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Pittsfield station dumps Rush Limbaugh

Tirade against student ‘violated standards’

A Pittsfield radio station became the second in the nation to drop Rush Limbaugh from its lineup following the conservative talk-radio host’s derogatory comments about a law student who testified before Congress on the need for health insurers to cover contraceptives.

WBEC AM (1420) said it stopped airing the controversial radio host’s show on Monday, the same day a small station in Hawaii, KPUA AM (670), also dropped “The Rush Limbaugh Show.’’ Another local station, WXTK FM (95.1), said it opposed Limbaugh’s comments and is monitoring his broadcasts, but is continuing to air the show.

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Several advertisers across the country have abandoned the three-hour afternoon show, including Internet giant AOL, bedding retailers Sleep Train and Sleep Number, and Boston-based data backup company Carbonite.

Nearly 600 stations nationwide air Limbaugh’s show to up to 20 million people each week, according to the show’s syndicator.

Scott Fybush, editor of the trade journal NorthEast Radio Watch, said the controversy could further erode Limbaugh’s brand, which has weakened in recent years. Limbaugh could be particularly vulnerable as Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential candidate, prepares to hit the airwaves next month with his own show in the same time slot.

Limbaugh “is not going to expand his audience because of this,’’ Fybush said.

Boston University advertising professor Tobe Berkovitz said Limbaugh will probably rebound because his reputation thrives on controversy. Berkovitz compared Limbaugh to fellow radio host Don Imus, who was able to revive his career after making racially disparaging comments about the Rutgers women’s basketball team in 2007.

“In the long run, the least damage is going to be to Limbaugh. He already is such a polarizing figure,’’ Berkovitz said. “The people who love him are going to entrench, and the people who hate him now have more reason.’’

Limbaugh provoked a storm of criticism last week when he called third-year Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke a “slut’’ and a “prostitute’’ after she testified before Congress in support of a health care policy requiring that employees of institutions with religious affiliations have access to insurance that covers birth control. Georgetown is a Catholic university. Catholic teachings oppose birth control.

In a statement Tuesday, Limbaugh’s syndicator, Premiere Radio Networks, defended Limbaugh, but took no responsibility for his comments. Premiere is a unit of Clear Channel Media and Entertainment of San Antonio, which owns three of the remaining four stations in Massachusetts that carry Limbaugh.

“Last week, in an attempt at absurdist humor to illustrate his political point, Mr. Limbaugh used words that unfortunately distracted from the message he was trying to convey,’’ Premiere said. “We believe he did the right thing on Saturday, and again on his radio show on Monday, by expressing regret for his choice of word and offering his sincere and heartfelt apology to Ms. Fluke.’’

On his show’s website, Limbaugh said he “did not mean a personal attack’’ on the student.

Management at Pittsfield’s WBEC, which had aired Limbaugh for more than 15 years, said his comments about Fluke had gone too far - even for a radio personality known for provocative statements.

“While we understand the controversial nature of talk radio and encourage political discourse, we believe there are ways to do that without exceeding the bounds of civility,’’ the station said in a statement. “Rush’s defamatory and disparaging remarks about Ms. Fluke clearly violated the standards we have set for our stations.’’

Reaction to the move from WBEC listeners has so far been positive, said Bruce Danziger, president of Vox Communications Group LLC, the Newton company that owns WBEC. For every complaint, the station has gotten 20 calls of support, Danziger estimated.

The station, he added, was already considering dropping the show.

“The demographics of that region are not exactly amenable to that sort of programming,’’ Danziger said. Limbaugh’s comments on Fluke, he added, “really sent us over the edge.’’

At WXTK, vice president Allison Makkay said a handful of longtime Limbaugh listeners have called to express their shock at the host’s recent comments. Still, the station will continue to air the show.

“We accept that his apology was sincere, but we are taking a wait-and-see approach to the program,’’ Makkay said. “We have been a longtime affiliate.’’

Erin Ailworth can be reached at eailworth@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ailworth.
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