Thursday, January 21, 2010

Air America, RIP

Today, Air America announced that it has filed for bankruptcy and will end their live programs this afternoon. This is at least the third time they have done so and they have been bought previously and brought back. If this is really it for them this time, its sad for them but it doesn't mean the end of progressive talk radio.

First, a word of appreciation for Air America. Simply put, if it wasn't for them we liberals who are talk radio fans would still be stuck with Rush and his clones with no relief in sight.

Years ago, an article on made the argument that the reason liberal talk had failed because stations ran liberal shows in the middle of a conservative talk line-up. He said it was like placing an hour of classical or country music in the line-up of a rock radio station - the people who tuned in to hear rock didn't want to hear it and that dynamic was killing liberal talk. He suggested that the way to make liberal/progressive talk radio a going concern wasn't just putting out more shows, it would be to create radio stations where it would be all liberal talk, all day.

Air America was the first to take that advice to heart and go with it. They found failing radio stations across the country and offered them a complete package of liberal talk shows. The progressive radio station closest to me here in Oregon - KPOJ AM in Portland - was a low-power station with low listenership when they decided to take the plunge and was one of the first stations in the country to go with Air America from day one.

They had problems starting out. Unsure of how to approach liberal talk, they started out with only one experienced liberal talk show host - Randi Rhodes, who had a local liberal talk show in Florida. Otherwise, they believed that the way to do liberal talk was to fill their airwaves with entertainers - mainly comedians. Al Franken was tapped to be their 'name' flagship show and was so inexperienced as a radio show host that they had to pair him with a woman as co-host who had briefly hosted a public radio talk show to keep the show flowing and provide Franken with on-the-job training. They kept tweaking the format but eventually got to where we're at now.

However, Air America did one thing - they kicked the door open for progressive talk and showed that it could be profitable. My station went from nearly going off the air to a radio station that increased power and if it isn't the number one station in its market it is in the top ten.

Progressive radio was moving away from Air America long before today. Air America got local liberal talk stations their initial audience but now most are a mash of liberal syndicated programs. Randi Rhodes and Thom Hartmann started out as Air America programs, they are now their own separate shows. Ed Schultz was and is a syndicated show who's show is carried by liberal-only talk radio stations and ones who mix his show in with a variety of points of view. Mike Malloy, Bill Press, Stephanie Miller, even Alan Colmes - all separate syndicated programs. For my locale, about the only Air America shows left on my station are the Ron Reagan show during the week and the weekend "Ring of Fire" program.

So, it this is it for them finally, I send Air America a fond adieu and and much thanks. Thanks to them, progressive talk radio exists and continues to thrive.

1 comment:

Della Lee said...

Thanks for an interesting background on liberal talk radio. I don't listen to talk radio so I didn't know this.