Will Limbaugh Controversy, New Huckabee Show Mark Change in Conservative Talk Radio?

A more genial style of talk radio may emerge given the introduction of Mike Huckabee's talk radio program and as advertisers back away from supporting controversial talk radio hosts following the uproar over Rush Limbaugh's contraceptive mandate comments.

Premier Networks, the company that syndicates Limbaugh's radio show for about 600 stations, sent a letter to stations carrying its programs listing 98 advertisers that no longer want to be associated with controversial radio hosts.

The news happens to come as Huckabee, who is less prone to controversy, is set to shake up the talk radio scene. The former governor of Arkansas and Republican presidential candidate in 2008 already has the most successful weekend news program, called "Huckabee," on Fox News.

The Premier Networks' letter stated that those advertisers "specifically asked that you schedule their commercials in dayparts or programs free of content that you know are deemed to be offensive or controversial (for example, Mark Levin, Rush Limbaugh, Tom Leykis, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity). Those are defined as environments likely to stir negative sentiment from a very small percentage of the listening public."

Ford, GM, Toyota, Allstate, Geico, Prudential, State Farm, McDonald's, and Subway are among the companies on the list, according to radio-info.com, which first reported the letter.

The letter comes after Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke a "slut" and "prostitute." Fluke is a Georgetown college student who testified before a congressional committee about the cost of her birth control. Georgetown, consistent with its Catholic doctrine, does not provide birth control in its health care coverage. Limbaugh also said that Fluke should videotape herself having sex and put it on the internet so everyone could watch.

Limbaugh has since apologized for the remarks. Some, including Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul and Fluke herself, have said that the apology was insincere and was only done because his sponsors are withdrawing support from the show.

Controversial and divisive language has been a mainstay of conservative talk radio for over two decades. Limbaugh's market share has been declining, though, over the last three years. Furthermore, while most advertisers place high value on reaching middle-aged females, Limbaugh's audience is mostly old white males.

This is why Huckabee could pose a threat to Limbaugh's dominance after his show premier's in the same noon to 3 p.m. time slot on April 2, David Frum points out in a column for The Daily Beast.

"Huckabee's competition threatens Limbaugh not only because Huckabee has already proven himself an attractive and popular TV broadcaster, but also because Huckabee is arriving on the scene at a time when Limbaugh's business model is crashing around him," Frum writes.

While Huckabee is assuredly conservative, advertisers would be confident that the former Southern Baptist pastor would not use derogatory language, such as "slut."

Huckabee's more civil tone makes his TV show a safe place for a wide variety of politicians, movie stars and musicians. Huckabee is the only one on Fox News who has interviewed first lady Michelle Obama and two weeks ago celebrated actress Meryl Streep was on the show.

"I have to believe that there are people who are highly opinionated but who actually find it informative and engaging to find out what the other side is thinking. And not through a shouting match, but through an adult-level, civil conversation," Huckabee told Frum.

A radio business veteran told Frum that Limbaugh's business model is vulnerable because it relies upon a few large markets, and if one of those large market stations were to leave Limbaugh for Huckabee "it'll be an earthquake" for conservative talk radio.