Today a new podcast debuted on the iHeartRadio app. It’s my job to tell you to listen to it as a VP of Programming for iHeartRadio and certified News/Talk guru. But my recommendation has nothing to do with all of that. It has to do with the fact that I listened to it today and in forty short minutes I laughed, I cried, I grinned, I shook my head, I pumped my fist, and I cried again. The podcast is called Rush Limbaugh: The Man Behind the Golden EIB Microphone. It’s hosted by James “Bo Snerdley” Golden, and if you have any love for the genre that lured me into radio, you MUST check it out.
You know me. When I’m doing something there are always considerations of the bigger picture going on in my mind. It’s why I’ve been told “It was just a movie, why couldn’t you just turn your brain off and enjoy it?” a Guinness World Record 1,143,972 times. And when I was listening to the podcast, it was no different. My brain spun in all sorts of directions. I’m ready to talk about two of those.
Of all the rules I’ve learned making radio my career for the last twenty-seven years, the biggest is probably that everyone is replaceable. I even stepped into that breech myself nine years ago, when I was finally given the chance to do exactly what I got into this business for: to do a talk show my way. I was replacing Lauren Nobles, who’d had huge success hosting Straight Talk for sixteen years. He’d become the gold standard for radio in our community, certainly in terms of ratings. In fact, when he decided to retire, the bosses discussed with me the opportunity to have Lauren do a regular commentary on the program. I gladly agreed, but I also knew it was a bit of a hedge. It was a reaction to the fear that I might run a large chunk of Lauren's audience off.
Even in the days leading up to my debut on the show there was hesitation from some above me. Many viewed Lauren as irreplaceable. I viewed Lauren as mentor and tremendous broadcaster. He’s a person I owe a lot to. He’s been a cheerleader, a guide, and sometimes a harsh reality check when I wasn’t quite there yet. But I knew he was replaceable. Not just because I believed in my own talent—and I did—but because that’s the big rule. Everyone. Is. Replaceable. I sat down for a number of meetings wherein a boss would suggest features and schtick I could do on the air. Some of the ideas were good, some of them were awful. Problem is, none of them were me. Finally I put my hands up and said, “Frank [our CEO] says he wants me to deliver some fresh 25-54 [age demographic] numbers. Let me try it my way, and if it doesn’t work out, let’s have this conversation.” I didn’t win a lot of arguments in the big office in those days, but he agreed to let me have that one.
The day my first ratings book came out, I was on my way to Glynn Middle to be the caller for the school spelling bee. Frank the CEO called my cell phone. “Are you in your car?” he asked.
“Yeah. I’m going to a spelling bee.”
“Do you have a police escort clearing the way for you?” And he laughed. I’d delivered huge 25-54 numbers my first time at bat, and I haven’t let up since. To this day, people come up to me and say, “I didn’t think anyone could replace Lauren when he left, but you’ve really taken it up several notches.” Everyone is replaceable.
Or so I thought.
Rush Limbaugh, the reason I and so many others even entered this field—heck, the reason this field even exists—left us three months ago. He spent his career breaking every rule he could, and I’ve now realized since his passing, he’s broken another one. He isn’t replaceable. Listening to his program today, listening to him talk about Dr. Fauci and realizing what he said a year ago still completely applies to today, it hit me hard that the guy spewed so much that we thought was of the day, of the era, of the moment, but the truth is it is timeless. Values are timeless, human nature is timeless, American Exceptionalism is timeless, and Rush Limbaugh is timeless.
I’ve seen in the trades a few people try to make a splash by announcing that they had been “given” Rush’s time slot. A lot of people approached me and asked for confirmation or just simply assumed it was so, and asked when were we going to start airing so-and-so or when was so-and-so taking over Rush’s show? I had to tell a lot of people that no, no one has been given Rush’s slot, and there’s a good reason for that.
Rush Limbaugh is irreplaceable.
The other thing I thought about was much more political. I remember right after Rush announced he was ill. In recent years I hadn’t listened to the program as much I used to, only because I don’t want to copy him. I want to do my show, and I don’t want to be unduly influenced by something else. And if you listen to Rush you can’t help but be influenced by him. My favorite thing came to be those days when people would call or email and say, “Did you hear Rush today? He said the same thing you said this morning!” When I got those calls I knew I was mining the right vein.
But after the diagnosis was announced, I listened as often as I could, because I had the bad feeling his time was short. I expected to hear a sick man making his best effort, and I expected to appreciate it only because of the debts I owe Rush Limbaugh. Instead, I heard a guy on fire, funny, insightful, incisive. He was as good as—maybe better than—he’s ever been. I listened day after day blown away. I know what it’s like to not be feeling right and coming in and delivering the show anyway. You hope you can deliver something that passes muster. Rush wasn’t just passing muster, he was “exceeding all audience expectations.” He was delivering some of the finest commentary he’s ever offered.
I was disgusted to go on Twitter and read the ghoulish comments from creeps on the left, who were angry that Rush, dying from cancer, hadn’t dropped every conviction he’d ever held in his life and decided to turn liberal. They were mad that he wouldn’t quit his program and live out his life in silence. They were mad that he wouldn’t recant all of his “terrible behavior.” I saw listicles that were made up of the exact same talking points about Rush’s career, the overwhelming majority of which were untrue or misstated, yet they were all the same, and they were all nasty.
I never met Rush, but I knew that the guy they were talking about was in no way whatsoever the guy who I spent hours with each day for many years, the guy who pulled me out of my doldrums while I was an alienated college student, the guy who influenced my career path more than anyone else. The Rush I knew from listening to him every day was a good man who believed in America, its founding principles, and in every American. He was smart, brilliant, funny, clever. The people slagging him had clearly never heard him at all. They can’t have listened to him and believed the things they did about him. Not possible.
And that’s why they were so mystified, baffled, and yes, angered by his third act. Because he went out with a tireless work ethic and being true to his beliefs, like a real conservative icon would. The left will never get this.
There’s a storytelling trope in Hollywood and in literature: hardworking conservative man is given notice that his life will soon end and he gives it all up and becomes a liberal, achieving atonement for all the foul things he did in life, and earning a peaceful ending. People on the left believe in this trope because they’ve seen it and read about it so many times, and it’s why Rush angered them so at the end, why some trash excuse for a human being left Rush Limbaugh death jokes on my Facebook wall yesterday, three months later.
The problem is that it assumes that hard work and capitalism are evil. That being an outspoken conservative is evil and that your only redemption is to turn away from it all in life and become something else. The trope is a liberal fantasy. It’s baloney. Rush couldn’t become something else because he didn’t know how to BE anything else, and I thank God for that. They hated him before. They hated him even more when he passed without experiencing some grand leftwing epiphany. They hate him because he went out being exactly who he was and what he was.
And what he was was right.