The loss of Rush Limbaugh leaves an enormous void in talk radio, a gaping hole that broadcasters and legions of loyal listeners are still getting their arms around. While his voice continues to be heard in the noon-3pm slot on hundreds of affiliates, Limbaugh’s death raises questions about who will be his ultimate successor and what’s next for talk radio.
“No one can replace Rush Limbaugh,” Hosea Belcher, Senior VP of Affiliate Marketing for Premiere Networks, which syndicates “The Rush Limbaugh Show,” told the Wall Street Journal. Or as Dino Corbin, GM of Rush affiliate KPAY-FM Chico, CA put it, “It’s like how do you replace (long-time ‘Jeopardy’ host) Alex Trebek?”
News/talk consultant Gabe Hobbs says the industry shouldn’t be looking for the next Rush. “Look for the next star. Stars are born out of uniqueness, not similarities to other more successful peers,” he says.
Meanwhile, the news/talk format is doing fine. In Nielsen’s PPM markets in 2020, news/talk, including both commercial and noncommercial stations, saw its highest shares under PPM measurement (going back to 2011) for both total persons 6+ and 25-54.
“The left began promoting the narrative that with Rush gone, so is talk radio. Nothing could be more completely wrong,” says Phil Boyce, Senior VP/Spoken Word Format for Salem Media Group. “Rush was enormous and built a legacy that will stand the test of time. We have grown so much since 1988 when he burst onto the national scene. There are plenty of voices to fill the void, from Sean Hannity to Mark Levin... There is a ton of talent coming up in the ranks.”
Mark Steyn, Todd Herman and Ken Matthews took turns filling in for Rush during his year-long battle with cancer and are currently guiding the archived material airing on the show. Each is said to be a potential successor.
While Premiere hasn’t revealed long-term plans, competing syndicators see an opening to woo some of the show’s 650 affiliates. But Rush affiliates considering a switch do so at their own risk. “The worst thing to do would be to turn that audience off, or over, and expect to have an entirely new audience come to that station in the same time period,” says Skyview Networks President and COO Steve Jones. “That would be a long rebuild.” By continuing to air archival Limbaugh material until, as Premiere says, “his audience is prepared to say good-bye,” the syndicator is keeping the Rush association alive. “No programmer or radio group wants to be perceived as disrespecting or disassociating from Rush to his listeners,” Jones adds.