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Book Review: Rush on the Radio 

James Golden offers a poignant memoir with Rush on the Radio of his time serving as call screener for radio legend Rush Limbaugh.  

“Bo Snerdly” 

In his radio persona as Rush Limbaugh’s sidekick, James Golden took on the moniker “Bo Snerdley.”  It’s kind of an inside joke.  Rush often referred to “Mr. Snerdley” during his show.  He spoke to him behind the glass, but one never heard “Snerdley” respond. Rush would indicate that Snerdley appeared to be in disagreement, and would inquire about his thoughts on the matter.   At one point, Rush implied that this was a kind of rhetorical device–that there was no such person.  But no, Bo Snerdley was indeed a real person, James Golden, a friend and coworker of the great Rush Limbaugh.  

“I’ve never wanted to portray Rush Limbaugh as some kind of demigod.  He was a man, in many respects like any other man.” 


Now “Bo Snerdly” wants to transition back to “James Golden,” as Snerdley was an arbitrary moniker.  Yet the moniker that he and others on the staff used was not just for fun, it was also to protect the staff’s identities from potential harassment from unhinged leftists.  Rush took this risk upon himself and no one else. 

Golden’s own story is maybe not as much of interest as Rush’s.  Nonetheless, his career in radio is a classic tale of persistence and doggedness in achieving one’s dreams.  His enthusiasm for all things radio can be compared to Rush’s, who was likewise fascinated by the radio format since his boyhood. 

A Decent Effort 

Golden has  produced an interesting book about Rush Limbaugh, which gives greater insight into the famous radio host, both on and off the radio, and his journey to the top.  Rush on the Radio takes us to “the other side of the glass,” to use his radio lingo.  There are anecdotes that even the most devoted Rush fans would not have known, such as Rush’s apparent friendship with Elton John.  

This is indeed an interesting story insofar as it elucidates the conservative political landscape in the ‘80 and ‘90s, up until Rush’s recent and tragic passing from lung cancer (presumably from his years smoking cigarettes, and then cigars, which he would light up on air, to much machismo effect).  Rush took the aire until the end, dramatically demonstrating his love for the medium. 

Golden is disarmingly earnest and sincere in his respect even love for his friend and former boss Rush Limbaugh.  He explains that while he had worked with the conservative greats on talk radio, such as Bob Grant, he never thought of himself explicitly as a “conservative” until he worked for Rush: 

“He’s articulating exactly what I believe.  Ok, I thought. I’m a conservative.  I’m one of them!” (33).  

Behind the Glass 

Perhaps it was inevitable that anyone who works with Rush Limbaugh daily is going to absorb Rush’s beliefs, and that was also true for Golden, an African American man.  

If there is a theme to Rush on the Radio, it is that Rush was generous and kind with the staff and to everyone around him.  But then there is the awkward issue that Rush regularly referred to his “highly overrated staff” while on air. Golden explains this away as irony or an inside joke, yet it betrays this Rush as a strictly nice guy portrayal.  Clearly the guy had some sharp elbows–all you had to do was listen to his show to know that.  

Rush had an amazing bond with his audience over many decades.  This book finds me a few years after Rush’s death, years after his brilliant oratory and incisive analysis ceased to be a part of my daily experience.  Indeed, Rush awakened in many of us a political awareness that we didn’t know we had in us.  He lit a fire.  

Rush on the Radio’s value is that it gives something of a behind the scenes account of the daily operations of Rush’s show.  It tends towards hagiography, yet it also reveals details and direct experiences which Golden has at his disposal. 

Golden discusses the Rush Limbaugh TV show, which aired at about 1am or 2am.  I remember watching the show in high school during the summer, when an adolescent might keep such hours.  Though I was apolitical at that point, I found the show captivating.  Looking back, it was a kernel of my intellectual development.  Watching the show and listening to Rush was some of my more productive activities as an adolescent, though as Golden explains, the show went off the air after four years, when Rush decided he simply preferred radio. 

As Golden explains, many of the format techniques of political shows today owe their existence to Rush Limbaugh, and specifically Rush’s TV show.  This includes the montage clip, the man on the street interview, and even just the very format of an opinion political talk show in that particular style. Imagine the smug Jon Stewart acknowledging he owes a debt to…Rush Limbaugh.

Guest Hosts 

It was Golden who had the concept of Mark Steyn as a guest host, after admiring Steyn’s columns.  As Golden puts it, Steyn has a “unique wit” and was easily the best guest host Rush had on his roster.  The other guest hosts earned an automatic tune-out, whereas listening to Steyn was comparable to listening to Rush himself in terms of edification and entertainment.  Unfortunately, Steyn was not tapped to replace Rush upon his passing; or perhaps Steyn didn’t want to.  

A team replaced Rush, including Buck Sexton and Clay Davis, who are unremarkable.  Other hosts now in the timeslot (presumably in different markets) are Erik Erickson and Dan Bongino.  The contrast really highlights Rush’s superior intellect.  Particularly with Bongino, these hosts represent a more low-brow version of talk radio.  Limbaugh, on the other hand, made his arguments with a rhetorical precision that is unmatched. 

It’s not just about being angry on the radio.  Rather, talk radio is an artform, at least in Limbaugh’s day.  It only served to contrast Rush’s mastery to replace him with such bland guys repeating talking points.  

Rush was not just articulate, the man enunciated.  He had a classy and traditional delivery, but also had an irreverent wit which actually made him edgy.  There are many pale imitations of Rush, affecting his baritone, but none of them quite work.  

Hearing Loss 

If for a moment I thought the book was too long (and this review is too long), about half way through I was reminded of the dramatic twists and turns in Rush’s career and life. Golden had left the EIB Network for some time to embark on another media venture.  He would still listen to Rush on the radio: 

“...Rush had moved the broadcast studio to Florida.  I listened every day and was still the semi-official program observer.  I noticed things–little details that few others would catch.  In 2001, I began to notice that something was off with Rush’s voice.  The timing, the pauses, the pitch and tone of his voice was off.  At times he seemed to slur some of his words.  Concerned, I called him one morning.  What’s going on, Rush?  Something sounds different.” (128).   (128).  

Golden investigated and learned about Rush’s rapidly deteriorating ability to hear.  Without another thought, he returned to his post to help his friend and idol find a way to continue the show completely deaf. 

Rush on the Radio, as I’ve mentioned, is not written with literary flair.  Rather, Golden’s voice is down-to-earth, man-on-the-street.  Though the chapters are not always organized logically, one can certainly appreciate the heart that he put into the book.  One can also appreciate the book as a tribute to the man who should not be forgotten. 

Golden Brings Grievance Politics 

Golden recounts many times when he feels like he was the victim of racism.  This feels discordant as black grievance was not exactly a theme of the Rush Limbaugh show.  Rather, his show was more about the excesses of those grievances.  Therefore, it’s a bit ironic to hear about Golden’s recount of what may in some cases be called microaggressions against him.   

At one point, Golden even suggests that the social security system is racist, because after all, black men die relatively early, while white women collect their benefits for decades.  With comments like these, one starts to wonder what exactly makes Golden “conservative,” besides a shared disbelief at the excesses of the left. 

Golden likewise expresses his disapprobation of the Confederate Flag (somewhat understandable), and July 4th (less understandable).  If anything, the views Golden expresses show what a quixotic task it really is for conservatives to persuade black people to their cause.  Perhaps it is necessary to literally sit next to Rush Limbaugh for thirty years in order to complete the conversion, if we are to go by Golden’s case.  

Golden’s pet project is the quixotic quest to bring more blacks around to the Republican party, an idea which has been tried many times, to make an understatement.  A bit Rush had was to refer to the NAALCP, which is to add “liberal” into the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.  If one looks at voting patterns, however, the NAACP can indeed rightfully claim to represent black people without qualifying themselves as “liberal.”  That’s why Rush’s bit falls flat, as does Golden’s efforts to point to the “double standards” of such organizations.  The reality on the ground is that people of color are voting overwhelmingly for Democrats, despite decades of trying to entice them with the conservative message.  Golden is very much of the “Democrats are the real racists” persuasion.  He cites that the Republican party was created to oppose slavery as proof of their nonracist credentials, which is of course a trope of conservative talk-radio. 

Golden’s Politics 

Rush was an extremely ideological person who conveyed a consistent worldview day after day.  Golden, on the other hand, is just a normal guy, who like a lot of people, isn’t especially consistent in his political views, nor does he hold a coherent worldview which he is communicating in his book.  Instead, it’s more like random observations with frequent references to Rush’s monologues on a given topic.  

Frankly, the weakest parts of Rush on the Radio is when Golden expounds on his own political ideas.  After sticking it out for over 200 pages, I concluded that these passages are better skimmed than read carefully.  Sorry, Mr. Snerdly.  It would have been a better book had he stuck to describing his interaction with Mr. Limbaugh, which he does well, to be fair, and had only gone on brief forays to describe his own personal biography.  There are parts of the book that are written eloquently–because it probably wasn’t written by Golden.   

Golden’s political insights are about as sophisticated as a random listener of Rush Limbaugh, which is to say not bad, but not really worth a 300 page book.  This is not meant to denigrate him–certainly he brought some value to Rush Limbaugh as a call screener and other duties. 

Grade: B

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