It’s been over 26 years since I met and talked with radio icon Rush Limbaugh, but I’ve never forgotten the conversation we had one wintery day in New York City about work and pursuing one’s passions and dreams.
Back in January of 1994, the Rush Limbaugh Show, which had debuted six years earlier in August of 1988, had already ascended to the top of the national charts. The Missouri native wasn’t just on radio but also television – as well as publishing bestselling books, a newsletter and selling colorfully-patterned neckties.
At the time, Rush was broadcasting his show “high atop the EIB Tower in midtown Manhattan” out of WABC-AM’s radio studios. During some of his meteoric rise, I had worked part-time at WOR-AM, a crosstown rival. As loyal as I was to my station, I loved Rush and listened whenever I could during high school and college.
On this particular day, having just graduated a semester early from college, I was in Manhattan “pounding the pavement” and interviewing for a job with Penguin Publishing.
The interview went well and at its conclusion, I was offered the entry-level position. The role didn’t thrill me, but it was a job. I asked if they would give me a day to think about it, which they graciously agreed to do.
I remember praying as I made my way back through the cold, cutting wind up to Penn Station for my train back home. What should I do? Should I take the job or pass? Was I being too picky? I looked at my watch. It was a few minutes before 3 p.m.
Like a bolt out of the blue, I suddenly had a thought that I should go meet Rush Limbaugh, whose show was just ending. In retrospect, it was a crazy idea. Media stars don’t meet with ordinary people off the street. But I was young and foolish. Naivete has its advantages.
Walt Disney once famously said, “I never knew what I couldn’t do – so I tried everything.”
For me, “everything” included knocking on random doors. Growing up, my mother would regularly say, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
So, I found my way into 2 Pennsylvania Plaza and took an elevator up to WABC’s offices on the 17th floor.
Stepping off, I encountered a locked door with the station’s call letters beside it – and a security guard inquiring of my intentions.
“I’d like to say hello to Rush Limbaugh,” I said rather brazenly.
“Is he expecting you?” the gentleman countered. I said no, but I was a fan and it would only take a minute.
What happened next would, sadly, never and understandably happen today – but the world was a somewhat safer and saner place back in 1994.
“Look,” the guard told me. “You can’t wait up here, but Rush will be out shortly. He goes downstairs and then takes a limo over to his television show. It’ll be waiting for him just outside Madison Square Garden. Go wait for him there and you might be able to shake his hand.”
I thanked the guard and made a beeline for the plaza, where I stood between the building and the idling car. Sure enough, Rush came waltzing down and warmly greeted me when I introduced myself. It was literally freezing outside, but Rush paused and politely listened to my story.
“It’s not complicated,” he said. “If you want to be happy in life, you need to figure out what you want – and then go for it. Don’t settle for second best. Do you want to work for a publisher?”
I admitted that I preferred newspapers or radio.
“Then go work for a newspaper or a radio station. But don’t be picky. Take whatever job there that will get your foot in the door.”
He then went on to talk about how he knew what he wanted to do when he was just 8 years-old — how the disc jockeys on the radio seemed to be having so much more fun than everybody else working other jobs.
I took his advice, declined the role at Penguin and soon landed a job with Newsday, a major newspaper on Long Island. I wasn’t writing, but my foot was in the door. Being in the building gave me access to the newsroom, though.
Recent surveys indicate most of us don’t like our careers. Is it coincidental that more heart attacks occur on Monday than any other day of the week?
Rush Limbaugh is currently in the fight of his life, aggressively battling stage 4 lung cancer. Many of us are praying for him, asking God to heal and give him more time. I hope he lives a thousand more years.
Yet, through all the ups and downs of treatment, Rush Limbaugh remains on the radio whenever he is physically able to do so.
Why? He clearly doesn’t need the money.
He does it because he loves it. It’s a calling - not just a career.
Rush never knew what he couldn’t do – so he tried everything on the radio, from spinning records to hosting a talk show.
Are you fulfilled in your work? What do you really love? What’s your dream?
Writing and radio are my dreams, and thankfully I get to do both – though I wish I could do more of each one.
So, I keep praying. I keep trying. I keep reaching.
Someone once told me the secret to true happiness is making sure the reach is just beyond our grasp, that we should always have a lofty goal that excites us.
I’ll always be grateful that Rush Limbaugh took the time to talk in the cold with a 21-year-old young man about that very thing.
He was right then as now – life is too short to settle for second best.