“The people who listen to him may not agree with the language he used, but they like what he said,” Bloomquist said Sunday. “This is brilliant, in a way. It plays to his existing base and brings back fans who haven’t listened to him in a while.”
But the loss of advertisers should be a worrisome sign to Limbaugh, said Holland Cooke, also a talk-radio consultant. “I think this story is closer to the beginning than the end,” he said Sunday. “This is in the hands of an angry public now. I can’t imagine that he won’t be diminished in some way.”
Cooke says Limbaugh is “too big to fail,” given his presence on so many stations and the financial hit those stations would take if they were forced to find a less popular substitute. However, there are alternatives: Cooke points out that Cumulus Media — which owns WMAL and other stations in major cities — is developing a radio show hosted by another popular conservative, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.
In recent years, Limbaugh’s popularity has been called into question by the advent of a new technology for collecting radio ratings, Cooke said. Under the old audience-measurement method used by Arbitron, a sample of listeners recalled what they had listened to and listed these programs in a paper diary. The system favored big names such as Limbaugh and Howard Stern.
But a new system, in use in 48 large cities, employs electronic meters that automatically record what respondents are listening to. The electronic ratings have generally been lower than the old paper ratings, said Cooke, adding, “his audience may have been over-estimated all along.”
Limbaugh’s program — heard from noon to 3 p.m. weekdays on WMAL — finished eighth among all listeners in the Washington area in the most recent electronic weekly ratings.
Cooke says Limbaugh should have learned crisis-management lessons not from Imus but from Ed Schultz, a liberal talk-show host. Last May, Schultz, who has a program on MSNBC and a daily syndicated radio show, called conservative talker Laura Ingraham “a right-wing slut” and “a talk slut” during a radio broadcast. The remark generated a public outcry, prompting MSNBC to suspend Schultz.
Before serving his suspension, Schultz went on the cable network and issued an unqualified apology to Ingraham. Calling his remarks “inappropriate” and “terribly vile,” he said, “I apologize to you, Laura, and ask for your forgiveness. . . . I have embarrassed my family, I have embarrassed this company. This is the lowest of low for me.”
Ingraham responded by accepting the apology — at which point the matter died.