Everyone Remembers the First Time They Heard Rush

MARK: You know, before Rush, things were grim. You could be a right-wing guy, you could be modestly center right, but you lived in a center-left or far-left world. Basically when you switched on the TV, when you switched on the radio, it was Dan Rather, it was Peter Jennings, it was Oprah, it was Phil Donahue, and there wasn't a lot of talk stations because of the Fairness Doctrine.

It wasn't just that you had to balance out the left-wing talk with the right-wing talk so you could find a really great left-wing guy to give a two-hour show to but then you had to find a right-wing guy to give a two-hour show to. That was all incredibly difficult for most radio station owners. So it was easier just to program soft-and-easy favorites 24 hours a day or Top 40 or country or whatever, than actually trying to run a talk station because of the Fairness Doctrine.

So the Fairness Doctrine didn't mean there was left-wing talk or right-wing talk. It actually meant there was hardly any talk at all. I think when Rush started there were only 200 talk stations in the United States of America. Now it is the dominant form of AM radio and there are thousands and thousands and thousands. And as you know, this show is carried on over 600 of them. So it was completely new.

And as you heard people say over the last few days, he took advantage of that change in the law that had made it just too difficult for program directors at little stations here and there to program talk radio, having to do all this balancing. So it meant that you didn't just have to find a talented guy, you had to find another talented guy who had the completely opposite point of view.

It was a ludicrous system, and so because of that, millions and millions of people -- including millions of people listening right -- now remember the very first time they heard the Rush Limbaugh Show. You've heard a few people talking about that on TV and radio in recent days. Here come Brit Hume; Sean Hannity; Dan Bongino; the president of the District Media Group, Beverly Hallberg; and some other loser. The first time they ever heard Rush.

BRIT HUME: Along comes this guy. You know, I was a reporter working for ABC News at the time, and I remember people saying, "Have you heard about this guy, Rush Limbaugh?" And I started listening to his radio show and it was tremendously fun to listen to.

SEAN HANNITY: ...1987 or '88, and I remember, I was in a radio studio, and somebody told me, "You gotta hear this guy on the radio."

DAN BONGINO: We accidentally flipped on the radio and heard "Talent on loan from God." You heard that, and you said who's this guy? That's the first time, was sitting outside of Queens College and flipping on the dial and hearing the incredible voice of Rush Limbaugh -- and it changed my life.

BEVERLY HALLBERG: My dad, who picked me up from school every day, always had Rush on the radio.

MARK STEYN: The first time I heard him we were driving through the North Maine Woods, and suddenly this voice comes in -- 'cause the radio is, like, automatically scanning for stations -- and we hear Rush for the first time, and we're agog. We all stopped talking. It was amazing. There was nothing like that.

MARK: (chuckles) That was me right at the end there, and I will never forget that. We were very, very deep into the North Maine Woods where no radio station comes through and the only one that kind of really sort of does is 94.9. I think it's off Portland, Maine. But they got a big transmitter on the top of Mount Washington and they're playing that, you know, bland, insipid adult contemporary, which you wouldn't really want to listen to except there is nothing else.

And then even that died, and I forgot to switch the radio off. So we're all just talking and the radio is scanning around the dial, around the dial, around the dial. We drive for whatever it is, 45 minutes, and eventually -- and suddenly, out of nowhere, as I said there -- Rush's voice comes on, and he starts talking about what happens when the Arts and Croissant Crowd descend on your small town, and he's playing Born Free punctuated by gunfire.

And he's referring to a recent press release by the NAGs, the National Association of Gals, which I didn't really know at the time was his version of the National Organization for Women, and we all just stopped talking instantly. I was with two kind of, sort of liberals, but skeptical of the left side of things. And it's not even about the politics, 'cause I saw new to America, and they were visitors from abroad.

We're not really sure of, you know, whoever it was they were talking about back then, Phil Gramm or Dukakis or whoever it was. It was how Rush did it. We had never heard anything like it, and eventually we came to... We were up by Moosehead Lake, and we came to Kokadjo, which is a trading post, and it's the last place you can gas up. It's the last place you can get a sandwich in America before you dive deep through the Allagash Waterway.

And at the end of it, there's the little border post at the New Brunswick frontier, and you're in Canada. So it's the last place you can get gas, the last place you can get a meatball sub in America. And so we get gas, and we come out. We go in and get some food, and we eat it outside on the porch. And we just...

We don't talk about anything else except this incredible guy we just heard doing politics in a way that no one had ever done before and none of us had after heard before. I will never forget that. It just... Rush basically just opened up the possibilities of how you cover politics in that moment. And after I dropped my friends off back in Canada and I got back to New Hampshire, I made sure I found a local affiliate that carried that station, and I was a Rush listener from then on.


MARK: Mark Steyn for Rush. I mentioned earlier, by the way, that until Rush, basically everybody on the right lived in a left-wing world. There was just, you know, Phil Donahue and Dan Rather and all the rest of the gang. And it's different. I think to a certain extent that is still the same. Our culture is left wing and we stand in opposition to that, if you find us, and it's different for lefties and liberals.

They just think the world... All they hear all day long is their own views reflected back at them. And it was always funny to me (chuckles), the one time they didn't was when they had to take their car in to be inspected or to be repaired or whatever. And it was always fantastic, because in my town, all the guys in the body shop listened to Rush while they were working on the car.

So they'd get in the car, retune the radio from NPR to Rush, and they'd forget to tune in back to NPR when they gave the car back to the liberal. So the liberal would, like, drive out of the body shop onto the road and suddenly the radio would come back on and they'd all be saying, "What the hell is this? How is this...?" And they'll be frantically trying to listen to NPR, get back to NPR. But sometimes they didn't, and Rush converted them.