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How Rush Limbaugh Became the Godfather of Talk Radio

Updated on September 20, 2015

Rush Limbaugh: Father of Modern Talk Radio

Since the 1980s, talk radio has become the medium of choice for conservative and alternative including politics, religion, and social issues. Whether you are a connosieur of talk radio or not, it has made a large impact on our economy. Billions each year are spent in advertising on talk radio programs. Many celebrities built massive fortunes, with their voice. Rush Limbaugh is often called the "Godfather of modern talk radio".


Beginnings in Talk Radio

Radio signals have been criss-crossing American for almost 80 years. Politics has been discussed in bars, offices, and homes since the country began. United States constitution ensures the freedom of speech. Yet, talk radio only came into its own in the 1980s. Previously, talk radio was stifled by "The Fairness Doctrine".

Cato institute describes The Fairness Doctrine as "The government managed broadcast speech for some time, in part through the Fairness Doctrine, which was said to promote balanced public debate and "an uninhibited marketplace of ideas." The Fairness Doctrine was meant to ensure that all points of view were represented on the radio waves.

As always, hindsight is 20/20. History shows us that "The history of the Fairness Doctrine suggests that federal officials who make and enforce such policies are more concerned with limiting political debate than they are with advancing local concerns or the public interest". This article is not meant to argue the benefits or problems of the Fairness Doctrine. What we do know is that The Fairness Doctrine was lifted in the early 1980s.

Lifting of the Fairness Doctrine expanded the types of programming that radio channels could air. Many stations began experimenting with political content. Wikipedia describes Rush Limbaugh's activities, in the late 80s, as "On August 1, 1988, after achieving success in Sacramento and drawing the attention of a former president of ABC Radio, Edward F. McLaughlin, Limbaugh moved to New York City and began his national radio show. His show debuted just weeks after the Democratic National Convention, and just weeks before the Republican National Convention".

Rush Limbaugh has never left the airwaves since moving to New York City in the late 80s. His popularity, reach, and income have only skyrocketed.


Growth Through The 1990s

Rush Limbaugh's style of satirical, even arrogant at times political reporting made him popular with millions of listeners. Rush's success has been attributed to many factors including demeaning progressive callers, arrogance that "upper crust" listeners enjoy, and even listeners who do not want to believe mainstream media. Many of these reasons are offered by Rush Limbaugh's detractors. A more accurate for Rush Limbaugh's success would be a case of "right place and right time".

The end of Ronald Reagan's presidency created a void. Ronald Reagan was a very popular president. In 1984, Reagan won re-election by a landslide. In 1990, Reagan's popularity had all but guaranteed George H.W. Bush election as US President. However, George H.W. Bush was not the leader that Ronald Reagan was. Mainstream media used George H.W. Bush's weaknesses to take by the US Presidency. Mainstream media's campaign would catapult Bill Clinton into the White House.

Conservatives and people with views that did not agree with the Democratic Party began to feel under served. Today, we have the Fox News Network that endeavors to report a broader range of views. Bloggers and amateur reporters are free to post their views on the internet. In the early 1990s, Fox News Network and the internet had not yet come to existence. Mainstream media claimed to cover both sides of every issue. Too often, their reports skewed in favor of the Democratic Party.

Rush Limbaugh was poised to fill the void. The basis of success in a capitalistic system is to offer a product that people need, at a price they can afford, when they need it. Rush had the basis for a very popular product, conservatism. His product was priced right, free. Rush's access to the McLaughlin network of radio stations, gave him a way to distribute that product to the masses.


The Bill Clinton Years

Bill Clinton and Rush Limbaugh have had a love hate relationship since the beginning of his presidency. No matter what happens, Rush Limbaugh would come down on the side of conservatism. Rush would highlight the conservative side and benefits of any issue. However, Bill Clinton almost made it too easy.

Bill Clinton's 1994 campaign promised to move away from the beliefs of Ronald Reagan. He promised to tax the wealthy. While on the campaign trail. Clinton's promised to "raise the top tax rate on people with gross incomes above $200,000 to 35 or 36 percent and put a surtax on people with incomes of a million dollars or more a year".

He promised Health Care Reform. Bill Clinton stated ""Under our health care system, all Americans will have access to quality and affordable health care through coverage from their employer, or if they're unemployed, through their government."

He promised to increase our standing in the U.N. "We should pay up -- and pay now -- the past dues we owe to the U.N."

Bill Clinton's made a multitude of campaign promises that were crafted to appeal to both left leaning and independent voters. Bill Clinton's promises placed him squarely among one of the most popular presidents, by most Americans.

Clinton's popularity emboldened the mainstream media. Reporter and news editors tore off their masks of independent journalists. They traded in their classic straw hats with a card labeled "Press" and replaced it with Democratic Party buttons. News stories and TV shows began to lose any semblance of independent journalism. Stories were crafted to ensure that Bill Clinton and the Democratic Party came out in the most favorable light.

These actions further disgusted voters with right wing beliefs, or even tendencies. These voters began looking for another source of news. A person who would herald their conservative beliefs. Rush Limbaugh became that man. Each and everyday he reported the news with a conservative slant. Conservative listeners rushed to find a station where they could hear Rush Limbaugh. Radio station managers saw the potential for increased revenue. Rush Limbaugh's reach grew very quickly.

Rush Limbaugh was not blind to the void that was being made. He saw that conservative voters needed a place to go. He recognized that mainstream media no longer offered independent reporting. He implemented a change in his style that further aided audience growth. He began to report stories by reading and/or playing clips from newspapers and sound bites that quoted the mainstream media. This provided a factual basis and context for readers. Rush would then provide his conservative interpretation of the stories.

Rush Limbaugh's format change appealed to an even larger audience. Independent voters began turning in. Not because they agree with Rush's point of view, some did not. They tuned in because they someone to present the facts. Rush's point of view might make them mad to the point of cursing, hitting, or throwing their radios. However, before their frustration started, they could at least receive the facts. This format gained him a level of respect, even among his detractors.

Rush Limbaugh - Obama and the Economy


Rush Limbaugh Remembers 911

Post 911

911 was a wake up call for the country as a whole. We had enjoyed economic propserity. Jobs were abundant. We had been pulled into our own little world. 911 reminded us that our country had enemies. That we were not above being attacked. Talk radio listenershp during this time skyrocketed as people became more patriotic.

It was during the first decade of the 21st century that Rush Limbaugh began to have some problems. Rumors spread that he was homosexual and his marriage was a cover up. I found this interesting because the very people spreading these rumors, to hurt him, were the same ones proposing equality for homosexuality.

He also had some medical issues. This caused him to take pain killers. Which he became addicted to. He went to multiple doctors to get more medication. When this was found out, he was investigated for "doctor shopping". Again, being a controversial public figure made this scandal a "big deal". He was lambasted for succumbing to an addiction. He was lambasted for being human.

Rush - when remembering 911 - stated, "It is also 9/11, the anniversary of 9/11, and I’ve been watching it on television today. I don’t know about you, but I can’t help but be stirred and profoundly moved. I think like everybody, I was remembering where I was, which happened to be in the air."


Rush Limaugh CPAC Speech

Rush Limbaugh Show Popularity

Rush Limbaugh's growing fame spawned a new industry. The whole talk radio industry enjoyed massive growth. Advertisers saw talk radio listeners as a massive potential market.

Talk Radio offered advertisers access to a specific demographic. Nevada Journal reported talk radio listeners usually, "have an income over $75,000, have graduated college, read a newspaper daily, own their residence, are likely to use the Internet, and have opinions that mirror those of the general population" (What's the Impact of Talk radio?, 1999).

Rival radio personalities began hitting the scene.

  • In 1996, Roger Ailes hired Sean Hannity to host a nationally syndicated talk show (Sean Hannity, n.d.)
  • In 2002, Mark Levin started hosting a talk radio show on Citadel Networks (Mark Levin, n.d.)
  • In 2001, Laura Ingraham began her talk show on Westwood One (Laura Ingraham, n.d.)
  • In 1999, Cox Radio began nationally syndicating The Neal Boortz show (Neal Bortz, n.d.)
  • In 1999, The Talk Radio network began syndicating The Savage Nation with host Michael Savage. (Michael Savage, n.d.). One of Michael's tag lines has been, ""To the right of Rush and to the left of God." (Michael Savage, n.d.).

These are just a few of the talk radio hosts that credit Rush Limbaugh with launching the industry.

Rush Limbaugh Apparel



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    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Wasn't Rush a draft dodger like most of his listeners?

    • billyglen profile image


      10 years ago from United States

      Rush is King. Good Hub by the way.

    • Tyler Robbins profile image

      Tyler Robbins 

      10 years ago from Midwest USA

      It is unfortunate that Pat Robertson, who has done much charitable and good work, will probably be remembered by the sheer lunacy of some of his remarks.

    • mediaspin profile image


      10 years ago from Tennessee

      Love your hubpage! I invite you to join me daily as I filter through the latest, most salient El Rushbo news and commentary, so you don’t have to!



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