Limbaugh was miserable when his father insisted he attend college. Under protest he enrolled at nearby Southeast Missouri State University, where he lasted a year. Somehow he even contrived to flunk speech.
Limbaugh hit the road in a 1969 Pontiac LeMans. He spent the 1970s spinning records at radio stations around the country under the name Jeff Christie. From the start, he had a knack for making people laugh. In Pittsburgh he sometimes convinced callers he could see them via a special telephone. He did voices and parodies.
Limbaugh drifted from job to job. He was wounded by his father’s disapproval, unable to make a real go of the radio business and unlucky in marriage. In the mid-’80s he took a job in the front office of the Kansas City Royals baseball team. He was making $12,000 a year, and he almost quit to take a more lucrative job as a potato-chip distributor. “They were offering $35,000,” he told me. “That sounded like a lot of money.”
Instead, he decided to take a last gamble on his talent. He found a radio job in Sacramento where, for the first time, he started airing his conservative opinions and really developing his bombastic, politically incorrect, El Rushbo persona. The show was a hit.
Limbaugh said things that people had never heard on the radio. He mocked the women’s movement (“feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women access to the mainstream of society”); scoffed at sex education (“condoms work only during the school year”); and took on conventional wisdom (“using federal dollars as a measure, our cities have not been neglected but poisoned with welfare-dependency funds”). It is hard to imagine, so many years later, how strange and rebellious, how simply wrong, such sentiments sounded.