The Rush Limbaugh Program is considering ending its affiliation agreement with Cumulus Media at the end of this year, a move that would bring about one of the biggest shakeups in talk radio history, a source close to the show tells POLITICO.
Should the move take place, 40 Cumulus-owned radio stations would lose the rights to the most popular talk radio program in the country. In addition, the show might be picked up by competing regional radio stations in Washington, New York, Chicago, Dallas and other major markets.
According to the source, Limbaugh is considering the move because Cumulus CEO Lew Dickey has blamed the company’s advertising losses on Limbaugh’s controversial remarks about Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown law student. The subsequent controversy over those remarks resulted in a significant advertising boycott.
The true extent of Limbaugh’s effect on Cumulus’s advertising revenue is not known. In an August 2012 earnings call, Dickey said Cumulus’s top three stations had lost $5.5 million, in part because of the boycott. In a March 2013 earnings call, Dickey said the company’s talk radio side had “been challenged… due to some of the issues that happened a year ago.” Nevertheless, Limbaugh remains the most highly rated talk radio host in the country.
Cumulus Media, which has a contract with Limbaugh through 2013, declined to comment for this report: “Cumulus owns the premier talk radio distribution platform in the United States and doesn’t comment on negotiations with talent under contract,” Davidson Goldin, a Cumulus spokesman, told POLITICO. Clear Channel, which distributes the Rush Limbaugh Program through its Premiere Radio division, also declined to comment.
The news of Limbaugh’s possible departure comes one day ahead of Cumulus’s Tuesday earnings call, at which Dickey Is once again likely to address the impact the Fluke controversy has had on advertising. The source close to the show described Dickey’s remarks about advertising revenue as unjustified, and said such “criticism” of Limbaugh had resulted in the consideration to leave the company.
“It’s a very serious discussion, because Dickey keeps blaming Rush for his own revenue problems,” the source close to the show told POLITICO. “Dickey’s talk stations underperform talk stations owned by other operators in generating revenue by a substantial margin. It’s not a single show issue… it’s a failure of the entire station. And trying to blame Rush for that is not much of a business partnership.”