Tuesday marks the 30th anniversary of the Rush Limbaugh show, a radio program that not only took the talk format to new levels in both ratings and impact, but has profoundly shifted, in a positive direction, political discourse in America.
I was a listener from the beginning – a true fan from the moment his show went national.
I had become addicted to talk radio as a kid living in the New York market, listening to Barry Farber, who became a great friend; the late Bob Grant, who had become a great friend; Jean Shepherd, best known today as the writer and narrator of the movie “A Christmas Story.” Even though I had moved to Los Angeles by the time Rush’s show went into national syndication in 1988, I first heard it while visiting New York.
Since I knew the talk-radio scene pretty well, I was shocked by the booming new voice, his ability as both a political pundit and entertainer supreme. When I got home to L.A., where I was serving as executive news editor of the Herald Examiner, I was so happy to find the show was airing there daily.
A few years later, I moved to Sacramento to serve as editor in chief of the Sacramento Union. At the time, all I knew about California’s state capital was that Rush Limbaugh started his show there and that, according to Rush, he “owned the market.”
It didn’t take me long to find out he was right. He was not exaggerating, either.
My job in Sacramento was to save a troubled old newspaper with a great history. It’s where Mark Twain had first written professionally. It was the original home of columnist extraordinaire Herb Cain. Bret Harte, the great author and poet of the American West, had called the paper his home.
One day in 1990, I was walking down the Capitol Mall and noticed that I was inadvertently listening to the Rush Limbaugh show. It was a beautiful day and all the cars lined up had their windows open and I could listen to the show playing on virtually every car radio. How convenient for me.
Indeed, Rush did own that market.
And that realization gave me an idea about how he could help me save my newspaper.
When I got back from my stroll down the Capitol Mall, I decided to cold-call Rush Limbaugh. Since my immersion by fire into the Sacramento market, I knew we already had mutual friends even though he’d left town before I got there.
I got him! First try.
I told him what I was up against in our titanic battle with the loathsome Sacramento Bee. I told him how I figured out he wasn’t kidding about the love and adoration the market had for him. So how could he turn me down when I asked if he would consider writing a front-page column for the Sacramento Union?
His answer? “You know, the entire time I was in Sacramento, I always wanted to write a column for the Union,” he said. “But they turned me down. I’d love to do it.”
So, I decided to push my luck.
“How would you feel about writing one every day?” I asked, pushing my luck beyond the breaking point.
Long story short, he agreed to do it. He even agreed to voice radio spots for us on his Sacramento market affiliate station, KFBK – spots that produced hundreds of new subscriptions every time they ran. Rush did it for free. He did it for the cause of liberty. He did it for the cause of media competition. He did it … for fun.
That’s just one of the reasons I love Rush Limbaugh – always have, always will.
And here’s another reason. That cold call turned into a friendship. I started getting calls from Rush at home. He call to chat about what was going on in Sacramento, a place he clearly loved. As his success grew exponentially, his opportunities just exploded.
One day, I got a call from David Limbaugh, Rush’s very special brother, another dear friend. He knew I had a lot of experience writing books and doing collaborations with others. He told me Rush needed help with his second political book. The first, “The Way Things Ought to Be,” was a runaway, No. 1 New York Times bestseller.
So, I became his collaborator on the next one, “See, I Told You So” – which turned out even bigger. For some time, it gave me 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week access to the king of talk radio so we could meet a tight deadline. Because of Rush’s still burgeoning audience and his passionate following, it sold 4 million copies the month it was released in 1993 and topped the New York Times bestsellers list through most of 1994.
It also changed my life dramatically as I became so busy fielding calls from thousands of people who insisted I put them in touch with Rush. Some even tried to bribe me. I’m proud to say I never acceded to the temptation even once.
That’s my personal experience with Rush. I have always found him to be generous, surprisingly humble and talented beyond belief. I think of him as a talent who combines the comedic instincts of Jackie Gleason with the incisive political punditry of another dear old friend, William F. Buckley.
And over the many years now, Rush has only gotten better – which says a lot because he started out so polished and so strong.
I still listen to Rush’s show whenever I can – during the busy work day, when I’m running errands in my car. I remain in awe of his keen sensibilities. And he has only become more sophisticated over the years, even while overcoming his hearing loss and so many other challenges.
When I heard Rush mention early in 2017 that his 30th anniversary was coming up Aug. 1, I wanted to do something special. I worked with his inner circle to get approval for me to fly out to his Florida command post with a video crew to do a sit-down interview to commemorate the occasion. It never went anywhere. It’s too bad because it’s been a long time since we have connected in person. But he has always been so gracious whenever I’ve needed anything. This time, I really wanted to do something for him. But I just chalked it up to his humility, a characteristic that most people would never imagine when they think of the “bombastic,” self-assured Rush Limbaugh.
Rush: I could say so much more about you. I wanted to do more to pay tribute to you on this special achievement and for all you’ve meant to me over 30 years. But, suffice it to say, my admiration grows daily. You are an inspiration to me, an unsurpassed human resource in the cause of liberty and a beloved and unique American icon. Thanks for your friendship and all you do for our country.
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