For someone who works in a supposedly dying industry, radio talk-show titan Rush Limbaugh has been garnering an astonishing amount of attention this week. First, he announced that he's been diagnosed with lung cancer, an acknowledgment that generated torrents of sympathy from his ultra-conservative fan base while essentially paralyzing his progressive enemies, many of whom probably wanted to dance with glee but were wary of doing so for fear of giving him even more ammunition to use against them. But they couldn't help firing back after President Donald Trump announced that he'd awarded Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom during the State of the Union address last night, February 4. This morning, Media Matters responded with a new post about Limbaugh's alleged hate-mongering that it touted in an email blast labeled, "REMINDER: Rush Limbaugh is a Misogynist, Racist, Homophobe, Conspiracy Peddler and All-Around Bad Human Being."
Limbaugh is something else, too: the king of Denver radio. And if anyone doubted his popularity and power in the Mile High City, they were reminded of it over the past six months or so.
KOA, the flagship of the iHeartRadio cluster of outlets in Denver, first aired Limbaugh's syndicated program in October 1993, and the offering generated big ratings for more than a quarter-century. But in July 2019, the show was shifted to a newly acquired FM signal and poor-performing 760 AM to accommodate a KOA schedule shakeup necessitated by the acquisition of former Broncos and CU Buffs star Alfred Williams.
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The resulting radio combo pack was dubbed Freedom 93.7, and its rise to broadcasting prominence has been nothing short of astonishing, as evidenced by its "AQH Share for Persons 6-plus" — industry-speak for the average number of people age six or above who tune in to a station for at least five minutes during a fifteen-minute period from 6 a.m. to midnight. Shares translate to individuals out of 100 who are listening, and in August, shortly after Limbaugh and a cadre of right-wing yakkers took over, Freedom's final figure was 0.8. But that went up to a 1.1. in September, a 2.1 in October, a 2.6 in November and a 2.8 in December, the most recent month for which statistics are available.
And KOA? Its 4.0 share in August slid to a 3.0 in September, when Williams and co-host JoJo Turnbeaugh debuted during the afternoon drive, then a 2.4 in October and 2.5s in November and December — meaning that its ratings are actually lower than those at Freedom 93.7.
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It's important to note that 6-plus figures offer only a very general idea about the popularity of radio stations, which tend to target specific demographics rather than a broad audience, and the performances of Limbaugh and Williams can't be directly equated, because they don't air opposite each other. But the digits still provide ample evidence that Limbaugh's influence in Denver remains enormous all these decades later.
That's a depressing thought for the folks at Media Matters, who constructed the following list of Limbaugh "lowlights:"
• During a series of public appearances he called the “Rush to Excellence Tour,” from 1989 to 1991, Limbaugh joked about AIDS and suicide, among other subjects, and declared that "feminism was established so that unattractive ugly broads could have easy access to the mainstream."
• On his short-lived TV show in the 1990s, Limbaugh compared 12-year-old presidential daughter Chelsea Clinton to a dog and sarcastically apologized for having previously called Amy Carter, daughter of President Jimmy Carter, "the most unattractive presidential daughter in the history of the country."
• Limbaugh’s history of racist invective includes him saying, "The NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons” and dismissing the suffering of Native Americans by claiming, “"Holocaust?’ Ninety million Indians? Only four million left? They all have casinos — what's to complain about?"
• He has also frequently mocked human suffering, ranging from victims of natural disasters to those living in extreme poverty.
• In October 2006, when actor Michael J. Fox recorded a series of political ads endorsing candidates in the midterm elections who supported stem cell research, Limbaugh mocked Fox’s physical shaking from Parkinson’s disease and accused him of "exaggerating the effects of the disease." He continued: "He is moving all around and shaking. And it's purely an act.... Either he didn't take his medication or he's acting, one of the two." (Limbaugh revisited this topic just recently, saying that Democrats “"go out and they find disabled people" like Fox or teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg.)
• Limbaugh also referred to then-presidential candidate Barack Obama as a "Hafrican American," and played a mocking song called "Barack the Magic Negro."
• There were many other conspiracy theories that Limbaugh has promoted in his career, including one about the death of Clinton White House aide Vince Foster. He also claimed that Obama might cancel the 2012 elections or that Obama was both an "African Colonial" or an anti-colonialist (both of which were bad). In 2018, he suggested that mass shootings in New Zealand might have been a false flag attack to smear conservatives. (On that subject, he also alleged, “The people that are shooting up schools more than likely vote Democrat when you get right down to it, if they vote.”) He also suggested that Al Qaeda may have given up Osama Bin Laden "for the express purpose of making Obama look good."
• In October 2016, in the wake of the Access Hollywood tape of Trump bragging back in 2005 about sexually assaulting women, Limbaugh came to the Republican nominee’s defense, declaring, "If the left ever senses and smells that there's no consent in part of the equation, then here come the rape police."
• In a truly dangerous act in September 2017, Limbaugh publicly dismissed the safety warnings from government officials about Hurricane Irma.
• Limbaugh’s attacks against immigrant communities are prolific. In 2019 alone, he said that "the Democrat party has imported the third world into this country and they have not assimilated," compared asylum-seekers coming to the U.S. border to the invasion of Normandy, and quipped that "maybe toilet water is a step up for" some migrants. Limbaugh, like Trump, is also a birther.
Such attacks on Limbaugh are nothing new, and they definitely haven't put much of a dent in his success, particularly here. Indeed, the idea that he might have to step away from his program to deal with his health crisis — something he admits is a possibility, at least on a temporary basis — likely terrifies iHeartRadio executives in Colorado and beyond. He continues to rule Denver radio, whether his detractors like it or not.