I worked in Radio for 20 years, from 1987 to 2007. During that time, I learned a lot of little tricks about how things really work, and have gotten a good nose for smelling bullshit (especially because like everyone else in the business I’ve helped spread my share).
Lately there’s been a lot of talk about the strength and alleged popularity of Rush Limbaugh, and how he’s using them to keep the Republican party in lockstep to his vision of the world.
The most commonly thrown around number (even though there’s no factual evidence to back it up, as pointed out by MSNBC) is 20 million listeners. Never mind the fact that the “20 million” number came from Rush at his peak, not necessarily today, we’ll take that number as read.
Yes, it’s bullshit. You know it’s bullshit. But as someone from outside the business, do you realize just how much bullshit it is? The answer might surprise you. Here’s how, I can guarantee you, that number was arrived at:
Radio counts listeners in quarter hour increments. There are two ways of measuring them: “cume” and “average quarter hours” (AQH). They’re just what they sound like: total number of quarter-hours listened and average listeners in a quarter hour.
The numbers put out by people like Rush are weekly cume. The trick with cume is that if you listen for 15 minutes, you’re one listener. Listen for a half hour, you’re two. The full hour, four, and so on.
If most of Rush’s listeners join his show at the top and listen to all three hours, each of those people counts as 12 listeners every day. If they listen all week long, then each of those people counts as 60 listeners.
See how quickly numbers get inflated?
Even without factoring in “Best of Rush” and weekend/overnight replays, the real number of people actually listening to Rush (if you buy his 20 million argument, which was at his PEAK, not necessarily now) is closer to 350,000 to half a million people. Out of a country of 350 million.
In other words, only one tenth of one percent of the population of the United States listens to Rush Limbaugh.
And that one tenth of one percent is controlling the policy of the Republican Party.
Think about it.