It was a wing and a prayer, and it was started with very little money. Ed was the president of the ABC Radio networks for many years after having worked at KGO in San Francisco.When ABC merged with Capital Cities Communications, as is the wont, the Capital Cities management wanted slots for their own people, and they gave certain ABC executives retirement packages. And part of Ed’s package was two hours of satellite time from noon to two. It was currently being filled by a host named Owen Spann. They were syndicating four or five people, Michael Jackson, Owen Spann, some others in the daytime, and it wasn’t working, and nobody could figure out why it wasn’t working because these people were fairly talented. So they came to the conclusion it wasn’t working because nobody wanted to hear a national show in the daytime.Radio had to be local, local, local — local issues, local hosts, and local phones — and if you didn’t have that, it wasn’t gonna work and that’s why this wasn’t working. So eventually, something happened to Owen. He threw his back out or did something, and Ed plucked me out of Sacramento. That’s another long story, too, that I won’t worry you about, but it took some contractual maneuvering to bring that about (and it would not have happened if I had not secured a clause in my contract saying I could leave for an offer in the top-ten market). So the deal was put together that I would go to network and do a local show from 10 a.m. to 12 noon. I would not be paid for that show, but WABC would run our national commercials so that we could tell our advertisers we were in the number-one market.Sponsors didn’t really care. They just wanted their spots to air in a number-one market. I then did a national show from noon to 2 p.m. So it was four hours and national show we started with about 56 radio stations, which is what Owen Spann had. They had not signed up because they thought I was great. It’s just they had nothing else to do. They’re small little stations, and that’s where we started.
This was really a wing and a prayer, and Ed McLaughlin and his wife, Pat, were the definition of like a mom-and-pop operation. They did it. I mean, they were both involved. There was a guy named Lee Vanden-Handel, and still is a guy named Lee Vanden-Handel, who was the affiliate relations gentleman. He did all the clearances. He was making all the phone calls to all the stations telling about this wonderful new show, the Rush Limbaugh Show, and putting up with the abuse and the declines and so forth.Ed would do the same thing, was working on the large market stations, and I was just doing the radio program, and it was wing and a prayer when we started. The one thing I quickly figured out — ’cause it took off fast, as those of you who have been around for all 20 years know — and one of the reasons that it did is because we were only asking for two hours a day from a radio station when we first started, whereas the ABC talk radio network was asking stations to give up five and six hours to syndicated programming. Well, we were just one show. Now, Ed was syndicating Dr. Dean Edell, but he was already established. So there wasn’t even any packaging. We were just going out by ourselves, getting these clearances, or trying to, and advertising and the whole mess.I just, you know, my ambition was uncontrollable. My vision for this getting big was uncontrollable, and Ed was — I think we were all — shocked by how fast it grew, and Ed had to go out and hire a couple people to come in and actually run the day-to-day operations. He brought in John Axten and Stu Krane, and they had both been in the ABC Radio Networks in sales and management; and Stu and John were there with Ed when all this growth was happening. We went from 56 radio stations to 500 stations in three years. Long before Bill Clinton came along on the national scene. The Drive-Bys all say that it’s Clinton that made the show. They’re clueless about it. But these guys were just working tirelessly, and we were all having fun at the same time because it was exploding.Everywhere the show aired, it worked. Still does. In unbelievable ways. We’re not really supposed to talk about this, but we get ratings every month here. They’re broken down into quarters of the year. I just got the spring report that came in. It’s through the roof. A lot of it’s probably Operation Chaos, but literally through the roof: nine and ten shares in places. It’s just grace. It’s just been fabulous. But it would not have happened if Ed McLaughlin hadn’t taken the risk. It wasn’t really a big risk for me because everybody expected it not to work and if it had not worked I would have just been the last and latest valiant effort, and I’d have gone back to Sacramento or maybe Los Angeles or wherever and continued my talk show career.
It was Ed. He’s the one that put his money on the line, and he was just supportive as he could be. He didn’t know me from Adam. He was clued into my existence by a guy named Bruce Marr, who was a great program director at KABC in Los Angeles for a while and he’d done it in the consulting business. He was consulting KFBK Sacramento where I worked. By the way, Bruce Marr was instrumental in making sure that the show you hear today is the show you hear. Because as the case everywhere, when I got to Sacramento after awhile the program director said, ‘You gotta get guests in here. You can’t do this without guests! Everybody in talk radio has guests. You gotta get some guests.’ I said, ‘I’m not going to get guests. I want to be the reason people listen to the program. Go worry about some other show.’ So Bruce was the front man, and he stood in the way.
He said, ‘He can do it. He doesn’t need guests. Worry about something else,’ and something similar happened in New York at WABC. There was some format pressure on my local show. ‘You gotta get some guests in here, Rush. You know, people in New York aren’t going to understand Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry and the homeless update. That’s bush league. You gotta get guests here.’ I said, ‘Why? You got guests out the wazoo on every other show in this station.’ So Ed went in there and provided the buffer for that. The point is none of this could have happened without the help and the courage and the risk-taking of a whole lot of people, particularly Ed McLaughlin. I remember going through the negotiating session with him. He wouldn’t budge from what he was offering at first. He was a businessman pure and through, and this was a business proposition, but he was taking a real flier.
He had come out to Sacramento and he had listened and he’d taken Bruce Marr’s advice, thinking this would be a good guy to fill his two hours on the satellite. But he would have been happy with a couple hundred stations. He was nearing retirement age. This thing just blew up, got larger than anything anybody expected except me. You know, my intention was to come here and own everything. I didn’t go to New York to be number five or number four — and then, of course, there’s all of you. All of these people that, you know, gave me the support system and the encouragement and were working tirelessly on my behalf and in theirs as well, there’s you, the audience, and you are the ultimate determining factor of the success of this program. The fact that you listen and that you admit to it is a — I don’t mean that to sound funny; it’s a serious component of it — it has always blown me away.
The bond and the depth of loyalty that I have with all of you in the audience is something that I still marvel at to this day. It is special, and it is unique. It is, I think, a great testament to the true power and intimacy that radio as a medium provides, ’cause you’re not looking at anything as you listen to this. You’re listening, and as such, there’s only one sensory perception: your hearing. You’re more focused. There’s no background listening. You don’t have this on in the background doing anything else. When you’re here, I own you, and you own me, and these three hours go by, it’s like that (snaps fingers) lickety-split. This has led to a radio audience and host, familial-type relationship that is unparalleled in the modern era of radio. Before TV started, these kind of audiences existed and they were huge in size. So, I have a lot of people to thank. It’s difficult to mention them all and give them the tribute that they all deserve.