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What I Learned From My Personal Interactions With Rush

(Image credit: Megan Fox)

I put off writing this column too long. I meant to do it before Rush Limbaugh left us. I wanted him to read it. Why do we wait until those we love are dead to memorialize them? I waited because it was so uncomfortable, so hard to put into words what Rush means to me. My best friend I’ve known since high school sent me this text the day Rush died. “You ok? You truly did grow up with him. While everyone else was listening to Def Leopard, you were on the AM radio.”

It’s true. My classmates never got me. They were busy dating and partying and I was holed up in my room reading The American Spectator and listening to Paul Shanklin parodies on the EIB network. (Nerd alert!) It’s been that way since I was fifteen. Rush captured my attention like no one else in pop culture did. In fact, I had a history teacher my senior year who tried to brainwash us all into the Clinton cult. After trying to argue with her and ending up in the principal’s office too many times, I began smuggling in my AM radio with earbuds that I would hide under my hair and tuning her out because Rush was on the air. My sister, who was in college at the time, called him up and got on the show and told him about her little sister with the Rush addiction. He found that delightful.

When I decided to drop out of college and try working for a living, I bounced around to several temp jobs—still with my trusty AM radio and earbuds. I saw a listing for a commercial advertising a job at Rush’s syndicator, Premiere Radio Networks in Chicago. I dropped everything I was doing and sent in my resume. I got that job as if it was fate. I was an assistant in the marketing department there for a few years and had a terrific time sending signed photographs of Rush to his affiliates all over the country. I met Rush for the first time at a Radio and Records convention I was sent to in Washington, D.C. It was thrilling. I don’t remember much of that meeting—only that I stood there grinning like a fool. There are photos somewhere.

During the time I spent at Premiere Radio Networks I was fortunate enough to get to know members of Rush’s personal staff. On one trip to New York, Rush’s secretary took me to lunch and told me tales of his generosity to his staff that boggled the mind. One story involved renting out Rockefeller Center for a staff member whose wedding venue had fallen through. His employees adored him. The people on Rush’s staff were the most loyal folks on earth. None of them ever quit, to my chagrin. Getting on that staff was an impossibility because no one ever left. There was no turn-over at the EIB network. They are a family.

After Premiere shut down in Chicago and moved to New York, I stayed in Chicago and got a job at Rush’s biggest affiliate in Chicago, WLS-AM. In the late ’90s, Rush was the keynote speaker at the Radio Hall of Fame in Chicago. Since I had contacts with his syndicator I was able to plan an advertiser meet-and-greet at a nearby hotel before the event, starring the “Doctor of Democracy.” A member of the ad sales team—who was a staunch Democrat—strongly objected to being ordered to attend the event by station management. All salespeople were told they would be there or they shouldn’t bother coming back to work. This rankled my friend Christine. She spent the week prior to the event complaining at every opportunity that she could not possibly stand to be in the same room as a “misogynist.” I talked to her as if she were a small, scared child and assured her everything would be fine.

During the event, I stood close to Rush’s signing table, making sure everyone had a photograph taken or an autograph signed. I watched his interaction with every person. His warmth and charisma lit up everyone around him and I was shocked to see Christine in line to meet him as if pulled in by a large magnet. When it was her turn, Rush smiled and greeted her and the two of them spoke like they were old friends. He ended that encounter by kissing her on the cheek. She blushed like a schoolgirl and told me she was never washing her face again. This was the effect that Rush Limbaugh had on women… even the feminazis! For days afterward, Christine gushed about how kind, charming, and handsome he was. It was amazing to witness.

At the same event, I was mortified to discover that I had brought the wrong Sharpies. Rush’s photos he was signing were mostly covered by a dark suit jacket and I had only brought black sharpies. The only place for him to sign where it could be seen was on or near his face and he kindly explained to me that he needed metallic sharpies in order to sign them properly. But it was after 5:00 p.m. and every store that would have them was closed. He never berated me, he didn’t complain or get upset. He simply laughed and started signing over his face for people. It was one of those moments that reveals the character of a person. A jerk would have gotten me fired. A misogynist would have berated the dumb girl who had screwed up this simple thing and made sure her boss knew about it. He didn’t do anything of the kind. He asked me for a Diet Peach Snapple —another thing I didn’t stock and should have—and then settled for a Diet Coke instead.

We had a good laugh about the Sharpies and the Snapple. He good-naturedly teased me about it throughout the evening. When it was time for him to go to his speaking event, staff tried to take him away, but the line for autographs still wound around the room. Rush very softly and kindly said, “No, I can’t go yet. These people are waiting for me and I need to finish this.” And he sat there and signed every last photo and necktie that his advertisers brought to him. He was late for the Radio Hall of Fame speech so he could greet every advertiser who came to see him. Rush Limbaugh wasn’t a caricature. He was a warm and joyful person who was humble and kind when he didn’t have to be.

I’ve kept a Polaroid photo of Rush and me from that night, along with the invitation I designed, on my desk for the last twenty or so years. It reminds me how far I’ve come, how skinny I used to be, and who put me on this road. There’s no question it was Rush.

I know what you’re thinking. The Sharpie he signed the photo with is silver! That’s because he didn’t sign it the night of the great Snapple and Sharpie shortage, but years later. I sent him a letter telling him how much he meant to me and how badly I wanted to come work for him and he wrote me back. He remembered me. He let me send him my resume and the photos of us that I had and he signed them all and sent them back. Sadly, he didn’t hire me, but he encouraged me to continue plugging away doing what I love. That closed door led me to the writing career I have now.

That wasn’t the end of my story of intersecting with Rush. I went back to college to take some courses in journalism at UMUC and my professor, who also produced Meet the Press at the time, gave us an outrageous assignment. We were to write a news story about George W. Bush, who was the president at the time, exiting the upcoming Republican National Convention and getting assassinated. It was 2004 and the RNC in New York City was just a few months away. I had a plane ticket to go to cover it for the publication I was working for. The Bush Derangement Syndrome was every bit as bad as the Trump Derangement Syndrome of today. In fact, an entire book was written about ways to assassinate Bush. Trump supporters seem to think they’re the only ones who are regularly attacked, but we needed police protection at the RNC in 2004 too.

I objected to the assignment and the professor basically ignored me. So I called Rush. The incredible Bo Snerdley, Rush’s long-time call screener, put me through and I told Rush all about my “assignment.” Being his usual hilarious self, Rush came up with the perfect solution. I’m paraphrasing because it’s been many years, but it went something like this.

“Megan, here’s what you have to do. Your professor didn’t give you any details of how this story goes, so I want you to write it and I want you to do it like this. President Bush is leaving the RNC and an assassin fires a shot and misses him, but Secret Service fires back and shoots and kills the assassin, who turns out to be your professor, holding a copy of Al Gore’s book ‘Earth in the Balance.’ That should do it. Write it, Megan! Do it!” Rush was trolling lefties before it was cool.

Before I could write it, my professor sent me an email in which she told me I needed to take a course on “ethics in journalism.” She had heard the show and was not impressed—but I got an A in that class and she never again assigned anything remotely controversial.

I don’t have to tell you what a thrill it was the first time Rush read one of my articles from PJ Media on his show. I made a video of it —inexplicably in my bathroom—watching Rush crack up at something I wrote. What a good day!

Everything had come full circle. I had been entertained and informed by him since I was fifteen years old and then one day Rush was entertaining and informing his audience with my thoughts. Then he did it again, and again until I became a regular source for show prep. Those of you who listen to my podcast here know the last time he mentioned me he joked that he quotes me “four times a day.” I made that my intro to The Fringe (which you can hear every Friday right here). It’s has been the honor of my life to have been even a small part of the show made by the man who gave voice to the voiceless conservative and single-handedly saved AM radio.

Rush had an incredible ability to make each listener feel as if they were in the same room as he was. We went through his suffering with him. He shared his life with us. I will never forget where I was when he announced that he had a drug problem brought on by several failed back surgeries that he needed to seek help for—like so many Americans caught up in the opioid crisis. I remember typing as tears blinded me while reporting that he really was doing the show with half his brain tied behind his back as he had lost his hearing and was soldiering on completely deaf. And I remember the day he announced that he had a terminal cancer diagnosis. These were moments that stopped me in my tracks and took my breath away. For those of us who knew him (and I mean his radio family) we walked through it all with him. We always felt that he loved us as much as we loved him. He delighted in his callers. He loved his audience and it came through the radio effortlessly. He loved people. He taught us that there is no obstacle that cannot be conquered. He taught us that optimism is better than skepticism, that good cheer will get you through anything, that it’s never time to panic, and that families can be made out of 50 million strangers across the country.

He taught us another lesson that we need desperately right now. Rush showed us the formula for being uncancelable. The left tried and tried for years to take him down. They attacked his advertisers. They spread lies and slander about him. They even tried to launch another radio network to take him out (remember Air America? 😂 ). But they were never able to do it. Rush stayed at the top of his game until the very end. His example should be analyzed and taught to future generations about how to survive and thrive in spite of the mob. Speak freely, never apologize, never surrender, and hit back twice as hard.

It’s the end of an era. Rush is the greatest radio broadcaster of all time and he will never be replaced. I am so grateful that he lived and that I was able to make him laugh even a few times in exchange for the years of laughter and delight he gave me. Rest in peace, Rush. Dittos forever.