Reports of Rush Limbaugh Ratings Plunge Exaggerated

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Rush Limbaugh

The Internet was abuzz Tuesday with leaked Arbitron numbers suggesting the radio talker lost up to 40 percent of his audience in some markets -- but only if the numbers are properly massaged.

Reports circulating online Tuesday indicating a massive drop in Rush Limbaugh’s audience – as much as 40 percent in some markets – might be premature.

The Arbitron data that was released to several reporters shows a decline from March to April -- presumably due to Limbaugh’s characterization of law student/activist Sandra Fluke as a “slut” -- but only after a surge that was probably caused by the same incident.

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Limbaugh made the remarks on Feb. 29 and March 1, and his audience in several of the biggest markets in the country actually grew in March as curious listeners tuned in to hear Limbaugh’s take on the controversy. Once the hype died down, the audience fell to more traditional levels, the data shows.

For example, in New York, Limbaugh’s audience leapt 21 percent in March over February, then fell 19 percent in April as the controversy faded. The ratings are based on average quarterly hours for the 12-plus demographic and come from Arbitron data compared with station clearances.

Limbaugh’s audience numbers are registered across several demographics, and where it appears he fared the worst was in the 25-54 age range, which is what most bloggers and journalists were focusing on Tuesday. Of interest to many media outlets was a 40 percent drop in that demo during April in the Seattle market, though many are reporting the decline without noting it came after a 55 percent surge during March in that same demo.

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The Seattle data can be particularly misleading when other demographics are considered, because not only did Limbaugh’s audience surge in March in all demographics, but in the broader 12-plus category (and most other demos, including 35-plus, which is particularly important in talk radio) he actually improved on those gains the following month, even as the 25-54 demo dropped significantly.

“It looks like whoever picked this data chose the demographic where Limbaugh was weakest,” one radio insider noted.

Another insider who spoke to Politico, though, had the opposite impression of the same data: “Clearly Sandra Fluke isn’t the only one who didn’t like Rush calling her a ‘slut’ given how many viewers that comment incinerated,” the insider said.

Here’s how Limbaugh’s numbers shook out in other major markets in the 12-plus demo:

Los Angeles: No change in March; no change in April.

Chicago: 6 percent increase in March; 8 percent decline in April.

Dallas: 16 percent increase in March; 2 percent increase in April.

Houston: 3 percent increase in March; 16 percent decline in April.

Miami: 21 percent increase in March; 19 percent decline in April.