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Friday, March 9, 2012
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Turning the Rush Limbaugh Ocean Liner

Before we even get to the first point I need to emphasize that this is not a prediction, but an educated guess on how this Rush Limbaugh episode will play out for the radio industry. As we are already seeing, it is affecting more than one radio show.

Today's Taylor on Radio-Info newsletter carries a story that Dial Global is circulating a memo concerning its clients' wish to avoid controversial programming. The number of clients mentioned is 350. (I suggest you subscribe to Taylor on Radio-Info here.)

Radio Business Report carries the story of "Limbaugh protested at WGAN-AM Portland." (Receive RBR here.)

"This isn't like the past, when traditional media controlled the message and could make an irritation vanish by just ceasing to report it." Meanwhile, over at Radio Ink we have the headline of "Rush Says Media Lying About Advertiser Revolt," and I really love the headline at Clear Channel-owned Inside Radio - "Readers Poll: Majority see little impact on Rush." The latter does indicate it's a small sample, though, with the words "A popular thread among the dozens of comments...."

According to the last two reports, it seems inevitable that this is going to pass. But, let's get to my "educated guess."

We've heard how musicians have requested their music be removed from the Rush Limbaugh show, and how the radio industry is under the gun from countless reports in non-radio trade publications. But how much have you read about the petition movement against Limbaugh; or how rapidly it's gaining signatures?

Of the two drives I am aware of - and I guess there are others that I don't know about - the remove Rush from WKBN, Youngstown Ohio blew past its first 2,000 goal and is closing in on its new 3,000 signature goal (in under 72 hours of being launched). The national drive to remove is at 450,000 signatures, on the way to its 475,000 goal (again, in under 72 hours). But neither one of these is what I'm thinking will do the most damage.

Social media is just starting to get the word out. If you know how SM works, little pieces of information are added as the story grows, as more people become involved. Here's what's possible with the use of social media, and why Clear Channel really should do more than have Premiere Radio Networks release a limp notice of support for Rush:

“Premiere Networks is committed to providing its listeners with access to a broad range of opinion and commentary without condoning or agreeing with the opinions, comments or attempts at humor expressed by on-air talent. We respect the right of Mr. Limbaugh, as well as the rights of those who disagree with him, to express those opinions. The contraception debate is one that sparks strong emotion and opinions on both sides of the issue. Last week, in an attempt at absurdist humor to illustrate his political point, Mr. Limbaugh used words that unfortunately distracted from the message he was trying to convey. We believe he did the right thing on Saturday, and again on his radio show on Monday, by expressing regret for his choice of words and offering his sincere and heartfelt apology to Ms. Fluke.”

My wife spent nearly 25 years as a traffic director, 17 at one of the most highly trafficked stations in the nation (WMMS - The Buzzard, Cleveland OH). When I told here about Dial Global's memo her first response was "define controversial." Her second was "...that could be a problem." Amen! But there's a bigger problem in the wings.

When word starts circulating in social media that Premiere Radio Networks is owned by Clear Channel, and that iHeartRadio is also owned by CC, we will witness exactly where today's youth stand on such business relationships.

If anyone thinks that iHeartRadio is having a difficult time in its fight against Pandora today, wait. As those who use iHeartRadio begin to make the connection that it's part of the same company which puts someone on the air who thinks a three-day tirade against a 30-year-old woman is "entertainment" (using "absurdist humor"), the exodus will begin. Youth will exercise non-use as a weapon - and it won't be called a boycott.

Clients are diving. The press is working overtime. Threads on forums and web sites are running heavy on the side of "despicable comment." Yet, some radio industry trades continue to downplay this fiasco's lasting effect.

My educated guess is that social media is only beginning to get a grip on this issue of "women's rights." (Yes, that's how this is being read.)

This isn't like the past, when traditional media controlled the message and could make an irritation vanish by just ceasing to report it.

As word spreads on social media that this woman was bashed - nay, all women were bashed - by a four-time married, extremely conservative radio host who wouldn't know a packet of birth control pills from Viagra, the backlash will grow. Petitions will continue to be filled out, and we'll see more protests outside of radio stations.

But, the most frightening thought of all for radio (which extends past the iHeartRadio scenario) is one that has not been brought up by any radio industry trade: What happens if these protests turn into a boycott of individual stations airing Rush Limbaugh and their local advertisers? This big ship called "Limbaugh" may well run into its iceberg.

How long the above will take is anyone's guess. But it's my guess that it won't be as long as some in the radio industry think.

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