Rush Limbaugh talks with guests in the East Room of the White House in Washington, January 13, 2009. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
Rush Limbaugh’s show has never sounded so bleeding-heart liberal as it did this week, when commercial sponsors bailed and were replaced by the United Negro College Fund, Feeding America, the US Department of Health and Human Services and other nonprofits and governmental agencies. In fact, of the eighty ads running Friday on the online stream of Limbaugh’s flagship station, WABC in New York, seventy-one were public service announcements and three were station promos. According to Media Matters, one of the six remaining paid ads was from an advertiser who had asked for it to be pulled.
Now some fifty national advertisers—more if you count locals—have pulled their ads from Limbaugh’s show to avoid being associated with his attacks on Sandra Fluke as a “slut” and “prostitute.” Rushbo is so radioactive right now that even some PSA freebies are running away from him. The American Heart Association wrote in an e-mail to Bloomberg.com, “It is our practice to be a content-sensitive advertiser, and in light of the current controversy, we will be asking WABC to no longer utilize these unpaid PSAs.”
So it’s been a bad week for Rush. Though maybe not quite as bad as CNN, MSNBC and some blogs have made it sound. They all reported that on Thursday WABC suffered more than five minutes of dead air time where ads were supposed to have run on Limbaugh’s show, leaving the impression that radios across Gotham fell into real radio silence.
But it wasn’t quite as simple, or as satisfying, as that. The five minutes and thirty-three seconds of dead air (distributed over four commercial pods in the three-hour show) occurred, as Media Matters reported, only on WABC’s online show, not on the station’s broadcast.
The dead air, however, was indeed caused by the flight of Rush’s sponsors. Explaining what happened, one radio insider told me, “If advertisers are asked to pull [that many] ads, the system is experiencing something it hasn’t experienced before.” That is, the software’s algorithms couldn’t handle the replacement of so many regular spots with PSAs in the time before transmission.