Limbaugh Has 15 Million Listeners? Oh Really?

Throughout the coverage of radio shock-jock Rush Limbaugh’s ‘slut shaming’ of Sandra Fluke,†his listenership has been reported as either 15 or 20 million. But how do journalists know how many listeners he actually has?

Could it actually be less than a tenth of that much reported number?

Back in 2009, The Washington Post did report that the constant republishing of this huge number — a number apparently unchanged since 1993 — was based on a guess.

This is because (unlike how TV viewership numbers are calculated), radio listenership figures are still based on the rather ancient method of diaries and numbers include anyone who listens, even if only for a minute, during a week. The numbers also come from those with a self-interest in big numbers rather than some independent measurement body.

The Post found that Arbitron, the overseer of U.S. radio ratings, has never tried to measure Limbaugh’s audience.

Arbitron told The Post: “There is no economic motivation for any objective third party to do that kind of analysis.”

Media Matters reported that:

That eight-digit number [20 million] is what’s known in radio as the “cume” (short for cumulative). It in no way reflects the actual audience size like the way television shows are measured minute by minute or half-hour by half-hour. Instead, the cume number represents a very large — and generous — umbrella covering the number of people who, in theory, tune into a program at any time during the week, even if it’s for just two minutes.

A radio trade reporter confirmed to MSNBC last week, common industry shorthand to determine the actual size of a radio audience at any given moment is to cut the cume [cumulative] figure down by a factor of 10, which would mean Limbaugh’s 20 million becomes 2 million. Or, if you take the more modest cume number of 14 million, which some inside the industry have used to judge the talker’s audience, Limbaugh’s rating becomes 1.4 million, which is roughly the same size audience that Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann get each night on cable TV.

As a reader of Andrew Sullivan’s told him this week, reporters regurgitating the supposed size of Limbaugh’s audience is important:

It is THE reason that politicians listen to him and donít say anything. They think he has numbers much larger than he does because they are not† trying to get the truth of the size of his audience.

One number which we know is a fact is that Limbaugh is America’s least popular ‘news personality’ according to a recent Harris Poll. Nearly half of all Americans rank him their ‘least favorite,’ twice the number of CNN’s Nancy Grace. Even a quarter of Republicans don’t like him.

Related stories:

Rush Offers Non-Apology As Sponsors Flee

Can We Reinstate Civility in Politics?

Democrats Hold Contraception Hearing, No Men Testify


Debbie Crowe
Debbie C5 years ago

I think the estimate on who listens to Rush Limbaugh is highly overrated. I don't listen to him because he is full of hot air that never amounts to a hill of beans.

Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener5 years ago


Juliet D.
judith sanders5 years ago

The number of listeners and advertisers may not matter that much. Clear Channel, Rush's media platform, is co-owned by Bain Capital. Judging by what's been spent on the Romney campaign, money is not an issue when it comes to buying the power to control the government.

T.L. H.
T.L. H5 years ago

@Sandra W.It's not OK for anyone to make misogynistic or misandristic comments.If someone does and you want to boycott them or their advertisers or call for them to be taken off the air you should.It's fine to protest anyone that offends.

Anne Cole
.5 years ago

Meghan Daum of the LA Times, pegged his listeners..

"I won't list all the reasons this stuff arises when a woman speaks up about an issue even tangentially related to sex. But here's one that stands out for me: Sandra Fluke is the kind of woman that people like Limbaugh know nothing about. She's simply not on his radar screen. In the sad slice of America he represents, an America driven by fear of diversity, impatience with facts and an unwillingness to see things in anything but the starkest black-and-white terms, women come in two categories: dirty sluts and pushy feminazis."

Danuta Watola
Danuta W5 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Mercedes Lackey
Mercedes Lackey5 years ago

I did have to laugh until I cried when I read that one of the remaining advertisers, and one who has said vehemently that they have NO intention of pulling their ads is....


Yes, that's right, the "dating service" that airs ads about hooking you up with "cougars" who are "hot to trot."

Anne Cole
.5 years ago

Margaret and Helen blog..

"Margaret, evidently you and I are sluts, and so are the majority of women who live in this country. Well good for us. I have always said that well-behaved women rarely make history. I have also said that Rush Limbaugh is a big fat pig. Pigs and sluts. Sadly, that’s what this has all boiled down to.

In 2008, the Democratic Party had a tough decision to make. Would we give America its first female President or would we give American its first African-American President? Would we turn the corner on sexism in this country or racism? Would we finally rise above hate and bigotry and make a statement that we truly are the land of the free? Either way, we would profoundly change the world for the better. And that we did. At the same time, over in the Republican camp, that party was trying to decide if you could see Russia from Sarah Palin’s kitchen window.

This year the Republicans have another tough decision to make as well. Will they decide that Mormonism is a cult or will they decide that women who use birth control are sluts? It’s a tough call. But either way we will profoundly change the definition of just how stupid is stupid. God Bless America.?

Anne Cole
.5 years ago

Margaret, the Republicans had a meeting about birth control and didn’t include a single woman – kind of like the Catholic Church but without the funny hats. It’s like inviting Rush Limbaugh to a Jenny Craig convention or like Sarah Palin calling a family meeting and forgetting to bring the early pregnancy test stick. Why bother?

I’ll bet you a dollar to a donut that most of the Republican men at that meeting have a bottle of Viagra in their medicine cabinet. Why is it so hard to understand that birth control makes for better healthcare for women? And honestly why is it so hard to see that Rush is a college drop out drug addict who – like most addicts – will say anything for a buck. As entertainment that’s comedy gold, but his being a powerful Republican spokesperson ought to tell you just how low the Republican Party has sunk. You just can’t make this kind of bullshit up.

I wish November would get here already so Obama can go back to fixing what’s wrong with this country.

I mean it. Really.

(You can now follow Helen on Twitter @HelenPhilpot)

Mercedes Lackey
Mercedes Lackey5 years ago

Frank S and his ilk have it backwards.

WE are paying for YOUR insistence on keeping insurance companies from covering contraceptives.

Republicans aren't giving up on the issue. They appear to be intent on using the power of government to force the vast majority of Americans who have no problem with birth control to pay for a small minority's personal beliefs through higher insurance premiums.

And the simple fact is that it costs insurers a lot more to cover a population without offering that population birth control than it does to pick up the cost of contraceptives. What will insurers do if they have to pay extra not to cover birth control? They will, of course, pass the extra costs onto the rest of us through higher premiums.

It costs significantly more to insure a population without offering contraception because the cost of unwanted pregnancies is so high – higher, in fact, than the cost of planned pregnancies, which are associated with lower risk of complications. For the cost of the average childbirth in the United States, you could cover a woman's birth control pills for approximately 293 years.

According to a study by the Washington Business Group on Health and the employee benefits consulting firm William M. Mercer, “It costs employers 15–17 percent more to not provide contraceptive coverage in employee health plans than to provide such coverage.”