My high school years had some ups and downs, which is how I ended up in Manhattan as an 18 year old, making up credits from the year I dropped out. I had an interest in news, so I talked my way into a job at a talk radio station 77WABC.
I’d take the 1 train down from 116th St to Penn Station and l, without even going outside, went up into one of the Penn Plaza towers where I screened calls for the block of radio programs that took the afternoon and evening hours. Some of the programs were pretty shoddy “left wing white guy vs right wing white guy” and announcing for New Jersey Devils hockey games.
But the marquee talent was Rush Limbaugh.
In the back of the rabbit warren of sales team cubicles and behind the other recording studios for B-list talent (which at the time included Sean Hannity), Rush had his own recording studio. And yes, the golden microphone was real. It stunk of smoke. His producer had somehow struck a deal with building management to allow him to smoke his cigars when the rest of the station had to plod down to 34th street for a cigarette.
The funny part of him having his own private recording studio is that Rush had already moved to Florida. Sure he recorded at the station, but even at the time he was enough of a star that he maintained multiple private studios. Such was the power of the EIB Network. Dittoheads had made Rush a fortune even before 9/11 and the rise of the neoconservatives. I can still recite the ditties. I can hear Rush recording his commercials. The way he would say Ruth Chris Steaks will stay with me till I die.
I have complex feelings about having spent time in talk radio. I didn’t stay long, I saw the money wasn’t particularly good in media and I decided a college degree was worth pursuing. Conservative chit chat hadn’t yet fully diverged from the overall skepticism of mainstream media into its own behemoth yet. 6 o’clock news on broadcast probably still mattered. Facebook hadn’t been invented. People got their hard news from real television and the side opinions of grumpy white men hadn’t fully turned to grievance culture yet. Sean Hannity was still partners with Alan Colmes.
Seeing what Rush Limbaugh wrought on America has been hard. I don’t doubt that without him January 6th wouldn’t have happened. Trump might not have been president.
But without Rush and my experience in talk radio maybe I wouldn’t have studied economics. Maybe I wouldn’t have pursued business. I might have stayed a comfortable Silicon Valley liberal. But spending my afternoon talking to the weirdos that call into talk radio was an experience I value. I had come from crunchy hippie comfortable white upper class towns like Palo Alto and Boulder. I hadn’t ever considered the kind of politics that bred Republicans and subsequently Tea Party reactionaries and eventually Trumpist alt righters. A lot of ground got covered in the years.
I doubt Rush (or Sean) would have liked where my politics landed. Libertarians are frowned on in “real” conservative circles. Probably worse than the kind of pleasantly socialist left wing politics I had when I arrived.
I hope no one takes any of this as affirmation or justification or even acceptance of what talk radio culture birthed. I’m not even sure how to feel about Rush Limbaugh’s passing. Not that we were close, heck I doubt he knew my name. I was a teenager doing shit work and I spent much more time on other programs. But I still had to take the afternoon off as social media rushed to rejoice in his death. Even knowing the scope of his legacy I just couldn’t take it. My life path might have looked very different without encountering the EIB Network.