Liberals thought their fondest dream had come true on Feb. 29, 2012, when weekday radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh referred to Georgetown University Law Student Sandra Fluke as a “slut” and a “prostitute” after she testified the week before to House Democrats in favor of forcing insurance companies to pay the full cost of contraceptives.
Democrats quickly urged sponsors to boycott the conservative icon's program, and that hurt advertising for the rest of the year. But Limbaugh's distributor -- Dan Metter -- said on Thursday that the radio host is not only drawing new advertisers, but he's also welcoming back a number of long-time sponsors.
Metter, senior vice president and director of talk radio sales for Premiere Radio, told the Talkers New York 2013 conference that the boycott -- which he referred to as simply “the challenge” -- led the company to focus its efforts on getting ads from entrepreneurial-based companies not handled by major agencies, including LifeLock and LegalZoom.
They’re not buying an ideology, they’re buying an audience. And many of them are advertising with our progressive radio hosts and our conservative radio hosts and everything in the middle.
He then stated that companies are buying advertisements “because their audience buys tractors, their audience drinks soda, and their audience needs data backup. And that’s the place to get those types of customers. So we’re doing very, very well.”
“They’re pacing ahead of this time last year,” Metter noted, “and while January was a bit slow, the second quarter is picking up for the company that distributes Limbaugh and other talkers, such as Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity.”
Of course, the second quarter of 2012 was the height of the liberal boycott, so it's not surprising that talk radio is doing better this year than last. Still, the fact that Limbaugh's advertising has bounced back is worth noting.
“Many of these companies, especially in this economy, need talk radio,” he continued. “The endorsement of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, (liberal talk show host) Randi Rhodes and (science expert) George Noory is gold to these guys. That builds their brands, makes their business.”
Cumulus Media (a rival to Limbaugh's syndicator Premier) CEO Lew Dickey has blamed the company’s advertising losses in New York on Limbaugh's comments about Fluke. Cumulus, which has 40 radio stations that air the conservative host's program, has a contract with the talker through 2013.
Led by a number of liberal groups, the boycott resulted in several sponsors -- including Sears, Geico, Carbonite, Netflix, Capitol One and the New York Lottery -- withdrawing from Limbaugh's radio show within local markets.
However, the conservative radio host said the departing sponsors were replaced, and a source close to the show said revenue was “very minimally impacted in the short term.” In addition, the conservative talker said the boycott had “backfired” since his program is still the highest-rated talk radio show in the country. The CEO of Carbonite admitted last year that dropping his company's ads from Limbaugh's program led to reduced profits.
Another speaker at the conference was John Murphy, executive vice president of Dial Global -- which distributes shows from talkers such as Herman Cain, Bill Press and Thom Hartmann -- who said that advertisers today are simply scared of political talk radio after the advertising boycott.
“Talk radio has become so frightening for advertisers that even CBS Radio’s longtime talker Charles Osgood has been placed on a 'do not buy' list!” Murphy noted.
Blogger and law professor William Jacobson has pointed this out for quite some time although few in the media have been willing to accurately report these facts. The truth of the matter is that all the numbers that have been circulating about the supposed success of the boycott have no comparisons to what the companies were doing prior to the Fluke controversy. Now that we know the actual percentages from Premiere itself, it's time that the #StopRush myth be put out to pasture.