In the wake of uproar following conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh’s characterization of 30-year-old contraception activist and Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke last month as a “slut,” Limbaugh has seen advertisers flee and entire campaigns waged to get him off the air.
But the big question remains: Just how have Limbaugh’s ratings been affected?
There has been no measure of his listenership since the Fluke flap. But nonpartisan radio expert Michael Harrison told The Daily Caller that Limbaugh’s numbers likely are going nowhere but up — despite the anti-Limbaugh push.
Harrison is founder and publisher of Talkers magazine, the industry’s leading trade journal.
According to Harrison, even if all the publicity is negative, it is a “good bet that Rush is enjoying pretty high ratings” last week and going into this week.
“The irony is that he probably right now has the biggest audience he’s had in years, and the double irony of all this is sponsors that are fleeing, they’re missing out on the best advertising buy in radio,” Harrison told TheDC in an interview, explaining that Limbaugh incites passion on all fronts.
Limbaugh’s fans, said Harrison, will galvanize around him, not abandon him. Many of his detractors are listening because they feel vindicated, he explained, and still others are tuning in to hear what the fuss is about.
“[T]he whole thing is so full of irony, and so full of misinformation that it’s almost laughable,” he said. (RELATED: More on Rush Limbaugh)
Harrison, who touts his support for all broadcasting — progressive, conservative, and everything in between — said that while many advertisers have left Limbaugh’s program, those attacking him are unknowingly inflating the number of defectors since they do not understand how radio advertising works, specifically “no-buy” dictates from radio networks.
“First of all, certainly a lot of advertisers have canceled because they’re frightened to be in a place that’s dangerous or controversial. They don’t want their product attached to controversy too much,” he said. While some controversy can be good for advertising, Harrison added, too much can be a turn-off for potential ad clients.
According to Harrison, the “no-buy” list is just an advertising strategy — not a boycott of any specific program.
“It has nothing to do with fleeing, boycotting [or] censoring,” he said. “It’s just that certain advertisers have certain shows on a list that they don’t want to be on because they don’t want to be on controversial programming, and this has gone on for years.”
“There’s nothing new about this,” Harrison cautioned, “and what’s happening now is I’m starting to see a number of the sponsors that have been on this list for many, many years, suddenly being touted by the forces that are trying to bring Limbaugh down. They’re sort of putting their names out there as if they’re piling on to this list of advertisers that are fleeing. And that’s where this thing has become very murky.”
“Talk radio has always dealt with the ‘no-buy’ list, and it’s not that it’s a repudiation against talk radio. It’s just that not every advertiser is for every kind of show. And for every advertiser that doesn’t want to be in controversy, there are advertisers who do.”