Keith Rush, a pioneer of New Orleans talk radio whose conservative politics earned him a dedicated and sometimes controversial following, died Thursday. He was 89.
Considered by many to be a father of talk radio in New Orleans, Rush’s broadcasting career spanned 60 years. He remained a presence up until recently, hosting programs on the internet until 2016.
Best known for his conservative brand of political talk on WSMB 1350 AM throughout the 1970s and 80s, Rush’s conservative views often made news, as did his interviews with newsmakers. He would frequently give elected officials an open microphone and airtime on his popular radio show.
“When Rick Tonry resigned from Congress, before he called a press conference, he called Keith Rush. When Lawrence Chehardy pulled out of the governor’s race, he did not call a press conference, he called Keith Rush,” wrote WWL-TV political analyst Clancy DuBos in a 1978 New Orleans Magazine article.
Lawrence E. Chehardy, who spent 34 years as Jefferson Parish assessor and succeeded his father in the same position, called Rush the premier local talk show host of his day.
“WSMB had the market cornered at that time, and Keith Rush was the cornerstone of talk radio in New Orleans,” Chehardy said Friday.
“It was a great forum because you could go on and discuss the issues with him and take phone calls from listeners. It was a way for elected officials to be able to converse with their constituents, long before the days of social media,” Chehardy said.
He added that while Rush had distinctly conservative views, he was willing to engage dialogue from those with opposing viewpoints.
“It made for a better show because you would hear Keith’s views and his callers', but also the opinions of people on the other side, whether you agreed with them or not,” Chehardy said.
Rush first joined the staff of WSMB in 1955, when the station was known for music rather than a talk format. He left after a few years, then returned for a second stint from 1962 to 1966. When he returned a third time, in 1968, he was given what was considered the prime shift – 3 to 7 p.m.
Rush was later reassigned to middays, a move he said was considered a demotion. In the 1970s he found his niche during the time period, becoming a stalwart of local radio. For years, Rush’s 10 a.m. broadcast followed the hugely popular Nut and Jeff morning radio show, hosted by Roy Roberts and Jeff Hug on WSMB.
Born in Mobile, Alabama, Rush moved to New Orleans at the age of ten. At 20, he began his radio career, taking a job at a station in in Lake Charles in 1952.
His New Orleans broadcasting career began on WWEZ-AM as a country music disc jockey. Through the 1950s, he booked country performers on the legendary “Louisiana Hayride,” a live concert and radio broadcast, much like Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry. “Hayride” originated from KWKH in Shreveport. Among the performers Rush booked for the show were Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and George Jones.
In February 1955, Rush booked Presley, then 20, for a concert at the Jesuit High School auditorium in New Orleans, one of Presley’s first appearances in the city.
According to Rush’s wife Rachel and family friend Matthew Dillon, Presley performed in two shows that night, at 7:30 and 9 p.m. Tickets cost $1 and the total attendance for both shows was 54 people. Presley was paid $75 for his performance, Keith Rush later said.
In addition to talking about politics on radio, Rush became a candidate for elected office himself. In the 1980s, he ran for state Public Service Commission, making a runoff against longtime commissioner John Schwegmann.
Rush also ran for Jefferson Parish President in the 1980s and for a seat on the parish council in the 1990s, earning a controversial endorsement from David Duke, who frequently appeared on Rush’s radio shows.
He ran again for Jefferson Parish President following Hurricane Katrina, but ultimately decided not to run for the position.
Rush was also a former member of the Republican State Central Committee and a member of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway Commission in the 1980s.
In later years he hosted talk shows on WTIX-AM, WARB-AM and WASO-AM.
In addition to his wife, Rachel Leblanc Rush, survivors include three daughters: Margaret Rush Singh, Rebecca Rush Abadie and Deborah Rush Smith; eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren; a sister and several nieces & nephews. Two sons, Keith Rush Jr. and Kenneth Rush, preceded him in death.
Funeral arrangements are pending.