Industry Views

Lessons from Rush

By Walter Sabo
Consultant, Sabo Media
A.K.A. Walter Sterling
Radio Host, Sterling on Sunday

Rush Limbaugh’s initial success spawned a nation of imitators.  Throughout the country hosts and executives heard Rush and concluded that the key to success was bashing liberals for three hour – or all day!

Oddly that wasn’t Rush’s mission.  When Ed McLaughlin launched Rush’s show an article appeared quoting Rush and his role.

Rush said, “I’m here to inform, inform, inform.”  Ed was the founding GM of KGO, he ran the ABC Radio Networks for about 20 years. He knew how to make great radio because that’s all he knew how to do.  I was in his office the day the article quoting Rush appeared.

Ed said to me, “I will have to talk to Rush about that. His job is to entertain.”  Following Ed’s conversation with him, Rush carried out his mission, he entertained.

Rush did not get ratings and cash for espousing conservative views. There were other spokespeople who did that very well such as William F Buckley – an erudite conservative who never got ratings.

Listening hard to Rush airchecks, he was mostly entertaining. How did he do that?  First, he never offered duplicate arguments for his opinions. Every single day he presented brand new evidence and facts and stories to support his point of view. Secondly, he riffed. There were long periods featuring funny, human stories. Cat stories!  Third, Rush understood radio to a pristine point of science. When he had nothing to say, he used the medium’s most powerful tool… silence!

He understood the essential bond with the listener and therefore we never heard his producer on talkback, rarely, rarely, rarely a guest interview.  Phone calls were extremely well screened, coached and ready for air. Sharp produced bits were designed to drive the conversation.  The show was a show not a lecture.

Rush understood that the biggest mistake he could make would be to change his position on anything. Regardless of a caller’s absolute facts, Rush would say, “So what of it sir, I’m right.”  His battle against facts made the show work. Radio wrestling.

Today’s winning hosts don’t waste time forming political opinions, they invest their time in building an entertaining show.

Walter Sabo was the youngest Executive Vice President in the history of NBC. The youngest VP in the history of ABC. He was a consultant to RKO General longer than Bill Drake. Walter was the in-house consultant to Sirius for eight years. He has never written a resume. Contact him at or mobile 646-678-1110. Hear Walter Sterling at