Rush Limbaugh’s Long, Slow March to Irrelevance

Don’t listen to the headlines—Rush Limbaugh’s talk radio supremacy ain’t over just yet. But it’s long been clear that his glory days are behind him. John Avlon on the final days of toxic right-wing talk.

Fox News presented an hour-long Rush Limbaugh infomercial on Greta Van Susteren’s show Tuesday night, allowing the embattled talk radio giant to offer up uncontested howlers like this: “I get more grief than the al Qaeda gets.” And this: “I don’t see any pushback [by the GOP] against anything Obama wants to do [by the GOP].” And finally this: “I can’t remember a time when it’s been more partisan, more divisive and getting worse—and being done on purpose.”

Radio talk show host and conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh. (Bill Pugliano/Getty)
While Greta also found time to ask Rush’s opinion about the Zimmerman verdict (he pronounced it “uplifting”), no questions were asked about the big story that has Limbaugh in limbo: a Sunday night report by Dylan Byers at Politico that suggested Rush and his right-wing talk colleague Sean Hannity are on the verge of being dropped by Cumulus radio.

The report follows months of complaints by Cumulus CEO Lew Dickey about the impact of an advertiser boycott of Rush enacted after he called birth-control advocate Sandra Fluke a “slut” back in early 2012—a drought that has resulted in some $2.4 million in associated losses over the first quarter of 2013 alone as The Daily Beast reported in May. Combine those losses with the high cost of running Rush—his last contract, an eight-year inked in 2008, had a $400 million price tag—and an aging fan base of white men and at best you’ve got a recipe for renegotiations. At worst: ejection.

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Cumulus planning to drop Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity…oh my!

20130729-005351.jpgAP Photos
In a major shakeup for the radio industry, Cumulus Media, the second-biggest broadcaster in the country, is planning to drop both Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity from its stations at the end of the year, an industry source told POLITICO on Sunday.

Cumulus has decided that it will not renew its contracts with either host, the source said, a move that would remove the two most highly rated conservative talk personalities from more than 40 Cumulus channels in major markets.

(PHOTOS: Cartoons of Rush Limbaugh)

The decision comes after negotiations between Cumulus and Premiere Networks, the division of Clear Channel that distributes Limbaugh and Hannity’s shows, broke down due to disagreements over the cost of the distribution rights, the source said. Cumulus is known to drive a hard bargain on costs, and Clear Channel is known to seek top dollar for big names.

As industry insiders caution, Cumulus and Clear Channel have come to the brink before during contract negotiations only to resume talks. But the source told POLITICO that Clear Channel was unlikely to reduce the cost for distribution rights to a level that would satisfy Cumulus.

(Flashback: Limbaugh calls Georgetown student ‘slut’ and ‘prostitute’)

Cumulus declined to comment for this story: “Cumulus is not in a position to comment about negotiations with talent under contract, no matter what the rumor of the day might be,” a spokesperson told POLITICO.

But in recent weeks, Cumulus has been quietly reaching out to radio talent agents and political insiders about new local and regional station hosts to fill some of the airtime that will be left vacant by Limbaugh and Hannity, industry sources said. Cumulus is also expected to move some of its existing talent — which includes Mike Huckabee, Mark Levin, and Michael Savage — into one of the slots.

Premiere, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sunday night, is expected to carry Limbaugh and Hannity on stations in many of the markets where they are currently signed with Cumulus, should the negotiations not go through. A spokesperson for Limbaugh was not immediately available for comment; Hannity did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(WATCH: Rush Limbaugh tells caller not to watch Fox News)

Back in May, a source close to Limbaugh told POLITICO that the host was considering ending his affiliation agreement with Cumulus because CEO Lew Dickey was blaming the company’s advertising losses on Limbaugh’s controversial remarks about Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown law student. On an earnings call two days later, Dickey reported a $2.4 million first-quarter decline in revenue related to talk programming, which he attributed, indirectly, to Limbaugh’s remarks about Fluke.

Dickey is expected to hold another earnings call this week, though it is unclear if he will address the contract negotiations.