On August 1, 1988, Missouri-born radio commentator Rush Limbaugh launched "The Rush Limbaugh Show" on a handful of radio affiliates. On February 2, 2021 – unbeknownst at the time to his now-650 affiliates and millions of listeners – Limbaugh took to the airwaves for the last time.
The beloved, yet at times controversial, radio titan died February 17 at age 70 after a battle with lung cancer.
On Friday, "The Rush Limbaugh Show" – which began when Ronald Reagan was president, Checkpoint Charlie divided democracy from autocracy, and the Soviet Union still existed – will end in the only form it has known since.
Last month, many Westwood One radio affiliates that carried Limbaugh's show – which is syndicated by competitor Premiere Networks – launched the "Dan Bongino Show" in the program's noon ET timeslot, helmed by the eponymous Fox News contributor and retired USSS agent. Bongino's show can also be heard each day on Fox Nation.
"There’s no replacing Rush, OK? None. It’s never ever gonna happen," Bongino told "Fox & Friends" recently, "But… I really hope to do some honor to his legacy."
One of the two hosts tapped to fill Limbaugh's timeslot on Premiere is Buck Sexton. The former CIA counterterrorism officer and conservative commentator told Fox News that he is one of the millions of average Americans who was encouraged and influenced by the late radio titan.
"I was inspired by Rush, and so was Clay [Travis]," Sexton told Fox News of his soon-to-be co-host. "One of the biggest breaks in my career was guest-hosting for Rush seven years ago.
Sexton said he could personally attest to the connection the late Limbaugh had with his millions of "Dittoheads": After just one day of guest-hosting, Sexton received numerous encouraging emails and Twitter responses from listeners who made a real connection with him.
At the same time, he remarked that talk radio is an ever more important medium, given the increasing censorship from Big Tech.
"We’re at a point where just given the ability of Big Tech to censor ideas that can be contrarian, controversial or even just a little too close to the edge for what the establishment wants; the ability for people to reach people through radio without an algorithmic filter is something Clay and I are really excited about."
Fox News' own Sean Hannity is also one of the countless media professionals who have credited Limbaugh with breathing new life into talk radio as a medium, and opening the door for hosts like himself to grow and thrive in that field.
Hannity said Thursday that Limbaugh is "the greatest of all time" and echoed Bongino in declaring there is no true replacement for the late radio titan: "The only thing we can do is collectively up our games to try to fill the void. He’s been the leading voice of conservatism in the modern era. He fought like hell to stay on the air with his audience," Hannity told FoxNews.com.
"His bucket list was to be with the people he loved most: His millions and millions of fans and supporters. Including me."
Fox News colleague and fellow radio host Laura Ingraham offered a similar reflection on Limbaugh's legacy, as both she and Hannity were also personally close with the late broadcaster.
"Rush was a friend and mentor, and irrepressibly cheerful through life’s triumphs and tribulations. The airwaves aren’t, and will never be the same without his insightful, strong, hilarious voice," Ingraham told FoxNews.com ahead of the EIB's final broadcast.
"At a time when so many are pessimistic about America’s future, he was defiantly positive and hopeful. My Lord, do I miss him."
In a statement on FoxSportsRadio, Travis also reflected on Limbaugh's impact on the country, and echoed Sexton's eagerness to begin a new chapter of what the EIB founder started nearly 33 years ago:
"While no one will ever replace Rush Limbaugh, Buck and I are excited to continue advancing the causes he held dear, most importantly American exceptionalism, a fervent embrace of capitalism, and a belief in a robust marketplace of ideas," said Travis.
As Travis and Sexton prepare to take the reins of the EIB Network's slot, the show's "guide" hosts – who helmed the program in the time following his passing – expressed their gratitude to the late icon and his staff for letting them be a part of America’s most popular talk radio program, while at the same time helping them grow as professionals in doing so.
Ken Matthews, a frequent "Rush Limbaugh Show" substitute host – who along with KTTH's Todd Herman and others has been a "guide" for the Limbaugh audience as of late, told Fox News in an interview this week that he feels both honored and blessed to have been a part of the EIB.
Matthews has for several years been a weekday afternoon host on WHP-580 – Limbaugh’s affiliate in Harrisburg, Pa. His program follows the late "El Rushbo" at 3 PM ET.
He told Fox News he has a bittersweet feeling about being the "guide" host of the final two airings on Thursday and Friday.
"Limbaugh pretty much created the whole genre as it is," Matthews said, recalling his own first time hearing the booming voice of the Cape Girardeau, Mo., native.
In 1988, Matthews was working in radio in Portland, Maine, and found himself thinking what a lot of other Americans who came across Limbaugh at the time were when they stumbled upon the program.
"Who is this guy? He says what’s on his mind."
Matthews praised Limbaugh for inspiring other talent such as Hannity, "Blaze" founder Glenn Beck, as well as himself.
Before coming to Pennsylvania's capital city, Matthews helmed the former "B-Morning Crew" AM-drive program on Top-40 station 104.1 WAEB-FM in Allentown for 15 years beginning in the 1990s.
Matthews remarked to Fox News that the B-104 gig allowed him to have time for his other radio passion: being a loyal Rush listener.
"That’s one of the coolest things I did when I did mornings [at B-104] – I’d get off the air at 9 or 10 [AM] get my work done, and by the time Noon came around, Rush" was on, said Matthews. "I never thought I’d be guest host."
Departing B-104 in 2006, Matthews later had the opportunity to sub-host Sexton’s syndicated radio show in 2017.
One year later, he was tapped to guest host for Limbaugh for the first time:
"It was a strange time to have stepped into the Rush Limbaugh slot because of what has happened," Matthews said, referring in part to the late host’s eventual cancer diagnosis.
He recalled the summer of 2017 when Limbaugh was the happy and healthy radio titan that millions came to love.
By the third year of Matthews' guest hosting, Limbaugh hadn’t lost his positive attitude or his affinity for his show and its audience, but his health was beginning to decline.
"He’s a fighter because he fought until he couldn’t speak anymore," Matthews told Fox News.
Matthews spoke glowingly about Limbaugh’s staff and his other fellow sub-hosts like Seattle's Herman and Charlotte's Brett Winterble.
He also named author and frequent Fox News guest Mark Steyn as a prominent example, calling him and others "heavy-hitter intellectuals" who were a "joy" to work with.
"I think it made me a better broadcaster because the EIB team is the best—I worked with Bo Snerdley [a.k.a. producer James Golden] for 3 years. He knows radio — he knows content."
As for Sexton and Travis, Matthews remarked the pair have "big shoes to fill."
"They’re both bright people – this was an honor and a blessing -- and the experience was just incredible because Rush surrounded himself with very talented patriots."
With a dour outlook on the current U.S. political scene under the Biden administration, Matthews recalled how Limbaugh always encouraged his listeners to think positive and never give up on their country.
"Rush gave people hope that as bad as things looked, the foundation of the country was strong enough to overcome it," he said.
"That is the challenge of the day right now because we are in a very precarious situation as a nation and [Limbaugh] was a guy who even politicians tuned into."
In a recent interview with Fox News, Snerdley, a.k.a. Golden, called his late boss a "second-generation founding father."
"Our beloved Rush has returned his talent to God," an emotional Snerdley told host Hannity shortly after the host's passing – riffing on the talker's favorite self-description as having "talent on loan from God."
"Rush Limbaugh was one of the finest human beings that you would ever want to meet."