Emmis Indy scores with WIBC’s cancellation of Rush Limbaugh

by Kent Sterling

Rush Limbaugh is out at WIBC, and the result will be an easier to market product that will make more money.  Smart move.

Rush Limbaugh is out at WIBC, and the result will be an easier to market product that will make more money. Smart move.

It was the right thing to do today, as it would have been the right thing to do 10 years ago.  WIBC has decided to live without the modest ratings boost provided by the expensive partnership with the formerly monolithic ratings booster Rush Limbaugh.

When WIBC signed the deal to add Limbaugh to the lineup, it was a controversial move that altered the perception of WIBC as the friendly neighbor “Voice of Indiana.”

From the day Rush signed on, April 11, 1993, WIBC fought the massive image of Limbaugh as an ultra-conservative pundit with a presentation of news and issues of local interest.  Limbaugh won that branding war.

If anything, Rush was too good at his job as his brand dominated the other hosts on the station as well as the brand of the station itself.  He was (and is) so polarizing that many simply refused to listen to the entire station as a result of his three hour show.

The bigger problem was that the Rush fans that came to hear the gospel according to “El Rushbo” tended to listen only to Rush.

Before Rush came from WNDE to WIBC, the morning and afternoon drive ratings on WIBC were quite good and middays ate it – the graph of which would look like a hammock.  After Rush came to WIBC, the ratings in the morning and afternoon dropped substantially, and 12p-3p rose like Devil’s Tower.

Clients bailed, Indianapolis revolted, and Jeff Smulyan decided that the right-wingedness of WIBC could only be altered by buying the station, so that is what he did.

The vitriolic diatribes of Stan Solomon (a local super ultra reactionary host that was hired to build a conservative wall from 12p-7p) were silenced, but Rush’s ratings were a little too juicy to dispatch without some serious debate.  And so he stayed and stayed and stayed.

Finally, Emmis announced this morning that Rush would be gone in early July.  The assumed reasons – he was expensive, difficult to monetize, impossible to control, and with a reasonably new strategy of programming toward conservatives around the clock, the damage of booting the iconic Limbaugh could be mitigated.

This change doesn’t signal an end to conservative talk on WIBC – just nationally syndicated talk during prime (M-F 6a-7p).  Emmis can hire a local host for 1/3 Limbaugh’s cost, keep all the inventory, sell endorsements, and manage the talent to create some stationality among all the hosts.

It takes guts to willfully end a relationship with a host of 22 years standing – local or national – and the move is being unjustly criticized for a variety of reasons.  None of them are valid.

As with all reasonable business decisions, the motivation is revenue generation.  Management either needs to make more money or cut expenses to move the needle further into the black, and this change will accommodate both.  That doesn’t make it a good decision; it makes it a great decision.

Rush has always been a clunky fit on heritage news/talks stations.  Those that never heard the siren song of massive ratings increases for a three-hour period thrived.  They were unwilling to sacrifice inventory (commercial time), cash, and a singular branding message for a difficult to convert audience.  Those that jumped at the quick gain foundered in dayparts outside Rush.  They spent countless hours in meetings trying to find a way to make everything sound more like Rush.  None of them worked.

Emmis did the right thing today, and it had nothing to do with politics.  This was a business decision, and the right one.

12 thoughts on “Emmis Indy scores with WIBC’s cancellation of Rush Limbaugh

  1. Curt Walters

    Have listened to WIBC since I was a child….. With the radio blasting on the tractor on my dad’s farm in the 1950’s….it was part of our way of life. With their cancelation of Rush I am done with WIBC.


    Mark my words this will be the FINAL nails in WIBC’s coffin as they have now absolutely NO programming to sell. Garrison is good but his revenues won’t replace Rush!! After decades of listening to WIBC the only local station I will now listen exclusively to is WFDM. I imagine they will carry Rush noon to three, then Hannity and Levin and put Ramsey on delay somewhere else. As a former radio program director…don’t doubt me!! Thank God for my Internet radio.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      Here’s the thing, this was a decision based entirely on revenue. WIBC will replace the revenue easily, and will forego most of the substantial expense. That you would leave WIBC because Rush is no longer there (or will no longer be there in July) speaks to the reason he needs to go.

      1. Todd

        This is one of the dumbest editorials I have ever read. No, sorry, you can’t talk this up as though it is a good thing. Get rid of the king of radio in hopes of increasing revenue with local talent and no audience. Good luck. Other stations have been hit with bad liberal owners in the past. They have pulled stunts like this and all have failed.

        1. kentsterling Post author

          That’s not true – at all. Limbaugh is a net loser for a station like WIBC or they would not have pulled the plug. No decision at a successful radio station is made because of the political interest of the owner.

      2. Dwight Wallace

        I have listened to WIBC for over 20 years … since moving back to Indiana. Rush has been a huge part of my day since I spend most of the day in the car. I listen to Garrison … but am growing tired of the same topics … however I do enjoy Wednesdays and the grumpy old men … as long as Greg allows them time to talk. Tony Katz is growing on me … but I won’t change stations for him if I am listening to Rush on a different station. When Dana comes on, I change to another station. The “Chicks” are interesting but I am not certain I will be a 5 day a week listener. I am certain it won’t matter to you, but I will probably no longer be a WIBC listener.

        1. kentsterling Post author

          It is interesting to me, and I look forward to seeing exactly what replaces Rush. That will be the challenge. If Dana doesn’t get okay results, that will cause a future decision to be made, but if Dana was failing, this decision would not have been made.

          1. b

            Stupid liberal that thinks he has to comment on every comment. Did someone tell you that anyone cares what you have to say, Kent. We’ll see how successful WIBC is a year from now. I no longer listen to them at all. Have moved with Rush.

          2. kentsterling Post author

            Given that this website is kentsterling.com, and I write virtually all the content that people visiting this site care what I have to say. How am I a liberal? I wrote that a radio station that is exclusively right wing made the right move. That’s a liberal perspective?

  3. Jeff Hagen

    I travel quite a bit and was unaware of this programming decision. Having the ability to listen to stations from NYC to So Cal, WIBC is not what I call a normal big market station and cannot argue with the decision that was made. As a Rush listener I am grateful WIBC cut Rush loose—too many times they butchered the program—dead air, preempting the program and other glitches. Plus no more Terri Stacy and laughing boy Stan Lehr. No need to excoriate Jeff Smulyan, station owner and USC grad. It’s his station and all his other stations nationwide are run similarly.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      Jeff correctly spends his time running the company and not the board for syndicated programming, so you are correct that the excoriation for WIBC’s day-to-day programming issues belongs elsewhere.


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