On Sunday night, several reports surfaced of a possible split between syndicated conservative talker Rush Limbaugh and Cumulus Media, which owns 40 stations that have the rights to Limbaugh’s show in major markets.
Should that split occur, it’s anticipated that those stations would lose those rights in those big markets — most notably from Limbaugh’s long-time flagship station WABC in New York City — to its crosstown competitor, WOR. An industry insider told The Daily Caller, “the people really being hurt are the small and medium players in the business.”
Michael Harrison, the founder and publisher of industry-trade journal Talkers magazine, told TheDC the signs of this Cumulus-Limbaugh divorce had been apparent for some time. He also said that the move by Clear Channel — which owns Limbaugh’s distributor, Premier Radio — to acquire WOR last year was a show that Limbaugh and his conservative talker colleague, Sean Hannity, would have a smooth landing place in the event of a breakup with WABC.
“It has appeared for some time now that Rush and Cumulus are heading for splitsville and when and if the break finally occurs it will most likely be across the board at all Cumulus stations that presently carry Rush,” Harrison wrote in an email to TheDC. “There is no doubt the acquisition of WOR by Clear Channel in the nation’s No. 1 market was a pre-emptive defensive strike to assure Premiere of having a Big Apple outlet for Rush and Sean.”
Both sides are pointing fingers in the reports, with a source at Cumulus blaming declining revenues spurred by Limbaugh’s “slut” controversy last year and a source close to Limbaugh’s show suggesting that Limbaugh is being used as a scapegoat for Cumulus’ struggles.
“The blame game for sagging revenue currently being played by Rush and Cumulus contains a bit of truth and a bit of hyperbole on both sides,” Harrison wrote. “However, none of it is good for talk radio in general and the people really being hurt are the small and medium players in the business who rely on Rush and Cumulus as resources, or simply role models by which others judge the industry.”
But Harrison also pointed the finger at professional political operatives using “well-oiled campaigns” to attack the shows’ ad revenues, one of which was organized by Media Matters following Limbaugh’s “slut” remarks last year.
“Worse, the idea of a free and open marketplace of ideas and, to a degree, the First Amendment, is endangered by the present politically-motivated practice of professional political operatives responding to opposing ideas by organizing well-oiled campaigns to cut off their funds and shut them down — as opposed to mounting legitimate opposition initiatives of their own,” Harrison said.