Special Report

Huckabee Stars in RINO Radio

Who are the Dickey brothers and why do they hate the conservative movement?

By 4.3.12

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RINO Radio?

Republican In Name Only Radio?

Taking on… Rush Limbaugh????????

And demeaning the audience of one's would-be customers… this is a business proposition? Seriously?

There's two parts of this discussion: talk radio and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

Let's start with talk radio and the basics. All of which are now out there in the Land of Google thanks to the sponsors of this project seeking -- and getting -- their fair share of tons of PR. So that being the case… let's work our way through their pitch and what they're saying. Saying on the record, incredibly enough.

Cumulus Media, says Reuters, recently "sent out an email blast to fellow radio station owners with a photoshopped picture of former U.S. Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, promoting him as the conservative talk radio host of the future." Cumulus, you need to know, recently swallowed Citadel, setting it up with about 570 stations across the country, notably including WABC in New York, one of the nation's largest and the flagship station for Rush Limbaugh.

On this past Sunday, the Cumulus/Huckabee venture to capture the conservative radio market got a roll out in… yes, really… the New York Times.

Says the Reuters story -- really! -- (emphasis in bold):

"They are going after Rush's affiliates," said one radio company executive who received Cumulus' email and spoke on condition of anonymity. "They are positioning Huckabee as the safe, non-dangerous alternative to Rush and saying to station owners, 'If you are looking for conservative content, we want you to consider our guy instead of theirs.'"

Another story, this one in the Wall Street Journal, reports:

With the slogan "more conversation, less confrontation," the syndicator behind "Huckabee," Cumulus Media Networks, has been pitching the new show to advertisers as a less combative alternative to Mr. Limbaugh. Cumulus is a unit of Cumulus Media Inc., which owns 570 radio stations.

According to the story in the New York Times (more of which shortly), Huckabee would be appearing on 180 stations (Rush is on over 600), and Cumulus itself carries the Limbaugh show on "dozens of its stations" including on New York's WABC, the nation's largest. Contracts being what they are, Rush won't be moving anywhere in the immediate future in terms of WABC. But contracts also have to be renewed, and what happens to Rush Limbaugh in New York when his contract is up in 2013 and Cumulus is in charge? According to the WSJ story:

In an interview, Cumulus's Mr. Dickey said he would "honor" existing contracts with the Limbaugh show, including at WABC. But he didn't rule out a switch to Mr. Huckabee in the future. "We are in favor of eating our own cooking," he said.

We are in favor of eating our own cooking? Aside from quite obviously dissing his own current radio superstar -- a decidedly novel way of doing business… what is that supposed to mean? 

Startlingly, it means Cumulus intends to gamble investor millions on yanking Rush and substituting RINO radio in his place. Or, as it was put this way in the Reuters story: 

"I can guarantee you that the minute Cumulus' contract with Rush expires in New York, they will replace him with Huckabee," said Joel Hollander, the former CEO of CBS Radio now running private investment firm 264 Echo Place Partners.

Who is the "we" in this amazingly naïve venture, kemosabe?

"We" in this instance are the owners of Cumulus. The Dickey brothers, Lew and John Dickey by name. It is brother John Dickey who gushes such amazingly politically naïve bravado about "eating our own cooking." One can only gape in wonder that whatever their business chops, the Brothers Dickey seem to have wandered onto the American political scene (guiding investors in this venture, no less) with all the extraordinary bright-eyed innocence of a toddler in a mine field.

Have the Dickeys no understanding that sending the signal to America's conservatives that they are plotting to substitute someone who is seen by the conservative talk radio base as just another dime-a-dozen Republican moderate ex-governor for… yes indeed… Mr. Conservative Talk Radio Himself… is a sure-fire way to send conservatives fleeing this peculiar Cumulus venture before it even gets off the ground? 

Do the Dickeys not understand that the very idea of this -- fairly or unfairly -- smacks of a couple of corporatists trying to force a top down change on America's conservative talk radio audience? For no other reason than that the Dickeys' own personal tastes in politics apparently runs to RINOism?

Apparently not.

Let's go through what's being said here. Radio being a communications business, what exactly is being communicated by Cumulus and the Dickeys in all these bizarre public statements?

The slogan for this Dickey brothers venture is: "More conversation, less confrontation."

What message does this slogan communicate to conservatives? In the words of then former Governor Ronald Reagan (to the New York Times in December 1976) after the moderate Gerald Ford went down to defeat, "a political party is not a fraternal order." The Dickey brothers' slogan in essence is a red flag -- or is that a white flag? -- signaling that they want to replace Rush Limbaugh's Reagan conservatism with the radio version of precisely the "fraternal order" politics Reagan himself not only famously objected to but decisively defeated. In other words: can't we all just get along?

There was, of course, a serious political reason for Reagan's objection, and he had stated it back in 1975 in his famous speech to the Conservative Political Action Committee. The real goal of those who advocated "fraternal order" politics, Reagan said, was "to fuzz up and blur even more the differences between ourselves and our opponents." This is, based on what the Dickeys themselves are saying in repeated interviews, precisely the goal of Cumulus, Huckabee, and their venture in RINO Radio.

This latest war on conservatism, radio-version, is cloaked in the language of radio. Brother Lew Dickey tells the Times that "We haven't seen the 25-54 results with the stable of talent that's out there today. We think we can improve on that with this approach."

This is, of course, a reference to the 25-54 demographic that is considered radio audience gold. And in addition to the RINOism of Mike Huckabee that they believe will somehow appeal to conservatives, the Dickeys have signed up… Geraldo Rivera and CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

This is firing up the conservative radio base of the future?

John Dickey says, "We are in favor of eating our own cooking."

So what has Governor Huckabee been cooking politically? The Governor is one of the nicest people walking the planet. So too were Ronald Reagan's GOP opponents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, both of whom are dwarfed in history by Reagan, their moderate politics getting Ford defeated by Jimmy Carter and Bush by Bill Clinton. Why would transferring all of that baggage to radio be a winner?

This isn't about the personal -- it's about the conservative political. The Cumulus/Huckabee problem is precisely what they view as their asset: Mike Huckabee's celebrity that was acquired when he ran a losing race for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination. The problem: Candidate Huckabee went through the usual political proctology exam… and appalled conservatives gave him a decided thumbs down at the distasteful results.

Why?

Here is now-Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Pat Toomey on Huckabee. Toomey, of course, is the conservative Republican who forced Arlen Specter from the GOP in 2010 and then captured Specter's seat. But in 2007 Toomey was head of the free-market Club for Growth, and wrote a devastating Huckabee critique in National Review.

Said Toomey of the man Cumulus is trying to sell as the conservative who should somehow replace Rush Limbaugh:

Given his folksy charm, social conservative credentials, and embrace by the mainstream media, it is not surprising that some are increasingly enamored with him. But this flirtation does a great disservice to the conservative movement if it overlooks Huckabee's stunning record of big-government liberalism.

So imagine you turn on your radio one fine day ready to hear Rush -- and instead you hear folksy conversation from the man of whom Toomey said this:

During Huckabee's tenure as governor, the average Arkansan's tax burden increased 47 percent, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A dyed-in-blue tax hiker, Huckabee supported raising sales taxes, gas taxes, grocery taxes, even nursing home bed taxes. He virulently opposed a congressional moratorium on taxing Internet access, and sat on the sidelines while his Democratic legislature pushed the largest tax hike in Arkansas history into law. What's more, on his watch, and frequently at his behest, state spending increased by 50 percent, more than double the rate of inflation, and the number of state government workers rose by 20 percent.

Toomey didn't stop there, also calling Huckabee a "big-government liberal… who takes pleasure in attacking the Republican Party as the 'party of Wall Street..'"

Toomey added:

Huckabee makes no secret of his desire to turn the GOP leftward, calling himself a "different kind of Republican," adopting protectionist positions, and peppering his campaign speeches with the kind of class warfare rhetoric one expects to hear from John Edwards. No doubt, this is the reason that the liberal media is so smitten with him.

Instead of talking about curtailing government spending, Huckabee refuses to endorse President Bush's veto of a vastly expanded S-CHIP. He is an unabashed fan of No Child Left Behind and an opponent of private school choice. Huckabee is also quickly becoming the labor unions' favorite Republican, recently gaining a union endorsement along with Hillary Clinton. 

Not to be forgotten in all this is Governor Huckabee's pardon of one Maurice Clemmons. Mr. Clemmons, you may recall, was facing 95 years in the slammer for a long and lengthier still list of crimes discussed here. He was eventually pardoned by the-then Governor. In 2009, Clemmons materialized in Lakewood, Washington (here) where he shot four police officers to death. Lakewood, Washington -- one long way from a prison in Arkansas where Clemmons was scheduled to be spending 95 years until Governor Huckabee let him go.

So in other words, with Rush out of the way, the "cooking" Cumulus intends to serve up to Rush-fans and fans of conservative talk radio in general is cooking spiced with:

- Tax increases
- Class warfare
- Big Government
- The guy whose pardon for a career criminal ended in murderous disaster for four policemen.

All these ingredients stirred and delivered in a folksy, conversational style, but of course.

The Dickeys are "pitching the new show to advertisers as a less combative alternative to Mr. Limbaugh."

It's hard to underestimate the impression this will surely leave with many conservatives. The implication here, intended or not, is that fans of conservative talk radio, of Rush or Sean or Mark Levin or Glenn Beck or Michael Savage or whomever are… well….Neanderthals.

Instead of communicating respect for would-be listeners, the Dickeys telegraph that any conservative who enjoys compelling, educational, informative, and entertaining talk radio -- precisely the kind of radio Rush and his compadres provide five days a week for three hours a day -- that the Dickeys believe they -- the conservative audience -- are, as mentioned, Neanderthals. Primitives. The uncouth, great unwashed.

All of this Huckabee, Geraldo, and Sanjay business presented, mind you, as some sort of fabulous new idea for conservative talk radio. (I should say here I like Geraldo. Engaging, gutsy, smart. As seen here, he now has his own Fluke-like controversy over his comments about Trayvon Martin wearing a hoodie, and he too has just journeyed down the apology trail. Will this unnerve the Dickeys? If they view Rush as a liability… what about Geraldo? Latest controversy or not, Geraldo is great to the troops. But in terms of conservative talk radio? If there's one thing Geraldo has never been, that would be a fixture in the conservative movement. To pretend otherwise would peg Geraldo as something he is utterly incapable of being -- a phony. As a plug-in-host in a billing that is supposed to be about conservative radio minus Rush? Geraldo? Geraldo!!!! How about the newly unemployed Keith Olbermann? That makes about as much sense.)

As the New York Times has noted: "Other news media personalities, like Bill O'Reilly, have tried to go up against Mr. Limbaugh and failed…" This is no small observation. Unlike Huckabee, Bill O'Reilly is an enormously successful Fox host and has been one for years.

Which leads to what would seem to be a common sense observation.

There is only one person who will get to decide when Rush is replaced. That person's name? That's right: Rush Limbaugh.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Rush Limbaugh personally saved AM radio. It is he who is responsible for giving all these hundreds of radio stations across the land increased value, making of conservative talk radio an enormous profit center.

All this to be sacked in New York or somewhere else in the name of a miserably failed idea called "diversity"??? By a couple of rich RINOs who are painfully illustrating with every utterance that they not only don't understand their prospective conservative audience -- they don't much care for it either?

Let's ask a common sense question about diversity on the radio.

Let's say you are a huge Country and Western music fan. Where are you going to tune in to listen to C&W? On a station that spends its musical day playing the "diversity" game by alternating C&W with, say, Hip Hop, Swing, Jazz, Rock and Roll and Classical? Really? In this day and high-tech age where you can find entire channels devoted to each of the above?

Of course not.

Why in the world would it be any different for talk radio?

This isn't the radio world of 10 or 15 years ago. It seems from here that the Dickeys are not only not living in the future (the Reuters story has Huckabee being promoted as "the conservative talk radio host of the future") but are in fact clinging to the past.

Mixing formats -- "diversity" on the radio -- would certainly seem like a sure way to lose your audience today. In a day and age when there are all these other radio formats out there -- satellite, live streaming, Apps, podcast downloading -- if conservative favorite Rush is disappeared from your local dial, why wouldn't you leave as well? It certainly seems that the rational thing here would be to find the most compelling broadcasters with a track record, a significant and long track record, who will retain your target audience and build on it with all demographics. Attracting the largest audience which in turn is loyal to the host and the host's advertisers. The combination is what makes for a successful radio business.

The illogic in attacking the Babe Ruth of talk radio (seen here with his audience of fans) should be obvious to anybody with a business degree and for that matter to plenty of people without one.

In short, what seems to be going on here with this Cumulus/Huckabee gambit is a top-down, shove-it-down-the-conservative-throat concept of talk radio. Personally delivered, replete with roll-outs in the New York Times and Media Matters, by the RINO Brothers… ah… Dickey Brothers.

Ratings.

As readers of this space know, we have focused in the last couple weeks on the far-left MSNBC. In the course of looking at MSNBC, an interesting fact popped up that is extremely relevant here.

Have you ever heard of an MSNBC program called Lockup? If not, here's a link to a segment on YouTube. Take a good look at this thing.

What is it? It's a program about prisoners in prison. Featuring tattooed, violent, muscled guys behind bars. What does something like this have to do with anything?

Because…wait for it… Lockup is on opposite… yes indeed… Huckabee. The very Fox News weekend show hosted by Mike Huckabee, a show that features the video version of Huckabee's proposed radio show. And what's going on here in the world of TV ratings?

As reported by Mediabistro, Mike Huckabee is getting… well… the ratings daylights beaten out of his show by a bunch of guys with tattoos.

Now, television is a tough, take-no-prisoners business, no pun intended.

But not to put too fine a point on it, so is politics. One of the most famous American sayings about politics came from Finley Peter Dunne's fictional political observer "Mr. Dooley" -- well over a hundred years ago. "Politics ain't bean bag" said Mr. Dooley, and in Dooley's day there was no radio, not to mention conservative talk radio.

As it has evolved, conservative talk radio hosts have had to incorporate Mr. Dooley's savvy with their own native radio skills, the two added to a considerable knowledge of conservatism. Quite obviously, the hosts are different one from another. Rush is not Sean who is not Mark who is not Beck who is not Savage etc.

What these hosts all have in common, however, is the ability to get -- and keep -- an audience. They do this, each in their own way, by being, as noted earlier, compelling as well as educational, entertaining as well as informative.

And, of course -- conservative. Answering a decades' long complaint from conservatives about the liberal dominance of the media. Or, as it were, appealing to a massive market share where liberalism… served straight up or watered down…. repeatedly fails outright.

Radio, for whatever reason, has been a medium liberals simply cannot master. One of the most articulate liberal spokesmen in recent American politics was former New York Governor Mario Cuomo. Who was trotted out as the liberal-to-beat-Rush-at-his-own-game. Cuomo wasn't even facing Rush directly in the same time slot… and he still failed. The loquacious former Mayor of New York Ed Koch took a stab at talk radio. Ditto on the results. Who can forget Air America? America, that's who.

And with all of this in mind… the RINO plan here is to have Mike Huckabee unseat Rush? To potentially push Rush Limbaugh off the air in large markets owned by Cumulus -- all in the name of RINO Radio?

Damage to the conservative movement.

What's the ripple effect here? What penalty to conservatives is there if (when?) this RINO Radio scheme falls flat? Well, sure there can be a negative effect on the conservative movement. If you have a couple of RINO corporatists (the Dickey brothers) and their unwary investors with little if zero knowledge with the ins and outs of conservative politics -- but they have the financial ability to just arbitrarily pull the plug on Rush or anybody else? Of course this can hurt conservatives.

A tiny, tiny sampling of what can happen is already evident in San Francisco. There Cumulus has control of KSFO, which was, until January 3rd of this year, broadcasting Rush in their 9-noon time slot (remembering this is West Coast time). Apparently anticipating Huckabee, they pulled Rush -- and substituted former Arizona Congressman JD Hayworth while waiting for the Huckabee show to start this month.

This site here shows the ominous results. Almost the moment Rush disappeared from KSFO in January, the station's ratings, at least as published here, took a tumble. 

Which is to say, if this is the Dickey strategy, it is already looking pretty peaked before it's even out of the gate.

The fact of the matter is that RINO Radio appears to be nothing more than the radio version of what Pat Toomey observed about Mike Huckabee in 2007:

Huckabee makes no secret of his desire to turn the GOP leftward, calling himself a "different kind of Republican."

Who is supposed to be buying all this RINO Radio?

Why, say press reports, 140 stations! Or maybe 180, as the Times now reports. Hmmmmm. OK.

So out of curiosity, if I may be so bold, where's the list of 140? The New York Times rhapsodizes that 180 stations are launching with The Huck and RINO Radio. OK. Station ID's please? Markets please? Cities? How about villages or boroughs? How about non-Cumulus stations doing this? Call me a skeptic, but after all this fuss… in the words of the immortal Jerry McGuire… show me the money! According to the Reuters story, John Dickey "declined to name which ones or where they were located." Uh-huh.

These unquestioning media reports about all of this are coming from the same kind of people who still think Al Gore is an ex-president.

One last thing.

What do you think our far-left friends over at Media Matters think of all this? They, after all, have spent weeks now trying -- and failing abjectly -- to strip Rush Limbaugh from every one of his 600-plus stations in a phony, ginned-up hate campaign designed to intimidate Rush's sponsors.

What does John Dickey say of this? Take a look over here at Media Matters where our left-wing friends seem all but jubilant that what they have failed to accomplish, the Dickey brothers and Mike Huckabee are going to do for them.

One can only marvel at Dickey saying that the leftist attacks on Rush led by Media Matters have provided the Dickeys and Huckabee with a "real opportunity" that would be "very helpful." As if this wasn't dumb enough as a sure-fire way to alienate a prospective conservative audience, Dickey plowed on by saying that "…on the plus side, it's going to really be very helpful to us with our new show launch."

Wow. How politically inept is that? Media Matters supplies the template for what is going to be acceptable conservative talk radio in the eyes of the far-left…and the Dickey brothers plunk down the cash!

Message to conservatives: Media Matters loves Mike Huckabee! And the New York Times hasn't loved a "conservative" with such fervor since it regularly lathered over the pre-2008 John McCain. Speaking of which, when will Cumulus sign RINO devotee Megan McCain?

It would be impossible to end without taking note of Governor Huckabee's gleeful reaction to the Fluke episode (which, by the way, in the end has boosted Rush's audience between 10% and 60% across those various 600-plus stations. His listeners of 23 years rallied for Rush in a major backlash.)

Said the Governor: "I'm not a person who would call anyone by names that would cause my late mother to come out of her grave and slap me to the floor."

Maybe so.

But one suspects if Rush Limbaugh had been Governor of Arkansas instead of Mike Huckabee -- Governor Limbaugh would never have pardoned Maurice Clemmons.

Then again, that would have meant more confrontation and less conversation.

Welcome to RINO Radio.

Bad business? Or just bad business for conservatives?

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.