The year was 2003, the summer between my seventh- and eighth-grade years at Falcon Creek Middle School. We were on our annual vacation visiting family back home in Upstate New York, and my Grandpa Walt took me on a golf outing. On the way back to his house, a very curious thing happened.
Grandpa turned on the radio, and this booming voice began emanating from it. I recognized it as Rush Limbaugh, someone I’d heard for years around my grandfather. But it wasn’t until that summer day, when I was not quite 13, that I really got a sense for what this Rush guy was all about.
He was speaking politics – conservative politics. But there was an energy, an enthusiasm and a vibrant humor about him that captivated me. I was hooked. I wanted more of these things called “talk radio” and “politics.”
Back home, I found Rush and listened daily. My mom would take us to the grocery store, and there I was, walking through King Soopers and listening to Rush on my portable radio.
It wasn’t long before I discovered Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and Hugh Hewitt, or started recording my own mock radio shows on cassette tapes.
From there, my passions for talk radio and politics grew. I immersed myself in Colorado politics, and by the time I entered Regis University as a freshman in 2008, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I launched a weekly radio talk show, Seng Center, and started writing for The Highlander student newspaper. Before I knew it, I was guest-hosting on AM radio and, by September 2013, began my own show on 710KNUS.
Whether it’s on the radio at KNUS or through my columns for The Denver Gazette and Colorado Politics, I have been a routine part of the Denver media market for a while. And I, like so many others in this city, owe a debt of gratitude to Rush — who passed away Wednesday at age 70 – for paving the way.
To those who found Rush objectionable, consider his unprecedented influence on all media across the country. Throughout the ‘70s and heading into the late ‘80s, America’s radio world asked itself, “Will the AM band stay, or will it go?” Then came 1987. Under President Ronald Reagan, the Fairness Doctrine — which mandated “balance” on radio stations — went away. This meant stations could present programming from any point of view, left or right, without restraint.
Enter The Rush Limbaugh Show on August 1, 1988. In no time, the program – centered on Rush’s monologues and listener calls – took the nation by storm with a show that quickly went into national syndication. It is not an exaggeration to say that Rush changed everything – and singlehandedly saved AM radio with this new format of talk radio.
Before Rush, there weren’t many places for conservatives to engage in political discourse. Television outlets were few and left-leaning, and cable news was young with only CNN. There was no social media, no Fox News, no podcasting. Until this new era, the Right pretty much had The National Review and a smattering of other, smaller venues. AM radio stations found their new niche and started grow. By the early ‘90s, the pace picked up and conservative talk radio was off to the races.
The format offers listeners a chance to interact with hosts in a unique way: Calling in to ask questions or challenge the host. There are no visuals to distract you. You get to know the hosts, what and how they think, what makes them tick and so much more. Hence the term “radio personality.” There truly is no more intimate media format than talk radio.
Today in Denver, you cannot avoid the influence of Rush Limbaugh. My home base of 710KNUS is but one radio watering hole chock-full of local hosts like Peter Boyles and Steffan Tubbs.
Rush’s longtime home 850KOA, 630KHOW and KLZ560 also reach many with their local programs. While Boyles and Mike Rosen were doing opinion radio in town before Rush came to Denver, Rush opened the floodgates in really shaping the talk format.
Radio shows drive discussion, inform viewers and foster community engagement. We give a voice to the voiceless, provide important local news and information, and hold local politicians to account.
Plus, some of us are also plugged into Denver’s written publications. Here I am, writing in The Denver Gazette and Colorado Politics weekly. Rosen writes for The Gazette and was a columnist elsewhere for many years prior. You could say the discussion begins on the radio and goes into print, or that print feeds the radio.
Make no mistake, without the AM radio renaissance sparked by Rush Limbaugh, Denver’s media landscape would be very different — and you probably wouldn’t be reading Jimmy Sengenberger right now.
Jimmy Sengenberger is host of “The Jimmy Sengenberger Show” on News/Talk 710 KNUS. He also hosts “Jimmy at the Crossroads,” a webshow and podcast in partnership with The Washington Examiner.