Mar 23, 2021 - Economy & Business

The rush to replace Rush

Illustration of hands reaching out for an old fashioned microphone.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Conservative commentator and longtime talk radio host Dana Loesch has signed a new three-year deal with Radio America, a conservative talk radio network, Loesch tells Axios.

Details: Loesch's new contract will keep the ‘The Dana Show’ at the 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. time-slot, where she used to directly compete with the late Rush Limbaugh.

  • "I do feel that I'm well-positioned to fill the void," says Loesch. "I've been in this slot for years and if there's any program positioned to do it, it's mine."

Catch up quick: Radio America first decided to syndicate Loesch's show nationally during the same hours as Limbaugh in 2014.

  • At the time, "Rush's show was so big and so powerful that there were very few competitors in his time slot," Radio America chief operating officer Mike Paradiso tells Axios.
  • "When we did it, we were really one of the few to directly challenge him. In the markets where she did compete head to head with him, Dana has done very well over the last few years," Paradiso said.

Why it matters: Loesch is one of several conservative talk show hosts eager to fill the void at the 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. time slot following Limbaugh's death last month.

  • Last week, Cumulus Media's Westwood One announced that Dan Bongino, the conservative podcaster and personality, would host a new show called "The Dan Bongino Show," also in Limbaugh's old time slot Monday-Friday.
  • Loesch's show will be aired in close to 200 markets nationwide, Paradiso tells Axios. Bongino's show will launch in 24 markets nationwide, per Westwood One, including in places like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.
  • "The Rush Limbaugh Show" is distributed across more than 600 stations nationwide by Premiere Networks, a subsidiary of iHeartMedia.

Be smart: Hundreds of radio stations around the country are eagerly waiting to see whom Premiere Networks will put in Limbaugh's old time slot.

  • Paradiso says most stations are waiting to see who Premiere might permanently replace Limbaugh's slot with, so that they can determine whether to air programming from Premiere Networks with a new host, Westwood One with Bongino as host, Radio America with Loesch as host, or another network, like Cox, with Erick Erickson as host.
  • On Tuesday, Premiere Networks confirmed that it would continue to air old clips from ‘The Rush Limbaugh Show," with rotating guest hosts for now.

Amid the competition, Loesch is the incumbent. But she's competing against newcomers like Bongino that have made names for themselves on digital channels like Facebook and with podcasts.

  • "I do think it's one thing to have a podcast, but to do radio, to be able to entertain for hours straight like that — three hours straight and do breaking news — that's very much a skill, and it's honed over a period of time," she says.
  • "I like the competition, and I'm the only woman that's doing it. Out of all these dudes I still feel like I have the biggest cigar, so to speak," Loesch added.

The big picture: Limbaugh's death came in a moment of crisis for the radio industry that he helped pioneer.

  • Terrestrial radio still reaches more people than any other type of medium in the U.S. — largely thanks to cars — but its business model has collapsed in the streaming era.
  • Radio revenues dropped nearly 25% last year amid the pandemic. Analysts predict a much smaller rebound for radio this year than other traditional ad mediums, like billboards and national TV.

What to watch: Radio networks are under pressure to capture the attention of younger audiences. "We're at the sea-change moment," says Paradiso. "At some point, the stations need to make a shift to bring in younger listeners." 

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