The competition for conservative listeners in the time slot once occupied by Rush Limbaugh has a new contender: former Fox News personality Megyn Kelly.
Kelly began a talk show Tuesday on satellite radio provider SIriusXM. Airing on the conservative “Triumph” channel — which also features Glenn Beck, Dave Ramsey and Laura Schlessinger — the show is on from noon to 2 p.m. Eastern.
That’s prime radio real estate once dominated by Limbaugh, who died from lung cancer in February.
Limbaugh’s syndicate, Premiere Networks, waited until May to allow time for Limbaugh fans to grieve before announcing that two men would assume the “Excellence in Broadcasting” mantle. Clay Travis and Buck Sexton began their show June 21, with many nods to Limbaugh, including the same theme music and call-in number.
But by then, some stations that previously carried Limbaugh had decided to install local hosts or go with Westwood One’s Dan Bongino, a former police officer and Secret Service agent whose Facebook page is regularly in the top 10 most popular posts.
Kelly’s debut stands to splinter Limbaugh’s former audience even more.
So how’d the show go over?
On Twitter, a handful of people fumed that Kelly, a conservative and mother of three, had gotten a new show with expanded reach. (Her most recent venture before joining the Triumph channel was a podcast.) But others said they appreciated the measured and inquisitive voice she brought to the show.
Unlike many other voices in the talk show industry, Kelly identifies as a journalist and created a podcast centered around interviews. Her media company, Devil May Care Media, announced the podcast last year saying it would feature “newsmakers, thought leaders and compelling voices from the heartland and beyond.”
The Sirius show continued that format. While Kelly offered her own opinion on news of the day and took some calls, most of the show was her interviewing newsmakers, to include California gubernatorial candidates Larry Elder and Caitlin Jenner, GOP Sen. Rand Paul, Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz and Catholic Cardinal and Archbishop Timothy Dolan.
Her tone was respectful but her questions were probing, as when she pushed back on Jenner’s call for Elder to resign from the recall race because of unsubstantiated claims of domestic abuse and past comments about women.
Kelly asked Jenner if she had read the source of one controversial comment attributed to Elder, in which the nationally syndicated talk show host had said women were not well informed about politics. When Jenner replied that she had not and had only heard about the comment second hand, Kelly explained that the comment was taken out of context from a column Elder had written about a study that had been conducted by a woman.
The exchange showed Kelly’s willingness to challenge her guests and an ability to do so without anyone getting angry, a marked change from talk shows that seem to take oxygen from outrage. (Russell Moore, public theologian for Christianity Today magazine, recently wrote that instead of inciting anger themselves, many successful talk radio hosts just figure out what their audience is already angry about and channel that outrage.)
But Kelly did not shy away from taking stands on controversial subjects, such as the NFL’s decision to play what’s known as the Black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” before the opening game of the season in Tampa Bay, Florida, Thursday night.
“I don’t think that the average American — Black or white — wants to hear the Black national anthem before they hear the national anthem. And it’s no offense against people of color. We’re one country. We don’t need separate anthems,” Kelly said.
Throughout the week, Kelly frequently mentioned her children, two sons and a daughter ranging in age from 7 to 11. Last year, she revealed that she and her husband had taken her children out of private “woke” schools in Manhattan. It’s unclear where the family now lives, although her interests are clearly aligned with other parents; her topics this week included masking in schools.
Kelly was a top-rated personality at Fox whose sharp questioning of then-candidate Donald Trump during a presidential debate in 2016 angered Trump but won praise from journalists. After leaving Fox, she had an NBC show that was canceled in 2018 after she defended people wearing blackface in Halloween costumes. While she later apologized for those remarks, the Devil May Care website suggests that she is happy to be working for herself, unencumbered by network censors.
“I answer only to my audience and my conscience,” she wrote. “Those who like what I have to say will find the experience deeply rewarding. Those who don’t can look elsewhere. The point is to give the audience authentic content that goes places where traditional media can’t or — more often — won’t.”
For those who don’t have a SiriusXM subscription, you can listen to Kelly’s show on your own schedule. She has a deal that allows her to distribute the show in her podcast, available at places including Apple Podcasts and Spotify. She’s also posting excerpts on Twitter.
But in the race for dominance of Limbaugh’s time slot, it’s too early to count out Buck Sexton and Clay Travis. Inside Radio reported last month that their show is on more than 400 stations and that several markets, including Salt Lake City, had seen double-digit gains in ratings between June and July.