“We’ve had a tough go of it this last year,” Cumulus CEO Lew Dickey said Tuesday morning. “The facts are indisputable regarding the impact certain things have had on ad dollars.”
Dickey told analysts on the earnings call that his radio empire’s revenue was down $5.6 million in the first quarter of 2013 on top of a boatload of debt. Why? Parse the weasel words (“the impact of certain things”) and you’ll see that Dickey is blaming one man for the precipitous decline of right-wing talk radio’s profitability: Rush Limbaugh.
El Rushbo is still a giant in the industry, but the impact of slamming Sandra Fluke on his radio show one year ago persists—with some $2.4 million in losses attributed by Dickey to declines in the “syndicated-talk segment.”
Insiders confirm that these declines are primarily due to the ongoing reluctance of national advertisers to attach their name to the toxic talk-radio format that first made Limbaugh famous a generation ago.
“We’re watching the end of right-wing conservative talk radio,” says Jerry Del Colliano, publisher of the radio-industry tip sheet Inside Music Media. “The genre is dying among ratings and dying among advertisers … Rush is at the end of his career. His constituency is all wearing Depends. And he’s getting himself into trouble he doesn’t need. So can you put Humpty Dumpty back together again? They have been able to improve their advertising picture, but they have not been able to come back.”
“Sandra Fluke was simply the lightning that struck and hit an old building that collapsed,” Colliano says. “She didn’t do it. She helped to bring it down at the end, but it was falling apart on its own…”
But the larger issue is the declining demographics of the right-wing talk-radio racket. “Look at the millennial generation,” says Colliano. “There’s 80 million of them coming of age. They don’t see color. They don’t see gender. And they’re civic minded: they don’t like bloviating. They don’t like yelling and screaming. So you tell me: how’s right-wing talk radio working for them?”
Short-term reaction – or long-term change?