Limbaugh vs. Stern: Who's the Real Radio Star?

Two radio giants enjoyed a memorable December. One was dubbed the radio personality of the decade by Mediaweek and survived a heart scare, while the other was patting himself on the back for his historical run via his own radio program.

That says plenty about Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern, respectively, circa the end of the last decade.

The two radio stars couldn’t be any more different, despite sharing the same January 12 birthday. Limbaugh traffics almost exclusively in politics, with an occasional football recap between monologues. Stern's show runs the gamut from lesbians to ... more lesbians. Actually, that’s unfair -- Stern’s shtick can be all-encompassing, and at his best he’s an insightful interviewer who wrings fresh material out of even the most jaded personalities.

Assuming one can tolerate his often crass approach to the medium.

But while Stern’s career is on the decline -- he toils in a less accessible medium and has no new side projects in sight -- Limbaugh’s star continues to rise. In fact, Limbaugh’s connection to American politics and culture has never been more vital. And the conservative’s terrestrial radio perch ensures he impacts the national discourse on a daily basis. The only time Stern makes headlines these days is when he talks about his possible contract extension.

More importantly, Limbaugh is still rolling up his sleeves and imploring his listeners to act, to think, to embrace conservatism. Stern seems all too eager to begin his next vacation or to cue up another radio segment applauding his genius.

On the surface, it’s impossible to directly compare the two radio personalities. Limbaugh broke big in the late ‘80s as a conservative firebrand, mixing smart political chatter with a comically inflated ego.

With talent ... on loan ... from Gaaahhhd, Limbaugh became the singular voice of the right, an unabashed partisan who rooted for the GOP but stuck by his conservative bona fides. His show soared during the Clinton years but also managed to hang tough during the Bush administration, baffling critics who thought he could only thrive when a Democrat called the White House home.

Stern? He revolutionized talk radio, period. He broke open the format by letting producers, engineers, and even janitors on the air with him, and he routinely talked past commercial breaks when he and his crack team were on a roll. His content innovations, from wacky "Dial-a-Date" segments to his “man on the street” quizzes, ultimately bled over to The Tonight Show and other outlets.