Talk show host says he's rapidly going deaf

Radio: Rush Limbaugh says he'll keep talking.

October 09, 2001|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN TELEVISION WRITER

Conservative radio show host Rush Limbaugh revealed yesterday that he's functionally deaf, and that he expects to lose all capacity to hear within a few months.

"At that point, a decision has to be made as to what to do about it," Limbaugh told listeners yesterday, according to a transcript. "My desire is to continue doing this [show], and there are an infinite number of ways of continuing."

In his statement, a mixture of vulnerability and classically Limbaughian bravado, the host acknowledged that he had not heard a single word spoken by callers on yesterday's broadcast. He explained that his frequent absences recently have been caused by appointments with specialists to stem the severe hearing loss he has suffered since May. He said there has been no precise diagnosis for his condition, and hearing aids have not helped.

And Limbaugh said he could not tell whether the pitch of his voice has changed lately, as some longtime fans have suggested. While he promised to try to continue the show, he didn't guarantee the three-hour program would keep its current format.

The announcement took radio executives by surprise. "We heard it as listeners heard it," said Jeff Beauchamp, the station manager of WBAL-AM (1090). His station carries Limbaugh's shows on weekday afternoons.

Limbaugh is the host of the highest-rated radio talk show in the nation. During the spring ratings period, the latest for which detailed figures are available, Arbitron estimates that his was the third-highest rated show in Baltimore, drawing 123,600 people weekly. And Limbaugh had the most popular show on the air among adult men in the Baltimore region.

In July, Limbaugh signed an agreement with his syndicator to keep him on the air through 2009. The precise value of the nine-figure deal with Premiere Radio Networks, an offshoot of broadcasting conglomerate Clear Channel Communications, was not disclosed. Premiere's president, Kraig Kitchin, said yesterday in a written statement that he would honor that contract.

A presence on local radio in Sacramento, Calif., during the 1980s, Limbaugh found his voice on the national scene after moving to New York and embarking on a syndicated show heard on hundreds of stations. He became particularly prominent during the Clinton years, when he rallied opposition to the Democratic administration, and became the host of a television show that later was canceled.

"There are a lot of people worse off than I am, especially since September the 11th," Limbaugh said. "This is just one of those things that happens.

"I can do this radio program every day without taking a phone call, if I have to - and in my mind, still out-rate 99 percent of the people who do it."

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