Limbaugh Affiliate Cumulus Media Reports Millions In Lost Revenue

Last night, Cumulus Media, a radio company that carries Rush Limbaugh's show on 38 of its stations, announced millions in losses directly attributable to Limbaugh's show.

From Radio Ink (emphasis mine):

Monday evening Cumulus CEO Lew Dickey said the advertiser boycott cost his company “a couple million” dollars in ad revenue in the first quarter and “a couple million” in the second quarter. He said things look like they will be back to normal in June. Cumulus carries Rush Limbaugh 38 markets and blames 1% of the 3.5% drop in revenue for the quarter on the Rush boycott. Dickey said Cumulus was “hit pretty hard by this.”

This report certainly undermines protestations from Limbaugh and his crisis manager that everything is fine.

That said, I want to unpackage this news a bit to: 1) explain how this impacts the marketability of Limbaugh's show; and 2) address Cumulus' remark that business should return to normal in June.

In terms of impact...

Cumulus confirmed that advertiser exits from Limbaugh's show result in lost revenue. This is important when you consider what this means for the overall marketability of Limbaugh's show.

Rush Limbaugh's show is syndicated by Clear Channel's Premiere Radio Networks. Limbaugh is broadcast on approximately 600 stations. Clear Channel carries Limbaugh on some, but the bulk of Limbaugh's platform comes from affiliates.

Cumulus is but one of many affiliates carrying Limbaugh's program. If they're losing money due to advertiser losses, other affiliates are likely also losing money. If carrying Limbaugh on 38 stations results in millions in advertiser losses over the course of two months, then when you factor in all the other affiliates as well as Premiere's own advertiser interests, the scale of lost revenue associated with Limbaugh's show is likely quite significant.

Further, Cumulus (like some other affiliates) pays a hefty price to broadcast Limbaugh in certain markets. So, not only are affiliates directly losing money because they made the business decision to keep Limbaugh, but they're also paying Premiere for the pleasure of losing money. This certainly helps mitigate some of Premiere's losses, but I doubt it compensates for the overall damage that has been done to the business health and marketability of Limbaugh's show.

In terms of business returning to normal in June...

Talkers Magazine reported that Cumulus CEO “Dickey says everything seems pretty much back to normal for June.”

I suspect this comment raises some questions, so I want to quickly address it.

First, I'd note that this remark was made by the CEO of a public company after reporting millions in lost revenue. He had to address the losses and provide some assurances to investors that the losses will be addressed. In other words, I think it's extremely unlikely that he would get up there and admit that they have lost a lot of money and continue to keep on losing money in the future.

Second, we haven't seen any evidence of a massive return of advertisers. At this point, it seems like the advertisers that left are unlikely to return. And, we continue to see advertisers leaving the program. This no doubt has a lasting impact on the long-term marketability of Limbaugh's show. That said, perhaps Cumulus has done a better job of managing their ad traffic and mitigating the damage associated with continually running ads in error.

Third, perhaps Cumulus is operating under the assumption that individuals and organizations will stop engaging on this issue. This is a false assumption. We continue to see evidence of individuals across the country digging in, organizing and contacting their local advertisers. Additionally, the National Organization for Women announced an Enough Rush campaign, which will formally kick off in mid-May. So, it certainly seems that individuals and organizations will keep working toward accountability.

Fourth, Limbaugh continues to make things worse for his intersecting business interests and affiliates. He continues to refuse to issue a full apology to Sandra Fluke, let alone even acknowledge the full scale of his attacks. He's taken to publicly attacking former advertisers lately. And, finally, he continues the same recklessness that put his show in this position in the first place.