Rush Limbaugh, perhaps the most popular radio talk-show host in America, with an estimated 19 million listeners, will be leaving WCBM-AM for WBAL-AM by January.
The move will push Ron Smith from WBAL's midafternoon slot to evenings and bump nighttime host Dan Rodricks to weekends.
"You bet I'm excited," said WBAL Vice President Jeff Beauchamp of the Limbaugh coup. "You bet I am."
Mr. Smith, who more than held his own against Mr. Limbaugh in head-to-head competition, said he is thrilled as well, despite being dropped from his 1 p.m.-to-4 p.m. time slot. Mr. Limbaugh's show currently airs from noon to 3 p.m. on WCBM. He is expected to move to the 1 p.m.-to-4 p.m. slot on WBAL Jan. 3.
"It's a good business move. I urged the station to try and get Rush for a long time," said Mr. Smith, who likened his politics -- but not his personality -- to Mr. Limbaugh's. "He's the biggest phenomenon in radio since Arthur Godfrey."
Nick Mangione, station manager of the 10,000-watt WCBM, did not return phone calls yesterday.
Mr. Beauchamp would not talk about details of the contract that landed Mr. Limbaugh, a witty commentator with adoring fans in 626 radio markets, a man who fancies himself the ultra-conservative voice of America now that Ronald Reagan has retired.
"We've been talking to the syndicator trying to get him for a number of months," Mr. Beauchamp said. "Rush Limbaugh is the hottest thing going in talk radio in the country, and he's been underperforming [on WCBM]. With him, we can have even greater ratings."
Mr. Beauchamp quoted Arbitron ratings from the spring of this year that showed the 50,000-watt WBAL attracting 96,900 listeners between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. and WCBM with 91,500 when Mr. Limbaugh and Mr. Smith are in direct competition.
The same ratings book showed WBAL tied for sixth place between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. weekdays with 25-to-54-year-old listeners and WCBM ranked 11th.
"Every market is always under constant analysis, and we review ratings at various times of the year," said Lee Vanden-Handel, director of affiliate relations for EFM Media Inc., which syndicates Mr. Limbaugh's show. "We're always looking for ways to grow the show."
Mr. Beauchamp said he wasn't worried about losing an audience built around local news and issues by bringing in a national figure based in New York.
"News is still the backbone of our station," he said. "We'll still have news at the top of every hour and if anything big happens we'll update it during the Limbaugh show. Anything that important that happens locally will get priority."
Asked what would happen if a police officer were killed in the middle of the afternoon and an outraged citizen wanted to talk about it, Mr. Beauchamp said: "They could talk about it with Ron in the evening."