Some of the 177 affiliates to the Manhattan-based Rush Limbaugh program complained last Wednesday when the cantankerous national talk show host said he endorsed the efforts of a fellow talk host in Atlanta who called for an end to women "farding in their cars." Limbaugh, who is heard locally on WNTR-AM (1050), told listeners that "farding on the highway is very dangerous as well as offensive to others."

Not until Thursday did Limbaugh provide listeners with the meaning of the word "fard," which is to paint with cosmetics. In the meantime, however, affiliates heard from listeners, some tickled and some distressed.

At WNTR, general sales manager Mark P. Fisher on Friday said his station received only two calls, one from a man who said the bit was the funniest thing he'd heard on radio; the other from a woman who begged that the conservative talk host -- who daily reminds his audience that he is "on the cutting edge of societal evolution" -- not be booted from the air.

At Chicago's powerhouse, ABC-owned WLS-AM, president and general manager Tom Tradup pulled the plug in the middle of Limbaugh's two-hour program soon after the discussion began because "we didn't know where {Limbaugh} was going with this. It was very adolescent, which is very unusual because he is a responsible guy," said Tradup, who also said he is a personal friend of Limbaugh's. "If we erred, we wanted to err on the side of good taste."

Tradup said, "When we pulled the program, telephones at the station literally began levitating because they were ringing so hard. Some were offended; others were mad because they said the station censored Limbaugh."

Tradup also called Edward F. McLaughlin Media Management in New York, Limbaugh's syndicator, to find out what was going on.

"The woman there told me, 'It's supposed to be a joke.' Well, I told her to ask Rush if he thinks it's a joke that he is off the air in the number three market. See if he finds that funny!" Tradup said.

With Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary in hand, Tradup then went into the WLS studio and told listeners: "Here's the explanation: You can believe it or not."

Tradup took several on-air calls from listeners and then put the Limbaugh program back on the WLS air.

"The whole thing was kind of silly, in hindsight," Tradup said. "If I had known what he was doing, I think I would have kept him on."

Of Limbaugh's prank, McLaughlin said, "Obviously stations got a lot of calls from listeners who thought they heard a vulgarity. After I gave them an explanation, they cooled off."

Even ABC Radio's Paul Harvey, heard locally on WMAL-AM (630) and a frequent target of Limbaugh's good-natured jabs, briefly mentioned the affair with "Shop talk: Chicago radio station WLS has pulled the Rush Limbaugh show off the air, objecting to his on-air language."

(Insiders at ABC speculate that Harvey is afraid that some ABC brass enjoy Limbaugh too much and might push for Limbaugh to replace Harvey when he retires. According to the insiders, Harvey, who has about seven years left on a contract that pays him about $7 million annually, would like to be replaced by Paul Harvey Jr.)

A news wire service also moved a story about the episode, and callers to Limbaugh's show continued to hound him about it on Friday. He told them: "This is not a publicity stunt. I don't want the kind of publicity this is getting. I'm not an idiot. It distresses me, ladies and gentleman. It really does. This is very atypical for this program."

The Van Man Cometh

Talk-formatted WWRC-AM (980) will hit the streets Monday with newly hired Joe Madison in a talk van so he can take "public polls" and get "people's reaction" to events, according to program director Ken Mellgren. The van, which cost the Greater Media Inc. station nearly $50,000, will travel "wherever the action is" but is not expected to be used for long-form programming but as "an extension of the morning show" with Ed Walker and Bruce Alan, Mellgren said.

Madison, who has hosted a Saturday afternoon program for Detroit's WXYT-AM for the past 10 years, has been an occasional fill-in at WWRC for the last six months. He'll now be full-time at WWRC and will be available to the station's other shows, both in the van on the street, and as an in-studio replacement host. Mellgren said WWRC will continue using fill-in hosts Bob Levey and Ron Eisenberg when necessary. Levey, a Post columnist, is also heard regularly on Baltimore's WBAL-AM (1090).

Shop Talk

WDCU-FM (90.1) will celebrate jazz announcer Felix Grant's 45 years on Washington radio on Jan. 22 with a musical tribute featuring performances by a slew of international and local artists. Tickets begin at $50. Call 282-7588 ... Oldies-formatted WXTR-FM (104.1) will help Anita's Kids Place and the Salvation Army collect "Coats for Kids" for area needy children now though February. There are 10 locations to drop off clean, usable kids' coats. For one near you, call 899-3014 ... After a three-month tryout WAVA-FM (105.1) has made "Big Don" O'Brien's hiring official. He'll occupy the afternoon slot, replacing Shadow Smith, 34, who left in the fall to become a videographer off the Florida coast. Also hired at the Top 40 station is Chris Jett, who is doing evenings.

And Now This ...

Inside Radio, a New Jersey-based trade newsletter that plays it loose, each week prints a brief section called "Outside Radio," described by editors as "a good-natured spoof of our industry written by the American Comedy Network." In a recent edition, the bit was this apology, which followed a straight news story about Ervin S. Duggan of Bethesda, a religious broadcaster who runs a communications consulting business here, and who has been nominated by President Bush to the Federal Communications Commission:

"In our previous story we suggested that Ervin Duggan is an ultra-conservative pawn of holy rollers who is out of step with the times. We meant to imply that he is a right-wing mouthpiece of fundamentalists who want to plunge America back into another era of McCarthy-like paranoia. We regret the confusion."