Reprinted from Media Matters
Rush Limbaugh's radio business model has been cracked and broken for several years. News this week of his four-year contract extension does little to repair those fractures, but does raise the specter of his eventual departure from the AM dial. Because without a solid advertising and affiliate base, Limbaugh simply cannot flourish the way he once did.
And what a difference eight years makes for the talker and the precarious state of his radio career.
Back in 2008 when Limbaugh re-upped with his syndicated radio bosses, the details of the wildly generous deal were quickly trumpeted in the press. Headlines heralded the AM talker's NBA-type, eight-year contract signed with Clear Channel, the conservative-friendly media behemoth with a soft spot for right-wing radio: $400 million! That included a 40 percent raise from his previous deal and a $100 million signing bonus.
The larger 2008 context was clear: Limbaugh had established himself as a larger-than-life media and political kingpin and this was his victory lap. Limbaugh commanded the type of money and influence that few in the media and entertainment industry ever achieve. A radio ratings hero, Limbaugh was at the top of his game. Or so Clear Channel insisted.
Compare all that 2008 contract triumph to this week's minimalist roll-out announcing Limbaugh's extension, which consisted of a single-page press release from his radio boss, iHeartMedia (formerly Clear Channel), and Limbaugh mentioning it on his program.
Conspicuously absent this time around were any details about the size of the contract, or an acknowledgement that Limbaugh might have been forced to take a sizeable pay cut thanks to his diminished stature.
On his Tuesday program, Limbaugh insisted he's never wanted his earnings to be public knowledge and so he wasn't going to discuss the details of the extension; "It was a sign of good manners." But in a 2008 New York Times magazine profile, Limbaugh openly discussed the dollar figures behind his blockbuster deal. ("He estimated that it would bring in about $38 million a year. To sweeten the deal, he said he was also getting a nine-figure signing bonus.") He also talked about how much his private jet cost ($54 million).