Limbaugh's Real Audience

20 Million Limbaugh Listeners? Hardly.—David Frum

Andrew Sullivan posted a letter today from a reader disputing the oft-heard statistic of 20 million Rush Limbaugh listeners. In terms of actual human beings with addresses and voting registrations, the true number is probably quite far south of 2 million—and dropping fast.

Tim Mak now of Politico did the reporting at the old FrumForum site about how talk radio hosts were trapped and forced to compete for a constantly shrinking audience:

According to Scott Fybush, the proprietor of North East Radio Watch, talk radio has lost 30-40% of its ad revenues over the past two years.

Further, in an interview with a talk radio trade publication, Talkers Magazine, late last year, Talk Radio Networks CEO Mark Masters said: “2008 will be known as the year that weak syndicated programs began dying off in droves,” adding that “it has only just begun.”...

One of the most civil voices in talk radio, Michael Medved, explains the economic pressure upon the industry. He told NewMajority: “In this [economic] environment, you have something of a push to be outrageous, to be on the fringe, because what you’re desperately competing for is… P-1 listeners [those who tune in most frequently]. The percentage of people on the fringe who are P-1s is quite high,” he explained. As a result, talk radio hosts are feeling more pressure than usual to yell harder, scream louder, and insult further. Talk shows “are fighting for an ever- smaller pie, [which means that] you’ve got to be even louder about it because you’re trying to get the attention of an ever-smaller niche,” said Medved.