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The Rush To Get Limbaugh Off WLS

Rush Limbaugh 890 WLS Cumulus Robert Feder 560 The Answer WINDThis morning longtime Chicago media reporter Robert Feder wrote that Cumulus Talk 890 WLS was looking to drop Rush Limbaugh’s syndicated show by the end of this month.

That led to quick denials from Cumulus that such a move was in the works with EVP/Content John Dickey telling NTSMediaOnline.com, “Rush Limbaugh will be on WLS/Chicago until Rush tells us he doesn’t want to be on WLS!”

Cumulus has been in the process of rebuilding WLS’ lineup over the past few months. Steve Dahl joined the station for afternoons in October and was joined by new morning host Big John Howell in January. A new syndicated show hosted by Chicago based Johnathan Brandmeier will debut in the late morning slot later this month. The 50kw one-time Top 40 powerhouse is now hovering just above a 1 share overall with Feder reporting that 62% of Limbaugh’s audience was over 55, while 34% was over the age 65.

The attempts by Cumulus to rid themselves of Limbaugh date back to 2013 when the company broke off negotiations with Premiere Radio Networks to renew their carriage agreements for Rush and Sean Hannity. Cumulus later agreed on a three-year deal to retain Limbaugh in all markets it was carrying him except New York, while dropping Hannity. Cumulus is under contract with Premiere to air his program through the end of 2016. However…

In recent years we have seen three major market talkers make deals to transfer their syndicated talent to a crosstown competitor, all of which included Limbaugh. In 2012, Clear Channel made arrangements with Cox’ WSB Atlanta and WRKO Boston to take his program and last year had Cumulus acquire not just Rush, but also Hannity and Glenn Beck for KSFO San Francisco as they abandoned Conservative Talk in all three markets.

Is it just a coincidence that Limbaugh’s 11am-2pm time slot in Chicago is currently held by Dennis Miller on Salem’s “560 The Answer” WIND Chicago? Miller is exiting radio and his syndicated program will just happen to replaced nationally on Cumulus’ Westwood One by Jonathon Brandmeier. Salem already picked up Hannity for WIND when WLS dropped him. A deal to move Limbaugh to WIND would be a win for all three parties as it allows WLS to move on, WIND to gain a recognizable personality, and Limbaugh to remain in Chicago on the only station left focusing on Conservative politics. While John Dickey may say that Limbaugh will be on WLS until he doesn’t want to be on WLS, perhaps he has already made it clear that he doesn’t want to be on WLS? Now that the news is public, it will be in everyone’s best interests to come to a deal regardless of the public denials to save face in the near term.

Note: An earlier version of this post specified that WIND was currently without a morning show. Amy Jacobson remains in mornings following Howell’s move to WLS with a currently rotating group of co-hosts.

Profile photo of Lance Venta
Lance Venta is the Owner and Publisher of RadioInsight.com and a consultant for RadioBB Networks specializing in integration of radio and the internet. Lance has two decades of experience tracking the audio industry and its use of digital platforms.

10 Comments

  1. Profile photo of stelly


    Interesting timing, with Salem’s CEO making those comments (http://radioinsight.com/blog/blogs/92108/it-starts-at-the-top/) to the Star-Telegram in Rush’s defense.

    Buttering him up to move over to WIND, maybe?

  2. Profile photo of saltydog


    It’s hard to know what is driving this. I don’t doubt that ratings and revenue are down for RL. But carrying the show also requires stout cash compensation. Is that part of it? It’s hard to have a broadcast professional conversation about this because opinions are usually driven by the political orientation of the people debating the question.

    • Profile photo of Lance Venta


      Of course it comes down to money. WLS isn’t making enough of it carrying Rush and as the station shifts to a personality oriented general Talk format with Brandmeier and Steve Dahl, Limbaugh sticks out like a sore thumb. Eliminating the rights fee to Premiere for Limbaugh will only help the bottom line as WLS rebuilds and attempts to get younger.

      *And no need to worry about political debate here as we’re a radio site and expect comments to stick to the radio ramifications and not the political.

      • Profile photo of StogieGuy


        Except that Dahl is not entertaining and Roe Conn is already clobbering him over at WGN – a station that does “less” political talk a heck of a lot better than Cumulus does.

        Doing “something” is no substitute for doing “something smart”, Cumulus has clearly never learned this and their financial performance shows it..

  3. Profile photo of sdskees


    I don’t get Cumulus at all… aren’t they the ones always out there blaming Rush Limbaugh and Hannity for all of their financial woes? Then they go out and claim that Rush Limbaugh is there to stay on WLS? I’m trying to figure out what their goal is here..

    • Profile photo of Nathan Obral


      It’s called lying to save face. Obviously there is probably a backroom deal between Premiere Networks and Salem/WIND to acquire Rush’s program as of April 1st… it just hasn’t been completed yet.

  4. Profile photo of Jason Smith


    I doubt this has anything to do with Limbaugh or Johnathan whoever that is. It’s about greed and selfishness on the part of Cumulus and I-Heart. All they want is to have their own shows on their own stations to save as much money as possible and in doing so gives red meat to the denouncers of conservative talkers when ratings and revenue don’t click. If I-Heart gave up on the disaster that is WOR and gave Cumulus Hannity and Limbaugh back to WABC and put the second tier talkers back on the second tier stations or back in late nights the ratings and revenue would rise. I-Heart has never done well with standalone Talk WGST in Atlanta and the formal WMWR 1670 in Macon and WFLF Orlando and the Rush Radio’s are the perfect examples and we are finding out the Cumulus doesn’t either. (see WYAY-FM) ONE person is not the saver of talk nor is the greed that IS AM/FM radio.

  5. Profile photo of StogieGuy


    Yet with each move Cumulus makes with WLS, their ratings drop further into the toilet. Jettisoning Limbaugh would just serve to accelerate that process. Face it, 18-34 year olds already think of FM as old-fashioned; they won’t touch AM. Older people do, yet in the never ending race to satisfy “the demos”, Cumulus makes one mistake after another with it’s AM talkers. WLS did just fine before they started meddling with it. Now it’s terrible.

    And, by the way, I am in the 25-54 demo and we’re to the point where Rush and Levin are the only two shows I ever listen to on WLS (and I used to have them on all day). Steve Dahl’s show is simply dreadful and every other move they’ve made has been ham-fisted and wrong. The ratings show it; they keep sinking. They sink because Cumulus is burning off ALL of the audience – old and young. Not because of anything that Rush Limbaugh said about an attention-seeking woman some 3 years ago.

    • Profile photo of charles57


      Cumulus Media has mismanaged all of the legacy ABC Radio O&Os, not just WLS.

  6. Profile photo of Steve Varholy


    Not to mention the conserva-talk thing is much closer to the end of its lifecycle than the beginning. Far too many copycats repeating the same talking points with ever diminishing entertainment value…

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