Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity will likely remain giants in the talk-radio industry and simply move to other stations in large markets not affiliated with Cumulus Media, predicted the publisher of an online magazine about the talk-radio marketplace.
"All of the hoopla about Rush and Sean's radio careers coming to an end are really coming from political opponents, not from the radio industry," says Talkers.com website editor and publisher Michael Harrison, responding to media accounts in Politico and elsewhere that the radio megastars will be dropped by Cumulus stations at the end of the year.
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The duo hold the Top 1 and 2 spots in radio audiences, both nearly doubling the number of listeners posted by the No. 3 finisher, money and finance guru Dave Ramsey.
"This is a political story, not a radio story," Harrison said on Monday in an interview with Newsmax. "It's more about Cumulus not wanting to be in the business of conservative talk radio than it is about watching Sean or Rush dropping like a rock, which is what their enemies would have you believe."
Harrison noted that Hannity and Limbaugh have their syndicated shows broadcast on many Cumulus stations, but they work for Clear Channel's syndicator, Premiere.
Limbaugh launched his nationally syndicated show on powerhouse WABC in New York back in 1988.
But Clear Channel will likely put Limbaugh and Hannity on WOR, another 50,000-watt New York AM station, and similarly move their shows to other Clear Channel-owned stations or to Cumulus rivals in other markets.
Harrison said both Limbaugh and Hannity are both radio celebrities, no matter what station they are on.
"Both are major attractions. They are not dying, not fading. They are still strong and will remain so," Harrison said.
Cumulus will likely embrace replacements with softer personalities like Mike Huckabee and Geraldo Rivera, who are already in their family of hosts and who are more in line with the company's business model.
Cumulus "clearly didn't want to go down the path of heavy partisan politics," Harrison said. "They are not stupid people. I'm sure they will do it well. This is a business decision."
And one, he adds, which has been in the works for some time, prompting speculation that large-scale changes were afoot.
"Some of the moves that Clear Channel has made — the purchase of WOR in New York — are really a hint that something is coming down. But in the end, it's just going to be a shuffle from one station to another," Harrison said.
Harrison said Cumulus will promote personalities like Michael Savage, who he says has tempered his performance amid concerns over being hyper-partisan to a more populist presentation, using softer subjects and more humor.
Savage currently airs across the Cumulus talk radio network at nights and has been drawing phenomenal ratings. Already there is talk among industry insiders that Savage could be moved to compete directly against Limbaugh or Hannity.
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"He has made a conscious effort to reposition himself to be perhaps more in tune with the Cumulus philosophy," Harrison said, noting that Savage, Huckabee,
and Rivera all work for Cumulus, while Limbaugh and Hannity always worked for Clear Channel.
While Cumulus retains a lot of mega-stations in big markets in the talk-radio arena, Clear Channel, he said, has more stations than any other company in the country, along with tremendous resources.
"Talk radio is talent-driven," Harrison said. "Rush and Sean are so popular that in spite of their exaggerated demise, if they were to move to the Internet and satellite radio, people will find them."
As for Cumulus, Harrison is not certain whether the company will look for emerging new stars to fill the gap, when — and if — Hannity and Limbaugh leave. "If they look around, and are open to hiring new up-and-coming talent, they will find plenty of that."
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