“What’s your question or comment for Rush?”
For more than three decades, that’s how I greeted callers to the program. Hundreds of thousands of them. I didn’t want to know their name, where they’re calling from, or why. I had to find out what someone wanted to say, and fast, because each caller was one of about ninety people I’d talk within three hours.
If you couldn’t immediately tell me what you wanted to talk about, and make it interesting, it would be a short call. If you got past my first question, I’d ask a top-secret series of questions, because I wanted to know what led you to this call. What’s your real point? What’s behind the first answer you gave me? Because if Rush drilled down into your comment, he would locate your true agenda—with half his brain tied behind his back just to make it fair—and my reputation was on the line for any bad calls as call screener and “official program observer.”
Here’s the takeaway for anyone who wants to use their voice in a positive way. Before you speak up, you’ve got to know what you want to say—and why—then frame your words clearly.
Over the years, I developed the ability to screen callers and listen to Rush at the same time. I somehow remembered things he said years earlier and occasionally offered opinions, questions, and ideas for the show. You may remember the occasional “Mr. Snerdley just reminded me . . .” segue. I sure do, and I miss those moments dearly.
During a short hiatus from working at the EIB studio, I began to notice that something was off with Rush’s voice in 2001. The timing, the pauses, the pitch and tone of his voice was off. At times, he seemed to slur some of his words. Concerned, I called him one morning. “What’s going on, Rush? Something sounds different.”
“Look, James. I’m sorry, but if I told you what was going on, you wouldn’t believe it.” He was right.
So I called the president of the company, and I asked him what was going on. John didn’t go into detail, but he told me Rush’s hearing was compromised.
“I need to be there with him,” I said. “Please get me on the first plane tomorrow.”
The next afternoon, I drove my rental car to the new EIB Southern Command Headquarters in Palm Beach. As I pulled up, Rush was in the parking lot walking to his car. Without either of us saying a word, I gave him a big hug. He knew why I was there. You’re not going to go through this by yourself, my friend. I’m here.
My own media consultancy was gaining clients, and I knew my experience with interactive communications could make my company a leader in the industry. But my career has never been about money. The moment I heard Rush was having challenges, I knew what I had to do. I have never doubted my decision and I’ve never regretted it. This is where I need to be.
There was never a formal discussion with anyone at EIB about whether I should come back or not. It was simply understood and celebrated.
Rush’s progressive hearing loss was rapid, and he was expected to become completely deaf, so the team brainstormed ideas that would enable him to stay on the air. During this time, the Democrats continually ramped up their attacks on Rush and other conservative voices. But even deafness couldn’t silence Rush. Through the years, he’d faced every kind of attack, bent on silencing him.
The left always got its way . . . until Rush Limbaugh. The mainstream media tried to project their thinking as the mindset of the country. Rush exposed the fact that the mainstream media was not the conscience of the American people. Exposing this divide between the few elite and the vast majority of Americans is one of the greatest elements of his legacy.
Cancel culture—threats to boycott companies and destroy careers—has become so extreme we now have comedians like Chris Rock talking about how it’s impossible to tell jokes because millennials are so sensitive. Conservatives are losing a high percentage of millennial votes because they fall prey to this mindset, instead of standing up to it.
Canceling opposing views is a step toward an authoritarian state, which is what the left wants. If you don’t think the way they do on any number of issues, like transgender women athletes competing against biological women, liberals say you’re a bigot and try to shut you up. If you have the balls to express a different opinion, they will try to cut them off.
It’s one thing to be trolled online, it’s another to be shouted at in person. When I was at WABC Radio in New York doing my own weekend show in the ’80s, I spoke out about some of the hateful language coming out of the Nation of Islam. A few days later, I was out in public and confronted by three members of the group. Honestly, I was a bit intimidated and wondered if the situation would end badly for me. Thankfully it didn’t.
Shutting up is dangerous because people assume that if there’s only one voice talking, that voice must be the consensus—and correct—when there’s no opposition to it. If a lie is repeated often enough, it’s adopted as the truth unless it is challenged.
Beethoven was deaf. Yet through the vibrations he felt and his memory of what notes sounded like, the composer was able to create some of the greatest music the human race has ever heard. Rush, at a crucial point in his career, became totally deaf. Yet through advances in technology, like the cochlear implant, his own inner muscle memory of sounds, and his sheer determination, Rush was able to continue a powerful discourse that resonated for decades. In fact, Rush spent more of his syndicated radio career deaf than he did with the ability to hear. Despite every reason to quit, he kept speaking.
It is a remarkable achievement for anyone to overcome challenges and persevere because of their love for their vocation. Through willpower—and of course, if you’re a person of faith, with the strength that comes through that belief—you can still achieve astounding things. Whether it’s about Rush’s career, my career, or the challenges you may face, my charge to you remains: achieve anyway. Speak anyway.
By refusing to be silenced, he achieved. The same holds true for us. We may ultimately lose the things we want to hold on to, but achieving anyway means that we don’t give up. We are can-do people who can persevere. And sometimes, if perseverance is all the legacy we leave, that’s enough.
Before you speak up, you’ve got to know why. And when you know why, speak clearly. Don’t be silenced.
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