Rush Limbaugh was born in Cape Girardeau into a prominent Missouri family. His grandfather was Ambassador to India during the Eisenhower administration. An uncle was appointed federal judge by Ronald Reagan and a cousin was appointed to the U.S. District Court by George W. Bush. His father was a prominent attorney and his brother is an attorney.
He started in radio as a disc jockey on KGMO in Cape Girardeau while he was still in high school, using the on-air name of “Rusty Sharpe”. His parents insisted that he go to college. He attended Southeast Missouri State University but dropped out after two semesters.
Like most people in radio, Rush worked in several markets and numerous stations over the years. One employer, Taft Broadcasting, told him that he would never make it as an air talent and advised him to consider a sales career.
While in Kansas City, Rush left radio in 1979 to work for the Kansas City Royals as director of promotions. During his time with Royals he developed a close friendship with George Brett. However, it wasn’t long before he decided to return to radio.
It was President Ronald Reagan who ultimately gave Rush Limbaugh his “opportunity of a lifetime”. In 1987 President Reagan successfully, and over the objections of Congress, threw out the “Fairness Doctrine” which had required any station airing editorial comments to provide free time to the those with opposing views. In a Wall Street Journal editorial, Daniel Henninger wrote; “Ronald Reagan tore down this wall (the Fairness Doctrine) in 1987….and Rush Limbaugh was the first man to proclaim himself liberated from the East Germany of liberal media domination.”
Following his success in Sacramento, Rush moved to New York City and began his national radio show on WABC. Soon he had more listeners than any other talk show host. It has been said that Rush Limbaugh single-handedly saved AM radio.
Limbaugh’s impact on radio and America has been huge. Before Rush, Talk Radio, was a minor niche format which generally balanced conservative views with liberal ones. But, after Rush Talk Radio is almost totally Conservative. His success has spawned many imitators, some of whom got their starts by guest hosting on Rush’s program. In 1994, after achieving control of Congress for the first time in 40 years, several newly elected Republicans acknowledged Rush’s impact by calling themselves “the Dittohead caucus”.
Following the defeat of George H.W. Bush by Bill Clinton in 1992, former President Reagan sent a letter to Limbaugh thanking him for his support of conservative principles and calling him “the Number One voice for conservatism in our country.”
Rush Limbaugh received the prestigious Marconi Radio Award for Syndicated Radio Personality five times, he was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1993, and he was also a member of the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame. In 2020, he was awarded the Medal of Freedom. He was also diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer that year, and he passed away on February 17th, 2021.