Where Will Rush Limbaugh’s 15 Million Listeners Go Now?


“It’s starting over,” Mr. Harrison said in an interview, noting that conservative radio consumers can simply switch to other popular Limbaugh-like hosts, including Mr. Hannity, Glenn Beck and Mark Levin. (iHeartMedia might not mind: It also syndicates Mr. Beck and Mr. Hannity.)

Mr. Limbaugh’s success may have ensured his show’s eventual obsolescence.

He was the first conservative icon in national media, bringing an ideology more closely associated with elite organs like National Review to a mass audience. His shock-jock antics infuriated Democratic presidents and endeared himself to Republican ones; as early as 1992, President George Bush invited him to spend a night in the Lincoln Bedroom.

Before Fox News and the MAGA internet, Mr. Limbaugh’s program was the only megaphone for his divisive, hyperpartisan brand of commentary. “There’s something magical about the intimacy of radio that younger readers simply cannot possibly appreciate,” the commentator Matt Lewis wrote in The Daily Beast after Mr. Limbaugh’s death, echoing other conservatives who reminisced about childhood listening sessions.

There is no doubt his show remained influential with the Slightly Less Online set, particularly among working-class listeners whose jobs might not afford nonstop access to a social media platform during the business day. Mr. Limbaugh even scored some headlines in December when he mused that the nation might be “trending toward secession.”

But Mr. Limbaugh’s latter-day commentary — while still ribald and unrepentant — was often indistinguishable from that of dozens of other pundits.

“He created the genre, which then flooded the market with competitors, some less talented, some more,” said Ann Coulter, the conservative provocateur. “Only one person can be the pioneer — but after that, it’s dog-eat-dog.” (Even Fox News, which long enjoyed a monopoly on conservative TV, has now been forced to contend with upstart rivals, like Newsmax, that appeal to far-right viewers.)

Because he depended on a publicly traded conglomerate for his paycheck, Mr. Limbaugh was also beholden to the kinds of corporate guidelines that fringier online platforms could happily ignore. After the election, Mr. Limbaugh defended President Trump’s lies about voter fraud — and as late as Inauguration Day insisted that Joseph R. Biden Jr. “didn’t win this thing fair and square” — but he stopped short of explicitly calling for violence. It was a guest on “The Alex Jones Show” who explicitly called for supporters to “occupy the Capitol.”


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