From Bad To Worse: Limbaugh's California Ratings Debacle Deepens

How low can Rush Limbaugh go in Los Angeles?

The syndicated talker, who for two decades has been universally regarded as the most popular and powerful AM talker in the country, continues to wallow in obscurity in the nation's second largest radio market. According to recently released ratings from Nielsen Audio, Limbaugh's California flagship station, KEIB, now ranks  39th in the Los Angeles market, attracting an anemic .5 ratings share. (A ratings share represents the percent of those listening to radio in the market who are tuned into a particular station.)

The tumble to 39th place represents yet another downward lurch -- in March the station logged in at 37th place. Note that there are a total of 45 rated stations in the Los Angeles market, which means Limbaugh's KEIB station (the call letters mirror Limbaugh's motto, “Excellence in Broadcasting”) has nearly reached the ratings basement.

And yes, Limbaugh's syndicator, Clear Channel-owned Premier Networks, pays the talker $50 million a year.

The April ratings come in the wake of a disastrous winter for Limbaugh in key California markets. As Media Matters recently noted, Clear Channel moved Limbaugh off his longtime Los Angeles home, KFI, and made him the centerpiece of an all-conservative talk radio lineup on KEIB, where Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck are also heard.

As of April, KEIB not only ranks 39th in the Los Angeles market, but it trails 12 non-English stations and four college outlets. Meanwhile, 10th-rated KFI's ratings remain strong in the wake of Limbaugh's departure from the station. In the past, stations that lost Rush from their lineup often saw steep declines in listenership. He served as the programming tent pole. No more.

The ratings news continues to be nearly as bad up the California coast in San Francisco, the nation's fourth largest radio market. There, as in Los Angeles, Clear Channel moved Limbaugh on the AM dial, from KKSF to KNEW, and dubbed the station "The Patriot."  After four months of Limbaugh's show anchoring KNEW, the station's minuscule ratings have actually gone down in 2014, from .8 in January to .6 in April.

After Media Matters highlighted the dreadful ratings for Limbaugh's two biggest California stations, the talker's spokesman, Brian Glicklich, penned an angry rejoinder where he accused me of “lying” about the ratings. He said I practiced “propaganda” on behalf of mysterious “hidden money benefactors” at Media Matters.

Note that in my May 1 piece,  I plainly stated that the ratings I referenced were for each station's total week numbers and it was possible that Limbaugh's three-hour program out-performed the station overall. (Nielsen doesn't publicly break out ratings by day part.) And that's what Glicklich claimed, insisting Limbaugh's ratings on the two big California stations are way, way up. It's possible. But how high could his ratings be if the overall stations continue to languish in near-obscurity on the AM dial?

Also, Limbaugh's flak reiterated the claim that when Limbaugh “joins a new station, their audience size skyrockets.” Fact: Since Limbaugh's January 1 move on the AM dial in Los Angeles and San Francisco, KEIB's ratings have skyrocked from a .4 to a .5, while KNEW's have fallen from a .8 to a .6. 

I'll leave it to readers to decide who's in the “propaganda” business.

A more pressing question: Why would Clear Channel move the mighty talker off a top-rated talk station in Los Angeles, KFI, and send him down to the far reaches of the AM dial at 1150 to a station known for its weak signal and inability to draw a large audience? Could it be because Limbaugh's show has lost so many advertisers in the wake of  Limbaugh's career-defining Sandra Fluke controversy, which sparked a mass exodus of Madison Avenue clients; so many advertisers that Limbaugh was no longer profitable for KFI?

It doesn't take an MBA to realize paying Rush Limbaugh $50 million a year to anchor cellar-dweller stations in major markets and to host a program that attracts elderly men but fewer national advertisers isn't a blueprint for future success.