CHARLOTTE — WBT radio’s afternoon host Brett Winterble said he learned a lot about business, life and more in his near decade working for the late Rush Limbaugh – and the opportunity to honor his late friend pulling double duty and guest hosting the show was an easy decision.
Since Limbaugh died of stage-four lung cancer in February, his eponymous radio show has continued with rotating “guide hosts,” who weave together their own take on the current day’s news along with monologues and phone calls from over 30 years of his legendary career.
The current format has given Winterble, who hosts the 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. afternoon slot on the venerable Charlotte station, a national audience after years spent learning with the team behind Limbaugh.
“I started working with the show through their syndicator, a company called ESM media, back in 1995. I worked in the back end with the office in advertising and traffic and worked my way up. I eventually went to Premiere Radio Networks in Los Angeles in 1998,” said Winterble.
After gaining valuable experience, he moved to New York to work directly with Limbaugh on his show.
“Probably the fall of 1999, I started screening. I was in that capacity from ‘99 until 2006. That was an experience, every day, working with the show, helping him with whatever he needed, and we became tremendous friends,” he said. “It’s a rarity; people don’t leave that show. But I wanted to get back out to the west coast and I wanted to get my own show. And I left on extremely good terms with Rush. It was really a formative decade.”
Returning to Los Angeles, Winterble worked for Michael Reagan, son of the 40th President. He began working as a substitute host and launched a podcast in early 2007 focused on the War on Terror.
Winterble says the podcast started as 15-minute episodes and grew to fill three hours, focusing on national security and terrorism, but eventually moving into domestic news.
He also would pivot to sports talk at a famous Southern California station, KSWV, where he talked a lot of NBA basketball since the station was the flagship of the Los Angeles Clippers. He added that he thinks sports talk is the much harder end of talk radio.
“You’ve got to be aware of so much, and with specificity, and it’s a much faster-paced environment,” he said.
“It’s one of those funny things, you know; the escape you get from the news when you get home at night and get to watch some ball games, but when you have to watch as part of your job, there is no escape. I’m not going to sit down and relax watching Sean Hannity at night,” he quips, “So sports is an escape that goes away.”
In 2015, Winterble took a time slot in San Diego full time before making the move to Charlotte five years later.
Taking his turn as guide host has helped connect Winterble to memorable moments in the past, even if, he admits, he doesn’t know who came up with the idea. He says he talked to folks from the show around New Year’s week; and after Limbaugh passed, he agreed to host the show.
“I said, okay. What does that look like? Because when you fill in, you’re doing news of the day. This meant integrating content and I think I was a valuable addition to the effort,” Winterble says. “The fact I had been there for so many of those years, especially in the early 2000s, I had a big reservoir of memory and knowledge, of bits and riffs and things he talked about.”
Winterble said he was able to work with the show’s producers to figure out what would still be relevant, adding that Limbaugh’s team is “amazing” and many of them have been with the show since the 1990s. He said the team decided on how they were going to do it, and “I said, okay, cool. I can do that, and we were off to the races.”
“Rush was a visionary; he was fully doing his shows while a lot of these personalities came in like AOC, Ilhan Omar, The Squad. So much is relevant. Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Donald Trump — they’re all still relevant,” said Winterble. “I watched him every day putting his shows together. He had such strong instincts when it came to politics, and he could set it up and just nail it. It was unbelievable.”
He said the way the show was indexed and archived made his job easy, saying the show’s team did a masterful job setting up the archives.
As for what’s next for the Rush Limbaugh Show, Winterble said he wasn’t sure what the plan was, but felt confident that Limbaugh’s voice wouldn’t be going away. Premiere announced that beginning June 21, the team of Clay Travis and Buck Sexton would take over the three-hour time slot.
“He was incredibly generous. I know that’s the kind of thing that people say oftentimes, but he was an unbelievably generous man. His acts of generosity were not always public or publicized, but they were private,” said Winterble.
“In full selfishness, there is no greater thrill than having a guy who’s on 650 stations with 20 million listeners a week announce the birth of your daughter and son. I had lost track of the CDs that I had [announcing the birth of Winterble’s children]. And when I came in for the first time to guide host, they played that as part of the intro, and it was really touching. It really took me back to that time,” he said. “I learned more from him than any teacher or professional I ever worked with.”