Cumulus Media, the second-largest owner and operator of radio stations in the United States, is dropping conservative heavyweights Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity from its distribution services.
Financial disagreements between Cumulus Media and Premiere Networks, a division of Clear Channel that distributes Limbaugh and Hannity's programs, center on declining revenues, which are largely the result of sponsors withdrawing their ads from the shows. Cumulus CEO Lew Dickey attributed a $2.4 million first-quarter decline to Limbaugh’s inflammatory remarks about Georgetown student Sandra Fluke, who he called a "slut" and “prostitute” last year.
Since those comments, over 142 companies have boycotted the show. Limbaugh responded by declaring that he is being persecuted by media buyers who are, "young women fresh out of college, liberal feminists who hate conservatism."
Given the popularity of Limbaugh and Hannity, one wonders if it was good business to abandon the two most listened-to talk show hosts on the airwaves. Is Cumulus Media doing the right thing for itself as a company by disowning programming that attracts almost 30 million listeners?
On one hand, the financial impact of losing these two top-rated shows might be a disaster for shareholders. Limbaugh and Hannity may be gone from Cumulus, but they aren't gone from the airwaves. Clear Channel, the nation's biggest distributor of radio programming, will continue to broadcast them.
On the other hand, Cumulus might not have had another choice, given the advertising exodus. As Jason Easley, a left-wing commentator with PoliticusUSA, said, “Without the public pressure, bad publicity, and shame that the boycott brought on to his advertisers, Rush Limbaugh and Cumulus would probably still have a happy marriage”
Cumulus is working on filling the vacant slots with other popular conservative hosts, such as Mike Huckabee and Mark Levin, and scouting for new hosts altogether. The company's move signals that radio distributors are fed up with the advertising losses associated with controversial programing, and that, just maybe, distributors are tired of being associated with bigots.