Today is the 17th anniversary of the debut of Rush Limbaugh’s national radio program. (HT: The Writer’s Almanac)
It was on this day in 1988 that Rush Limbaugh’s show premiered on WABC in New York, eventually becoming the most popular radio talk show in the country. Rush Limbaugh had grown up loving radio. He got his radio broadcaster’s license when he was 16 and got a job at a local station, working his way up to disc jockey. He only went to college because his father wanted him to. He flunked all of his classes, even speech. He dropped out of school after a year and tried to get back into radio.
He worked for more than ten years as a DJ and a news reader, often using the name Jeff Christie. He was fired often. He was often told he had no talent, and he should go into sales. And he did. He worked as a group ticket sales manager for the Kansas City Royals.
In the early ’80s, he got a job reading news at a station in Kansas City and started inserting his own opinions. He was fired by management, but he caught on with a station in Sacramento, hosting a talk show. There were other controversial talk shows at the time, but what made Limbaugh successful was that he was funny. And though he insulted groups of people, he didn’t insult individuals who called into his show.
The FCC had just dropped the “Fairness Doctrine” which required radio stations to provide balanced viewpoints on every issue. So now there was an opportunity for talk shows that were openly one-sided and partisan.
Limbaugh’s show in Sacramento was popular. He got a syndication deal with ABC and moved to New York City. His first syndicated show was broadcast on this day in 1988 from 12:00 noon to 2:00 p.m. Most people in the radio business thought that time slot was a graveyard, that listeners would only tune in to a national show at night, but Limbaugh changed the way that people listened to the radio. And within a few years, his show had become the most popular talk show in the country. It airs on 580 stations with more than ten million listeners.