The End of Rush Limbaugh? His Radio Syndicator is on the Brink of Bankruptcy

The presidency of Donald Trump is running an obstacle course of speed bumps and potholes. He has failed to achieve anything of note during his first 100 days in office. And that’s according to his own published benchmarks. There is no repeal of ObamaCare, no defeat if ISIS, no tax reform, and no Mexican border wall. The only success he has had is breaking the record for the lowest popularity of any first-quarter president in history.

Rush Limbaugh

Along with Trump’s sagging fortunes, much of the right-wing establishment is similarly floundering. The Republican Party is worried about maintaining their majorities in Congress. And the GOP’s PR division, Fox News, recently lost its CEO (Roger Ailes) and its biggest star (Bill O’Reilly). Both were terminated after scandals involving sexual harassment.

With Trump still driving the public angst, the carnage is far from over. The talk radio empire of Rush Limbaugh is now said to teetering on collapse. Salon’s Matthew Sheffield is reporting that:

“The parent company of iHeartCommunications [formerly Clear Channel], which syndicates programs by conservative talk-show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, appears to be headed toward bankruptcy.

“In a statement filed last week with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the federal agency charged with regulating companies that offer investments to the public, iHeartCommunications’ parent company, iHeartMedia Inc., said that it had ‘substantial doubt’ that it would be in business by the middle of next year.”

Sheffield noted that the radio industry in general has been under pressure from other advertising platforms including new media. But the problems facing Limbaugh’s syndicator went deeper than that:

“The ad challenge is made worse for iHeartCommunications since many of its stations feature a conservative talk format whose audience is literally dying off. According to industry figures, the age of a talk show listener is about 67. Further complicating things for the company has been that its top host, Limbaugh, has immersed himself in several controversies in recent years, such as the time he called a liberal activist [Sandra Fluke] a ‘slut’ on the air.”

Indeed. Limbaugh’s repulsive and misogynistic insults cost him dearly. A leaked memo from his distributor, Premiere Networks, revealed that he lost more than 140 advertisers as a result of his rancid ranting. And the exodus didn’t end with Limbaugh. The same advertisers also requested that their ads be removed from other right-wing programs including Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and Michael Savage.

Exacerbating these problems, Limbaugh has also lost favor with some of the top affiliates in the country. His show has been dropped from WABC in New York, WRKO in Boston and KFI in Los Angeles. In desperation, he switched to some weaker stations in those and other markets just to have a presence on air.

How Fox News Deceives and Controls Their Flock:
Fox Nation vs. Reality: The Fox News Cult of Ignorance.
Available now at Amazon.

It remains to be seen whether iHeartCommunications will manage to stay afloat. But even if it does, they will have to make severe cuts in order to service their crushing debt. That means that Limbaugh, Hannity, et al, will either have to agree to renegotiate their contracts downward or say goodbye to their audience. They may still survive online, but they should ask Glenn Beck whether that’s a viable option. Since losing his Fox News megaphone he has been bleeding cash and his public awareness has shrunk to near irrelevance. So that’s good news all around. And maybe we should send Donald Trump a thank you note.

Limbaugh And Hannity Getting Heaved From 40+ Radio Stations: Glenn Beck Nervous

Limbaugh Hannity
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Earlier this year a fierce feud broke out between Rush Limbaugh and one of his radio distributors, Cumulus Media. The Cumulus CEO, Lew Dickey, went public with his observation that Limbaugh’s vulgar misogyny and hate speech was sending advertisers fleeing. Dickey told the company’s shareholders that they were losing millions of dollars as a result of an audience and advertiser boycott that began after Limbaugh had called student activist Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute”

Limbaugh took umbrage at the suggestion that his boorishness was responsible for the lost ads and threatened to take his program elsewhere. However, it seems that Cumulus has beaten him to the punch according to sources who spoke to Politico, who say that Cumulus will drop both Limbaugh and Sean Hannity by year’s end:

“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.”

There is the possibility that the parties are still posturing in an attempt to secure better deals, but Politco’s sources say that Limbaugh’s syndicator is unlikely to come down to a figure that Cumulus would accept. Cumulus, in the meantime, has been scouting new talent for replacement hosts. And when 48 of your 50 biggest advertisers have directed that their ads not be placed on Limbaugh and Hannity, Cumulus has little incentive to negotiate.

If Limbaugh and Hannity are evicted from their radio perches at the Cumulus stations they currently occupy, their distributor, Clear Channel, will likely find them new digs on their own Premier network. This move will not be without a fair amount of turbulence. The shows could go dark for some weeks or months while new stations are found and the contracts of the hosts residing there are unwound. Which raises another problem that is probably keeping Glenn Beck up tonight. That’s because Premiere already distributes Beck who broadcasts at the same time as Limbaugh. So if Limbaugh is moved to the Premiere stations it may be Beck who is shoved aside.

While there is a certain amount of schadenfreude derived from watching these rightist dinosaurs flailing in the tar pits of their own making, the end result is not much prettier a picture. Limbaugh and Hannity are likely to land somewhere eventually. And Cumulus could replace them with Mike Huckabee, Mark Levin, and/or Michael Savage. So the airwaves will end up with just as much repugnant blather. But the show will have an entertaining, if too brief, intermission.

Sarah Palin’s Radio Career Canceled Before It Begins

Earlier this week there was some industry speculation that Sarah Palin was shopping herself around for a talk radio gig. But before you can say “You Betcha” her hopes of radio stardom were quickly dashed.

Broadcasting & Cable:“While you might assume Palin would be a better fit for conservative radio than the less partisan world of syndicated broadcast TV, my sources say the country’s biggest radio conglomerate, Clear Channel, has already passed on her.

It must be an especially difficult defeat for Palin to be rejected by Clear Channel, an outfit whose standards are low enough to admit Glenn Beck. But their reasoning is sound. There is little evidence that Palin could hold listeners for three hours of her gibberish.

So where does this leave the former half-term governor? Only one option ever really existed for her: Fox News! Since she can’t speak extemporaneously for the duration of a daily radio show, and she wouldn’t appeal to the broader audience necessary to succeed in television syndication, she would have to find a situation where she would have the comfort of a prepared script and an pre-selected audience of rightist lemmings who would worship her every word (and wink) no matter how asinine. Ergo, Fox News.

I predicted a Palin show on Fox News last year, even before the she lost the election. And earlier this month, when she announced that she was quitting her job in Alaska, I said…

A Palin show on Fox News has always been a good fit for both her and Fox. Neither have an interest in, or reputation for, honesty or accuracy. And both have profited from exploiting controversy and sex. Plus, she wouldn’t be the first potential 2012 Republican presidential candidate with a show on Fox, would she, Mike Huckabee?

What more could Fox ask for than a former beauty queen who cheerfully calls the President a Socialist who pals around with terrorists? And what more could Palin ask for than a network gig that allows her to spew nonsense and practice her fancy pageant walkin’?

I think that about covers it.

Media Reform Advances Courtesy Of The Economy

One of the biggest contributors to the woeful state of modern media is the extent to which media companies have consolidated into giant conglomerates with near monopoly power. Some of these corporations control majorities of communications enterprises in numerous markets nationwide.

It has long been a goal of media reform activists to bring about greater independence and diversity by implementing market caps to limit the reach of these companies. That goal has been hindered by the well-heeled media industry’s lobbying efforts. Now, it appears that the economy is stepping in to enact some free market reform of its own:

Is the bell tolling for Clear Channel?
“Analysts believe Clear Channel, now with about $22 billion in total debts, will have trouble making scheduled payments later this year. The company, already down to about 800 stations from its peak of about 1,200 stations, either will have to start selling stations itself or go into bankruptcy, where lenders will put stations up for sale.”

Sinclair Eyes Chapter 11
“Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. said in a regulatory filing that it may file for bankruptcy protection, reports the Associated Press. A miserable advertising market and crippling debt burden may force the Baltimore-based broadcaster into Chapter 11.”

Clear Channel and Sinclair are leaders in their markets. They are also prominent purveyors of right-wing propaganda. No one likes to see businesses fail, but the prospect of these companies succumbing to recessionary forces could produce real benefits for the business of news. It would be preferable if similarly situated conglomerates were to divest their holdings and downsize operations voluntarily. But if they insist on clinging to power, at the expense of both shareholders and citizens, then this outcome is better than nothing.

The underlying television and radio stations impacted by this news will continue to broadcast. The prospect of them operating as independent, or as components of smaller station groups, is promising. The danger is that the troubled assets could be picked up by other big conglomerates. We’ll have to wait and see if this turns out to be beneficial or just more of the sort of consolidation that enhances the power of corporations and gags the voice of the people.

Clear Channel Bans Bushmen Ad

Harry Shearer BushmenAuthor, satirist, and the voice of innumerable Simpsons characters, Harry Shearer, has a new CD coming out that typically skewers politics and culture. The title of the project is Songs of the Bushmen and features a debut single about the “935 Lies” told by the Bush administration in the run up to the invasion of Iraq.

Clear Channel, however, despite being an avowedly conservative media enterprise (they gave 77% of their $300K+ PAC contributions to Republicans in 2004), is demonstrating their opposition to free speech and markets by refusing to allow ads for Shearer’s work to appear on their billboards.

This is consistent with Clear Channel’s history of partisan censorship. They have previously refused ads for VoteVets and they nixed the Dixie Chicks from their radio network. And let’s not forget their ludicrous list of banned songs post-9/11.

Clear Channel Refuses VoteVets Ad

Radio giant Clear Channel Communications is refusing to air an ad by VoteVets, a veterans group protesting Rush Limbaugh’s recent assertion that vets who oppose the war in Iraq are “phony soldiers.”

VoteVets received a letter explaining that the ad would not run because:

“Airing anti-Rush Limbaugh ads during the Rush Limbaugh Show on WJNO would only conflict with the listeners that have chosen to listen to Rush Limbaugh.”

Once again, Clear Channel has taken it upon itself to stifle public debate and restrict the free flow of information. In refusing to air this ad, they are stepping on the free speech rights of the veteran activists at VoteVets. Clear Channel’s offer to air the ad at other times or on other stations denies VoteVets the opportunity to counter Limbaugh’s rantings in context. They fail to recognize the importance of directing the response to the audience that was subjected to Limbaugh’s insulting diatribes in the first place. And Clear Channel also makes the mistake of assuming that there aren’t any listeners who disagree with Limbaugh.

Clear Channel’s justification of their censorship on the grounds that it would create conflict is beyond absurd. This is the Rush Limbaugh Show we’re talking about. Conflict is part and parcel of the program’s mission. If Clear Channel is concerned about conflict, why do they let Limbaugh air audio of Democrats for the explicit purpose of denigrating them and thus, creating conflict? Why do they allow Limbaugh to take phone calls that have the potential to produce further conflict? Why do they let Limbaugh express any opinion at all at the risk of creating conflict wiht the many listeners who do not share his views?

To its credit, WJNO has a fairly balance schedule. Their weekday roster presents Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Randi Rhodes, Ed Schultz, and Sean Hannity. The problem is that Rhodes and Schultz are likely to address the VoteVets matter on their own. It’s the Limbaugh audience that most needs exposure to contrary arguments. I would have no objection to the GOP front group, Vets For Freedom, running ads on Schultz’s show. But I assume that Clear Channel would also think that that’s a bad idea too. What are they afraid of?

VoteVets is an advocacy group that supports soldiers and veterans. Unlike Rush Limbaugh, they fought for the rights enumerated in the Constitution, including free speech. But that right is being denied to them today.

You can call Clear Channel in Palm Beach at 561-616-6600 and tell them to air the VoteVets ad. Tell them that our veterans deserve the right to heard. Tell them that, as a listener, you don’t necessarily agree with everything (or anything) Limbaugh says. Tell them that you’re capable of enduring whatever conflict such an ad subjects you to. But what you are not capable of enduring is a giant media corporation infringing on the rights of citizens.

UPDATE: On his show today, Rush suggested that VoteVets run their ad on his program. Either he’s not talking to his ad sales people, or they’re not listening to his show.