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Paul W. Smith: Listeners will remember Rush Limbaugh with love

Paul W. Smith  |  The Detroit News

“Outta’ My Mind on a Friday Moanin’” 

It’s rare that I would find myself in this kind of “no win” situation. 

I’ve worked very hard, since starting in radio at the age of 15, to be the best I could be.  

I never felt awkward or out of place when I started any other radio program, yet I felt a pending doom every time I filled in for this show.

The theme music would start. 

The anticipation would build. 

The nerves would rattle. 

Why was this so different? 

I had done thousands upon thousands of shows over the years; my own, and filling in for others from around the world. 

Then I would hear my old friend Johnny Donovan’s unmistakable voice say the words that solidified my inevitable fall into the abyss: “Ladies and gentleman, sitting in for Rush Limbaugh, Detroit’s own Paul W. Smith!” 

I could hear the collective sigh of disappointment. As a regular listener, even I was bummed out Rush was off. I knew no matter what came out of my mouth and into the famous golden EIB microphone, there would be a din of people clicking off their radio in frustration, finding out abruptly that their much-anticipated daily dose of Rush was not going to happen. 

Almost exactly one year ago, Rush lovers (we used to be called ditto-heads) had the wind knocked out of us when he revealed he had just found out he had stage 4 lung cancer. We had a year to prepare for losing him. A year was not nearly enough time. 

Rush Limbaugh saved AM radio, plain and simple. He took a dead time period, noon to 3 p.m., on a dead band and became the most-listened-to talk show host in the history of radio. 

By far. 

As I read the various obituaries and stories about Rush, I do wish there was a rule out there that said you had to at least have listened to him, or even talked to his listeners, before you were allowed to write. 

That clearly is not the case. 

The Rush Limbaugh I was lucky enough to know was incredibly talented, kind and sincere. The bombast and very clever, entertaining lines like, “With talent on loan from God!” or “With half my brain tied behind my back, just to make it fair!” never followed him off the air.

Rush was a gentle man who loved doing what he did every day. He loved our country, conservative views, his family and his listeners. 

He was, without a college degree, a giant in the “Halls of Conservatism,” truly standing tall with the likes of Justice Antonin Scalia, William F. Buckley and President Ronald Reagan.  

Rush was incredibly generous to many, many charitable causes. He and his wife, Kathryn, gave millions of dollars to countless important efforts to make life better for many. 

Rush had many successful projects to go with his radio and television work: Newsletters, best-selling books, iced tea and, I think one of his favorites, would turn out to be his series of “Rush Revere” children’s history books. 

In fact, when I was at a dinner with him a few years ago at a fundraiser for the Prostate Cancer Foundation, I mentioned my (then) little girl Sophie’s love of his Rush Revere books. He lit up and asked me to videotape, with my phone, a personal message he wanted to send her: “Hey Sophie … rush, rush, rush into history, standing here in NYC with your dad; and he loves you so much, and I do too! Thank you for reading and enjoying my books, and I wish you the best life you can imagine.”  

And Rush meant that. He wanted the best life for everyone. 

And just as he told his listening audience that he loved them, he really meant that too. 

And we loved him.

And thankfully, he died knowing that. 

Paul W. Smith is host of “The Paul W. Smith Show” on WJR-AM (760) from 5:30-9 a.m. Monday-Friday.