RUSH: Here’s Michael in Westfield, New York, as we head back to the phones. Great to have you, sir. Welcome.
CALLER: Hey, Rush. Man, I tell you, it’s great to talk to you. I’m a senior in college and I’ve been a Rush 24/7 member since my junior year in high school.
RUSH: Wow. Thank you very much. I really appreciate that.
CALLER: Oh, it’s been great listening to you all these years. So to get to my question, right now I’m a senior in college, and a project for one of my communications courses, the course is called Rhetoric and Criticism, and the project for the class, I chose to analyze the reasons why your show has been successful. You know, how you approach the show, what makes your show unique, and why it draws such a large audience. And I chose and I wanted to do your show because, not only do I like it, but because people in my age range tend to dismiss you. So I wanted to give you an opportunity to kind of address college students because I’ll be using this in my presentation next week.
RUSH: Why do they dismiss me?
CALLER: Well, I think it has to do with a lot of the reasons of why your show is successful. I think one of the most effective things you do is you get people laughing at Democrats, and satire is the most effective and —
RUSH: Right, and they don’t like that. That’s called mean-spiritedness. Satire and biting humor aimed at Democrats is mean-spiritedness, it’s racist, sexist, bigoted, homophobic, right?
CALLER: Right. And then they form opinions about you without even listening to you or giving your stances any thought.
RUSH: Exactly. The only people, by the way, the only people who do not like this program are those who’ve never listened to it. Everybody who listens to it is hooked on it.
RUSH: Everybody who has ever listened to it loves it. Well, this is a great idea for a project. So what are some of the things that you have, on your own, deduced that define the reasons why this program is successful?
CALLER: Well, the main sources are, you know, my listening for years and Zev Chafets’ great book about you. And one of the first reasons is, you know, even now still, but more so when your show first came on the air, there was a huge conservative media vacuum, and the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine not only allowed you on the air but it opened up the airwaves, and so timing played a part of it. But, I mean, one of the other main things is you brought top 40 high energy radio to politics, which is very unique, and, you know, your show is upbeat, and you’re a happy warrior. And I think that’s something that’s unique to politics, and, you know, used with satire, that’s not something that Democrats are used to having to face.
RUSH: You’re exactly right on everything that you’ve assessed. Top 40, energy, even program elements.
RUSH: When I first started using music in a talk show, you shoulda heard the objections from the wizards of smart in the business. And when I told ’em I didn’t want to do guests. “You can’t do a talk show without guests.” “Yes, I can.” Why should I have the same roster of guests that’s on every other show selling the same book, what do they care about my show’s success? I decided I wanted to be the reason people would listen to radio. I wanted to find out if I could be the reason, and, if I couldn’t, then I’d quit, do something else. I didn’t want to have to invest in a bunch of people who don’t care about my success, such as authors and TV stars. They go from show to show to show. They don’t care which show is popular. They just wanna be on which one is and get whatever they’re doing out there, sell their book or whatever. And I said, “Why should I depend on those people to be good every day or entertaining in order to attract an audience for me?”
So I just blew up the whole formula for the way a talk show should be done. But let me give you a scoop, ’cause you wanted to know if there’s something you should address specifically. I’ll give you a scoop that even the brightest minds who have tried to analyze this program and figure it out and explain it have never, ever, hit upon, and they’ve never been curious to look at and they’ve never understood the importance of, and that is the business model of this program. Because with all the stuff that you have pointed out, the format stuff, the top 40 energy, the conservative vacuum, all of that’s true, but without this program being a commercial financial success, none of that would happen. And so when we started this program in 1988, we were being penalized by two things. A, we were new, and nobody ever heard of me. And so the only advertising we were able to get was what is called — are you writing this down or recording it?
CALLER: Yeah, like I said, I’m a 24/7 member, so I’ll be able download the podcast.
RUSH: All right. So we were getting advertising that is referred to in the business as CPM, cost per thousand. It was simply advertisers — they didn’t even know they were buying this program. Agencies would package this program with others to get a total audience, and they’d take these advertisers, and it could be Meineke mufflers, it could be any stock, standard American advertiser, and all they were interested in was how many people were gonna hear the message, how many people were gonna hear the brand name. There was no concern in that kind of advertising for results. It was just cost per thousand, how little can they pay to reach the most people. And when we started that was it, because we had no audience when we started. We couldn’t demonstrate any, so we had to piggyback on others.
And once it was discovered, which didn’t take long, that I was conservative, that automatically meant controversial, whether it was or wasn’t, it just meant that, which then meant that certain companies did not want their commercials in my program. So we started out with two strikes against us. A, conservatism meant controversial, which meant advertisers didn’t want to be anywhere near it. And small audience, we weren’t able to charge a whole lot. And, if that didn’t change, then this program wouldn’t survive. So what we decided to do, what I decided to do, was change this whole cost-per-thousand structure to something called results-oriented.
I knew that I was gonna have to demonstrate to advertisers immediately that their advertising on this program worked. And I knew that it would work if we could find the advertisers, because I had done it in Sacramento. So I guess the best illustration that I can give of this is Snapple. I’d never heard of Snapple until I got to New York, and the last thing I thought it was was an iced tea, when I heard the brand name. The broadcast engineer one day, who was the same broadcast engineer then as today, was in his studio, in his broadcast engineer studio complex, and he was pouring a bottle of this stuff over a cup with cracked ice in it. It was a hot-as-heck day in New York. I said, “What is that?” He said, “Snapple.” I think raspberry flavor.
I tasted it, I said, “Whoa.” It was delicious. Mine now is better, by the way, but at the time it was the best I’d ever tasted. So I immediately made them the official beverage of the EIB Network. I started giving away Snapple commercials. And, lo and behold, it didn’t take long, the Snapple guys called, said, “Who is this?” Because there was activity in Snapple that had never happened before.
At the time they were a three-state business. And the short version of this story is, after a couple of years, they were in 50 states, and there were people all over the country wanting to be Snapple distributors, and they became a sponsor and eventually the three guys that owned Snapple sold it for $2 billion to Quaker Oats who then proceeded to ruin it. But the Snapple story was the thing that illustrated that advertising on this program got results.
Now, why did that happen? I mean, there’s a key to that, too. I have to take a break here, but you hang on and I’ll explain to you why that happened and how it happened. But the whole business structure of this program, the way we do it with our affiliates, there are a number of things that we did first that had not been done in talk radio. Some of them I can’t mention, but the business side of this, the business model, Michael, is what nobody’s really looked at. So you have a little bit of a scoop here. Let me take a brief time-out, and I’ll come back and explain something very key to all of that stuff I just explained working, after this.
RUSH: Okay, we’re back with Michael in Westfield, New York, a college senior writing a paper for a project on why this program is successful. Before I continue with what I was telling you, I want to give you the answer I give everybody when they ask me, “What’s your purpose? What are you doing? What is your objective?” Because this is true and I’ve said this from the beginning. This is not an exclusive, but I guarantee you your professor hasn’t heard it and your fellow students haven’t heard it.
RUSH: The reason I am here is to attract and then hold the largest audience possible so that I can then charge confiscatory advertising rates, period. This is a business, period. This is not a political party. This is not a political think tank. This is not a part of any conservative cause. This is a business. And it has business requirements for success that are unique to it, i.e., radio. If those aren’t met, then all the rest of that content stuff is academic. By the way, what I just told you is gonna irritate the hell out of ’em because the way they’re gonna interpret it: “You mean you’re just in it for the money? You’re just in it for the money, why, I knew it, he doesn’t believe anything.”
No, because the next part of it is, how in the world does results-oriented advertising work? I come here and I say, “This is the best widget on the face of the earth, folks, you need it, you should have it.” Why does that work? It is because I have been fortunate enough — this is why I thank this audience, Michael, as often as I do. I have built a bond of loyalty that’s almost familial with the people in this audience. They who listen regularly trust what I tell them. They know that I don’t lie to them. They know that I don’t make things up. They know that when I tell ’em what I believe, that I’m being honest with them. That I don’t say outrageous things just to provoke people. And so they believe me.
So when I tell ’em that my iced tea is the best iced tea, they believe it. When I tell them that LifeLock is the best, when I tell them that Tax Resolution Services, whatever, they know that I’m telling truth. Therefore there’s a credibility and a believability that makes that advertising work, and, if that doesn’t happen, you can have all the people in the world spending money with you and you can charge them all you want, but if the audience does not respect, appreciate, trust the host, it’s all gonna fail.
RUSH: So what this all boils down to is honesty, integrity, respect for the audience’s intelligence and treating them that way. Now, there are a lot of elements here, and to me they’re all instinctive. It’s so instinctive to me that it just happens. Now, I’ve made mistakes. I have gone off the path, but because the audience trusts me, they’ve stuck here. How many opportunities have I given the audience to wave good-bye, but they hang in, and it’s getting larger. But the largest audience, hold it for as long as I can, charge confiscatory advertising rates is simply my way of explaining this is a business. And what are the business requirements? Now, the content is crucial. I’m not trying to say it isn’t. It’s gotta be. There’s a lot of competition. This program has gotta have something others don’t. It’s gotta have something, or a whole lot of stuff others don’t, in order to stand out.
RUSH: But I’ve chosen, I’m not gonna go pornographic. I’m not gonna go obscene. I’m not gonna go profane to do it. This program’s gotten harder to do. I take it seriously. You know, meeting and surpassing all audience expectations, dead serious, I mean that from the bottom of my heart. I go home at night when I think I’ve not had a good show and I fret and worry about it for hours ’til the next day when I have a chance to come in and fix it.
RUSH: Now, I have to take a time-out here. I’m sure you have questions. So you think of ’em (and, if you don’t, that’s okay if you don’t). We’ll be back and I’ll ask you what they are.
RUSH: I want to get back, our young student is in a time crunch here and I normally don’t take phone calls in the monologue segment, but I told him I would be back, and, if he has any questions, there’s one more thing that I want to mention to him about this program and why it’s successful. Okay, Michael, any questions?
CALLER: Yeah, first of all, I just want to say thank you, Rush, for your honesty in answering the questions, and, as a listener, I realize that you don’t usually take calls during the monologue, so I appreciate it very much. You know, I think one of the things that I wanted to say is it’s kind of ironic that, because of your success, you are caricatured, and that causes people to overlook you, which is unfortunate because of the nature of your show, people don’t have to agree with what you say to enjoy the program. That’s something that not a lot of people mention when talking about your show. So one of the questions I had for you was I have a theory, but I was wondering if you ever thought of combating your negative perception commercially? In other words, have you ever thought about, for instance, like running advertisements on TV, on cable news channels or anything like that, you know, like with your bumper music and you could show, you know, you talking about something in sort of an upbeat manner to kind of get the word out that way?
RUSH: No. Well, I say no.
CALLER: Is that because they give you a lot of free advertising anyway when they —
RUSH: No, no. No, no. It’s because that’s not gonna change their mind.
CALLER: The low-information voters might see that, though.
RUSH: Well, we’ve got our own technique. We have low-information outreach going on here, but let me tell you two more things and I’ll address your thing first. Before this program started in 1988, nobody who knew me thought I hated anybody. Nobody thought I was racist. Nobody thought I was extremist. Nobody thought I was mean. Six months after being on the radio, that’s what was being said about me, and that was because I was conservative. Now, when that started happening, nobody was able to tell me what to do about it, and nobody had prepared me for it. Nobody said, “If you get successful, this, this and this is gonna happen.” And when that stuff that you just described started happening, nobody had an answer for it.
I talked to a bunch of people, and, for every person I talked to, I got a different theory about how to deal with it. And some people said, “You can’t let that stuff stand, you have got to respond. You can’t let them call you racist. You have got to respond to that.” So one time I tried responding to some this stuff, and all it did was invigorate the critics and let them know I was bothered by it. “So it must be somewhat true,” they said, and they just ratcheted up the criticism. And virtually any time I have tried to respond to generic or specific criticism, it just generates more.
I told the story in my own book. I happened to be in the New York restaurant 21 about, I don’t know, five years into this program. It was 1993, shortly after my first book had come out. It was my first time there, and my host said, “The restroom attendant here is a big fan, would love to meet you. He brought your book in, would you go in and sign it?” I said, “Sure.” So I walked in, the guy’s name is The Rev, and he actually was a minister from Westchester County in New York. And I hadn’t said a word, I just walked in and said hi, and this guy said, “You know what? This is the second biggest day of my life. The first day is when I met President Reagan. President Reagan came in here, and you know what, Mr. Limbaugh? He just laughed at ’em. All he ever did was just laugh at ’em. Everything they said, he just laughed at ’em.”
I didn’t even ask. I didn’t even bring it up, and here I’m getting the answer on how to deal with it. Just laugh at it. Now, it’s much harder on my family and friends than it is on me. I’ve had to make a psychological adjustment in my life to deal with this. Now, most people are not raised to want be to disliked, and most people are not raised to want to be hated. In fact, it’s the opposite. Everybody’s raised to be loved. Everybody’s raised to try to make people happy, try to make people like you, be polite, do whatever, make everybody like you, that’s the key. And I was no different. And I’ve had to learn now to take as a measure of success that 25 or 30% of the country hates my guts.
But it’s not personal. It’s all politics. And my politics isn’t gonna change. And that would be the only thing that would change their opinion of me is if I change. I’m not gonna do that. So, no, believe me, there’s nothing that could affect that change. George Bush couldn’t do it. George Bush, as president, could not change the lies and distortions that were told about him, and he had the bully pulpit of the presidency. There’s nothing, believe me, on that score that can be done.
RUSH: Some people might say it’s fair, unfair, whatever, it’s just the way things are in the country today given the political climate. I’ve chosen to do what I do the way I do it, and there are certain things that are gonna happen as a result. And you can’t change ’em, and you can’t cry about it, and it just is what it is. The best thing you can do is make sure it doesn’t change you.
CALLER: Right. I mean, I’ve had, you know, to a much lesser extent than what you’ve had to deal with. I mean, you can imagine, I mean, I’ve had people tell me that I’m racist or that, you know, you’re racist and had never listened to your show outside maybe a brief sound bite —
RUSH: Well, but who are these people? Why in the world do we — these people are, by definition, ignorant. They don’t know what they’re talking about. Why respond to them anyway? What is in it to change their minds? They’re peons. These are people that haven’t even listened and they’re making a guilt-by-association judgment on you. You need to laugh at ’em, in their face. You need to make them feel small as they are.
CALLER: Right. Yeah, I think that, on a national scale, you know, is what your show does and partially why it’s so successful.
RUSH: Let me tell you something. Michael, I’ve gotten to the point where I enjoy ticking ’em off. I’ve gotten to the point where I enjoy tweaking them.
RUSH: Snerdley and the guys will tell you, I can sit here during commercial breaks, “Okay, here’s what I’m gonna say about this next…” We know it’s gonna be in Media Matters in two hours and it’s gonna be on MSNBC and they’re gonna be flipping out, and I just love toying with them. They’re so predictable. They’re so small-minded, predictable. But the thing is, Michael, they have not caused me to lose any audience. They have not convinced people that listen to this program that they’re right. That doesn’t happen. They have not hurt me. Maybe feelings now and then, but I’m long past that. They have not hurt. That’s the thing that you have to realize.
CALLER: Yeah. Hey, I’m glad you brought that up because that connects to something else I wanted to bring up, and I’ve wanted to say this to you for a while, and I think you’ll get a kick out of it because you viewed high school as something of a prison. I hope you like this. When I was a senior in high school, you know, when you’re a senior, the seniors get a special place in the yearbook and you get color photos.
RUSH: Well, I don’t remember that. I wanted out of there so fast.
CALLER: (laughing) Well, I did, and we were allowed to pick a quote to put next to our senior portrait in the yearbook. And, as you can imagine, I had quite a few liberal teachers and, you know, aside from the fact that I enjoy your program very much, I thought it would be great to put a quote of yours into the yearbook. And that quote of yours I chose was this: “Enraging liberals is simply one of the more enjoyable side effects of my wisdom.”
RUSH: Well, then you’ve got it. Look, let me tell you something. I really appreciate the fact that you are bothered by how maligned I am and how misreported on, and that you wish I would do something. I know how you feel. I felt that same way about Bush when he was being tarred and feathered during those eight years and he didn’t respond to it. I know, and I really appreciate what’s behind that. I mean, you’re offended by it. It bothers you. You know it isn’t true. You don’t think it’s fair. You don’t think it’s right, and it ought not happen, and you want something done about it, and I appreciate that, more than you know.
RUSH: I’ve gotta go here, but there’s one other element, going back to your original premise here of why this program is a success, and I’m gonna probably tick off a lot of people when I say this. But I started in this business when I was 15. I am a radio guy. Too often this business has plucked people off the street and put ’em on the radio, thinking that’s all you have to do. Go get a psychiatrist, go get a couple car mechanics. I’ve known radio stations that put wacko callers on the air and given them shows. Howard Cosell used to talk about the “jockocracy,” which is a bunch of people that don’t have the slightest knowledge, experience in broadcasting, who are nevertheless installed in top positions ’cause they played the game.
They may not be able to talk, may not be able to know how to communicate, but it doesn’t matter, they’re put in the booth because of their name recognition. And he always lamented what that meant for the business of broadcasting. I understand what he means by it. But there’s a reason why the people in any industry succeed. The people at the top, there’s a reason why, and that is they’re veterans. They’re experienced. They’ve been at it a long time. They love it. They understand it. They’re devoted to it. It’s special to them. They respect it. It’s not just some place to go be famous. It’s about just someplace to have people hear what you think. It’s not just someplace to maybe get a TV gig out of it. It’s radio. It’s specific. It has specific requirements. It has specific talents that are called for, and it’s not everybody that can do it well.
RUSH: Those are all factors in the success. I wish you the best with your paper. Hell, we’ve practically written it here.
CALLER: (laughing) Yeah, Rush, I thank you so much again for being honest with me, and it’s been great talking to you. In an age when we live in a time when responding emotionally is seen as a valid substitute for thinking critically, you know, you’re a great beacon on the radio, and, you know, we all love the program.
RUSH: That is the best — let me tell you something. What you just said to me cancels out 10 years of sniveling little Chihuahua yapping at the heels criticism. Because you get it. Critical thinking and substance counting more than just emotional plays. And you’ve got it. You understand it thoroughly, entirely, plus you understand the critical importance of independent thought anyway, as a human being.
CALLER: Well, thank you, Rush. Thank you very much.
RUSH: People aren’t gonna be able to put much over on you. You’re really ahead of the game, and I’m gratified that people like you are in the audience, and I really appreciate you calling and asking me about this. I don’t normally talk about myself. As you know, I don’t like doing that.
RUSH: But a student in need will always get a response here.
CALLER: Thanks, Rush, and I’m a political science major, so, you know, I appreciate it, and I want to ask you one last question. Did I perform the duties of the caller to make the host look good?
RUSH: Oh, yeah.
RUSH: Without question. But you made yourself look good at the same time, too. Don’t think you didn’t.
CALLER: (laughing) I love it, Rush. I love your humor, and don’t stop.
RUSH: I just want to remind you one thing. Mitt Romney spent about a billion dollars trying to change the perceptions of him, the lies about him, and he wasn’t able to do it ’cause he got in too late. What was said about him was too ingrained by the time he got around to responding. But I’m here every day. I prove them wrong every day just by virtue of my existence. And that’s enough for me. It really is. And the fact this audience knows all that bunk is bunk. So the audience is it. The audience is everything. The audience is the show. And you’re in it and I’m glad. I’m glad you called.