Love him or hate him, agree with him or not, Rush Limbaugh, on the air for 24 years today, has been a transformational figure in American media. To those who were alive and politically engaged and conservative, the media landscape on August 1, 1988 couldn’t be more different than today. There are two changes that Rush instigated: talk radio and the ideological content of major media.
Success always looks preordained in hindsight, but nationally syndicated radio just wasn’t done back then. Paul Harvey may have been the exception, but radio professionals were convinced that local programming was the future. Rush changed all that. Today national syndication is common and taken for granted as a money maker by radio station professionals. Even local radio benefits from the audience that Rush brings to the dial, as it does here in Chicago with the Roe Conn show that follows him.
He also changed the liberal hegemony that dominated news and opinion. Back then, national media consisted of ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and NPR, all dominated by liberal viewpoints on everything. Conservatives literally had no voice in broadcast media. I consoled myself in the 1980s by reading the Wall Street Journal editorial page and National Review. I remember the surprise I felt when somehow a conservative voice made it through the liberal chatter. The problem is that this voice was then always distorted by the ever present liberal bias.
Then in 1989 someone told me about Rush. It took me several weeks to get used to him, his style, sense of humor, and so on, but I remember being astonished that this conservative voice, this man whose ideas and opinions were so much in line with mine was actually on the radio. It’s impossible to imagine today how surprising that was back then. Today the usual suspects in the liberal media are just as liberal, and they still have an unfortunately disproportionate influence in American culture, but the hegemony is over. With cable news, the rest of talk radio, and the internet, the liberal bias of the media elite has much more competition and is continually challenged from the right.
Hopefully one day legacy media will be infiltrated with more diverse ideological voices, and I think it needs to be; most Americans are still heavily influenced by the progressive, statist assumptions that color everything this media does. But we on the right no longer live in the media wasteland of the 1980s and before, thanks in large part to one Rush Limbaugh.