Saturday, March 03, 2012

An unlikely source

I finally have heard a good description of Rush Limbaugh. It came from Peter Gammons.

Yes, THAT Peter Gammons, the baseball writer and broadcaster.

Gammons on Friday said on a Tweet, "Amazing that Rush Limbaugh is so good at upsetting the middle/left. He's a great Shock Jock, the Bubba the Love Sponge of medieval politics."

OK, I don't get the Bubba the Love Sponge reference. But "shock jock" is absolutely on target.

The term refers to those DJ's who have pushed the envelope over the years, whether it be locally or nationally. Howard Stern and Don Imus usually get credit for if not inventing the format, at least "perfecting" it. They like to say outrageous things not usually heard on broadcast dial. There's obviously a market for that approach, because they have become rich, rich, rich ... no matter what your opinion of the approach is.

(By the way, one of the problems with my hours is that morning-drive radio doesn't exist in my world. Who is hosting the Today Show these days anyway?)

The problem with Shock Jocks is sometimes they have to keep upping the outrageous ante in order to get attention. Stern and Imus have danced around the FCC and some public problems along those lines over the years, as the Rutgers basketball team can attest.

That brings us to Limbaugh. No one can doubt his communication skills; anyone who can talk that long without interruption from a broadcast partner gets credit for that. He also at times displays something of a sense of humor, which makes three hours of political talk a lot less dry for his followers.

Limbaugh's success, though, mostly is due to the way he invented a barter system with radio stations. He sold some of the ads on the program, and offered the program and the rest of the ads to the local stations for free. They jumped on the offer -- cheap, moneymaking programming is always welcome -- and it established a listenership base.

You can say whatever you want about the quality of that program. But the tone of it can be off-putting, if that's a word. Limbaugh obviously has a stake at demonizing the opposition, and has done so when Democratic administrations (Clinton, Obama) have been in power. No one in his audience wants him to say, "I'm not a big fan of Obama, but we really need to do something about health care in this country. Maybe this middle-of-the-road approach really works."

And every so often, Limbaugh goes over the line. The biggest firestorm in the past had come, oddly, during his brief tenure on ESPN when he commented on the media supporting African American quarterbacks. Now, comes a much bigger test -- his attack this past week on a female college student who testified in Congress over contraception issues.

Instantly, a huge boycott of Limbaugh's advertisers appeared out of nowhere, and it had an impact. Some of them quickly bailed on the program. It's rather interesting that Limbaugh didn't immediately backtrack on the statements, and piled on a little more. Then he apologized for his actions on Saturday, a day after those cancellations took place.

It will be interesting to see if that's enough. Will it cut the steam out of the boycott, or will it go on and grow? There's still some outrage over the hatred spewed on the airwaves at times. It will be fascinating to see if there's any long-term effects from the latest example of stretching the envelope.

Thanks, Peter.

(Be notified of new posts via Twitter @WDX2BB)

No comments: