Rush marks 25 years on national airwaves

Friday, August 2, 2013
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh poses with a bust in his likeness during a 2012 ceremony inducting him into the Hall of Famous Missourians in the state Capitol in Jefferson City, Mo. Thursday marked Limbaugh’s 25th anniversary in national syndication. (Julie Smith ~ Associated Press file)

He was fired seven times as he tried to make a career, he reminded his listeners Thursday, on the "silver anniversary" of The Rush Limbaugh Show.

Rush Hudson Limbaugh III, born and raised in Cape Girardeau, marked 25 years of talking on the radio to a national audience -- a period of time the notoriously outspoken and conservative host referred to as "about 24 and a half years longer than the drive-by media forecast that it would last. And 25 years and nine months longer than the Democrat Party predicted or hoped that it would last."

Sound bites and audio clips from past shows -- including one featuring his grandfather, Rush H. Limbaugh Sr., from his 100th birthday in 1991 -- made up Thursday's show, which is broadcast on about 600 stations throughout the country.

National media outlets Thursday released lists of "most outrageous moments" and columns carrying varying opinions of Limbaugh and his show. For years, Limbaugh has held the undisputed top spot in talk radio. He's received numerous awards and on-air calls from presidents, and many times landed in hot water over his controversial comments.

As "The Rush Limbaugh Show" gained popularity in the 1980s, ABC put it into national syndication.

"He broke the mold," said David Limbaugh, Rush's brother, himself a nationally syndicated columnist, author and lawyer who lives in Cape Girardeau. "He also resurrected AM radio."

Discussion of the effects of Rush Limbaugh's show on issues in American politics has prompted TV segments and numerous writings, even books. But perhaps a true measure of its reach is the 20 million-per-week listenership often quoted by Limbaugh and the show's producers.

Humor and satire are often used by Limbaugh to bring his listeners the news of the day and commentary on political issues. It's a mix Jeremy Walling, a political-science professor at Southeast Missouri State University, said works for Limbaugh in a way no other host can seem to match.

"There's definitely something going on with that guy that the other guys just don't have," Walling said. "The thing that has always struck me about Rush is that he is kind of funny and entertaining, and my impression is that these others that don't have that same kind of approach with their audience."

But that same humorous impression taken by Walling and other listeners is something he said he believes Limbaugh can use as a shield, when necessary.

"If it gets too controversial, he can go underneath and say, 'I'm an entertainer. I'm not a politician or a journalist.' So he kind of gets both sides."

Limbaugh has needed that shield on par with the number of times he has been rewarded and highly regarded for his influence. In good times, he's written two best-selling books, hosted his own TV show, been credited with helping Republicans rise to power in the White House and Congress, and raised millions for charity while making millions from his radio contracts.

In bad times, Limbaugh has been blasted by the media and lost listenership and advertisers. For instance, his comments made toward feminism and tolerance of other races, as well as more personal attacks, such as a response to a Georgetown student speaking about the need for insurance plans to cover birth control in front of a congressional committee, and an impression of actor Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson's disease, have drawn intense negative responses across the nation.

At the same time, there have been personal attacks on the host himself, such as some questioning whether the hearing loss Limbaugh experienced several years ago was a result of prescription drug abuse. Limbaugh never shared a medical reason for the hearing loss during his show, but admitted to an addiction to painkillers in 2003 and subsequently sought treatment in a rehabilitation center. He also received cochlear implants to restore his hearing.

Limbaugh followers sometimes describe the controversial comments as the host's brand of humor. But it doesn't sit well with everyone, such as Cape Girardeau resident Tracy Sloan.

"He makes a lot of racial slurs," she said. "Half of the things he says don't make sense."

Despite the controversies, loyal Rush listeners are never hard to find. Also published Thursday were lists of "best moments of Rush" and "greatest quotes from Rush," featuring comments from his show. One example: "Conservatism is an active intellectual pursuit; it requires a constant vigilance. It has nothing to do with feelings. Liberalism is the most gutless choice you can make. You just see suffering and say, 'Oh, I feel so horrible!'"

Limbaugh's expressions of his feelings about being a conservative are a draw for many local listeners, such as Diane Taylor of Cape Girardeau.

"We pretty much agree with everything he has to say," said Taylor, whose husband Tom went to high school with Limbaugh. "We enjoy the show."

Taylor said people who don't listen to Limbaugh every day "believe the hype" when it comes to Limbaugh-related controversies.

"I think if they actually paid attention to what he says, they would find him entertaining and informative," Taylor said.

Another Cape Girardeau resident, Becki Essner, agreed.

"I'm not offended by anything he says," she said. "It's just his brand of humor. What he does say, he says it with educated reasoning; it's just that people sometimes take it out of context."

David Limbaugh describes the pushback against Rush as only an adverse reaction by liberals to the presentation of information. Those people don't want to accept that conservative voices deserve a place in the mainstream media, Limbaugh said.

"A lot of the controversy Rush generates is because he has been an effective voice of opposition. That's the only reason," Limbaugh said.

Rush Limbaugh also denies, though he has in the past hinted at, any control over the Republican Party. After Mitt Romney's unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 2012, Limbaugh said:

"I'm not in charge of any Republican Party platform. I'm not in charge of anybody's campaign. I have nothing to say, officially or unofficially, about what the Republican Party does as it tries to win elections. Zilch, zero, nada. I am simply a powerful, influential member of the media commenting on such things."

Walling, for one, does not agree with the assumption that Limbaugh has some control.

"He always sounds very smart, and he approached everything he talks about in a very analytical way, so you know he's been paying attention to how politics works for a very long time. I think that sometimes presents us with a situation where what happens is what he says will happen, but I certainly don't think he is orchestrating the moves of the Republican Party," Walling said.

Limbaugh's local influence can be seen in a small element of Cape Girardeau's tourist industry.

The Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau offers Rush Limbaugh-themed souvenirs, such as a handheld fan that can be purchased for $1, along with magnets, postcards and a book about Rush Hudson Limbaugh Sr., the late patriarch of the Limbaugh family known for his prominent law career who was a local celebrity in his own right. A brochure offered by the visitors bureau also will help Limbaugh fans self-guide themsevles through a driving tour to places where the radio personality spent his formative days, including the old high school, his childhood home and his church.

At least a few people a month go on the tour, according to Stacy Dohogne-Lane, who explains the Limbaugh-Cape Girardeau connection to visitors if they ask about it. The bureau is careful about how they market Limbaugh as an attraction because of the controversy that surrounds him.

"He is very polarizing; I think anyone could say that about him," Dohogne-Lane said.

Dohogne-Lane said fans who come to the visitors bureau for information often want to know why a bigger deal isn't made over Limbaugh hailing from Cape Girardeau. They want to know why there isn't a Rush-themed museum or monument. There is an image of Limbaugh painted on the Mississippi River floodwall. Coming here, after all, as described by presidential candidate Rick Santorum during a visit in 2012, is what "some people see as a trip to Mecca."

eragan@semissourian.com

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Pertinent address:

400 Broadway, Cape Girardeau, MOl

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