Limbaugh out at WPHT

Rush Limbaugh (far right) will be replaced by Michael Smerconish (not as far right) in the noon-to-3 p.m. time slot at WPHT in Philadelphia.
Rush Limbaugh (far right) will be replaced by Michael Smerconish (not as far right) in the noon-to-3 p.m. time slot at WPHT in Philadelphia.
Posted: April 10, 2012

R USH LIMBAUGH, the dominant force in conservative talk radio in America for more than two decades, is leaving his longtime Philadelphia perch on 50,000-watt AM station WPHT, apparently for an unknown rival.

The dramatic move shakes up the Philly radio market - and arguably the local political scene as well. It's not clear how much the move was influenced by the national uproar over Limbaugh's calling a Georgetown law student "a slut," which has caused at least 67 advertisers to jump ship.

Limbaugh will be replaced from noon to 3 p.m. by hometown-based Michael Smerconish, who now airs in the afternoon-drive slot.

"Premiere [Limbaugh's syndicator] recently notified WPHT they will be syndicating Rush Limbaugh on a new station in Philadelphia," CBS Radio said in a statement emailed to the Daily News Monday night. "As a result, we are pleased to be able to now showcase Michael, who is a well-known and acclaimed broadcaster in the market, in this new time period."

Smerconish said in the statement: "I have missed not having the chance to take WPHT callers in every hour of my program and am ecstatic that this will soon change. WPHT seeks to be live and local - no one is more local than me!"

Industry insiders were speculating that Limbaugh might not leave the Philadelphia airwaves for long, if at all. There are rumors, reported on Talkers.com and by Radio-Info, that the new owner of WKDN-FM, 106.9 - a Camden-based station that has carried Christian broadcasting - may look to add Limbaugh, as well as popular right-wing yakkers Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, who've been off the air in Philadelphia since they were dropped by WPHT more than a year ago.

But if Limbaugh did move to the lesser-known FM station, it would probably be a struggle to rebuild his Philadelphia audience - especially in a competition with the popular and locally based Smerconish.

And that could have big political ramifications in Pennsylvania, considered a key battleground state in the 2012 presidential race.

The No. 1 listened-to radio-talk host in America, Limbaugh has been considered the de facto leader of the Republican Party since the Bush administration ended in 2009. His right-wing screeds have rallied the tea-party base of the GOP against President Obama - and a prolonged absence or diminished presence in Philadelphia would leave a mark politically.

Larry Ceisler, the local political pundit and PR consultant, said the rise of the moderate Smerconish may mean more politically than Limbaugh's move. Limbaugh core listeners, he noted, "are people who are going to be voting against Obama come hell or high water."

In a stunning turn of events, Limbaugh has been fighting to save his show in recent weeks, ever since he lashed out at Sandra Fluke, a 30-year-old Georgetown law student and women's rights activist, calling her "a slut" for advocating wider health-insurance coverage of contraception.

A subsequent apology hasn't stopped a whopping 67 companies - spurred on by liberal activists and a social-media crusade - to drop all advertising on Limbaugh's program.


Contact Will Bunch at bunchw@phillynews.com or 215-854-2957, or follow on Twitter @Will_Bunch. Read his blog Attytood.com.

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