It is hard to say something about Rush Limbaugh that hasn’t already been said, but I’ll try.
I was there on the day of his debut.
I was working at WPBR, an ocean-front radio station in Palm Beach, Florida. It was August of 1988 and I was doing one of a number of commercial radio gigs while in college. At WPBR, I did news on the hour but also ran the board. This particular day, a new and different show was debuting at noon – a talk show with a point of view.
For me, the news of this new show was a technical headache. I had to capture the commercials off of the satellite for the Associated Press newscast to run through the Limbaugh show. I also had to frantically change satellite frequencies at the top of the hour and six minutes after the top to get the Limbaugh frequency. These were sharp little dials at floor level on the receiver. It might sound easy, but in the days of tape, it wasn’t.
Before Rush, talk radio was different. Talk radio was about cotton-candy issues. Larry King on the Mutual Broadcast Network hosted an overnight parade of callers talking about pets, childhood memories, landscaping, and just how they were doing. Scores of local talk show hosts – like Perry Marshall at KDKA in Pittsburgh – entertained with friendly chat, the sweet cotton candy that dissolves away quick into meaninglessness.
That was radio B.R. – Before Rush.
Running the board at WPBR on this August debut day, I could tell immediately this new brand of talk was revolutionary. It was listening to Sgt. Pepper for the first time. It was the first ride on the looping coaster that defied gravity. It was bold and brash and, most of all, it spoke to Americans about what America was. Rush spoke to what it means to be American, and what America means as an idea.
Rush was the “fairness doctrine” and mush-mouth radio put out to pasture. On Saturday the week of Rush’s debut, I would produce a radio show called “Our Eyes” where the elderly called into the eye-doctor host to talk about vision issues.
That is the radio world Rush stepped into, on the same station in Palm Beach.
A few years later, someone my age on the other side of the country named Andrew Breitbart was delivering movie scripts in his car and listening to the radio all day. Because the suicidal sounds of Soundgarden and Nirvana had replaced Joy Division, the Housemartins and other 80’s New Wave on Los Angeles FM radio, Andrew abandoned FM radio, and found Rush on the AM dial.
Because of that, media would never be the same, either.
Over the years, Rush has been very good to me personally. He had me on as a guest on the show more than once, put my book Injustice in the Limbaugh Letter, and read more than one piece of mine from here at PJ Media. I am profoundly grateful for this.
But one surreal moment stands out to me. I had to fly to Guam via Tokyo for a case I was working on because Guam limited the right to vote in certain elections only to members of the Chamorro race. I was driving to Dulles International Airport from Washington D.C., about a 40-minute drive.
I was listening to Rush. Earlier, violent riots had erupted across England. Dreams and homes and businesses were burning because a mob was attacking the police. It was 2011, but it sounds like America in 2020. I had written a piece about the rioting and the threat it posed to civilization.
Then it happened. Then Rush spent multiple segments reading my piece from start to finish during my entire drive to Dulles.
Christian Adams has this piece: “The Mob Tears at the Foundations of Civilization in London and America,” and normally what I do when I go through a piece, I’ll highlight it. I figure, “I’m not gonna read the whole thing.”
I mean, not everything is worth being read. So I went through this, every paragraph and said, “Yeah, gotta read that. Yeah, gotta read that. Yeah, gotta read that.” J. Christian Adams was in the civil rights division of Justice Department. He quit when Eric Holder and the DOJ decided not to prosecute the New Black Panther Party in Philadelphia for voter intimidation. When the Justice Department under Obama and Holder said, “Ah, there is no such thing as black-on-white crime; we’re not gonna prosecute that,” he said, well, I’m outta here. “Watching London burn, one cannot help but sense something has gone awry in the west. London, the cradle of our law, spins toward lawlessness. The law, the steady framework of our civilization, seems incapable of response,” and, by the way, that is ever-so-true here as well.
And so he did. He read the piece, through multiple show segments. Few things in my life have been as surreal as this. I was about to go halfway around the globe to prepare a civil rights lawsuit against racially-motivated voting restrictions. The most popular talk show host in the world was reading every word of an article I had written about racially-motivated violence. I wrote and Rush read:
“Americans don’t have the luxury anymore of watching the anarchy on television, assuming distance insulates us from the Mob-prowling neighborhoods like Camberwell and Tottenham. The howling rage has even come to our own Midwest. Hopefully time and wisdom will reveal what has fractured, but for now, we are certain of some things. We know that the House of Reeves in Croydon, South London, is a pile of ash and rubble. This furniture business had been in the Reeves family for 141 years, surviving even Hitler’s blitz. But the Mob burned it down. ‘I’m the fifth generation to run this place,’ said owner Graham Reeves, ‘I have two daughters. They would have been the sixth.’
And sure enough, the mob has grown more powerful, more accepted by elite institutions. I wrote and Rush read:
“To some, the Mob is a symptom of disenfranchisement, urban malaise or institutional hurt feelings. The Mob, after all, only awoke after a questionable police shooting in London. Excuses all, of course. Nothing justifies this behavior in nations built on the rule of law. Excuses are paralyzing those with the responsibility of enforcing the law, both in England and the United States.”
So sad. So true.
We’ve seen it all before, and Rush was reading the full piece, including the conclusion about the stakes:
Sir Winston Churchill understood this. ‘Civilization will not last,’ he said at the University of Bristol in 1938, ‘freedom will not survive, peace will not be kept, unless a very large majority of mankind unite together to defend them and show themselves possessed of a constabulary power before which barbaric and atavistic forces will stand in awe.’
Some of you agree with me that there are no coincidences. For me, Rush reading the piece about the dangers of mobs burning down civilization, reading it to me while I was driving off to the other side of the world to fight Guam’s racially-discriminatory laws was no coincidence. If nothing else, it made the 15-hour flight more significant.
Here we are, a decade later, and it has only gotten worse. The voice that was our daily pilot is gone. Prayers for you, Rush.