Monday, January 29, 2007

Air America sold to New York real estate developer, Franken to leave

Whew! Lots going on at Air America Radio this morning. The network has announced a sale, and Al Franken is officially hanging up his headphones.

Huffington Post reports that Air America has reached a sale agreement. And it isn't to Richard French. The company will be sold to SLG Radio LLC, an entity controlled by Stephen L. Green, founder and chairman of SL Green Realty Corp, a successful Manhattan real estate developer. The sale will be accomplished pursuant to section 363 of the United States Bankruptcy Code and is expected to close by mid-February. Green has signed a letter of intent and could finalize the purchase agreement this week. No further terms of the deal were announced. SLG Radio is a venture separate from SL Green Realty.

Also reported to be part of the deal is Green's brother, Mark, a New York Democrat who served as the city's public advocate in the 90s and ran for mayor against Michael Bloomberg in 2001. Mark Green had previously appeared as a guest host on the Air America program "Politically Direct," and has close ties with the show's producer, People For the America Way, of which his wife is a former director.

Air America CEO Scott Elberg confirmed the sale. "This is a great thing, for our affiliates, the company, the audience and every employee in our organization."

According to a release from Air America, SLGreen Realty Corp. has been the most profitable office real estate investment trust (REIT) in the country based on a total return to share holders, controlling 27 million square feet of commercial property largely in Manhattan and with a market cap of over $12 billion.

As for Air America's future plans, Green has many ideas. "Because I'm a businessman who enjoys creating and growing companies, I'm purchasing a majority ownership in Air America with the intention of making it a successful business that returns a profit," said Green. "To assure that AAR survives and thrives, we'll do three things. First, we'll stabilize its finances. Second, we'll build on its lineup to assure the best radio talent possible, since in the long run content is king. And third, we'll extend this special brand by partnering with other platforms beyond radio to make sure that Air America's content reaches the wide audience it deserves."

“In this digital era, the tech changes by the day and Air America Radio has to become something of a new media company,” Mark Green added. “We look forward to an AAR 2.0 that has sharp smart content better distributed over a variety of platforms. And what better time to try this than with progressive and democratic values obviously on the rise?”

Mark Green added that no hiring or programming positions had been decided for the network, should the deal go through. Furthermore, a possible executive role at Air America for Mark is unknown. He said he was speaking only as the brother of the purchaser.

The Progressive Radio Group, led by former Air America chairman Terry Kelly, will own a minority stake in the network. Kelly formed the group of about 20 investors in the fall after Air America filed for bankruptcy.

In related news, midday host Al Franken has confirmed on his show (mp3) that he will be leaving the network, as he explores a run for the U.S. Senate from Minnesota. Franken staffer Andy Barr told the St. Paul Pioneer Press not to read anything else into it. "This is not, repeat NOT, going to be an announcement about anything else," said Barr, in an email to the newspaper. Franken has been exploring a possible 2008 run for the U.S. Senate from his home state of Minnesota.

"We are very sad to see Al Franken depart from Air America and wish him every success in his next endeavor," said Elberg. "Al's brilliance, humor and passion put Air America on the map and we will always regard him as part of our family."

Franken's departure means that Thom Hartmann, who's Air America-syndicated show runs in the same time slot, will slide into the main network schedule. Franken's last day will be February 14.

More updates will follow.

Related links:

Air America press release
Daily Kos
New York Times
MSNBC

Business Week
Sheldon Drobny - a rather pessimistic view of the sale

14 comments:

NYLefty said...

Air America has a press release about the sale at:

http://www.airamerica.com/press

I suspect that Mark Green will take an active role in running Air America. He sounded pretty good when he filled in for David Bender earlier this month.

mystic23 said...

In your recent post about the Frenchs you mentioned that Marc Maron was in talks with them about returning. I know Mark Green was a frequent guest on Maron's show - do you think Maron will be back at Air America now?

I'm beting he gets the 9 til noon slot replacing Seder, and Seder will go back to evenings on Majority Report.

Turks are ok on morning drive for me but they aren't as fun as Maron's old show. Maron told me he doesn't want the morning show because most east coast AAR's don't run the morning drive show and it was impossible (nearly) for Californians to enjoy it. But the 9am shift gives him some morning drive exposure on the west.

NYLefty said...

The Greens are buying the network, not "the Frenches." If Maron wants to return to AAR he'll have to convince the new owners, not wanabee owners who were outbid.

ltr said...

I think AAR made a wise choice with the Greens. They definitely have the backing and the business saavy. The Frenches scared me, as their TV operation looks a bit shakey.

And I'm not sure if the other rumored buyers had the financial backing for it.

I do wonder, however, who the key minority investors will be.

Regardless, the Greens will need more than ideology and money to make it work. I would suggest getting people with radio experience involved in some of the decision making.

All in all, this looks like a pretty good day for Air America. And I'm glad Franken finally bowed out gracefully, as the rumors about his departure have been quite a distraction as of late. In return, the excellent and fast-rising Thom Hartmann will now be on the main satellite feed. This is a win-win for all concerned.

Emacee said...

The big question is: How many stations will clear Hartmann? With Franken leaving - and the number one liberal talk host feeding his show live in the spot - the midday daypart is completely up for grabs. Jones syndication reps will be pitching hard for Big Ed, with all sorts of charts and graphs to document his track record.

On top of that, station owners may be reluctant to put too many eggs in AAR's basket and will be looking at Jones, Nova M and other program providers. AAR has a bad history under both owners and several management teams. There is no assurance this guy, from outside the radio industry and with an apparent political agenda, will do any better.

Put your money on Ed Schultz for the midday slot.

If this new guy is smart, he will start cutting dead wood and the only tree that bears fruit at AAR is Randi. He'd be insane to hire back long discarded dead wood like Maron. If Maron does come back, this is a clear sign nothing has really changed.

Jill said...

OK, Emacee, admit it. You're really Danny Goldberg, right?

William said...

This is good news for AAR, and I think that we will see some changes in the AAR lineup. Thom Hartmann will find that he will be in a sharp competition with Ed Schultz, but both hosts have their strong points. The Greens will have to try to convince affiliates that AAR will be around.

I fail to see why some consider Marc Maron to be dead wood, when Morning Sedition was eliminated due to Danny Goldberg's dislike of the show. I admit that the morning slots can be problematic for AAR, as many stations have local hosts or rely on syndicated hosts for those hours. As I recall, Morning Sedition did well in the markets that it was in.

Perhaps one of the great challenges for the Green is to rebuild AAR's image. I think that they can do it.

I will miss Al Franken's show, as I enjoyed many of his guests. However, I realize that his interview intensive show and humor was not to everyone's taste.

will in chicago

NYLefty said...

"As I recall, Morning Sedition did well in the markets that it was in."

What markets were those? I don't know of ANY where it did "well." And I doubt that Steve Green will get involved with running AAR, although Mark Green almost certainly will. Mark is a veteran politician who's had lots of experience dealing with the media and sounded like he knew what he was doing when he subbed for David Bender on AAR. I'm optimistic that he'll do a good job.

Emacee said...

> Regardless, the Greens will need
> more than ideology and money to
> make it work. I would suggest
> getting people with radio
> experience involved in some of the
> decision making.

Amen!

> Mark is a veteran politician
> who's had lots of experience
> dealing with the media and
> sounded like he knew what he was > doing when he subbed for David
> Bender on AAR. I'm optimistic
> that he'll do a good job.

Dealing with the media or filling in on a talk show is not the same as running a radio syndication company or producing talk radio. The more I think about this, the more it sounds like more of the same: Another guy with a political agenda, deep pockets, huge ego and no experience in radio.

> OK, Emacee, admit it. You're
> really Danny Goldberg, right?

What? Anybody who doesn't agree with you must have some ax to grind?

Here's my ax: I'm more interested in good radio than in politics. Talk radio is about the only real radio left (except for the occasional morning show). I think AAR got a lot of attention for progressive talk radio through all their screw ups (I.E. America actually had a better product but nobody ever heard of them). They were also the first to realize that progressive talk needed to be a distinct format. Beyond that, they have mostly discredited the concept of progressive talk radio through their repeated incompetence. If not for Jones, Steph, Big Ed and a few local shows, progressive talk would have died already - dragged into the ground by AAR.

ltr said...

While I.E. America did have some good hosts, such as Malloy, Werbe, Hartmann, etc., their schedule was cluttered with advice shows and shows about gardening, pets and car repair. Of course, those were the shows on I.E. that had the most affiliates.

As far as deep pocketed guys with no experience in radio, well, look who's buying Clear Channel - venture capital firms. Think they know much about radio?

As for all the Maron bashing, let me just go on record as saying I thought he did a great show. I still listen to the stream of his old show on occasion. For a guy with minimal radio experience, he's not bad. Perhaps they should team him up permanently with Seder, to maybe take the edge off him.

Longtime said...

Emacee has made Air America-bashing on the Internet almost a full-time job, using a variety of screen names including Mike Carr, Merriam Webster, MWebster, NWebster, Birkenstock, and Fred Flintstone. One has to wonder where all this animosity came from and why he spends so much time on his little crusade.

Emacee said...

Fighting Irish has provided a link to a very interesting column by Sheldon Drobny. One especially pertinent observation:
The real question is what is there left to acquire besides the AAR studio and equipment? The value of a team is based primarily on the player contracts. This is not a sports franchise that has lots of intrinsic value. Without a good team of hosts, AAR has little if any value. And many of the AAR hosts and affiliates will have a difficult time trusting whoever runs AAR.
Bottom line: AAR has two good hosts; one of which it has effectively kept on the bench.
Drobny is also right when he points out that maybe early last fall a reorganization might have saved AAR in something like its present form. Now, it's too late.

"Longtime" seems to have problem with different user names but he introduces himself here with a brand new one, not one familiar to other long time radio board posters. But the style of personal attack instead of debate is very familiar. Irish, I hope you won't let this sort of thing take root over here.

ltr said...

First off, everyone needs to leave the message board shit back where it belongs. This isn't a bitch board. And I could care less about what's going on at other sites. Any more of this nonsense and I start crackin' skulls and deleting comments. Keep it all on topic, and stop the flaming.

Okay, got your attention? Cool.

And the name's LTR here, bubba! Don't wear it out. Just as you can change your name as often as Madonna changes her hair color, I can do likewise. So there! As Darth Vader said once, that name means nothing to me. Again, leave the board shit back at the board. And that goes for everyone, dammit!

As far as the Drobny column goes, remember, he has a horse in the race too. He made a straight offer to buy AAR last fall. They turned him down and opted for Ch. 11. Drobny struck out on his own with Nova M. Think he's got an axe to grind? Absolutely.

Sure, he does have a few points, but he talks about rich sugardaddies with minimal radio experience bailing out AAR. Well, what does that make him?

The column was also a bit too heavy-handed in the promotion department. Seemed to be more about Drobny and Nova M than the AAR sale. I felt like I was reading a sales pitch.

No offense intended toward Mr. Drobny, because he's doing well on his own now. And he was right on with a few comments. But consider the source. Hardly objective, but I added the link because I felt it would be interesting to see his take.

Emacee said...

Fair enough, LT...

Yes, Sheldon is an interested party in all this but I think he made some valid points, none the less. I take his personal comments about Rob Glaser and the former AAR board with a huge grain of salt, but the landscape of progressive talk has changed in the past few months. Steph and Ed have continued to pick up steam. Ed moves to noon (and now Franken vacates). Nova M as a new player with Malloy, after AAR dumped him. Some stations dropping the format; others moving to non-AAR program sources. Bankruptcy is NOT a confidence builder for stations, advertisers or talent. AAR's position in the progressive talk marketplace is not what it was six months ago. The questions Drobny raises are valid: How badly has AAR been hurt - even crippled by all this? Time will tell.


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