Are Rush Limbaugh and Talk Radio in Trouble?

Politico Magazine has a story right now that purports to show that Rush Limbaugh’s business model is in financial trouble. I am no expert on the radio business but I suspect that the article points out a real phenomenon that exists but gets the cause all wrong.

The article posits a few interesting points that some of us here have been making for months – that talk radio jumped on the Trump bandwagon because ratings had been in a four year decline and they saw it as a way to at least temporarily reverse the trend. Probably, there is something to that.

Whether “what the hell is happening out there”—in particular, the remarkable political rise of Donald Trump—has been good or bad for the Republican Party, or the country at large, there’s no denying one thing: It’s been great for talk radio. Ratings are finally ticking up, after a moribund four years. And conservative radio gabbers are driving the political conversation in a way that they didn’t when allegedly mushy moderates like John McCain and Mitt Romney were the standard-bearers of the country’s conservative party.

But the article I suspect wildly overstates the effectiveness of the boycott against Rush as a result of the Sandra Fluke “slut” comments. By far the more significant issue is that the business model of terrestrial radio in general is threatened by the proliferation of the Internet – a threat that radio stations have struggled to adapt to with varying levels of success. With the sudden pervasiveness of bluetooth audio in cars, the last bastion of terrestrial radio listeners (captive drivers) is even ebbing away.

You can find content of any sort (including conservative commentary) now through your phone or computer and stream it through any sort of home or car audio you want, on your schedule, and with minimal or no commercial interruption these days. The actual need for terrestrial radio has accordingly dwindled pretty dramatically. You can even get more accurate traffic reports than the ones you hear on the radio from apps like Waze. Personally, I can’t remember the last time I turned on a terrestrial radio station on purpose

Limbaugh, in the final analysis, is probably going to be just fine – in fact, if he never made another cent, he’d still have more money than I’ll ever see in my whole life. But it is definitely true that terrestrial radio in general is in the “adapt or die” phase of its existence and it’s very much up in the air as to which side the coin will land on.

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