By any objective measure my brother’s phenomenal success in radio cannot be considered an accident or the result of fortuitous circumstances. He did not just happen to be at the right place at the right time and stumble into stardom. He made his own breaks, working against tradition, opposition, and very improbable odds to create a new genre in an old medium and transform and resurrect talk radio.
He paved the way for hundreds and eventually thousands of others to follow. But more importantly, through his determination, vision and perseverance, he established a new media platform to challenge the oppressive liberal monopoly in television and print media.
He gave traditional Americans their voice back, legitimizing and validating their heartfelt convictions and values. But he didn’t just defend conservative principles. He boldly, aggressively and unapologetically attacked the sacrosanct tenets and assumptions of liberalism and skewered its abundant hypocrisy on public airways that had heretofore been theirs alone. He did it with confidence, flare, intelligence, and humor, directly at their expense. And they permanently hate him for it, with a white hot, bitter intensity.
Conservatives and conservative talkers don’t just owe Rush for creating this new genre. We also owe him for taking the blistering heat for two decades for taking on the liberal media cartel. Others complain of being treated unfairly by the arbiters of political correctness, but no one has caught more poisonous liberal daggers than Rush, who absorbs the punishment without complaint and marches forward undeterred, confident that he is championing noble causes and doing what he knows is right.
Rush wasn’t born into a family of broadcasters, but lawyers. Yet from a very young age, he knew he did not want to be a lawyer. It wasn’t that he had an aversion to the practice of law. He had great respect for our grandfather, father and uncle and for the legal profession, as they represented it. But he always wanted to be a professional broadcaster.
As far back as I can remember, he was a self-motivated student of the art of broadcasting, fascinated with radio and television broadcasters, observing their styles with rapt fascination. He began to emulate them, albeit with his own twists, by turning the volume down on the television and announcing Cardinal baseball games.
Later, our parents bought him a Remco Caravelle, a sophisticated toy at that time, on which he could broadcast over the AM airways inside our home. He would broadcast games from upstairs, where our bedroom was, and we would listen over the radio downstairs. His precociousness was already apparent.
Rush was also an avid listener of AM radio and particularly the great disc jockeys we could hear in our area, like WLS’s Larry Lujack and KXOK’s Nick Charles. While he loved music, he was more attuned to the broadcasters themselves and how they excelled in their trade.
When he was 15, on his own initiative, he attended a broadcast school in Dallas over the summer to obtain his first class radio license. Upon returning he began broadcasting as a DJ on KGMO, a local radio station in which our father had a minor ownership interest. His success was immediate, and I think, predictable.
Contrary to other reports I’ve read, I don’t believe our father applied undue pressure on Rush, if any, to become a lawyer. He did pressure him to pursue a college degree, for the obvious reasons. But after going through the motions for about a year, Rush couldn’t stand it much longer, knowing that radio, not formal academia, possessed his heart.
Others with an eye for radio talent recognized Rush’s gift and when he was around 20 he secured his first stint as a big-city radio talent — in Pittsburgh. The road between Pittsburgh and his pre-syndication heyday at KFBK in Sacramento was filled with professional ups and downs, but more downs than ups. But Rush persisted.
Rush has often related that he was fired some seven times in his career — and that is true. But what is left unsaid is that his dismissals, as it turns out, were necessary setbacks on his way to national syndication.
I say “necessary,” because if he hadn’t insisted on doing things his own unorthodox way, which mostly led to his firings, he likely would never have honed or exhibited the skills that caused him to be noticed by certain influential people in the industry and that he uses as part of his craft every day.
It wasn’t so much that Rush was insubordinate by nature. He just always knew he would succeed big, if given free reign. He couldn’t relegate himself merely to spinning records, but wanted to showcase his complete library of talents. From the very beginning, he was an air personality — and noticeably unique.
In fairness to Rush’s un-visionary past employers, how could they have known he would succeed by breaking all the rules and recreating a platform in his own image?
Thankfully, though, he finally found management — in Sacramento — who would let him follow his instincts, which led to unprecedented success. I believe it is because of that liberating breakthrough that Rush refers affectionately to Sacramento as his adopted hometown.
When former ABC radio executive Ed McLaughlin approached Rush about syndicating his show, I knew his success was transferable to the national stage. So did Rush. And thank goodness, so did Ed.
But once again Rush would be going against tradition, which held that talk radio had to be “local, local, local.” No upstart syndicated host could be accepted from afar by local audiences throughout America. Rush began with around 55 stations, but within a relatively short time became America’s number one syndicated talk radio host where he has remained ever since.
I meant it when I said Rush’s success has been no accident. He didn’t just have an insatiable desire to be the best in radio. He also has a full arsenal of talents and attributes, without which all of this would have been but another quixotic enterprise.
He inherited our father’s perspicacity and unrivaled passion, our mother’s wit and important aspects of both of their robust personalities. Our dad was bigger than life and everyone who met her, loved our mother.
In addition to his talents as an entertainer and satirist, he is a uniquely gifted political commentator with an unmatched ability to think on his feet. His take on the issues is always unscripted, always original, and always insightful. His listeners don’t listen to him just for the entertainment value, but also because they greatly value his opinion.
But astute political analysis alone does not make one a successful broadcaster. Broadcasting is not an entry-level job; it’s a profession in its own right. It’s part of the entertainment business and if Rush didn’t present his ideas in an entertaining way he would be part of the pack, instead of above it. You can be sure that other professional broadcasters know his success is no fluke.
Rush makes talk radio look simple, yet no one works more tirelessly in preparing for and performing his craft. He often says his primary goal is to acquire and maintain the largest possible listening audience. But I believe that many have misinterpreted that statement to mean he is largely indifferent to the beliefs he articulates. Be assured that nothing could be further from the truth. He believes passionately in the principles he espouses, as his loyal listeners understand.
When contemplating Rush’s career I am reminded of the Parable of the Talents, no pun or sacrilege intended. His talent truly is on loan from God and he has not squandered it, but developed it to its fullest potential.
So, here’s to Rush, for twenty years of broadcasting excellence and for being a loving and generous brother and uncle to my children. Sincere, heartfelt, congratulations.
— David Limbaugh is an attorney and author of Bankrupt: The Intellectual and Moral Bankruptcy of Today’s Democratic Party, among other books. This piece first appeared on humanevents.com.