- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 9, 2001

Talk-radio personality Rush Limbaugh told his listeners yesterday that he has battled a severe hearing loss since May, a malady that threatens his broadcasting career.
"I have lost my ability to hear, but I have not lost my ability to communicate," Mr. Limbaugh, 50, announced yesterday. He is determined to find a way to continue his daily show.
Mr. Limbaugh said his hearing loss is not genetic. Doctors have a theory about his condition, but he declined to disclose it.
"If the pattern keeps up, I'll be totally deaf," Mr. Limbaugh said. "I cannot hear a thing in my left ear, with hearing aids, the most powerful made, mean nothing. I have the ability to recognize sound but not identify it in my right ear."
The conservative firebrand reaches 20 million listeners weekly on his three-hour, nationally syndicated show.
"This is a guy who put AM radio back on the dial," said Jim Glass, a radio talk show consultant for McVay Media in Cleveland. "And ideology has nothing to do with it. The man is a talent. He transcends political venue. The man is so good at what he does if anyone can prevail, it is Rush Limbaugh."
In July, Mr. Limbaugh signed a new contract through 2009 for a reported $250 million including a $35 million signing bonus. It made him the highest paid media talk show personality.
When Forbes magazine asked the icon about his contract, Mr. Limbaugh replied with his trademark bluster: "I am frequently asked if I expected this level of success, and the honest answer is yes so why should I feign surprise when it happens?"
Mr. Limbaugh, who is despised by liberal groups, said his frequent absences over the summer were spent not on vacation, but on medical visits. "I've been through every conceivable medical test and exam this summer," he said. "All those times that you thought I was on vacation or playing golf, I've been in an MRI machine or getting blood drawn, or on a stress EKG machine or at a cardiologist, wherever, hearing aid doctor, the hearing doctor, where have you."
Mr. Limbaugh noted that he was financially well off enough that he never has to work again. But, still, he will carry on.
"I can do this radio program every day without taking a phone call, if I have to," Mr. Limbaugh said. "And in my mind still outrate 99 percent of the people who do it. Or, if I want to take phone calls, we'll find a way to do that. In fact, we already have."
Premier Radio Networks, which carries Mr. Limbaugh to 600 stations nationwide, offered its support for the talk show host via a news release. And within two hours of the announcement, fans announced a Web site GOPportal.com/rush.html where well-wishers could send condolences.
"It is a gigantic human interest story," said Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers magazine, the industry's leading publication. "For this man of steel in our industry to come, of all things, to a hearing loss, is a cruel irony."
Mr. Harrison said Mr. Limbaugh's voice has been noticeably different in timbre over the past several weeks. The normally commanding, smooth tones have moved up in register at times.
"There has been talk in the business about it," said Mr. Harrison, who noted that this is the first time any major radio personality has been stricken with such an illness.

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