Anniston native Tom Potts first heard Rush Limbaugh’s show when he was working in Greenville, S.C., for a multimedia conglomerate.
It was the late 1980s, and the Multimedia, the company Potts worked for, had just acquired the rights to Limbaugh’s new show from New York City and set him loose on its southeastern audience. The young host’s charisma was unmistakable.
“It just blew our doors off,” said Potts, founder of Anniston multimedia company Potts Marketing.
On Wednesday, news of Limbaugh’s death, released by his wife Kathryn Adams Limbaugh at the start of the Republican talk show host’s broadcast, reached Potts, who said there had never been a talk radio host like Limbaugh, and there would likely never be another.
“He came on the air and made all the difference in the world,” Potts said.
AM radio was becoming obsolete when Limbaugh’s show premiered, Potts said, but Limbaugh’s three-hour talk block, an unusual format for the time, revitalized networks. Advertising sales almost doubled due to the show, Potts said.
Limbaugh’s show soon arrived on Anniston’s local station, WDNG, where it remained for a few years before being moved to a Gadsden station.
Examples of Limbaugh’s reach showed up shortly after its debut, all around the country. Potts remembered a mom-and-pop restaurant in North Carolina that set up a “Rush Room,” where diners could order lunch and settle in for Limbaugh’s show every weekday. Radio stations rushed to join his Excellence in Broadcasting Network.
In 1993, a joke on Limbaugh’s show spiraled out of control, culminating in Dan’s Bake Sale, an event inspired by Limbaugh’s tongue-in-cheek suggestion that a listener hold a bake sale to raise money for a subscription to Limbaugh’s newsletter. More than 20,000 people showed up to the listener’s small Colorado town, according to contemporary reports.
Potts said Limbaugh had an influence on his politics, having been “probably the most liberal and left-wing guy in high school.”
“He made me think some things through, and made me realize most of what I’d been a proponent of was mostly an emotional thing, caring and wanting to do great things for people,” Potts said. “Whereas to get anything done, you have to have some thought behind what you’re doing and see if this is doable or not.
“I’m not alone in that,” Potts continued. “I’m sure the same happened for millions of people.”