Cumulus Media Networks sees the recent controversy surrounding Rush Limbaugh as providing a “real opportunity” for its new Mike Huckabee radio program to succeed.
In a media conference call Monday, Cumulus Media, Inc. President and Chief Executive Officer Lewis Dickey was asked how the firestorm following Limbaugh's misogynistic attacks on Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke would affect the company's earnings. Cumulus currently carries Limbaugh on 35 of its 570 stations.
In response, Dickey acknowledged that the advertiser exodus from Limbaugh's program has caused the company “logistical difficulties” as companies demanded that their ads be pulled from the show. But Dickey went on to say that the controversy would be “very helpful” to subsidiary Cumulus Media Networks in their effort to launch The Mike Huckabee Show, scheduled to debut April 2 in the same time slot as Limbaugh on 110 radio stations.
“There's obviously some pluses and minuses associated with all of this,” said Dickey. “But on the plus side, it's going to really be very helpful to us with our new show launch.”
Dickey first stated that the scrutiny of Limbaugh for his comments about Fluke - calling her a “slut” and a “prostitute” - had affected Cumulus in a negative way.
The Cumulus CEO said that the company had “had some logistical issues, primarily in swapping out network spots in the ABC News casts that go in there.” He added, “We've been working with our advertising partners on a very constructive basis to accommodate them wherever necessary.”
So far, more than 100 advertisers have distanced themselves from Limbaugh and at least two radio stations have dropped his program since he first made the comments, despite two widely-criticized attempts at apologies.
Dickey, however, also seemed optimistic that Limbaugh's problems could be an opportunity for Cumulus's new Huckabee program, which he said was intended to compete directly with the radio giant.
"[W]e've also seen a real opportunity with this in the marketplace to talk about our new show that will compete head to head with Rush, which is the Mike Huckabee show," Dickey said. “And we're launching that next month and it will be positioned again with our affiliates as 'more conversation and less confrontation.'”
Dickey went on to say: “The timing is pretty opportunistic to be launching what's really the first head-to-head competitor with him in 20 years there. We're also pleased to announce our progress on that is that we're now launching The Mike Huckabee Show with 110 affiliates, making this one of the most successful new show launches ever in syndicated radio.”
Dickey did not indicate which stations might drop Limbaugh for Huckabee. Among those Cumulus stations that air Limbaugh are WABC in New York, WLS in Chicago, and WMAL in Washington, D.C.
Last week, Media Matters pointed out that the upcoming launch of Huckabee's broadcast could provide a safe harbor for advertisers and stations seeking to distance themselves from Limbaugh.
Dickey's comments came the same day that Daily Beast and Newsweek columnist David Frum wrote a lengthy piece indicating Huckabee might be the prime replacement for Limbaugh.
Huckabee's competition threatens Limbaugh not only because Huckabee has already proven himself an attractive and popular TV broadcaster, but also because Huckabee is arriving on the scene at a time when Limbaugh's business model is crashing around him.