Art Bell, then Larry King, now Rush.
Best AM radio station in creation is now in Heaven.
All three were giants for different reasons. I’ve been in the radio biz for over 30 years (first on the air in 1978) and if not for these three, AM Radio would have died decades ago.
Larry King’s Mutual show was the soundtrack for the night, and really set a standard. I had a 7-midnight talk show (long freaking talk show, but I was in my 20s, so wth) on WTVN/Columbus, Ohio, and would listen to Larry on my drive home. Always great.
Art took overnight radio on a different, winding path that was game changing. He popped up nationally, in the early 90s, and his weird (in a mainstream way) quirky show, sounded (presentation-wise) a lot like Larry’s, but couldn’t have been more opposed. Him, I listend to every day on my drive to work when I was doing Mornings in Washington, DC on WASH-FM. Even though I listened to Art for years after that, when I hear Art’s name out of the blue, I still flash on driving through Georgetown, and up Wisconsin Avenue on my way to the station.
Rush, though, reinvented daytime talk radio, and invented CONSERVATIVE radio. Sure, there were others, but none were anywhere near as successful as Rush in the 80s. SO many of today’s Conservative voices are directly descended from Rush, it’s not even funny. Rush was the right guy at the right time when the Bill Clinton was elected, and Rush on the radio was like Lebron James getting alley-oops every night. The real test, though, was when G.W. Bush was elected, and the show got even better. At that point, it didn’t matter who was in the White House. Rush was going to score 30 every game.
He started out on a station in his hometown of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, as “Rusty Sharpe,” then went to a station in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, followed by a job in Pittsburgh, where he was told by his Program Director (a position obviously requiring great wisdom and intelligence) that he would never make it on the air. He went into Sales, did well, but ultimately returned to the air on KUDL in Kansas City. He was fired from that job, but got a gig at another station in town and then went to work for a time for the Kansas City Royals baseball team. Going back on the air (again) in Kansas City, he began using his real name, and that’s when his career took off. While on the air in Sacramento, California, Rush was heard by former ABC Radio President Edward McLaughlin, and made the move to New York in 1988 to start at WABC Radio, and started syndication in 1988.
Sure, Rush had his problems. Addiction to the Vicodin got to him, and prescription painkillers are like war. Easy to get into, a bitch to get out of. After it cost him his hearing (and that takes a LOT of Vike – TV’s House would have said “Dude, you have a problem”), he beat it, though his methods for obtaining the scripts ended up costing him a criminal charge. He beat that, though, and though many detractors slammed him for it (a few of them undoubtedly throwing back a couple Oxys while doing so) he did the right thing. Stood tall and worked it out honorably.
In the end, it was lung cancer that got him. He smoked cigarettes for years (referencing his “formerly nicotine stained fingers” often), he quit decades ago, although he continued to smoke cigars.
Rush was one of a kind, who inspired millions and gave AM Radio new life. “Missed” can’t even begin to describe how many, many people think of Rush Limbaugh. Most of the time, in my career, listening to Rush involved tuning in a competing station, because most of my jobs were on the FM dial. During my time in Phoenix, working in a cluster of 8 stations, I would often guest or fill-in on KFYI, the only set of call letters I ever shared with Rush, and I have to say, it was wonderful being on same station. He was a legend.
RIP, Rush. You did good.