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KMOX gives Rush Limbaugh the largest radio megaphone in St. Louis.

Democrats should SHUT UP and let people who know what they're doing run the country," Rush Limbaugh screamed at his radio audience in mid-September.

Ever since the approval and reelection numbers for President George W. Bush have begun to fall, it seems that Limbaugh's voice has begun to rise, louder, angrier and more shrill.

A few days later, he was at it again, shouting his contempt for Wesley Clark, a four-star general and former NATO commander who graduated first in his class at West Point, studied economics at Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship and earned a Silver Star in Vietnam.

Limbaugh, on the other hand, never went to college and managed to avoid military service even though he was draft age during the Vietnam War. But Clark had committed the unforgivable sin of opposing President Bush's war in Iraq. And so Limbaugh's voice dripped with venom.

And that voice is amplified by the strongest radio signal in the region, KMOX, allowing Limbaugh to spread his social and political propaganda across metropolitan St. Louis and beyond.

Tom Langmyer, general manager of KMOX, sees no problem with Limbaugh's show.

"It is fact that much of the St. Louis audience wishes to hear his program," Langmyer says. "It wouldn't be the number one program in St. Louis in its time slot if that weren't the case."

Langmyer also says that people have more choices than ever before about programming--cable television, Internet, satellite radio, newspapers, etc. They can turn to those sources for other opinions, he says. At KMOX, though, listeners want Limbaugh.

"It's always about the customer," he says.

But a source close to the local radio industry says the conventional wisdom that Limbaugh makes money for KMOX and therefore running his program is simply a business decision isn't quite right. She says it's true that KMOX listenership goes up in his time slot, but since the station only gets five or six commercial spots during that time--as opposed to 15 or so during locally produced programming--the whole thing "is probably a wash.""

She also points out that KMOX doesn't hold Limbaugh's audience, and as soon as he's off the air, the numbers go back down.

"I'm sure KMOX has a sweetheart deal with the guy," she says. "Limbaugh needs KMOX more than it needs him. Remember, a few years ago, he was on WIBV on the East Side and practically nobody in St. Louis heard him."

So, she doesn't believe Limbaugh is a great business deal for the station. She says it probably has more to do with all the trouble involved with producing its own, community-oriented programming.

Langmyer doesn't buy it.

"We're proud to have added two full-time reporters in the past two months," he says. "And this is in a world of shrinking budgets and a bad economy, and conventional wisdom is that radio news is disappearing."

Langmyer points out that he is personally involved with numerous community endeavors and feels it's important for others at the station to be involved in community service.

"That is KMOX," he says.

The source agrees but sees Limbaugh as a problem--in more ways than one.

"For one thing, KMOX is putting money in the pockets of its competitors," she says.

She's talking about Clear Channel Communications, the huge media conglomerate that owns 1,200 radio stations nationally, several in St. Louis, and also owns Limbaugh's syndication rights. In other words, KMOX pays its competition for programming.

Corporate agendas

For years, Limbaugh and other ultra-conservative radio commentators have maintained that liberal radio shows can't make it on the air because liberals don't have ideas that appeal to the general radio-listening public. They're right about liberal radio shows failing. But consider the following:

* WABC in New York City carries 15 hours of Limbaugh each week, plus 15 hours of Sean Hannity, 10 hours of Mark Levin and, until he was dropped, 10 hours of Michael Savage, the commentator who yelled at a homosexual caller, "You should only get AIDS and die, you pig." Other stations in the city carry Bill O'Reilly and Bob Grant. There is no equivalent radio programming on the left. Yet the residents of New York City voted four to one for Al Gore over George Bush. Maybe they didn't care about ideas, maybe they voted for Gore because of the way he kissed Tipper.

* The radio ratings for Jim Hightower, a leftist humorist who in 2000 wrote the book If the Gods had Wanted Us to Vote, They would have Given Us Candidates were about the same as those of O'Reilly. But, after Hightower made fun of his parent corporation, the Disney Company, his show was dropped. You could argue that conservatives don't make the mistake of offending powerful corporations. But that's what liberals do. Left-wingers tend to be pro-union, pro-consumer and pro-environmental. These viewpoints often offend corporate sponsors.

* Speaking of corporations: In radio, the market place is dominated by a small number of big companies. And the diversity of political speech is non-existent--it's overwhelmingly conservative. That's because a profits agenda and a political agenda overlap. Clear Channel, the corporation that owns Limbaugh and organized the bashing of the Dixie Chicks after they criticized President Bush, has given millions in political donations in the last few years, 85 percent to Republicans.

It's pretty clear that Limbaugh's dominance of the airwaves is as much about corporate strategy as it is listenership. For example, when ABC wanted to hire Limbaugh as a commentator on "Monday Night Football," it had to back down due to a flurry of protests. The whole thing bordered on a public-relations disaster for the media giant. But, this summer, ESPN hired him for "Sunday NFL Countdown." Who owns ESPN? You guessed it--ABC. Despite viewers' protests, ABC slipped Limbaugh in the backdoor.

Boycotts

But sometimes the profit motive does trump political agendas. Boycotts of Limbaugh's advertisers have had some success. Midas, Radio Shack, BOSE Wave Radio and Amazon.com withdrew advertising after boycotts were threatened. And other advertisers seem to be wavering--Amtrak and Avacor to name two.

For a full list of Limbaugh's advertisers and other information pertaining to boycotting Limbaugh, you can go to bushknew.com.
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Title Annotation:Unfair and unbalanced
Author:Bishop, Ed
Publication:St. Louis Journalism Review
Date:Oct 1, 2003
Words:1028
Previous Article:Grumbling at KDHX.
Next Article:Applying fairness doctrine to Rush Limbaugh wouldn't limit speech but expand it.
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