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Limbaugh became synonymous with talk radio during his career, transforming the medium in the process

Radio giant exerted incalculable influence on conservative culture and politics.

Published: February 17, 2021 1:28pm

Updated: February 17, 2021 2:05pm

The man who boasted of having "talent on loan from God" has been called home.

Rush Limbaugh, the most prominent voice in conservative radio for 30-plus years, died of lung cancer today at the age of 70.

Limbaugh had been diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer Jan. 20, 2019 but didn't share the information with his massive audience until a few days later, Feb. 3. He continued to host his nationally syndicated show during his treatments, spelled by a succession of guest hosts including Mark Steyn.

Limbaugh became synonymous with talk radio during his career, transforming the medium in the process. His success paved the way for a crush of younger stars including Mark Levin, Sean Hannity, Dennis Prager and, most recently, Ben Shapiro.

None could match his impact on the medium.

Limbaugh kicked off "The Rush Limbaugh Show" in 1988, a time when conservative voices were hard to find in the media and popular culture. His sense of humor proved a vital weapon, letting him dissect his ideological foes while spiking his three-hour broadcasts to keep listeners engaged.

It worked for more than three decades in an unforgiving medium and marketplace.

Over the years, Limbaugh faced a wave of competitors if not outright imitators. He also ran up against Fox News, another way conservatives could hear their own voices at long last.

Neither diminished his clout or influence.

Fox News reports "The Rush Limbaugh Show" airs on more than 600 stations nationwide drawing up to 27 million listeners on a weekly basis.

For comparison, the average Stephen Colbert monologue on CBS' progressive "Late Show" draws roughly 3.5 million per evening.

Shapiro shared his tribute to Limbaugh on Twitter, calling him "the creator of talk radio and by extension the alternative media."

The Federalist's Mollie Hemingway saluted Limbaugh on social media, too, calling him "the greatest radio man in history. An absolute master of the craft … if you didn't listen to him, or only heard him in selectively edited snippets from the hostile media, you won't understand."

Levin hailed Limbaugh as a voice like no other, comparing him to Thomas Paine.

His influence on conservative culture is hard to fully measure, but few would deny his outsized impact on the movement. Presidents lined up to speak on his show. Lesser political figures did the same, eager to tap into his faithful audience and soak up Limbaugh’s wisdom.

He could pitch something like Operation Chaos, an attempt to disrupt the 2008 Democratic primaries by supporting Hillary Clinton, and countless listeners would follow his lead.

He drew the attention of Democratic leaders like Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, but never stopped criticizing either. President Clinton blamed the Oklahoma bomber's 1996 attack on the hate fomented by talk radio hosts, a not-so-veiled swipe at Limbaugh's broadcasts.

President Obama urged conservatives not to listen to Limbaugh, a message that few, if any, heeded.

Limbaugh famously said of Obama — "I hope he fails" — to the consternation of the left and the media. Years later, the Democrat establishment formed a "resistance" against newly elected President Donald Trump without any similar blowback.

Limbaugh could be bold and blunt, comical and self-effacing. His political satire took down Democratic targets with alacrity, while his opening monologues skewered both the left and what he saw as an increasingly biased media establishment.

He later dubbed the mainstream media's efforts "drive by" reporting, a line that became part of his daily repertoire.

Limbaugh became an early, unlikely supporter of then-candidate Donald Trump, becoming one of the real estate mogul's most passionate defenders.

The talk show titan's reign had plenty of rough patches. In October 2001, he admitted to losing most of his hearing, a condition called autoimmune inner ear disease (AIED). That might have ended most radio host's careers. Instead, he relied on cochlear implants to restore a semblance of his hearing and kept right on talking.

His dominance suffered a body blow when he was arrested on prescription drug charges in 2006, a consequence of his painkiller addiction to treat chronic back pain.

Other stumbles included his coarse words for feminist Sandra Fluke, which earned a rare apology from the talk show superstar.

He never stopped talking, though, even as the Left repeatedly tried removing him from the airwaves.

In recent months, Limbaugh struck a grateful tone despite his cancer diagnosis, admitting his days were numbered but deeply moved to receive so much support from his still-massive fan base.

"Again, folks thank you so much … you are just the best," he said in a Christmas message to his listeners. "My family is just the best. Thank you."


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