LIMBAUGH CITRUS ADS MAY STOP

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Groups' threats to boycott Florida oranges because of commercials on "The Rush Limbaugh Show" may not ripen.

Soon, it will be too late for boycotts to force the withdrawal of the ads. The Florida Department of Citrus' initial six-month, $1 million contract expires at the end of the month, and the state agency may not be able to renew, even if it wants to.

But that's not due to fear of boycotts. The problem is that all the slots in which the department advertised have been sold.

"We've sold all the time," that Mr. Limbaugh now uses to tout Florida citrus, said one executive close to the conservative talk show host.

"Everything is extremely tight. Week in and week out, it is always sold out," a source at a national advertising sales company said.

EFM Media, New York, syndicator of the 3-hour weekday show, wouldn't confirm all inventory has been purchased.

The citrus department, unfazed by the controversy, said it hasn't decided whether to continue buying time on the show. The original purchase on "The Rush Limbaugh Show" also included separate buys, the dollar value of which is unknown, on "Larry King Live" and "The Dr. Dean Edell Show."

The final phase of the agency's three-tiered $17 million marketing program starts next month and involves heavy retail promotions of Florida citrus products.

The agency will also roll out a 30-minute infomercial, "The Great Cooking Challenge," on the Discovery Channel. Network and cable TV plus print ads by Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, New York, also support.

The boycott threats have come from groups including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, National Organization for Women and now the National Education Association. Critics contend the show denigrates racial groups, women and some professions, including teaching.

"When a government agency uses tax dollars to promote a program that is damaging to a people, that crosses the line," said Bill Martin, communications director for the NEA, which is threatening to boycott Florida oranges if Mr. Limbaugh's contract is renewed.

But Mr. Limbaugh said the show moves product. "Even boycotts fail and, in fact, actually increase sales wherever they've been tried. The attacks ... will only increase our audience and standing as a primary outlet for advertising."

Orange juice sales in March, April and May totaled $121 million, off 32% from the rec ord year-ago period. But they were still the second highest on record.

President Clinton last month criticized Mr. Limbaugh and much of talk radio as "a constant, unremitting drumbeat of negativism and cyncism." Said Mr. Limbaugh: "Business has never been better, regardless of who is in the White House."

Snapple Beverage Corp., Compuserve and software marketer Modatech Systems are among advertisers that spend $14,000 a minute to reach the largely conservative male audience, ages 25 to 54, who listen.

"If [Mr. Limbaugh] tastes something and likes it, it comes through in his voice," said Arnold Greenberg, chief operating officer and co-founder of Snapple. "If we can get someone to try it, we've got them."

EFM Chairman-CEO Edward McLaughlin said advertisers overlook content to reach Mr. Limbaugh's loyal listeners. "They support the advertisers very heavily."

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