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This column was going to be fairly low key. The days between Christmas and New Years are the no man’s land of conservative talk radio – a week of substitute hosts and “best of’s” as most of the stars take a break.

Then late Wednesday night, news spread that Rush Limbaugh had been hospitalized in Hawaii, suffering from chest pains.

Immediately, the blogs and Twitter were abuzz. I set up a special search column on TweetDeck, using the hashtag #rushlimbaugh. After about ten minutes, I had to close it down.

The calls for prayers and the “get well soon” messages and comments were interspersed with hateful “death wishes” and nasty jokes from leftists. Radio Equalizer’s Brian Maloney reprinted some of these messages at his blog, censoring a few of them out of necessity.

Not surprisingly, someone at the unreliable and mostly liberal megasite Wikipedia even edited Limbaugh’s entry to pronounce him dead!

Some of the fans’ responses to the hatred were extraordinary. One commenter said: “Rush is irreplaceable. If he needs a heart transplant, he can have mine.”

Another noted on Twitter: “So Rush Limbaugh can’t say he wants Obama to fail but liberals can say they want Rush Limbaugh to die?”

My favorite: “The same people who want Rush to die want to run our health care!”

Ed Morrissey at HotAir remembered an email he’d received from Limbaugh during a personal crisis; it offered an insight into the “real” Rush and made for touching reading:

The next day – when the searches for “Rush Limbaugh” reached the “volcanic” level at Google Trends – the irony of the situation hit me. Who do millions of us turn to when there’s bad news? Rush Limbaugh. But who do we turn to if Rush isn’t around, because Rush is the “bad news”? In this case, few of the other “big names” were scheduled to be on the air either.

Bill Bennett was, however, and he offered his best wishes to Rush on his radio show, and at the National Review’s blog, The Corner.

He was joined by regular Rush Limbaugh substitute host, Mark Steyn, who wrote:

Rush took a rotting, abandoned hulk – AM radio – and reinvented it as a new conservative medium. Critics such as our former colleague David Frum miss the larger point: It’s not just about his opinions on this or that policy issue or candidate, but about a strategic savvy few other folks on our side of the aisle can demonstrate.

I owe him a lot personally, and I hope he rests up for whatever time he needs and then comes back and sticks it to the naysayers till mid-century.

Dr. Walter E. Williams sat in for Rush on Thursday afternoon and offered listeners a brief update on Limbaugh’s condition:

“Rush is in good and stable condition, comfortable – as comfortable as one can be in a hospital while on vacation – and he’s in good hands.”

Then came New Years Day and good news: Rush was released from hospital.

At a televised press conference, he explained that a battery of tests showed no sign of coronary disease, and a heart attack was ruled out as the cause of his chest pains (FREE video).

While the origin of his discomfort remains a mystery, Rush was certain of one thing: “I don’t think there’s one thing wrong with the American health care system.”

Rush also posted a special message to his fans at his web site, thanking them for their “prayers and good thoughts” – and promising to return to the “Golden EIB Microphone” mid-week.

There was some other news in the world of talk radio, of course, although none so dramatic.

Glenn Beck

Beck took a long, well deserved holiday from the airwaves, but that didn’t prevent others from talking about him, as they’ve been doing all year.

Speaking of which: FrontPage Magazine dubbed Glenn Beck “The Man of the Year,” and David Forsmark’s accompanying article was a terrific read:

Beck’s show now attracts a far bigger audience than his competitors on CNN, MSNBC and Headline News combined. In fact, he doesn’t really have any competition – on any given day, Beck can attracts 20 times the audience of Hardball with Chris Matthews on MSNBC.

This, indeed, was the Year of the Beck. In NBA terms, Limbaugh is the 30-points-per game superstar with several championship rings, who last year played for an otherwise pathetic team. Beck is the team’s rookie draft pick who exceeded expectations and brought fresh energy that caught the other team flat-footed and changed the game.

Beck is such a major part of the political landscape today that it’s hard to remember he was still a minor factor just a year ago.

Dennis Prager

Prager cut short his “working vacation” (he’s writing a new book) to come into the studio on Monday to talk about the Christmas Day “underwear bomber.”

“Best of” episodes made up most of the week. Because many of Prager’s shows are on evergreen topics like building a good marriage or matters of etiquette and acceptable behavior, his “re-runs” are quite popular.

Prager’s audio archives are available to members only (And if you’ve ever wondered if it’s possible to “TiVo” talk radio shows even if you aren’t a premium member, the answer is “yes” – FREE video).

Mark Levin

“The Great One” also took time off, but his guest hosts kept things lively. Along with Mark Simone, listeners were treated to veteran broadcaster Tom Marr (who I think of as “the fellow who sounds like Paul Harvey”). Fortunately, Levin’s podcasts are free, so if you are going through “political talk radio withdrawal,” you can always head over to MarkLevinShow.com and download some episodes (FREE audio).

Mark Levin’s blockbuster book “Liberty & Tyranny” was named the No.1 bestselling conservative book of 2009.

Hugh Hewitt

For two years, Hewitt has hosted debates between himself and many of those “celebrity” atheists who’ve penned all those bestselling anti-religion tomes. He’s had the likes of Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins on the air, to debate believers like himself and Dinesh D’Sousa.

On Wednesday, he aired what he says will be the last of this series, talking with Michael Shermer of Skeptic Magazine.

Hugh Hewitt said to his blog readers, “I hope your New Year’s Resolution will be to stop debating faith and instead start figuring out what it means to live as a Christian in 2010, especially as it comes to government and politics.”

And I’m a little late with this, because I didn’t file a Talk Radio Watch column last week – so enjoy this extraordinary December 23 call to Hugh’s show, from 79-year-old Rose Marie, recounting the Depression Christmases of her youth, including her time living in a garage! (FREE audio)

As Hugh wrote later: “There’s a novel in your living room. … There’s a Rose Marie in many homes today, with amazing stories to tell. But first, you have to ask.”

Laura Ingraham

Speaking of Christmas, Laura Ingraham received kudos from Talk Frontier’s Randall Bloomquist.

The industry insider blogged appreciatively:

Christmas tree – real or artificial? That topic has the potential to be audio Sominex. But in the hands of TRN’s always acerbic Laura Ingraham this past week, it was pure gold. Ingraham has a VERY strong opinion on the issue (can you guess where she comes down on it?), an articulate producer who disagreed with her and great callers, including the former CEO of an artificial tree manufacturer.

While the conversation had the light-hearted tone of a break-room chat, Ingraham did manage to inject her political view, noting the irony of Americans celebrating the love of Christmas with fake trees made in a repressive country like China.

G. Gordon Liddy

Liddy’s eclectic mix of shows this week included an eye-opening talk with “Hardcore Historian” Dan Carlin, a chat about Obamacare with Chuck Norris, guest hosting stints by libertarian Wayne Allen Root and a selection of the year’s best segments.

Particularly memorable was the chilling broadcast of the entire 911 call made by a terrified woman who eventually shot an intruder.

All of G. Gordon Liddy’s shows can be downloaded at no charge.

Michael Medved

Medved has just released his new book, “The 5 Big Lies About American Business,” and is making the rounds of other talk shows to discuss it. He recently spoke to Accuracy in Media about those “big lies” (FREE video).

If you’re a Medved fan in Minnesota, you can have lunch with Michael on Jan. 5, but you’ll need to reserve your tickets. He’ll be in St. Louis Park to promote his book at Fishman’s Delicatessen. After lunch, Medved will be broadcasting live. Sounds fun!

Plus, Medved’s latest blog post, “The Biggest Lesson of ’09, and the Biggest Opportunity of 2010,” makes for good end-of-the-year reading.

So we arrive at the end of another year in conservative talk radio. Let’s remain vigilant about any attempts to bring back the Fairness Doctrine and other attempts to silence talk radio. In 2010, we will need these voices more than ever!

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