Published February 4, 2020
Political talk radio didn’t really exist before Limbaugh. That was in part due to the Fairness Doctrine, which required broadcasters to present all sides of opinion when discussing public issues. The doctrine’s repeal in 1987 opened the door for shows that presented only one side of an issue, which Limbaugh sprinted through.
Limbaugh’s first innovation was to make the host, not the guests or the listeners, the show’s star. Television talk shows at the time had star hosts, such as Phil Donahue or Mike Douglas, but people watched to see who they interviewed, not hear them pontificate. Even the reigning late-night king, Johnny Carson of “The Tonight Show,” was primarily an interviewer rather than a performer. Limbaugh’s nationally syndicated show rejected this tested model in favor of extended monologues. He might have guests or take calls, but people tune in to hear what Limbaugh has to say about whatever is in the headlines.
Henry Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.