In this week’s issue… New voices replace Limbaugh – Bex exits Boston’s Kiss – More changes in Elmira/Corning – Evanov “Jewels” go “Lite” – New signal in North Bay
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*It ended with little fanfare on Friday: four months and a day after Rush Limbaugh’s death, the last edition of “The Rush Limbaugh Show” aired on most of the talk star’s former affiliates on Friday, wrapping up the somewhat awkward “best-of” episodes that mixed repeats of old Limbaugh shows with introductions by “guides” trying to relate the old material to current events.
For a format where Limbaugh long dominated as the big national star, there remains no one clear successor in that role – and there may never be. Because of Limbaugh’s pioneering role in national midday syndication, his show transcended individual station ownership, with prominent affiliates represented from almost every big owner.
But Limbaugh himself resisted naming a successor, leaving the field wide open for each ownership/syndication group to try its own offering. That means a patchwork of affiliates around the region (and around the country) for each of the new players. On iHeart’s own stations and its Premiere Radio Networks, the former Rush slot relaunches today with a new “inspired by Rush” show hosted by Clay Travis and Buck Sexton. That list of markets includes New York (WOR), Boston (WXKS AM), Albany (WGY), Syracuse (WSYR), Rochester (WHAM), Providence (WHJJ), and Harrisburg (WHP), but it’s missing some other big ones, including Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Hartford and Buffalo.
Those last three markets all had Audacy-owned stations carrying Limbaugh, and we now have the answer to a big question about one of them. In CONNECTICUT, until late last week, Audacy’s WTIC (1080 Hartford) had yet to say who would get the noon slot to replace the Rush best-ofs that had been running there. Like WBEN in Buffalo, WTIC is going local in middays. It’s hired Tom Shattuck to do a new 10 AM to 2 PM shift, which will slot in between an extra hour of Brian Shactman’s morning show and an extra hour of Todd Feinburg’s afternoon show. Shattuck comes on board in Hartford after a long Boston media career that’s included programming the online Boston Herald Radio, producing at WRKO and the old WTKK-FM, and most recently as senior editor of the Lowell Sun.
(And what about the biggest ex-Rush market that’s still without a named replacement? That’s Philadelphia, where the schedule of Audacy’s WPHT 1210 still lists Rush as the noon host – but it’s looking as though there will be a local replacement there, too, soon.)
*We have some answers about a few other markets, too: Townsquare’s WNBF (1290) in Binghamton is going with Westwood One’s Dan Bongino, who launched last month on a lineup primarily made up of co-owned Cumulus stations. It’s Salem’s Dennis Prager up the road on Saga’s WHCU (870) in Ithaca, and we still don’t know who’ll be on in noon over in Utica on Townsquare’s WIBX (950) or up in Watertown on Stephens’ WTNY (790). In Burlington, VERMONT, Fox’s Jimmy Failla is now heard in the noon slot, while Saga has placed the Boston-based Grace Curley show (part of Howie Carr’s regional network) on WKBK (1290) in Keene, NEW HAMPSHIRE and on WGAN (560) in Portland, MAINE.
*Whether you liked Rush or loathed him, the end of his show is also the end of a bigger era in American radio. Even before Limbaugh’s 30-year run in national syndication, there were always national voices who could be heard pretty much anywhere in the country at the same time. It was only 20 years ago when your editor took the first of many radio “Big Trips” across the country, pausing every day at noon (11 central) to tune in Paul Harvey – and there was always an affiliate. Harvey, in turn, connected back to the glory days of network radio.
What’s the equivalent now? Not Travis and Sexton, or Bongino, with their patchwork of affiliates, nor Sean Hannity, who’s heard in more markets but not always with a live afternoon clearance. The sports networks have splintered too since the days when ESPN was the dominant player.
To even come close to an equivalent in 2021, you’d need to go to the noncommercial side of the dial: NPR’s Morning Edition has long held the title as most-listened-to national radio show, with availability pretty much everywhere. EMF’s national K-Love network is getting closer to full coverage, though it’s still absent in some areas, and the same is true of the national Catholic radio services, Relevant Radio and EWTN.
Does it matter? Perhaps not – there are those who wouldn’t mourn the decline of the partisan talk radio that Limbaugh perfected, and more local talk in some markets isn’t a bad thing, either. For better or worse, though, it’s worth noting this moment as an inflection point in one of radio’s most lucrative formats.
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