At one time, he had the largest radio audience in America. The broadcasting industry often credits him with single-handedly saving AM radio. And then there are people who say he coarsened political discourse, poisoned bipartisanship, engaged in homophobia, racism and misogyny — and caused enormous damage with his three hours of national radio on most weekdays for 33 years.
His name was Rush Limbaugh. He died on Wednesday of cancer at the age of 70. And few people knew who he was until he became an overnight success as a radio talk show host in Sacramento at KFBK from 1984 to 1988.
A young woman named Kitty O’Neal was his call screener at that time. She's still at KFBK, having anchored their afternoon news for decades. She also stayed friends with Limbaugh until his death.
She spoke with CapRadio’s Mike Hagerty on Wednesday. (Editor’s note: Hagerty was a colleague at KFBK.)
On Limbaugh’s reputation as a racist, sexist, misogynist and super-spreader of false information, and whether he appeared to be those things while he was working as a local talk show host in Sacramento during the ’80s
Not to the extent that he is considered to be so now by many people. And, you know, I have friends on both sides, people who think he was the best thing that ever happened in radio to people who think he did irreparable damage to the country. So, you know, I get it. I've heard it all.
But at that time ... he hadn't even registered to vote when he was in Sacramento. … And I thought, ‘Oh, no, when this gets out, his career's over.'
On her friendship, even in the years after Limbaugh left KFBK
You know, I guess it was compartmentalizing. I really never, to be honest, I rarely listen to his show. I really didn't know half of the things he was saying. And I hate to admit that, but it's true. ...
But on a personal level, he was always very kind to me, very generous. And I could see how he treated other people, people of different viewpoints and persuasions when he was with them in person. He wasn't insulting. He wasn't unkind. And I thought, “Is this just, you know, [him] just following some kind of persona on the air?” I mean, he's not really feel like this? But then I think, he must have, I mean, how could you manufacture that for so many years?
So, I don't know. I'm conflicted about it, really. I could just tell you on a personal level, he was always very kind to me. But even I took issue with things that he would say on there and would look at him like, ‘What? Why are you even saying that? I don't get how you could arrive at that conclusion?’ But, you know, I guess I just made a separation.
On how she will remember him
I just have to think of, you know, how he was for me, personally, but it's hard because I know there's people who feel he did tremendous damage, as well.
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