Bad calls can wreck a talk show. When you screen calls for a talk radio show, you are putting the well being of you, your host and the show in the hands of a total stranger that you are essentially vouching for as “air-worthy.” From the moment the engineer activates the phone line to the moment the host moves to the next call, you are holding your breath, hoping the caller doesn’t screw things up. When you screen on the Rush Limbaugh show, you are doing all that… in front of 20 million fans — and it can be daunting. Rush made my job easier.
I remember the day that Kit Carson, Rush’s chief of staff, called me in late 1999 and asked if I was interested in returning to New York City, to try out for the gig, as a Snerdly on the Rush Limbaugh Show. Kit had been pulling double duty, as screener and show observer for months and needed a break. I had moved to Los Angeles in early 1998 to get a change of scenery and now, I was being asked to come back to snowy, crowded Gotham.
I had known Kit and Rush since 1995 when I worked in a support position behind the scenes with his original broadcast partners. I flew to New York and began an extended try out on the show that lasted 2 weeks. It turned into a 6-year run.
My favorite part of screening the show was coming across the wackos and letting Rush have fun with a fun wacko, usually a liberal environmentalist who wants to see $9.00 dollar gasoline; or a defeat for us in the War on Terror, just to teach the “neocons” a lesson. Rush would usually just sit quietly and let em go. I could hear him laughing in the intercom; occasionally he would ask me where I found these people.
It was a dangerous game to play, because every once in a while you would get a bad wacko, usually the call would start this way, “Hi Rush, I love the show, then it would go downhill quickly, “how come, you are covering up for the truth about irradiated vegetables, or have you ever noticed that there is media bias in the NY Times, or can I say hi to my cousin Fred in Chapel Hill or what do you think about neckties?” A call like that can completely wreck the show. But Rush would roll with it. Rush never yelled at me on (or off) the air or made a snide remark to me when a kook got through. He understood that I was trying my best to get him great calls. Besides when I gave him a loser, I felt bad, mostly because I would return to my desk to receive multiple derisive voicemails from friends and families asking, “why’d you put that dud on, in the second hour?” Most people when they screw up in a job don’t do it in front of 10 or 20 million people. Rush elevates everyone’s game.
I worked for Rush through a lot of exciting, nerve wracking and turbulent times: the bitter 2000 election primaries between the McCainiacs the Bush Supporters, the Florida recount, 911, the invasion of Afghanistan, deafness, the McNabb ESPN flap, the smear campaign by the National Enquirer, Iraq, and in my personal life, my marriage and the birth of both my kids. It was my first really grown up job, and it was fun.
But no matter what, Rush didn’t change. Sure he got a little older, we all did, but he didn’t change at his core. Rush, consistently did great shows on the air, and off the air, he was fun loving, hilarious and ridiculously generous. When you were part of the tight-knit EIB team, you are part of the elite in broadcasting. Nobody every quits the EIB — seriously, you only retire or relocate out of NYC. No one quits Rush’s show and goes and works some other job in NYC: there’s no point. This is the top, the Superbowl of Talk Radio. In baseball terms, this is The Show.
I worked with him for 11 years counting the early admin years AND I WAS THE NEW GUY! The real long-termers like his executive producer, Cookie, Joe, Maimone, Coco, Snerdly, Dawn, Larry M, Johnny Donovan, Brian and the Web Team, remain to this day, churning out great EIB stuff. That kind of loyalty doesn’t just happen, unless there is something special there.
OK I would be remiss if I didn’t reveal some secrets, so here goes:
1. Bo Snerdley is real; he is now the Official Obama Criticizer.
2. We never screened out libs, they really go to the top of the line. My personal favorite was Ingrid from Northern California. She was a grade A leftist mouthpiece. Her accent was pure Teresa Heinz Kerry and her politics George Soros. Whenever she would call, she went right to the front of the line, it didn’t matter what she wanted to say, it was going to be GRADE A Moveon.Org talking point good. Rush loved it. I remember a particularly awesome exchange in the late stages of the 04 campaign when Teresa Heinz Kerry had gotten in trouble for telling someone to ‘shove it.’ Rush tried every way he could to get her to say it on the air, Rush wanted to do the A B comparison with TH Kerry…but she wouldn’t go for it. Her call always ended with her hanging up, vowing never to listen again and she always called back. That’s a fan!
3. There is no secret to getting on the show; you just have to be interesting, cogent and passionate.
4. Don’t call to say hi or hello to your brother in law, likewise don’t tell Rush that you agree with him 100%, that you are a Reagan Conservative, except on this one thing—that OBAMA is better for America. You won’t get on; you are a liberal who is lying.
5. No one in this industry does more exhaustive show prep than Rush. The guy is a machine: he is up late, he is up early, and he is constantly pulling stuff that you will be amazed at and all the while enjoying some fine cigars and having a ball playing golf and working with his new favorite gadgets.
6. Rush pays for all the free stuff he gives to the audience. Whether it’s a Select Comfort bed or whatever, if you get something from the big guy, it’s because he actually bought it for you.
7. On the air, he is larger than life, hilarious and a true showman. It is what liberals hate. Rush is doing what he loves, getting paid very well and has a ball doing it. Off the mic he is a regular guy who grew up in Missouri, who always wanted to be heard on the radio—he chased his dream and he got fired a bunch of times chasing it. His studio is a testimony to his regular guy personality. The guy could have a penthouse studio in NYC, instead is comfortable and very classy, with its cigar humidor, conference table and state of the art tech. There is no pretense here, it is function and comfort over flash. It is that work ethic that enabled him to overcome deafness. Remember, Rush is a guy who was the number one talk show host in the industry, probably of all time, and he went completely stone-cold deaf — rather than retire, he got better. Imagine Michael Jordan, playing in his prime with a prosthetic limb — it is amazing to see. So much of what he does is second nature and pure instinct- he is one of the greats.
Screening and working on Rush’s show was like getting a graduate degree in politics, in radio and in life. I learned lessons about work ethic, friendship, trusting your instincts and enjoying life. I will forever be grateful to have worked behind the blinking lights and behind the glass from “a man, a living legend and a way of life.”
Happy Anniversary, Rush and my profound thanks for letting me come along for part of the ride.