Friday, August 1, 2003

In Rush Limbaugh's world, he's always right

Whether you agree or disagree with him, the syndicated host has changed political discourse and radio during the past 15 years.

By Steve Carney, Special to The Los Angeles Times

Fifteen years ago today, the nation first heard from "America's truth detector," the man "with talent on loan from God." And American political discourse -- not to mention radio -- has never been the same.

Rush Limbaugh
(source: Premiere Radio Networks)
Rush Limbaugh took his local Sacramento program, which in four years had become a ratings juggernaut, and syndicated it to 56 stations nationwide on Aug. 1, 1988. Since then, the talk-radio format has gone from curiosity to influential force in broadcasting and politics, and now the conservative host airs on about 600 stations, including locally on KFI-AM (640), where he's heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon. His weekly audience of about 20 million listeners is the largest in radio, according to his syndicator, Premiere Radio Networks.

"I've wanted to be in radio since I was 12, and my whole life I thought I would end up being the most successful at it," Limbaugh said, though at that age he wasn't exactly sure how that ambition would play out.

He's won numerous industry awards -- the National Assn. of Broadcasters has named him "Syndicated Radio Personality of the Year" three times -- and also won credit from the new majority for his partisan cheerleading when Newt Gingrich led the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in 1994, after 40 years of Democratic control.

"I believe that if Rush Limbaugh were a liberal, he'd be just as successful," said Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers magazine, the trade journal of the talk-radio industry.