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Voices -- Rush Limbaugh, 1989

Note: The Daily Mirror likes to revisit Times archival stories about today's news makers. Here's one we did on Rush Limbaugh in 1989--lrh

Rush Limbaugh Gives Liberals the Business, Gets Plenty Himself

Radio: The conservative talk-show host, whose program is nationally syndicated, is a major commercial enterprise.

November 25, 1989


One moment he claims to be "on the cutting edge of societal evolution," and the next he assures his radio listeners that he is "your epitome of morality and virtue. A man you could totally trust with your wife, your daughter and even your son in a Motel 6 overnight."

Never self-effacing, he repeatedly boasts that he is "recognized as one of the greatest talk-show hosts in America. . . . When I say something on a topic, there's nothing left to say."

What nationally syndicated radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh doesn't say is that he is also a major commercial enterprise.

"He's selling the product 'Rush Limbaugh' and doing it in a lot of different promotional ways," said Howard Neal, general manager of KFI-AM (640), which carries Limbaugh's program weekday mornings. Limbaugh, whose program showcases his passionately conservative viewpoint on world events and features calls from equally passionate listeners, is currently heard on more than 172 stations nationwide. He has a listenership of about 900,000 during any given quarter-hour period, according to Arbitron ratings calculations.

Last week, about 550 people (300 of them from California) paid $1,500 each to accompany and be entertained by Limbaugh on a weeklong cruise through the Caribbean. The radio personality and his corporation got a percentage of each ticket sold. On the cruise, Limbaugh presided at two round-table discussions and one auditorium performance. (Among the other festivities on board: Limbaugh assembled a group to shout insults at Cuban leader Fidel Castro as the ship sailed close to that island nation.)

In addition to his radio program, which originates from New York, Limbaugh hits the stage regularly on his nationwide "Rush to Excellence" tour. He says he makes about $250,000 per year in his speaking engagements, which he holds almost every weekend.

A recent performance brought the 38-year-old Limbaugh to Irvine (home of one of the "biggest collections of rich Republicans in the country," he says), where more than 3,600 people paid as much as $25 apiece to hear Limbaugh expound on such topics as abortion ("the modern-day Holocaust"), gun control ("the liberals would have you believe that the gun actually triggers itself"), liberal politicians in general and, in particular that night, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.).

As the 6-foot, 300-pound Limbaugh stepped on stage at UC Irvine's Bren Center, the audience rose to its feet, some standing on chairs, whistling, hooting, cheering, chanting his name and generally going wild.

"You're sexy," yelled one woman.

"Forever my hero," yelled another.

"A lot of people think it's going to be a lecture," Limbaugh said in an interview after the show. "They think, 'Here comes this right-wing reactionary extremist fanatic who's going to denounce all things that are not conservative.' But it turns out to look to the casual observer like a rock concert."

Many Limbaugh fans--or "dittoheads," as he calls them--are willing to dish out fistfuls of cash for Limbaugh T-shirts, satin jackets, "dittohead" mugs and "Rush to Excellence" videocassettes. Nearly all of the merchandise--$10,000 worth of it--was sold at the Irvine show. Limbaugh says he gets a percentage of the profits from those sales, but won't say how much.

Limbaugh's shows are a lot like his radio programs--full of vitriol against liberals.

"Let's talk a little bit about Barney Frank. . . . He claimed he didn't know a prostitution ring was being run out of his house. Do you dare challenge the honesty and integrity of Barney Frank? Damn right I do!

"Barney said he's been careless in his associations. Do we have blatant hypocrisy going on here? When one of our guys does something like this--like Buzz Lukens (Rep. Donald E. (Buzz) Lukens (R-Ohio) who was convicted of contributing to the delinquency of a minor for having sex with a 15-year-old girl)--the Republicans say 'Buzz, I don't want you here.' There's a major difference in the value structure of the two parties. There are glaring differences between the two parties, and I just like to point it out. By pointing it out, you are accused of being controversial. I love to point it out and I also love to illustrate absurdity by being absurd."

A pregnant pause, then: "Anybody have a condom?"

A pretty blonde in a turquoise dress, who had written to Limbaugh saying she was dying to meet him, pranced up on stage and handed the portly talk-show host a prophylactic.

Then, Limbaugh launched into a routine familiar to his radio fans. He wrapped the condom around the microphone, announcing: "This, my friends, is safe talk." The audience cheered. "You are protected from any evil because of this.

"The idea of these things is not to prevent AIDS," he said of the condom. "The idea of these things is to sell 'em. . . .."

Besides gays and drug users, the homeless are another frequent target. Last spring, Limbaugh was in the national spotlight when he announced plans to take a busload of homeless people into Malibu to see if the city's honorary mayor Martin Sheen ("Martin Sheenski") would make good on his declaration to make the city a haven for the homeless. The plan fell through after Limbaugh was widely accused of being insensitive and exploiting the homeless.

"I made a real blunder there," Limbaugh says now. "I don't exploit the homeless. I wanted to discredit Sheen."

Still, he continues to make the homeless an object of his mockery.

"One of the things I want to do before I die is conduct the homeless Olympics," he told his audience. Events would include "the 10-meter Shopping Cart Relay, the Dumpster Dig and the Hop, Skip and Trip," he said as the audience erupted into laughter and applause.

Limbaugh also has come under some fire for conducting on-air "caller abortions." When he doesn't like what someone has to say, he runs a vacuum sound into the microphone and announces that the caller has been "aborted."

"I made the point with it and it's not my intent to offend people," he said. "I'm trying to attract an audience, not drive them away and a lot of people thought it was a very tasteless thing to do."

Much of his shtick these days involves defending conservative politicians and skewering such liberals as "Sleazer of the House" Jim Wright and "U.S. Cadaver" Alan Cranston.

"John Tower's crime was that he liked women," Limbaugh told his Irvine audience.

Then he took a familiar dig at Ted Kennedy: "But when John Tower had a date, at least he got her home alive!" The audience cheered.

Off the platform, Limbaugh claims not to take his role as spokesman very seriously and cautioned a reporter not to.

"I'm a harmless conservative," Limbaugh said. "I'm not out to poison the world. . . . I'm a lovable little fuzz ball."

Indeed, he recalled an article in the Detroit Free Press that described him as being "like the embarrassing uncle that shows up at family reunions and you hope he's not going to say too much."

"I like the way he articulates the conservative viewpoint," said Ted Hanson, a graphic designer and self-proclaimed "rich Republican" from Carlsbad who attended Limbaugh's Irvine show. "The man is a very succinct spokesman. He doesn't take himself so seriously and the humor injection softens it a bit."

Added Hanson's wife Trayce: "And there are very few conservatives on the radio."

"It's very seldom I get to hear the position I support on the radio," said Barbara Cross, 46, who traveled from her home in Northridge for Limbaugh's Irvine appearance. "He's a conservative man willing to take to the public airwaves and espouse traditional values, he's not afraid to say God is the creator, he's not afraid to say abortion is not right."

Only a few detractors were on hand at Limbaugh's show.

"He's funny but we disagree with everything he says," said Marrya Small.

"He's making a whole career out of gay-bashing," said Ed Uehling, 49. "He says some funny things, even funny things about gay people, but to me it was hypocritical. He sets himself out to be the epitome of decency. . . . He thinks he has to pick on gay people."

"People either love or hate him," said KFI's Neal. "There's no middle ground."

It wasn't always that way. Limbaugh languished in radio anonymity for almost two decades before getting the kind of attention he is receiving now.

He started his radio career 22 years ago at 16, working at his father's radio station in Cape Girardeau, Mo. After that, he became a Top 40 deejay.

"I was always a moderate failure," the twice-divorced Limbaugh said. "As a deejay, I didn't amount to a hill of beans."

He got his first radio talk show in Sacramento in 1984 and everything changed. He had found his calling.

Limbaugh tells his radio audience: "The American people are more and more turning to what is called traditional family values and rejecting what is abnormal or perverted."

He attributes his success to a blend of conservative ideology and an 'Everyman' persona.

"I don't want to sound hokey, but I really think that one of the reasons I'm enjoying this success is because I'm just a regular guy," he says after the show. "Pompous and arrogance is the shtick, but I don't play big time with them at all."

In addition to his stage performances, which started on a regular basis last January, Limbaugh is branching out. He has set his sights on conquering the television world. He recently auditioned for a call-in talk show on Cable News Network and for a remake of "To Tell the Truth."

"To Tell the Truth" producer Mimi O'Brien said she asked Limbaugh to try out for the show "because he's bright, articulate, intelligent and he has one of the highest-rated radio shows at the moment." He is one of about 20 people being considered as a panelist, she said.

CNN confirmed that Limbaugh had auditioned but Paul Amos, executive vice president of programming, refused to comment further.

Limbaugh said he would like to have a television talk show that would tackle serious topical issues but also inject humor, a sort of "Tonight Show" combined with "The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour."

"I'd like to be a comedian and I don't mind being a serious talk-show host," Limbaugh said. "I want to do both. And I think it can be done. I think there's a market for it."
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Comments (76)

Limbaugh and Limburger, they smell about the same.

Let's face it. Rush became rich and famous by hating his fellow americans. He's a traitor to the USA and should be tried for treason.

Funny how his drug problems always get left off these interviews,thats why he has a hearing aid,to much Oxy..
Makes one ponder,what is he using these days.

Rush Limbaugh is 58, not 38.

Same old smelly dog, no new tricks!!

Oft Said, proven here: "Those that forget history are doomed to repeat it."

38 yrs. old? 300 lbs. ? What are you smoking?

How is hating left leaning political ideas treason. I think he has been pretty consistant in all his years of radio. People who are uncomfortable being forced to explain their beliefs hate him. I like it.

Never heard Rush express that he hated anyone. He speaks his mind and that causes people to be afraid.

It is such an arrogant world view to think that other people spend their time hating . Rush found a viewpoint which millions of people agree with and are willing to pay him to broadcast.

Kevin .. pack up your mac powerbook, go out and get a job that actually produces something, and stop spreading your class envy.

This man is beyond despicable. Before he makes fun of homeless people perhaps he should consider how much his brand of conservatism helped to make the homeless in the first place. He has not compassion, no intellect and no guts.

Making fun the seriously ill as he did with Michael J. Fox, oh, yes, he's hilarious and not mean-spirited or vicious at all. That was articulate and intelligent, wasn't it?

He's also good at picking on little kids as I recall. I'm impressed.

However, it does show the real spine that the leaders of the Republican Party have when they go crawling to him on their bellies.

Social conservatives by their nature are a hinderance to progress.

Monkeys refused to stand upright, while our ancestors walk out of the jungle on all fours.

Rush Limberger, a smell old cheese, indeed, is still swinging by a limb and crying out to all who will listen to his vile program, "the sky will fall, don't do it. Its not in God's plan. If God wanted us to be less selfish and self centered he would have created us as compassionate being rather than tellling us to be compassionate beings."

"Exploitive healthcare is best, the rich deserve more, businesses can be trusted to run the economy and do what is right for everyone because they are good people who care about their future, rant rant rant."

Rush, you and your like had your chance. Reaganomics was as dumb and the man who promoted it, and anyone with a brain at the time could see it was the road to ruin. Now shut up.

You've destroyed the world economy, the US and most American people's lives worldwide while your friends have run off with billions (if not trillions) to live in unimaginable luxury.

Here is one that will save your wreched life: give all the food you eat to the poor in your area.

Thanks, you big ape.

To Kevin: Treason? Really? Can you please describe a specific example of hate? Or a specific example of treason? Just curious...those are strong accusations...would be helpful to have some facts to back up the claims.

Rush has the most listened to radio show in the world. Why? Because people don't want to listen to the whining that liberal talk shows are always spouting.

I like listening to Rush -- he is entertaining. I don't think he'll be around too much longer -- he's massively overweight and due for a fatal heart attack. At the CPAC event, he looked awful.

So glad Rush speaks for those of us who don't have a voice, including unborn babies. He's using his first amendment rights. Get over it.

He has been the voice of the Repubublican Party for a long time and the Dems have had significant victories in that time. So why are the Dems so worried?

Rush is a rich obnoxious villain, he is a "Fat Cat" and like the person before me posted, should be tried for high treason. He's a disgrace to manhood and to the human race!!!

while easy to critisize, Rush is an institution and speaks his mind. Isn't that still legal...for now? Personally, I like what he says. And i'm not alone. He stands for individual rights and personal responsibility. Some may disagree with that. I sure don't.

So if you can't stand the truth about your favorite politicians, then you trash the messenger is that it? Typical NeoLib/NeoSocialist tactic. He's no traitor and one commenter should look up what that means and he doesn't smell unless you can't stand the truth.

A terrible, drug addicted person. What else can I say.

if he is so bad, why has he succeeded when Air(head) America failed miserably? could it possibly be that more people agreed with him than Al Franken?

It's odd that Rush denigrates the homeless, when the reason there are homeless at all is his hero, Ronald Reagan. Can you spell 'hippo'cryte?

I was in Sacramento when Rush first started when we conservatives needed an outlet and got it. The news talk stations of today have Rush to thank for paving the way for FREE speech. Conservative news talk is straight up and the voice of the people hiding from the left wing liberals who want to destroy and take what is not theirs. Rush made his millions by creating an industry when non existed and the left hates him for it.

Somehow I can't imagine ANY subscriber of LA Times wanting to go on ANY cruise with ANY member of the LA Times staff. This article sounds like a lot of sour grapes.

apparently some of the "intelligent " liberals who posted here can't tell the difference between a column that is 20 years old and a current one. look at the date at the top, you morons! no wonder spending over a trillion dollars to solve the crisis de jour seems like such a good idea.



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