NEW YORK – Radio commentator Rush Limbaugh told listeners Monday that he's virtually deaf but that he wants to continue his nationally syndicated talk show.
Limbaugh said he noticed in May that he had trouble hearing in his left ear. He said it had progressively worsened to the point where he is totally deaf in that ear. He has partial hearing in his right ear, he said.
"I can occasionally talk to people in person one on one if their voice frequency happens to fit the range that I can still hear, but I cannot hear radio," he said. "I cannot hear television. I cannot hear music. I am, for all practical purposes, deaf -- and it's happened in three months."
This summer, Limbaugh renewed his contract with the Premiere Radio Networks through 2009, reportedly for the highest price ever in radio syndication. Through his call-in show and a 90-second radio commentary, he reaches some 20 million listeners on nearly 600 stations.
Representatives of Premiere Radio Networks could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.
Limbaugh, with his legion of like-minded "dittoheads" who listen to his show live on weekdays from noon to 3 p.m., is an icon in conservative politics who spent most of the 1990s assailing then-President Clinton. He was frequently lampooned from the left: Comedian Al Franken wrote a book titled Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot, before Limbaugh lost weight.
The 50-year-old Limbaugh got his start on KFBK in Sacramento, Calif., in 1985 and became nationally syndicated in 1988.
Limbaugh said his hearing loss is not genetic. He said doctors have a theory about why he's gone deaf, "but I'm going to keep that to myself."
The commentator told listeners, "you would not believe the medication that is flowing through me in an attempt to reverse this."
He said he wants to continue his show, and is experimenting with ways that he can still communicate with telephone callers. If that doesn't work, he may do the show without callers.
"All I've lost is my ability to hear," he said, "but it doesn't mean I've lost my ability to communicate. Those are two different things, given the technological advances we have in this country today."
He had a syndicated television talk show that lasted four years and ended in 1996. CNN, which Limbaugh frequently derided as the "Clinton News Network," talked briefly about putting him on the air this summer, but nothing came of the discussions.
Limbaugh also briefly sought a color commentator job on Monday Night Football, but the gig went to Dennis Miller.
He said Monday that many of his listeners had written to say that his voice had changed in recent months.
"It could well be that my voice is changing," he said. "I don't know. I cannot hear myself well enough to know."