now listen to KLOS. Feels like the old days with Kevin Ryder and other familiar voices. I love Heidi and Frank. Feels like the old days just with (expletive deleted) music, but that’s what my music library is for.” — Scott W
Kevin Ryder, who spent 30 years waking up Los Angeles on the Kevin and Bean morning show on KROQ — and currently heard doing afternoons on KLOS (95.5 FM) as half of Kevin and Sluggo — agreed with my analysis.
At first, “I didn’t understand the level of connection that you can have with listeners. I had no idea,” Ryder told me recently. “Until probably 12 or 13 years into doing the morning show on KROQ, did I realize, people are really invested in this, and invested in me as a person,” later explaining that “the problem I think is there are so few huge corporations that own so many radio stations … and I just think that they have miscalculated that connection, many different times.
“It’s a real connection … and it’s the connection that they don’t understand.”
There were more letters (and more of the interview with Ryder at LARadiowaves.com), but the idea is there. I just don’t see any real progress until KROQ is either independent again, or Audacy gets their mitts off of it and let’s the local creative juices flow. National and regional programming just doesn’t cut it.