UNC urged to cut Rush radio ties

bcain@newsobserver.comMarch 6, 2012 

  • Advertisers who have pulled or suspended ads from Rush Limbaugh's radio show over his comments in the past week:




    Citrix Systems


    Pro Flowers

    Quicken Loans

    Sleep Train

    Sleep Number

    Tax Resolution Services

  • On January 1, 2010, Rush Limbaugh's radio program began airing in the Triangle on WRDU-FM 106.1 after 21 years on WPTF 680-AM. WRDU switched to an all-talk format and renamed itself "Rush Radio." Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity also have nationally syndicated programs on WRDU. Owner Clear Channel has at least three other stations branded as "Rush Radio," including "Rush Radio 94.5" in Greensboro and talk stations in Boston and New Orleans. Limbaugh's show airs live each weekday from noon to 3 p.m. EST.

Editor's note: Comments on this article have been disabled after frequent violations of our comment policy.

As Rush Limbaugh continued to apologize Monday for his derogatory comments about a female college student last week, the Triangle radio station that bears the conservative talk show host's name was being targeted by some who question its relationship with UNC-Chapel Hill athletics.

WRDU-FM - which calls itself "Rush Radio" - mostly stayed silent Monday about the controversy that has caused at least 10 national advertisers to drop or suspend their business with Limbaugh's program. The outcry was sparked last week when Limbaugh took on Georgetown University student Sandra Fluke after she testified in support of President Barack Obama's contraceptive health care coverage plan.

For three days on his nationally syndicated program, Limbaugh speculated to his millions of listeners about Fluke's sex life, calling her a "slut" and a "prostitute." Limbaugh issued an online apology Saturday and apologized again on the air Monday afternoon.

Dick Harlow, the Raleigh market manager for Clear Channel, which owns WRDU 106.1, said his station respects the right of Limbaugh to express his opinions.

Tar Heels on WRDU

In response to a request for an interview, Harlow released the same statement being offered by other Limbaugh stations:

"WRDU is committed to providing its listeners with access to a broad range of opinions and commentary without condoning or agreeing with the opinions, comments or attempts at humor expressed by on-air talent," the statement said. "The contraception debate is one that sparks strong emotion and opinions on both sides of the issue. We respect the right of Mr. Limbaugh, as well as the rights of those who disagree with him, to express those opinions."

Harlow declined to answer questions.

Though much of WRDU's program consists of conservative talkers such as Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, the station also is home to UNC's Tar Heel Sports Network in the Triangle, which broadcasts UNC basketball and football.

On Monday, James Protzman, a liberal blogger for BlueNC.org, spoke out about UNC's association with Rush Radio and emailed UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp asking him to rethink the relationship.

"It doesn't make a lot of sense for the flagship university of North Carolina to be associating itself with the kinds of things we hear on Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh," Protzman said.

Protzman, who attended graduate school at UNC and whose wife, Jane Brown, is on the journalism faculty at the school, said he hadn't gotten a response from anyone at the university. There also are petitions and a movement on Facebook and Twitter to put pressure on UNC to reconsider its agreement with Rush Radio, he said.

Tar Heel Sports Properties, which owns and operates the Tar Heel Sports Network, is an independent contractor of UNC. Tar Heel Sports Properties has more than 50 affiliates, including WRDU, that air the games.

Rick Steinbacher, associate athletic director for marketing at UNC, said in a statement that the network's affiliates include a diverse assortment of non-game programming.

"The University, the Athletics Department, and Tar Heel Sports Properties does not control or in any way endorse the normal programming of any of the stations that air the game broadcasts including the recent comments by Rush Limbaugh aired on WRDU 106.1," Steinbacher said in the statement.

Rush Radio is a 100,000-watt FM station with reach across the Triangle and surrounding counties. Its owner, Clear Channel, is the parent company of Premiere Radio Networks, the company that syndicates Limbaugh's show and other conservative talk shows. Clear Channel also owns G-105.1, 100.7 The River and Kiss 93.9 in the Triangle.

During his comments about Fluke last week, which began Wednesday and continued through Friday, Limbaugh said Fluke has "so much sex it's amazing she can even walk" and suggested that she post sex videos online in payment for having the government subsidize her birth control. "If we are going to pay for your contraceptives - and thus pay for you to have sex - we want something for it. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch," he said.

Comments denounced

The comments were denounced by many Democrats and some Republicans. President Obama called Fluke to offer support, and some of Limbaugh's advertisers began defecting.

In his written apology Saturday, Limbaugh said that he chose the wrong words in discussing Fluke. On Monday's show, he said he doesn't think Fluke is "either of those two words" that he previously used.

So far, the apology hasn't seemed to have any effect on the advertisers. Four of the 10, including AOL and Allstate, decided to drop their ads after the Saturday apology.

Of the advertisers who have left him, Limbaugh told listeners Monday, "They've decided they don't want you or your business anymore. So be it."

Limbaugh, who according to media reports makes an estimated $50 million a year, went on to blame liberal critics: "Advertising is a business decision, it's not a social one. Only the leftists try to use extortion, pressure, threats to silence opposing voices. We don't do that."

David Minter, a writer in Carrboro, says he has taken to Twitter, Facebook and email to express his concerns directly to Limbaugh's advertisers. Minter says he isn't advocating a boycott of advertisers; instead, he's "encouraging sponsors to take responsible action and realize they are hurting their brands."

What Fluke says

Fluke appeared on ABC's talk show "The View" on Monday to react to Limbaugh's statements about her and his apology.

"I don't think that a statement like the one he issued saying his choice of words was not the best changes anything," she said. "Especially when he's under significant pressure from his sponsors who have begun to pull their support from him."

Fluke said the issue is not about the government paying for contraceptives, but about requiring private health insurance companies to cover it. She added that she sees Limbaugh's campaign against her as an attempt to silence women who think contraception is an important health care need that should be made accessible and affordable.

Cain: 919-829-4579