I started listening to Rush in 1985, as I was spending a great deal of time driving around Southern California, working as a manufacturers sales representative, and his show burst out on a powerhouse AM channel in mid morning drive-time.
I must admit that at first I thought the guy was a pompous ass. But I still listened, because he was funny too. And he had a way of talking about current events that reminded me of my college days. I always enjoyed a good, interactive lecture and discussion in a classroom atmosphere. I was bored by pop music, so I got hooked on talk radio, and Rush was not just a pioneer, but as I learned over time, a cultural and political genius, too. Limbaugh has built his audience on, as he puts it, "Explaining and illustrating the absurd using absurdity."
Rush has been properly credited with the resuscitation of AM Radio. He took it from a failing Top Ten records and DJ medium, which could no longer compete with the improved sound quality of FM broadcasts, to a whole new news, information, and interactive talk medium. He tapped into what is now SOP, but at the time had no outlet: the need for people to share their passions, their frustrations, and their anxieties about life, community, national politics and current events. Limbaugh's mostly "talking about what interested" him show format was the radio forerunner to Twitter. The public was slowly drowning in new ways to get their news and information, and they needed someone to help them sort it all out and talk about it.
Demographics show Limbaugh's audience is mostly older male, middle-class and conservative. My guess is, most don't spend much time on Twitter, either.
But the most fundamental reason Rush is still the leader in the huge talk radio market, is because he can make absurdity make sense. And as confusing and contradictory as some of the news is, he adds a semblance of humor to the equation. Just enough to diffuse the anger, but also to illustrate how convoluted and distressing so much of our public discourse has become.
Whether you agree with his perspective or not, the man is highly entertaining, and his brand of human interest conversation continues to compete successfully with hundreds of sources on radio, TV, the internet and on our cell phones. I could make the case that Oprah Winfrey, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, David Letterman, and so many others, all learned a lot from Limbaugh, and owe much of their success to his success.
In the late 90's, Limbaugh formed an alliance with recording artist Paul Shanklin to produce a steady stream of musical parodies around high profile celebrity and political characters. Combined with his cartoonish nicknames for his favorite targets like 'Dirty' Harry Reid or Debbie 'Blabbermouth' Schultz, his voice imitations and creative soap-opera-style replays of controversial and conflicting sound bites, Rush consistently sets new creative standards for the radio medium.
After uber-liberal filmmaker Michael Moore released his anti-Bush film Fahrenheit 9/11 in 2006, acclaimed Hollywood producer David Zucker (Scary Movie, Naked Gun, Airplane) jumped into the fray when he decided that some of Washington's shenanigans just couldn't be ignored by filmmakers.
He formed an affinity group of conservatives in Hollywood; he got Jon Voight, Dennis Hopper, Kelsey Grammer, and Chris Farley's brother Kevin Farley together and pitched a script. His subsequent film, 'An American Carol' spoofed the limousine liberals of Hollywood. It challenged their sense of patriotism and tendency to 'blame America first.'
The film would not have happened without the groundwork by Rush Limbaugh. That reality holds true for later proteges like Dinesh D'Souza, Sean Hannity, Dennis Prager, and Michael Savage.
Zucker had made a dramatic transition from being an anti-Vietnam war protester and ardent Al Gore supporter, to an outspoken JFK-style conservative. He had grown to resent Democrat's rejection of American exceptionalism and the way the Left was complicit in allowing socialism, anti-zionism and radical extremism to flourish around the world.
Limbaugh is still garnering nearly 30 million listeners any given week, and though he pioneered the format, his is still quite unique. Critics want to focus on his squeaky voice (when he gets agitated) but he has an uncanny ability to point out absurdities. Just this week, Joy Behar lamenting the election results on ABC's liberal circle-jerk daytime talk show "The View" said that Republicans increased their majority in the Senate due to 'redistricting'.
Rush, after squeaking about how it shouldn't be possible for someone so ignorant to hold a seat on a nationally syndicated TV talk show, reminded the audience that state senators serve entire states, and since there are, as directed by the constitution, only two senators from every state, there is no such thing as 'redistricting' in statewide elections.
As the self appointed 'Mayor of Realville', Rush spends a great deal of time mocking leaders in academia, entertainment and politics who constantly demonstrate little or no understanding of our constitutional republic and how it works.