They opened their show by insisting that they are not Rush Limbaugh’s replacements. “No one is ever going replace Rush Limbaugh,” they said.
But Clay Travis and Buck Sexton are in his time slot, and they just wrapped up the first week of their much anticipated debut.
On Twitter, @Clayandbuck began the week with about 4,500 followers; they ended with nearly 14,000. They had no guests, but on Friday announced a big one: Former President Donald Trump will be on the show Tuesday, which they called “a momentous occasion.”
Here are a few takeaways from the first 15 hours of their show, and some of the reaction to them on social media.
It still seems like Rush is on vacation
As I listened to “The Clay and Buck Show” during its first week, I sometimes felt like Travis and Sexton were just two guys filling in for Limbaugh. It was as if any day now, the man who revitalized AM radio would be back, that his passing in February was just a dream, like the death of Bobby Ewing in the TV show “Dallas.”
The music was the same. The phone number was the same. And Limbaugh was mentioned frequently, though not frequently enough for some listeners.
When Limbaugh died, Premiere Networks said it wouldn’t immediately replace him, giving listeners time to grieve and let go.
Premiere ended up waiting for five months, which wasn’t enough for some listeners. One person on Twitter said Premiere should have waited a year before filling the slot.
Travis and Sexton are good at radio
They’re not Limbaugh, but Travis and Sexton are skilled at radio. Slip-ups were rare and minor. Once, Travis seemed on the verge of saying “You’re listening to OutKick” (his former platform, now sold to Fox), but recovering quickly by saying, “You’re listening to our show.”
There was also a weird moment when Sexton didn’t seem to know how old he was. (“I’m at least 42,” he said. “I was born around 1980 — ‘79 to be exact.”)
Otherwise, Travis and Sexton sounded professional and comfortable together, belying their personal differences.
However, some listeners took issue with their live endorsements of products, which involve the hosts going seamlessly from commentary to ads. The Democrats’ “relentless pursuit of power,” for example, segued into the “relentless pursuit of savings.”
Some people took to social media to complain that there seemed to be more ads than commentary. That, of course, is not a bad thing as far as Premiere is concerned.
Sexton is now conservatism’s most eligible bachelor
Limbaugh was married four times, but did not have any biological children. Travis has been married for 16 years to a former Tennessee Titan cheerleader, with whom he has three sons. Sexton, now conservatism’s most eligible bachelor, said Monday on the show that he didn’t have a wife or kids, but that he is “working on it.” He does have a dog: a French bulldog named Tallulah that he often posts about on social media.
It’s hard to tell which man is talking.
Travis and Sexton came to the show with existing audiences: Travis, from Fox Sports and OutKick; Sexton from another Premiere Networks show, and before that, from Glenn Beck’s network. But people who don’t know their voices are struggling to tell them apart when they don’t address the other by name. To make matters even more confusing, Sexton sometimes sounds a bit like Sean Hannity.
Mountain Dew is the new Snapple
Just like Limbaugh made Snapple a household word, Travis and Sexton have the power to boost sales of products they mention. Mountain Dew and Southern barbecue are the winners this week. (They are broadcasting from Travis’ hometown of Nashville.)
They’re at at the bottom of a steep hill
Prior to the announcement that Travis and Sexton would take over, radio insiders had months to speculate on who Premiere would choose to fill the spot. It was not an insignificant decision.
In the industry, Limbaugh had been known as a “ratings tentpole,” a host whose success boosted others. “Rush was a once-in-a-generation talent,” Fred Jacobs, a longtime radio consultant and president of Jacobs Media, has said. He was also at the forefront of a growing industry.
Now, conservative talk shows proliferate on podcasts and radio. It’s harder to stand out, particularly when so many hosts are talking about the same subjects, like cancel culture, critical race theory and whatever the Democrats are doing at the moment.
When on Friday, Travis and Sexton imitated Joe Biden’s whispery statements at a news conference Thursday, they did so hours after Glenn Beck had done the same thing. To command Limbaugh’s numbers, they’ll need to create surprising, original content, like Limbaugh did in the early years of his show.
And while Travis and Sexton said Monday that theirs was the most anticipated radio show launch in history, they did not begin at the top of the mountain, with Limbaugh numbers. The website Radio Insight reported that all of iHeartMedia outlets that carried Limbaugh are airing “The Clay and Buck Show,” but others have opted for local programing or other national hosts, such as Dan Bongino. There truly won’t be a replacement for Rush if, a year from now, his former audience has severely splintered.
But most of the comments on social media have been positive, and Travis and Sexton scored big by booking Trump on the show next week. Although Trump lost the election, more than 70 million Americans voted for him. That’s more than listened to the king of talk radio even at his peak.
However, as Garland Pollard wrote for BrandlandUSA.com, “Irrespective of the brand, the show will have to survive on its own merits, and if Sexton and Travis can connect over upcoming months.”
Longtime radio consultant Donna Halper said to give the new hosts time before making a judgment. “You’re expecting them to hit the ground running, but I don’t think that’s what the marching orders were.” The pair’s first job is to hold onto the existing audience, and then they can take chances and develop their own distinctive style, she said.
“For Clay and Buck to succeed, they’re going to have to bring in younger conservatives without alienating the people who’re still in mourning. I never judge hosts by their first week, when a show is still in transition,” Halper added. “Will they be able to rise to the occasion? Too soon to say. Call me in a month and I’ll have a better idea.’’