Thursday, February 08, 2007

The rise, fall and comeback of left-leaning radio

Just stumbled across a very good article in the new L.A. City Beat, which talks about how Air America Radio is still alive (despite what the moronic wingnut bloggers are saying), how the liberal talk format is growing, and even some background on Cary Harrison, aka the one-named host known as 'Harrison,' the excellent local evening host on L.A.'s KTLK. The article is pretty blunt and fair, without kissing ass. And it discusses the many troubles and hurdles of Air America's three year history. This is recommended reading for anyone interested in the format (and if you aren't, then why are you reading this blog?). Nonetheless, here are a few highlights:

  • Harrison, host of the nightly Harrison on the Edge, is a self-described 'openly gay son of a neo-nazi' who sprinkles his show with news, activism, gossip, offbeat news stories, activism, education and interviews. A typical show featured a pre-recorded interview with Howard Zinn, the delivering of a rap song mocking a CNN reporter who asks gangbangers how they 'roll,' the regular 'Activism A-Go-Go' segment, and Oakland-based journalist Sarah Olson, who successfully resisted a subpoena to testify in the court martial of Iraq war critic and active soldier Lt. Ehren Watada. “You gotta have fun in life. Many of us liberals are so beaten-down, and so depressed, and so emasculated," says Harrison.

  • The story also runs through Air America Radio's brief history, from the beginning when they discovered that two of the biggest so-called 'investors, Mark Walsh and Evan Cohen, are concealing the fact that they, in fact, have no money. City Beat also interviewed former CEO Danny Goldberg, who felt the whole operation was severely underfunded, making his job nearly impossible. Goldberg also pointed out that too much was made of Air America buying its way into larger markets. He says that, out of 80-plus affiliates, the network only paid its way into New York and L.A. during his tenure. The majority of stations carrying Air America did it on their own terms, particularly after the early success of Franken and Rhodes in the ratings. Many station owners were looking for distinct formats for some of their struggling stations. "The vast majority did it because they were persuaded to it [by ratings], and not because of any money changing hands."

  • Well-known media consultant Sean Ross thinks the format can work, if properly supported and marketed. "It’s good enough that a good sales manager should be able to make it sell,” says Ross. The ratings in many major markets are very competitive, he confirms. Air America hosts Franken and Randi Rhodes do very well in a lot of towns. But it still takes skill to sell the ad space. “Whether it’s urban radio, whether it’s Spanish-language radio, whether it’s liberal talk – having the numbers and having somebody who can sell them effectively is not always the same thing." Adds fellow consultant Larry Rosin, "People sometimes confused the business problems that Air America is having, or has had, and fail to distinguish that from relatively good ratings in many cities."

  • Air America certainly had its critics on the left. Marc Cooper, who was involved in the production of "Radio Nation" prior to it moving to the network, has repeatedly referred to the network as a money hole, and repeatedly assailed it via his blog. He claims that that same money could have been used to support deserving political candidates, magazine start-ups or even a serious daily newspaper.

  • Goldberg points out that there are a lot of ideological media ventures in this country that lose money. He points out The New York Post, FOX 'News' and other News Corp. operations that have lost millions of dollars.

  • “We had (former Dead Kennedys singer and spoken word artist) Jello Biafra on, and he said, ‘Good god, man, you’ve hijacked the AM band!’” says Harrison.
All in all, a pretty good article, especially since many in the print media tend to be rather inaccurate when it comes to the radio industry in general. Check it out.


Anonymous said...

I agree. Good article.
One nit: It does not seem to me the article talks about how AAR is still alive. The focus is more on the format, on KTLK and on Harrison. The article is very clear that AAR is in intensive care but the format is alive thanks to other providers.
Frankly, I hope AAR does go under. Randi will get another gig. Maloney will have to find something else to kvetch about. And progressive talk radio can focus on doing progressive talk radio - not on the soap opera that has been AAR.

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