The Limbaugh Influence - Broadcasting’s True Revolutionary Managed to Lead to All of Us

Julie Smith

The apex radio personality cultivated today’s conservative landscape.

Some have had a direct experience from listening to him, others a tangential connection, and some had no direct link to Rush Limbaugh’s program. The immutable fact is that almost everyone in the conservative media today has something for which to be grateful to Rush Limbaugh, who passed away today. The man was not only one of the few who inspires superlatives — maverick, iconoclast, revolutionary, and more — but he surpassed them.

Limbaugh looked at the moribund medium of AM radio and saw an opportunity. He used the overlooked outlet as a potential stage and he built up not only his own empire but paved the way for a conservative revolution. In the same manner of a developer rejuvenating urban squalor into thriving high-rent locations, AM radio went from a distaff wasteland to a broadcasting mecca. Rush was directly responsible for some careers (Sean Hannity, and his former personal lawyer Mark Levin, to name two) and indirectly credited with countless others across the local markets. 

Things we take for granted today were not conceived before. More than right-of-center voices being accepted we also learned how to battle back, how to recognize the political games, and were taught the methods and tactics to not only defend our positions but to win over minds. Rush was so successful that organized movements were put into place by Democrats to combat his organically derived influence.

One effort was the strong push for reinstatement of The Fairness Doctrine, a weak attempt to mandate that equal voices be given compensatory airtime. Ignoring that Rush rose to prominence on his own and that liberal talk shows had just as much right to be on the air, politicians tried in vain to use this rule as means of combating the Limbaugh effect. When that failed the attempt was made to establish an entire rival radio network.

In 2004 we saw the launch of Air America Radio, a complete gathering of numerous left-wing programming that filled nearly a full day’s schedule. At one point its content was carried on over 60 stations, with nearly three dozen dedicated strictly to Air America programming. Though it boasted a full slate of talent and established in major markets the effort never challenged Limbaugh. A sign of how poorly it was received is seen in the flagship market of New York City. There they took over a lowly-rated station that broadcast Caribbean music, and Air American performed worse.

Like many, I was personally affected by the broadcaster. At a time when I was in my burgeoning political interest, I was a bar manager and learned an unexpected lesson. One day a reviled rival restaurant manager doled out unsolicited advice about our establishment. I discounted his words outright and privately insulted him to our general manager. The GM however looked introspective, then he took the advice and managed to deliver a lesson; ‘’Just because he is a bad person does not make it a bad idea.’’

Wondering how often I may have slammed the door on opportunity before it even knocked, due to my biases, I opened up the mind. I allowed my left-leaning self to listen to Limbaugh’s shows, more to learn something from ‘’the competition’’ than anything else. 

My growth into conservatism was far from instantaneous, but all the while common sense began to rule out. I agreed with Rush’s view more than expected, I read his books and had to admit that much of my political positioning was not as much being misguided but a result of placing my values in the wrong category. While that barge of beliefs was slow to change course, what sped up that current was a revelatory media occurrence.

A controversy erupted in the news cycle over something Limbaugh had said on the air. Today that topic and his words are lost, but the reaction is what I latched onto. The news outlets detailed the problem and supplied his quotes, explaining what the problematics were for us. The problem — I had listened to the program at the center of the tumult. The explanations were incorrect and his quotes were inaccurate. We were being served some of the very media manipulations he frequently described, and it was significant to see it playing out in real-time. 

These were valuable lessons not just for a conservative, but they serve me today in this journalism field. Facts are key, not just in reporting but in knowing what your values are, as well as knowing why. But he also showed how to be fearless in this game. Once you get the story right you can be bold, compile the facts to back your case, and you move forward with confidence. Rush not only showed us what conservatism means but how to defend it, and to be strong in the minefield of politics. 

Rush Limbaugh’s passing is a true loss, but his biggest testament is that he does not leave a void. He has inspired so many, instructed in such a broad fashion, and blasted open so many doors of opportunity that the conservative media sector is flush and growing. There is no better testament to a life well-lived than in impacting so many lives today.