How Rush Limbaugh Came to Be on WBCK, Battle Creek
Back in 1991, I’d been at WBCK for a little over a year doing the Mid-Day show. The Program Director, a giant and jovial guy with a big voice named Smokin’ Joe Dawson, called me into his office and said, “What do think of this guy, Rush Limbaugh? I’m thinking of putting him on WBCK”. I said, “Who is Rush Limbaugh?”
At that time, WBCK was at 930 on the AM dial. Dave Eddy was the Morning Mayor, and Tom McHale was the News Director. I was on from 10 am to 3 pm. Dave Eddy hosted “Midday Magazine” from the McCamly’s Roof Restaurant inside the Stouffer Battle Creek Hotel, from noon to 1 pm. The station was also local from 3 pm to 7 pm. Talknet came on, live via satellite after that, and the station had syndicated programming until 5:30 am. In those days it was a radical idea for a local station to put on a nationally syndicated program during the day. I was skeptical of the idea.
Limbaugh began his syndicated program in 1988. Before that, he had been on several local stations around the country, as a personality and disc jockey. But in 1987, the FCC eliminated the so-called “Fairness Doctrine.” That policy required radio and TV broadcasters to provide contrasting views. Up until that time, most stations, including WBCK, generally stayed away from opinionated and controversial programming. When Limbaugh began his new syndicated show in 1988, one of the first stations to carry the show was AM1360 WKMI in Kalamazoo. The station was once a powerhouse in the ratings before FM stations finally became popular in the mid-1970s. By 1988, stations like WKMI were at a loss as to how they would survive. Music sounded better on FM. Kalamazoo had another AM station that was considered the “News and Information” source. So WKMI put the Rush Limbaugh Show on from noon to 3 pm. Like many stations, they were afraid the FCC might bring back the Fairness Doctrine, so they put the left-leaning “Alan Colmes Show” on right afterward from 3 pm-6 pm.
Almost immediately, the Rush Limbaugh Show took off. His message resonated with a vast audience, energized by the Reagan presidency, and an interesting thing happened. The left-leaning talk shows tanked. The right-leaning shows took off and led by Rush Limbaugh, literally saved the AM Band on the radio. WKMI and hundreds of other AM stations would have turned off their transmitter 25 years ago, were it not for Rush Limbaugh. I started listening to WKMI when I could, to see what the fuss was about. Dawson and General Manager Bill Hennes made the decision, and Rush Limbaugh went on WBCK in 1991, but not live. We had to tape the show each day on big reel-to-reel tapes and play it back from 2 pm-5 pm. A couple of years later, the show moved to its live time slot, from noon to 3 pm.
Rush Limbaugh died on February 17th, 2021 after a year-long battle with lung cancer. He was 70. His final show was on February 2nd. He still sounded great. In the past year, it was common for him to be off for a treatment week, but when he didn’t return this week, many feared the worst.
Over the 30 years, a lot of people have asked me why Rush Limbaugh was so successful. It was a lot of things. He was an advocate of smaller government, and greater personal freedom and was able to articulate points of view that a lot of Americans had, that weren’t discussed anywhere else. He had a great sense of humor. He grew up listening to Chicago Top 40 Jock Larry Lujack and used that to make political talk entertaining. But I think the main reason Rush Limbaugh was so successful was his demeanor. He kept his cool, sounded positive, and almost never sounded angry. He always treated callers with respect, including those who disagreed with him. It remains to be seen who will take over his time slot. It’ll be an impossible act to follow. I’ll miss him.