That Time I Interviewed Rush Limbaugh

The mistake I made when I met Rush Limbaugh 30 years ago was that I thought he was just kidding.

The bluster, the self-promotion, the exaggerated outrage of the radio star, who died Wednesday at 70, was so over the top you’d think he was trying to portray every liberal’s idea of a stereotypical right wing nut on the radio.

When I visited him in his WABC studio in a New York skyscraper next to Penn Station, the eight lights blinking on his phone (though he’d never put a caller through) he was going on about condoms in the school. Why not just have a complete show and tell session between the principal and school nurse, he exclaimed. “If we’re going to be ridiculous about this, let’s be all the way ridiculous about it!”

And I thought that was his shtick — taking everything to their extremes for comic effect. 

Surely, it was working. Even then the one time Kansas City disc jockey had an audience of 1.5 million on 323 stations, with 6 million different people listening in a week (which would double to 650 stations and 15 million listeners by the time he took his final commercial break).

And what once seemed like oafish bad taste — playing Clarence “Frogman” Henry’s “Ain’t Got No Home” for his homeless updates, turned dangerous as the guy who’d marry four times coined the term FemiNazis, doubted Obama’s birthplace, imagined “death panels” a part of Obamacare — all the way up to promoting Trump and doubting the results of the last election. (And suggesting, outrageously, that Democrats may have been behind the Jan. 6 uprising).

But back then, it almost seemed like he was exaggerating for effect.

“Our sole reason for existing is to acquire an audience,” he told me. “And if it’s good quality and a lot of fun, and not available anywhere else, they’ll tune in.” 

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