I was watching the Smells Like Nirvana music video and saw someone in the background that I thought looked like Rush Limbaugh (and it would be the right time period) so I was googling it to find out if it was him (it was not) and ran across this old thread and was surprised to see that no one had given the real answer to this so I thought I'd share what I happen to know about it as a Rush Limbaugh fan from back in Rush's heyday.
The recent “Weird” parody biopic (in which almost everything is a joke and doesn’t reflect the real history at all) isn’t the only source of misinformation about Weird Al Yankovic trivia. Some people want to know whether or not the Rush Limbaugh Show properly licensed “Spatula City” since they remember hearing it on the Rush Limbaugh Show back in the 1990s. Some Ditto-Heads have incorrectly attributed this clip to parody songwriter Paul Shanklin for decades because of its presence on the Rush Limbaugh Show without even knowing that, in reality, the clip is from Weird Al Yankovic’s 1989 film UHF.
To understand what "Spatula City" was doing on the Rush Limbaugh Show, it's necessary to understand that the Rush Limbaugh Show was the first U.S. nationally syndicated daytime radio political talk show ever
. Their whole business model was brand new at the time. Rush Limbaugh was the first nationally syndicated daytime radio political talk show host in the United States.
During the show, the local stations received the nationally syndicated EIB (Excellence In Broadcasting) network audio feed and got to switch over to it for the show content, but they were supposed to switch away from the EIB feed back to their own local feed for commercials during the commercial breaks and station identifications. However, the EIB feed had to keep sending them some kind of audio during those spots just so that the technician(s) at the local radio stations could know that the feed was still working for test purposes. Silence (dead air) might indicate a technical problem.
So the EIB network needed some audio to fill in, that was the exact length of a typical radio spot but was supposed to only be heard by the technician(s) at the local radio stations to test the EIB network feed, indicating "This is your commercial time and the syndicated feed is still working" and for this purpose, they selected the "Spatula City" clip by Weird Al.
The reason some radio listeners would actually hear the "Spatula City" clip on the radio would be if the local radio station failed to switch the feed over to their real commercials at the right time like they were supposed to or if they accidentally switched from their local commercials back to the EIB feed too early. Since the whole business model was brand new, it wasn't all run automatically by computer like it is today — or at least not at every local station. Some local stations might have switched over at the wrong time by mistake or they might not have bothered to switch over if they had any unsold commercial air time.
That's why the Rush Limbaugh Show would end up broadcasting "Spatula City" in spots where commercials should have gone without getting permission or paying Weird Al licensing fees for it -- because unlike the Paul Shanklin parodies, “Spatula City” was not intended to be heard by the audience
. This mistake by some local radio stations is also what started the myth that Spatula City was a Paul Shanklin parody instead of a Weird Al parody since Paul Shanklin did the politically themed musical parodies for the Rush Limbaugh Show. It is also probably why some Rush Limbaugh fans will swear "Spatula City" was never heard on the Rush Limbaugh Show, because their local station never made this mistake.
This isn't even the most interesting controversy involving musical licensing on the Rush Limbaugh Show as there was back and forth with the band The Pretenders for Rush's use of the instrumental break from their song "My City Was Gone" every single day for decades. I think in the end, Rush had that bit re-recorded so that "The Rush Limbaugh Show Theme" was an instrumental cover. But it was very close if it was a re-recording.
On a political note, I don't know why everybody is so big mad about old, dead Rush Limbaugh when current left wing late night TV funnymen one through seven (guys like Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher and Jimmy Fallon, as well as the one right wing host Greg Gutfeld) all owe their careers to the trail Rush Limbaugh blazed in bringing political commentary out of dry ivory tower intellectualism into mainstream popular media.
I think the most important question left is why Weird Al hasn't done a Rush (Canadian progressive rock) parody?
(later edit) I have decided to make this post into a substack