Here's to Rush Limbaugh!

I became a Rush Limbaugh fan the first time I heard one of his "homeless updates," featuring the inimitable Clarence "Frogman" Henry on vocals.

Then I heard Klaus Nomi doing "You Don’t Own Me." I’m not sure, but I think it was a "gay community update." I became a devotee.

The year was 1987.

A couple of years later, I was recruited to rescue The Sacramento Union, the oldest daily in the West, from the brink of extinction. It was going to be a tough assignment.

Frankly, as I retell in more depth in my book "Stop the Presses! The Inside Story of the New Media Revolution," I needed a miracle.

I looked around California’s capital city for a personality who captured the imagination of the town. One hot summer day, I was walking down congested L Street and noticed I could actually listen to Rush’s show uninterrupted through the open windows of all the cars waiting for the lights to change.

I had my answer.

Rush Limbaugh was that personality I was looking for. I had heard him boast on the air of "owning" the Sacramento market. He wasn’t kidding. This was where he had made his mark as a local talk show host a few years earlier. Now he had hit the big time in New York syndication.

I decided to cold call Rush and ask whether he would consider writing a column for The Sacramento Union. Much to my surprise, he told me in all the years he had spent in town, he always had wanted to write for the Union. But my predecessors wouldn’t have him!

He was so gracious that he agreed not just to write once a week but every day — on the front page! He also agreed to record radio spots for us to promote the column and the paper on his local affiliate, the flamethrower of the San Joaquin Valley, KFBK.

It seemed to be the little miracle I needed. The column and the reaction to his radio calls to subscribe to The Sacramento Union as the alternative to "the bias of the liberal media" drove circulation for us.

During that time, I got to know a humble Rush Limbaugh through his phone calls in which he would check up on things in his adopted hometown. I think Rush genuinely missed Sacramento during those early New York years. I also got to know Rush’s brother, David, whom I encouraged to write. He eventually became a columnist for WorldNetDaily before launching a career as a best-selling author and a nationally syndicated pundit with Creators Syndicate.

After I left The Sacramento Union, I got a call from Rush asking for help in the preparation of his second book. Wow! His first book, "The Way Things Ought To Be," was one of the biggest best-sellers of all time. It was my privilege to work with him closely for a period of months on what would become "See, I Told You So!" — another mega-blockbuster and, surprisingly, Rush’s last book.

As a side benefit of my collaboration on the book, I got to help plan a giant book party for Rush in Beverly Hills, Calif. Everybody who was anybody was there.

People always ask me, What is Rush really like? The answer is surprising. He’s not the same guy off the air. He’s much more humble — maybe even a tad shy!

It’s remarkable, given his accomplishments.

The man literally saved AM radio. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. He re-energized political debate in this country. He carries the legacy of Ronald Reagan — a true believer in free enterprise, individual rights and personal responsibility who loves to talk about the power of those virtues with a smile on his face. And even with all the new media that have emerged in his shadow, he still represents the gravest threat to his political adversaries, which is why they want to shut him down by bringing back the so-called Fairness Doctrine, which should be called the Hush Rush Bill.

Thank you, Rush Limbaugh, for what you have done.

America would indeed be poorer for your absence from the scene.

You’ve been an inspiration to me and millions of other Americans.