There was something very telling, and even morose, about the commercial break Rush Limbaugh took deep into his third hour of broadcasting on Tuesday's show. Still at the center of an advertising firestorm that rages around his program as corporate America turns its back on the AM talker in the wake of his ugly, invasive, three-day smear campaign against Sandra Fluke, Limbaugh boasted he had thwarted the left-wing attack and they were the ones "shell shocked" at the turn of events.
But the truth was that for days on his flagship station, WABC in New York, Limbaugh's show had been stripped of key advertisers. Instead, the once robust revenue-generating program had turned into a feel-good forum where during commercial breaks WABC ran non-paid public service announcements on behalf of the United Negro College Fund and New York Office of Emergency Management. That's because WABC didn't feel comfortable putting lots of advertisers on Limbaugh's show, which up and down Madison Avenue had become poisonous in this wake of his misogynistic Fluke debacle.
So towards the end of his show on Tuesday, the nine-figure salary talk show host went to commercial break and a paid advertiser did pop up. And it was a new advertiser, a sponsor who apparently had signed on amidst the controversy. The sponsor's name? The Holy Name Cemetery in New Jersey, which was advertising a "pre-planning open house weekend."
Whether Limbaugh's show is in the midst of the death throes, only time will tell. But one thing is clear, the radio industry has never seen anything like the sponsorship controversy surrounding Limbaugh's once-untouchable program. And it's certainly never seen anything like the wholesale decision by his syndicator, Premier Radio Networks, to suspend barter ads for two weeks in an apparent effort to ride out the controversy. That was soon followed by news that advertisers are requesting Limbaugh's affiliated stations provide "Rush-free programming grids" so sponsors can verify that their brands aren't appearing on his show.