Mike Huckabee’s syndicated radio talk show went out with a whimper last week. The former Arkansas governor announced earlier this year that he would end his daily talk program at the end of 2013, fueling speculation that he’s gearing up for another run for the presidency in 2016.
And rumors about a new campaign may be true; by the time the next campaign begins, it will have been eight years since Huckabee’s first, failed run for the White House and like all of us, he’s not getting any younger. So, 2016 may represent that “now-or-never” moment.
However, Mr. Huckabee has managed to stay busy since his last campaign, becoming a peripatetic media personality. He provides daily commentaries for Cumulus Media (in a slot once occupied by Paul Harvey), anchors a weekly TV show on the Fox News Channel, and until this month, hosted a three-hour talk show that aired opposite Rush Limbaugh in many markets.
According to Huckabee, show prep for the talk program took “8 or 9 hours a day,” time that can (presumably) be used to plan another run for the White House. But all of this political speculation serves another purpose as well: it masks the rather inconvenient fact that Mr. Huckabee’s talk show was a major flop. More from David Hinckley of the New York Daily News:
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has become the latest radio talk show host to fail in his assault on Mount Rush Limbaugh.
Huckabee said Wednesday he would end his syndicated show Dec. 12, 20 months after it launched as a rival in Limbaugh’s time slot.
He said his decision was “mutual” with his syndicator, Cumulus.
Huckabee, who did not have a New York outlet, said when he launched the show that he would “focus on civil discourse on complicated topics.”
That is, he would still be conservative like Limbaugh, but he would not have the same combative on-air style.
He declared Wednesday, “We have done that and done it well.”
His show had the same folksy, down-home style, frequently sprinkled with humor, that had made him a popular guest for years on other radio and TV shows.
As a solo act, though, he did not catch on with a mass listening audience. He was only heard on about a third as many stations as Limbaugh, and there were few signs that he was winning head-to-head competitions.
Lest we forget, Huckabee entered the talk show wars amid the furor over Rush’s remarks about then-Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke and female contraception. At the time, Cumulus claimed that Limbaugh’s comments cost them “millions” in lost advertising dollars and some insiders predicted that “many” stations would dump Rush for Huckabee–claims that the former governor and his syndicator did nothing to dissuade.
But when the smoke cleared, Huckabee was nothing more than another failed challenger. His show aired on second and third-tier stations in many markets, and attracted only a fraction of Rush’s audience and his advertising revenue.
It’s also worth noting that Mr. Huckabee and Cumulus reached their “mutual agreement” to end his program during one of the biggest shake-ups in talk radio history. Earlier this year, Cumulus seemed ready to drop Rush from its major market stations, including WABC in New York; WLS (Chicago), WJR (Detroit) and WMAL in Washington. That move would have created immediate openings for the Huckabee program but ultimately, Cumulus decided to keep Rush. And, when the radio conglomerate decided stop carrying Sean Hannity’s show, it announced plans to fill his afternoon time slot with another Cumulus talker, Michael Savage.
Put another way, the hand-writing was on the wall for Huckabee when Cumulus elected to keep Rush. Mr. Limbaugh’s program has the highest syndication fees in the industry; not only do local stations pay a hefty price to carry the show, they must also split the advertising revenue with Rush and his syndicator, Clear Channel. In the end, Cumulus decided it was better to split a larger pie with Limbaugh than keep all of the revenue derived by one of its own programs. Promoting Savage to afternoon drive merely added insult to injury; Savage has carved out a large audience in the evening hours, but his appeal during drive time is unknown. Still, Cumulus saw Mr. Savage as a better bet than the “civil discourse” offered up by Mike Huckabee.
But don’t cry too much for the former governor. He’s still earning a seven-figure income between the daily radio commentaries and the weekend show for Fox. In fact, it’s a bit surprising that he’s contemplating another run for the presidency, which would require a temporary halt to his broadcasting ventures. At this stage of the game, Mr. Huckabee is still a second-tier candidate and there doesn’t seem to be a groundswell for an ex-pol who is now better known as a broadcaster than a candidate.