Sunday, October 15, 2006

Air America files for bankruptcy

Apparently a combination of bad management and less-than-stellar ratings has brought down the liberal version of rightie talk radio, which is known by the flag-waving name Air America. I hadn't heard about the poor management of the company, but as to the talent: I've tuned in before, and I can't say I was ever too impressed. I guess the idea is in some ways good, but the idea of a carbon-copy liberal counterpart to the right-wing partisan blather of Limbaugh, Hannity, O'Reilly, Liddy, et al strikes me as, well, illiberal.

The right-wing noise radio is predicated on the notion that there are a lot of angry people out there that don't want thinking to clutter up their opinions. And while I've met some thickheaded, obstinate people who clew to the political left, I don't think there are as many of them out there to sufficiently savor this politics-cum-circus that right-wing radio breeds. I always had the suspicion that Air America wouldn't thrive, and even if the business side were well managed, I'd stand by my conviction.

A better angle would probably be to create a center- to left-of-center news station and shuffle in commentary shows, talk shows, rant shows, satire shows... put them out there and see what happens. Some would likely succeed and some would likely fail, just like on regular TV stations. Where Air America is concerned, it had big names and probably the big egos that come with them, which would make innovation difficult. Couple that with the big ambition that it had, spreading all over the place instead of concentrating on succeeding in one or two markets first, it seems they tried to accomplish too much with too much. While you might think that's possible, apparently it isn't.

Bottom line: you can't take the conservative formula and make it work for liberal content. Conservatives and liberals approach this kind of thing in fundamentally different ways, and their numbers tend to be more concentrated in fundamentally different demographics. Liberals need a new formula. I hope they find it.

Oh, and by the way: if anyone out there needs a writer for some sort of liberal comedy show, I've got a portfolio to show you! ;-) Seriously, drop me a line at I'm getting sick of nine-to-fiving it!


At Sunday, October 15, 2006 at 5:25:00 PM EDT, Blogger Jersey McJones said...

Hey - great post!

I wrote this today:

Three points...

Many Liberals, unlike most Conservatives, actually enjoy or are just curious to hear the Hate Radio morons. I'll confess. I do it too. We are actually curious to know what the "other side" thinks, does and says, and sometimes it's just fun to listen to the ranting and idiocy. Besides, it gets your blood up. It's like professional wrestling. Unfortunately, Liberal talk can just make you depressed. That's why the most popular Liberal talkers tend to do a lot less news and politics and just have fun - and it's they who get the bigger audiences. And so, as most Conservatives disdain listening to oppositional arguments, or trying anything new, or accepting anything at odds with there world view, it would stand to reason that Liberal talk radio will be at a loss for the broader audience of Conservative talk radio. This is common knowledge and common sense, and most liberals know it. Conservatives will tell you that the audience numbers are a measure of the message of Conservative talk radio, while it is the very lambaste and insanity of it that lures Liberal listeners.

It could just be that the demographics of AM radio listeners are such that there simply isn't enough audience for a big, national, Liberal talk/"news," commercial radio syndicate. Liberals, preferring a little more maturity and responsibility in our real news talk, have had Pacifica and NPR for years now, and they're doing just fine. They are not commercial, which we like, as most Liberals, and certainly myself included, really, really, really hate commercials. So yes, they won't make the money of their commercial competitors, but they're still far, far, far better as far as Liberals are concerned. Also, commercials obviously mean a quid pro quo as far as the content goes. Would you buy a car based on what a radio host tells you right after he's done playing a commercial for that car? This is why Liberals buy their cars after reading non-commercial Consumer Reports, and Conservatives go with the likes of Car & Driver. Righties will tell you that the lack of commercial success is a measure of the failure of Liberal fare, while it's the very commerciality of most talk radio that precludes Liberal talk and audiences.

But then, it may well be that Air America itself is the problem. Conservative talk radio has been around for a long time, slowly building its audiences, slowly developing its shtick. Air America toggled unto the cultural scene with a full-blown national network where none had been before and fared untested products into deeply entrenched demographics. Fox didn't become popular overnight. They lagged behind the Big Three for years before they finally built up a durable audience. And Fox had massive, international News Corporation, starring Rupert Murdoch, behind them. Air America was slapped together by a bunch of like-minded comedians and ex-pols. There are plenty of Liberal talk hosts out there in niche markets all over America. Some are popular over broader networks. John Stewart and Stephen Colbert are giants on the tube. And the country seems to be moving back to the Left these days anyway. Perhaps talk radio just can't sustain an Air America right now, or even ever. Conservatives will tell you that Liberal talk is wrong and so therefore it fails, while Conservatism itself utterly fails right before our very eyes.

We Liberals don't need to be told all this. We already know what to think for ourselves.


At Sunday, October 22, 2006 at 1:14:00 AM EDT, Blogger Kurt Kaletka said...

I posted to Jersey McJones' blog in response to the above post. You can read it here, directly below, or by clicking the above link, if you'd like.

Good post, Mr. McJones. Air America seemed to be predicated on the idea that they could create a nationwide network of opinion overnight, which just isn't possible. It's failing for the same reason national Green Party candidates fail: they ignore the grunt work of the local and rush straight for the glamor of the national.

It just doesn't work that way. You need to build up your audiences regionally before you can rely on them nationally. In Youngstown, Ohio, there's a radio show host named Ron Verb, who does a topical program that touches on national issues, but focuses largely on Youngstown, Ohio issues, as well. Verb has built up a name in the area, and whenever I'm back visiting family in the area, I like to tune in. Verb is more of a populist with liberal leanings than an Air America-style liberal, which is why he plays well in Youngstown, and Air America does not.

Liberals do best when it's the printed word or clever satire. It's always been that way: before Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert there were Tom Lehrer and Mort Saul. And before them there was Will Rogers. Rant radio has always been the province of the far right, whether it's today's Rush Limbaugh or yesterday's Father Coughlin. I'm not saying liberals can't make it on talk radio, but I am saying that they can't make it if they try to copy the right wing's formula, which only makes them appear to be a watered-down copy of the genuine article.

Janeane Garafalo, Al Franken and company could accomplish something, perhaps, but they've got to come at it with a point of view, not with a reaction to a point of view. Creating liberal talk radio that's a version of right-wing talk radio just doesn't cut it.


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