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Dick Tracy: How I made Rush Limbaugh famous

Dick Tracy

The news that famed radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh has been diagnosed with advanced lung cancer stopped me in my tracks the other morning.

We go back to 1984, when he began, “The Rush Limbaugh Show” on KFBK-AM in Sacramento and I was writing a weekly radio column as a sidelight to my other feature-writing duties for The Sacramento Bee.

I disagreed with most of his strongly conservative opinions but found his programs to be very listenable and eventually gave him, “The Dickey Award” (my invention) as, “Sacramento’s Best Radio Talk Show Host.”

Unbeknownst to me, it was the first true award he’d received and his show thus became, “The Award-Winning Rush Limbaugh Show.”

Our paths crossed several times over the years, including one memorable day at the “Sacramento Tomato Festival” in old town.

Years later, when he moved to WABC radio in New York, a New York Times reporter asked what awards he’d won and Rush told him. Fact-checking with me by telephone, the reporter snarled and hung up when I verified the story.

Years later, my cousin Michael Keith ( a professor of communications at Boston College) met Rush at a broadcaster’s convention and asked: “Do you still have the Dickey Award?”

Startled, Limbaugh asked how he knew about it: “My cousin gave it to you,” Mike said.

Over the years there have been lots of awards, including being able to overnight in the Lincoln Bedroom at The White House and being awarded The Presidential Medal of Freedom during the recent State of the Union ceremony.

But I was first. And at the time was a registered Democrat.

Our paths crossed several times over the years, including one memorable day at the “Sacramento Tomato Festival” in old town.

A few weeks prior, a Denver talk show host had been murdered in a parking lot and no one knew the motive. Was Limbaugh concerned for his own safety? No, he dismissed the question with a wave of his hand.

And there he was in a black suit (then overweight, he thought it disguised the condition) on a blistering 106-degree day and we were about 30 feet apart when I waved a greeting and suddenly saw a young man approach him and say, “OK, Limbaugh, you’ve had it!”

From under a vest he pulled what looked like an Uzi sub-machine gun and my heart almost stopped: I was going to be witness to a murder!

It was a water gun. Phew. Not funny at all.

Before he left Sacramento for New York (where I thought he would be swallowed up) I asked what he saw in the future and one thing he mentioned was a dream of having $1 million cash in the bank.

I said nothing, but laughed inwardly: “C’mon, you’re in radio!”

But when he got to New York, marketers spread out across the nation telling radio station owners: “We’ll give you a three-hour conservative talk show. You can plug in local ads wherever you want, just leave our national ads in place.”

Over 600 stations signed up, and Rush has an average of over 13 million listeners daily.

Forbes estimates his wealth at $500 million. And he allegedly spent nearly $1 million to have Elton John perform at his third wedding. (There’s been another wedding since. I don’t know who entertained.)

In the intervening years, Rush has had other health issues — like hearing loss — to overcome, but has managed to prevail.

My fingers are crossed he beats this rap, too. I may disagree with almost everything he says, but will fight to defend his right to free speech.

Dick Tracy, who lives in Grass Valley, is a member of The Union Editorial Board. His views are his own and do not represent the views of The Union or its editorial board members. Contact him at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.

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