Like a master class in showmanship, here we learn the radio secrets of Rush Limbaugh, Talk Radio's host-est with the most-est, from the grand poobah himself in an interview with MSNBC.
Allow me to peer between the lines….
Secret 1: Be loved by some and forget the rest
21 million Americans are in his audience, and many of the 280 million others hate his guts. And Rush couldn't care less, because they don't pay the bills.
In most broadcasting circles, however,(especially the music ones) radio is obsessed with pleasing everyone all the time. The lesson of Rush is forgotten by stations who find a never-ending – and never-winning – battle to be the mostly best station for most listeners most of the time, mostly. This is exactly the formula that will fade into history's dustbin once passionate new alternatives to the average station are widespread and easy (and that day is coming).
Secret 2: Be worth coming back to
The biggest mistake radio makes as it climbs all over bad interpretations of PPM data is to assume that retention is the only thing that matters. That is, don't lose listeners this hour – or else!
That's wrong. Retention is easy. A monkey could do it. It's acquisition that's hard. It's getting listeners to come BACK to you once they're gone (and they will always, eventually go) that's hard.
“My objective is to satisfy [my] audience so they come back the next day,” says Rush. That's exactly right.
What is it about you – your show – that makes it an essential experience tomorrow?
Because without "tomorrow" a longer "today" doesn't matter.
Secret 3: Play "the game" with your competitors (a.k.a. "enemies")
“Most of my critics don’t even listen to me; they are clueless,” Limbaugh said. “They just go to Web sites that report what I say out of context. I’m amazed at the Democrats and the media who do not know what’s going on in my world. I know what’s going on in theirs. I study ’em. I watch ’em every day.”
Rush is coyly and disingenuously complaining about a game he himself has mastered – the game of using entertaining spin to inflame passions against counter-spin which aims to do the very same thing.
And the thing about that game is that both sides always participate knowing exactly what they're doing and knowing that for both sides to do it is better than for one to do it alone.
This creates an enemy, a single point of focus. And everybody loves to hate an enemy, even if you can't tell whether the hat's black or white.
Rush is simply baiting the hook and waiting for a bite. Let the fisherman and fish wink at each other, and let the nibbling begin.
"I know how to yank [the media's] chain. I know how to send them into insanity. I know how to make them spend the next two days talking about me." Indeed he does. And the rest of the media, hoping either for some of those 21 million listeners or the 21 million who hate them, are only too happy to comply.
This is not a "trick" Rush is playing on the rest of the media world. It's a game, and every player knows the rules and plays along, happily.
If you're not making enemies – and they're not calling you out for doing so – you're not playing the game.
Secret 4: Tell the truth about yourself
Limbaugh admits the obvious: He's an entertainer whose goal is to build an audience. Indeed it is this that makes his competitors most crazy, for they are entertainers who cannot manage to build one as large.
Much of the demonization of Rush is the same desperate but well-reasoned grab for attention that bloggers make when they scribble "fat" on pictures of Kim Kardashian's ass.
The consequence of this is that it doesn't matter so much what Rush is saying it, just that he's saying it so effectively, engagingly, and entertainingly.
Secret 5: "Fame" is the root word in "infamy"
“They think they can discredit the Republican Party by making me the head of it," says Rush. "All they’re doing is elevating me.”
Exactly right. Such attacks are easily digestible because we know the subject of the attack, and we recognize a swipe when we hear one. And nothing is more interesting to eavesdrop on than an argument already in progress – just ask Howard Stern.
So back and forth we go, crucifying Rush and praising Rush and talking about Rush and damning him and elevating him all at once. It's one big game of "fascinating" and it's catnip to audiences.
So attack away! And make sure to respond to the attack, because that's what "playing the game with competitors" really means.
And woe unto you if you get so lost in your politics, right or left, that you ignore the Secrets of Rush.