Does it take any special skill to emerge as a pundit in today’s 24/7 cable landscape? Rush Limbaugh thinks the answer is NO.
During today’s program, Limbaugh reminisced about the days when a TV appearance was still a big deal, long before there were 500 channels on the cable lineup. He added some particularly insightful comments about the intimacy and flexibility of radio versus television’s rigid structure, also supplying a clip of his very first TV appearance in 1992:
I looked at Mr. Snerdley, and I said, “Do you remember the days when it was really a big deal to be on TV?” There were so few networks and then so few shows on networks. You had the Sunday shows, the Sunday morning shows, and you had the evening news, and then occasionally you’d have a syndicated Sunday morning show. That was it (other than the prime time, but we’re not talking about that).
There just weren’t that many opportunities, and simply the fact that there were so few, meant that if you were on TV it automatically granted you gravitas and expert status because it was hard to get on TV. There were just as many people back then who wanted to be on TV as there are today, but it was like winning the lottery to end up on television. Today anybody — anybody — can be on TV, and you don’t have to have done anything to get on TV.
I literally don’t want to be on TV. It’s a distraction. To me, it’s artificial. Everything about television is artificial — and I know I’m an odd because it is “the medium of the day.” I understand all this. But for me, I started in radio basically when I was 15. I’ve done both, and during the four years of the TV show there were a lot of people who really liked it. They thought it was really good.
But I finally figured out what it is, aside from the makeup. There are other things, too. I mean, it’s totally collaborative. You have to be able to collaborate to be on TV, and I can’t. I’m not interested in it. I don’t even like interviewing people. To collaborate, you’ve got to sit down and have meetings. You’ve got to plan what is gonna happen when. Each segment has to be blocked out. It’s gotta be hit just exactly at the right time.
Within each segment the director and the producers have to know what you’re going to do so they can make sure cameras and video inserts are ready to go, and there’s no flexibility in it. Like I couldn’t, on TV, say, “Hey, Cookie, would you grab what we did yesterday and go ahead and cut it?” I’d have to wait ’til the next day to get it. There’s no… (interruption) There’s no what? “There’s no chance for spontaneity.”
I’ve got people agreeing with me in the IFB. It limits spontaneity, and I don’t plan. When I start this program at noon, I literally don’t know what’s gonna make up these three hours. I decide mere minutes before this program starts what the first thing I’m gonna talk about is. But here’s what I really finally realized about why I don’t like it — and why I also think radio, done well, can have much more impact.
That camera is always a long way away, visually and actually. It’s a long way away from. The microphone, however, is right here, I mean it is mere inches away, and the camera is you and the microphone is you. This is intimate. I mean, this is really intimate. I just have no doubt here that I am closely connected and totally in touch. I don’t feel that way doing TV. That’s just me. I know I’m an oddball on this. (interruption)
Rush, there’s nothing odd about your stance at all: radio provides a unique opportunity to connect one-on-one with a listener. It’s why fans feel they “know” a host after extended periods of listening.
Is major news breaking? Radio can switch gears in an instant, while cable news scrambles to make adjustments.
As for the ease in getting airtime, cable news channels have A LOT of schedule to fill and there are only so many people willing and able to appear on these shows. With the exception of professionals with home studios, travel to and from a studio plus prep time can kill the better part of a day, all for a five-minute segment.
Beyond guests, how many have ever heard of the majority of MSNBC’s host roster? Or CNN’s? It’s now possible to be a regular on prime time TV and still live in absolute obscurity.