The chest pains that sent Rush Limbaugh to the hospital last week turned out to be nothing serious. But for a while, they were enough to give an already ailing radio industry a heart attack.
Limbaugh is expected to return to his show today -- one week after his health scare in Honolulu made worldwide headlines. The prospect of losing the 58-year-old talk radio titan -- in same calendar year that saw the passing of the legendary Paul Harvey -- sent shock waves through the broadcast business. Among the most worried had to be executives at Premiere Radio Networks and parent company Clear Channel Radio, which had just signed Limbaugh last July to a $400 million deal renewing him through 2016.
Nowhere would the loss of Limbaugh's show be felt more deeply than in Chicago, where it long has commanded top ratings and enormous revenue for Citadel Broadcasting news/talk WLS-AM (890). Arbitron averages released Tuesday for all of 2009 showed Limbaugh's time slot (11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday) solidly in first place overall with a 6.0 percent audience share.
That's not to say all Chicagoans embrace Limbaugh with the passion of his "Dittoheads" (the nickname given to fans who agree with Limbaugh's opinions on all issues and stand behind him without question). One consistently outspoken critic, the esteemed Roger Ebert, couldn't resist tweeting more than a dozen zingers about Limbaugh over the weekend. Here's a sampling of Ebert's quips:
- Rush: Hawaii is the only country where the Hawaiian shirts come in S, M, L, XL, Rush, and Sumo.
- Rush: I'm learning this aloha cuisine. Papaya is conservative avocado. Rum punch is conservative iced tea.
- Rush: Nurse at snack time: "You have nuts?" "No!" "You have dates?" "Hey, if I had nuts, I'd have dates!" Ah . . . Har! Har! Har!
- Rush: This hospital food is confusing. I thought I was the smoothie. Blueberry is best for my heart. With ice cream.
- Rush: Our U.S. health care system is the best in the world. The nurses here in Hawaii keep offering me lays.
- Rush: "They told me aloha means hello. Only now do they tell me it also means goodbye. Everybody keeps using it around me."
- Rush hopes docs will discharge him in time to crash the luau at the Obamas.
- Rush says docs found nothing wrong. They're obviously not listeners.
- Surgeons: "Rush doesn't require a heart transplant, but an installation."
- Rush Limbaugh finds one fault with peerless U.S. hospital care: No cigar bars.
- Rush from Honolulu: "The nicest thing about the foreigners working in this hospital is that they're all good Americans."
- Tests find nothing wrong with Rush Limbaugh's heart. Physically.
By Monday, Ebert apparently felt charitable enough (or remorseful enough) to want to take it all back. "I feel bad about my cheap Limbaugh jokes," he tweeted. "Sincere apologies to Rush and you folks. He said he was fine, but that's no excuse."
One other Chicago footnote to the Limbaugh story came from the producers of Second City. Hours before his health scare, the famed improv company announced plans for "Rush Limbaugh! The Musical," a full-scale send-up to run Tuesday and Wednesday nights in the Second City's e.t.c. space, starting in February.
Their last big hit, you'll recall, was "Rod Blagojevich Superstar!"
Elsewhere on the media beat:
- Tuesday turned out to be Brant Miller's last day on the air as morning personality at WLS-FM (94.7). The Citadel Broadcasting "True Oldies" station chose not to renew his contract, which runs through April. Filling in for now will be part-timer Tom O'Toole. A permanent replacement is expected to be named soon. Miller, who'd been hosting mornings from a studio in his home since 2008, continues as chief meteorologist at NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5.
- Newsweb Radio has begun its search for a new general manager of its four simulcast progressive talk stations here -- WCPT-AM (820), WCPY-FM (92.5), WCPT-FM (92.7) and WCPQ-FM (99.9). "You must have a passion for progressive politics, a willingness to do whatever it takes and the creativity to be successful in the third largest radio market as a small player amongst the giants," the company's job posting says. Harvey Wells announced last month that he's stepping down amicably at the end of February after six years as vice president and group station manager for Chicago-based Newsweb.
- In another first for Chicago television, two stations owned by different companies have acquired rights to air syndicated reruns of the same show. Fox network's animated comedy "Family Guy" will be seen on both Tribune Co.-owned WGN-Channel 9 and Weigel Broadcasting's WCIU-Channel 26, starting in the fall of 2011. Channel 26 also picked up "American Dad," another animated series from Twentieth Television.