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Advertiser difficulty, listener declines put Limbaugh in jeopardy as contract nears end

 

If controversial conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh doesn’t get a new deal from his syndicator after his contract expires in July, it is doubtful WBEN-AM is going to shed too many tears.

According to sources, Entercom Radio, which owns WBEN and several other stations in town, has experienced the same advertiser difficulties selling Limbaugh’s program locally as several other stations that carry his show syndicated by the Premiere Radio Network.

That is readily apparent if you listen to the commercials heard in between Limbaugh’s ramblings against presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton during his daily noon to 3 p.m. program. Limbaugh is carried on WBEN in between the local programs headlined by talkers Sandy Beach and Tom Bauerle.

Greg Ried, who runs all the local Entercom stations, said WBEN’s deal extends beyond Limbaugh’s contract with the syndicator. He wouldn’t comment beyond that. However, the length of WBEN’s contract shouldn’t mean anything if Premiere doesn’t renew Limbaugh.

Limbaugh isn’t the same ratings powerhouse locally that he has been in the past.

In the last winter book measuring weeks in January, February and March, Limbaugh’s program share is down about 14 percent in age 12 plus, 16 percent in the age 25-54 category and 5 percent in the older age 35-64 demographic from the 2015 winter book.

You might assume his audience would grow rather than decline in a presidential year in which presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump is getting so much media attention that is driving high TV news ratings.

However, the Limbaugh declines here or nationally aren’t as big a concern as the difficulty getting advertisers.

A few weeks ago, Ethan Epstein, a writer for Politico, appeared on CNN’s media show “Reliable Sources” to discuss his story on Limbaugh’s upcoming renewal talks. He said Limbaugh’s last contract that expires in a few weeks was for eight years, was worth $400 million and guaranteed.

Epstein explained that the advertiser boycott that started four years ago when Limbaugh called then Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a slut has continued to this day. Epstein added “reams of advertisers still won’t touch him.”

In other words, Limbaugh got his money because his contract was guaranteed, but the stations carrying him couldn’t recoup their costs because of the advertiser boycott. That led to big stations in New York City, Boston and Los Angeles dropping the show.

Epstein added that if Premiere and Limbaugh can’t get together on a new deal that undoubtedly would include a significant pay cut, Limbaugh will still find a home to talk elsewhere. Satellite radio is one possibility.

With Limbaugh’s reduced ratings and the difficulty of finding advertisers for his show, you could make a case that WBEN would be better off without him.

You could also make a case that Western New York would be better off without him spewing his daily distortions. But that’s another story.

apergament@buffnews.com

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