Rush Limbaugh’s contract is up and it’s decision time – not only for Rush but for the industry which awakens to a 2016 where, for better or worse, Rush is the most famous name in radio.
And it’s time for Rush Limbaugh to go.
Now this is nothing personal. Rush has had an amazing symbiotic relationship with radio over the years he has been behind the mic, and for that a great many listeners, broadcasters, and clients are grateful.
And when Rush moves on, obscurity will not be the destination. Besides satellite radio (and perhaps in addition to it) there are businesses built around the challenge of turning a radio talent into a media platform (like this one, which will be onstage with me at hivio 2016). So no matter how things turn out, Rush will be able to put food on his table without running up the credit cards.
Where once Rush’s audience was in the money demo, it is no longer. Where once Rush’s audience was large it is now smaller. Where once Rush was on everyone’s lips and on the cover of TIME, we are reminded that that was in 1995, a year when most of today’s millennial generation were pre-teens and Facebook, Twitter, Google, iPhones, YouTube and more were dreams more than ten years from reality.
What does it mean that today, in 2016, Rush Limbaugh remains America’s most famous commercial radio voice?
I’ll tell you what it means.
It means Rush is bad for radio.
Not because of the occasional controversy which quite unfairly turns off agency dollars to most political talk shows. Not because of aging demographics alone. And certainly not because of any swings in the winds of politics. But rather because of this:
What does it say about an industry when its leading voice is 65, his average listener is probably likewise 65, and his peak appeal was anywhere from 10 to 20 years prior?
It says that industry had better wake up, that’s what it says.
Really, this piece is not about Rush. It’s about the industry which made him famous, the industry which has precious few stars with a national profile, and even fewer under the age of 65.
If radio ran TV, then Steve Allen would still be hosting the Tonight Show and there would still be a chimp on the Today Show.
Now none of this is Rush’s fault, to be sure. He’s hired to do a job, not to maintain relevance for radio among generations of listeners who can find no other stars there.
Where are the stars? If you work in radio, this is both no one’s fault and everyone’s fault. Your kids know more YouTube stars than radio stars. Is that good for radio’s future?
So it’s time for Rush to step aside, but more important, it’s time for radio to step up.
Radio’s only future requires new blood and new stars.
A future based on what makes radio special amid a storm of digital audio alternatives is a future built on talent. It’s a future built around stars.
Where are radio’s new stars?