Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Air America and Lionel - Welcome to the Harsh Reality

Yesterday's official announcement by Air America Radio that syndicated New York talk show host Lionel had been tapped to replace Sam Seder was met with a mixed reaction by the network's devoted listeners. And most of the reaction was highly unfavorable, judging by various quotes taken from here, other blogs, message boards and even Air America's own site:

They're out of their freakin' minds.

Still the worst decision AAR has ever made, and since I've listened from day one, I can tell you, I've been through every bad decision and then some.

My first instinct is to say, WTF, but I'll try to keep an open mind.

Who?

The only Lionel I know is Lionel Ritchie and if I want to hear him I'll look for a good R&B station.

Like the train sets or Weezie Jefferson's son?

In reality, he's a progressive by virture of the fact that he really does tend to think critically.

I'm not saying I'm happy about it, I'm just saying on an intellectual level I understand it.

Give Lionel a chance. He's pretty good. I think he'll attract a healthy sized audience. That's what they like in radio, you know?

Oh well. AAR was cool for a while. On to the next thing.

Mark Green - get ahold of yourself - give Sam back his spot.

So much for the Greens, I guess. Lord, I hate the radio industry.

Are you insane? Three years ago the excuse 'we really don't know what we're doing' would have worked. Now you have no excuse.

LIONEL? are u shitting me?

Please, please, please please, don't do this!

HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MINDS?!?!?!

You guys are making the old management look good.

Frankly, I hope Seder drops you idiots like a live grenade & bolts for Nova M w/ Malloy.

He's accurate and perceptive, brilliant and witty. Lionel unfortunately is not.


Okay, well, it doesn't look Air America 2.0 has won their hearts and minds thus far. And when I personally first heard the news, I really had to pause and scratch my head. Lionel? Why? And then I figured it out. I think I know why Air America made this move. So here, you're actually going to see the method behind the madness of hiring Lionel.

First off, Lionel's got radio cred. As he's worked his way up the radio food chain to New York City and nationwide syndication, he's actually been doing pretty well. As far as late night talkers in the Big Apple go, he rules the roost. Not bad considering he's a non-conservative in a conservative industry, up against WABC and a couple highly-rated CBS all-news stations. And this is on WOR, an immensely underperforming talk station who's mere existence seems to be to prop up a flimsy network of bland, mediocre talk shows. So, he's proven he can pull in listeners. And Air America could certainly use those, right?

But it goes beyond that. Think about it, when was the last time Air America gained a new affiliate? Especially one in a market people have heard of? All in all, affiliate gains have come to a grinding halt, as the big radio conglomerates have moved on to other formats-of-the-month, in a quick fix to cure what ails their puny neglected AM stations. Quite a few stations have already dropped liberal talk for sports talk, foreign language, religion, and whatever other audio band-aids the owners can plug in.

In addition, the likelihood of any current progressive talk station dumping, say, Stephanie Miller for Sam Seder is somewhere between slim and none. The solution? Attract new affiliates altogether. Stop throwing their eggs in one progressive talk basket. Lionel currently has a substantial amount of affiliates, many of which do not air progressive talk formats. Granted, Lionel will lose some of them by moving his show twelve hours earlier. However, he does have quite a few affiliates airing his weekend afternoon show, which helps if he plans to still do that. The purpose of this move appears to be a way of extending the Air America brand to more stations, and even court stations that in the past would have nothing to do with them. It certainly makes sense on that level.

Furthermore, this move will help placate relations with their New York flagship, WWRL, by adding a personality who is well-known and respected in the market. It's no secret that the folks at WWRL despise Seder, particularly after a little incident in January where Seder tore apart WWRL morning co-host Armstrong Willams on-air, resulting in a one day pickup of Miller's show as a veiled threat. Like it or not, WWRL is a key affiliate for Air America, and they've done a pretty good job with the network's programming. Nobody wants to jeopardize that.

Lionel's hiring also allows Air America to rehab its image in the industry. At a time when some are still convinced that the network is bankrupt and shut down, this helps put them back on the map, and makes them a bit more affiliate-friendly. Let's face it, while progressive talk has improved somewhat in recent ratings books, the format's been losing more stations than gaining. Many felt that the format had run its course. And in order to grow, Air America needs to expand. Hiring someone like Lionel away from an established syndicator like WOR sends a pretty strong message to the radio industry.

Air America has a pretty decent web presence, with one of the most listened-to webstreams in the country, and some amazing word-of-mouth throughout the internet. For the most part, however, they're playing the terrestrial radio game. And with that comes certain rules. For one, they've got to expand. And by doing that they need more mainstream appeal. Fully ideological networks have never experienced absolute success on the airwaves. Take Nova M Radio. They're building slowly and patiently (so far, only one of their hosts, Mike Malloy, is on more than one station), but they also have been careful to avoid the missteps of Air America. They do carry some hosts and shows that are not left-leaning, such as John Loftus and the new John Zogby venture. There's a few ambitious web ventures, such as Head-On Radio, but they're structured on a webcast model, away from the confines of terrestrial radio. And more power to 'em, as being in control of their own destiny allows them to do whatever they want. Unfortunately, Air America and Nova M don't have this luxury.

There aren't even many purely conservative networks. Look at Radio America, for example. They'll always be a minor player, and they even supplement their roster with a few how-to shows. Sure, there's Salem's talk network, but Salem owns the stations, and as a big broadcasting owner, they're in most of the big markets. But there's not one Salem talk station in the bunch that gets strong ratings. Liberal talk stations often do better than them in various markets. TRN is another one, but like Premiere, ABC, Westwood One and other syndicators that carry conservotalk, they supplement their programming with non-political or non-conservative programming. Plus, they rely mostly on an a la carte strategy, where they offer their shows individually. Air America does the same thing, but they promote heavily as one complete entity.

In order to succeed in the AM radio landscape, Air America also has to have more mass appeal. This means a bit of variety on the schedule. It really doesn't do much good when most of the hosts are pounding the same talking points all day long. It actually gets rather exhausting. I've been saying for a long time that in order to grow and even survive, Air America needs to think outside the proverbial box. Lionel may not appeal to the hardcore Air America fan, but the purpose is to bring in new ones. Preaching to the same choir everyday does no good.

Even more important is attracting sponsors to pay for this all. Like it or not, running a radio network costs money. Tons of it. And one of the format's biggest woes has been bringing in advertisers. Sure, Ed Schultz has done well in this regard, and he deserves to be commended for it. But ad execs for the various stations out there have no idea how to sell the format. And neither does anyone at Air America (they contract with Jones Radio Networks to handle this), so they're no help. Sure, the format can attract advertisers. I know this for a fact. But for some reason, many salespeople are just intimidated by progressive talk. Lionel helps, in that his show does have distinct and loyal sponsors. It's a step in the right direction.

Am I applauding Seder's demotion? Absolutely not. But I accepted a while ago that Seder's time on the weekday schedule was winding down. I'm not surprised by the move. But Seder's no slouch. Far from it. He has a very rabid following, a devoted fanbase that is pretty pissed off right now. For example, after I posted the article about Lionel's hiring (one of the first to do so, following radio industry site All Access), LTR got well over 13,000 hits, just for that! A typical day sees about 500-600 hits. That's a lot of people wondering about Seder's future! Furthermore, the most-visited time of the day here at LTR often coincides with the start of Seder's show, with people scrambling to find working weblinks to listen to his show. That says quite a bit about his popularity. Unfortunately, Seder has only helped solidify Air America's listener base. He's not helping them expand beyond hardcore fans. That's the key. Lionel has a better chance.

Let's face it, most of us who listen to Air America and other progressive talk don't really need to rely on it for information. Most of us read Kos, DU, Raw Story and other blogs and sites. The hosts are merely talking about what we already know. I have always felt that talk radio is, first and foremost, entertainment. Sadly, Ed Schultz was right when he recently referred to Air America as not a network, but a cause. I can't really disagree with that. That's the harsh reality. Air America needs to be more than that. Being an innovative form of talk radio means they need to do things a little differently than the run-of-the-mill conservotalkers cluttering the dial. They need to do more than preach to the choir. They need to be unique. They need to be irreverent. I've often crowed about Thom Hartmann's scholarly approach, the outrageousness of "Harrison on the Edge," Stephanie Miller's use of morning show-style humor, Sirius Left's Alex Bennett for just doing his own thing and not faking it, and even the LGBT-themed shows on various stations for tapping an untouched (and highly lucrative) market. It's more than just a megaphone.

Truth be told, I like listening to Lionel. Sure, he might rub many people funny, but his approach is unique. He's not predictable. And he's one of the best hosts out there when it comes to dealing with callers. Granted, he does have his faults. He spends too much time pounding the celebrity scandals of the moment (likely left over from his Court TV days). But he's distinct. And in the long run, this will help Air America expand its reach. And that's what everyone really wants, right?

Seder's move to Sundays could be a blessing in disguise, as he has the chance to turn what is typically a talk radio dead zone into something more substantial. And there has been some talk about Seder, and quite possibly Marc Maron bolting for Nova M Radio (they are slated to make some sort of surprise announcement at their anniversary party next week, and I'm sure Sheldon Drobny would love to stick it to the Air America folks). So we'll see what happens.

Whoever was going to be tapped to replace Sam Seder in middays was going to be in for a rough initiation by Air America's hardcore fans. I wasn't surprised by much of the outrage generated by listeners. Change can be tough. But as they say, to make an omelet, you've gotta break a few eggs. Not everyone will like the addition of Lionel, but radio is a strange and funny business, and many decisions may not make much sense from the get-go. As it appears, this seems to be a move directed toward long-term viability for Air America Radio.

Welcome to the Harsh Reality, folks. Fasten your seatbelts, it's gonna be a bumpy ride.

36 comments:

Jill said...

I'm not at all convinced that the 60+ year old WOR listener is going to move over to the maligned-for-the-last-three-years Air America, and with this boneheaded move, AAR is going to lose a lot of its existing listener base.

How just like the Democratic Party the Green brothers are, and how representative: Tell your base to f*** off and instead have as a business model the pipe dream that somehow "swing voters" are going to be the magic answer to your prayers.

As for WWRL, they are not a factor at all in my decision, because their signal is so bad they are unlistenable in my area. What this move means for ME is that AAR can no longer count on my premium subscription.

Elderta said...

Yes... like the harsh reality that Maron was wanted back after it was too late. After listeners begged AAR not to cancel Morning Sedition. And two years later, what do they do? They asked Maron back.

The Harsh Reality is that America is having a breakdown and that AAR is now completely alienating young voters all over the country with this move, people who get politically motivated where they didn't get motivated before, by listening to a voice like Sam. But money does trump country every time, and this is no exception.

Nobody says that AAR does not need affliates. Everyone knows that. As a listener to AAR from the beginning, I find it perplexing that AAR is willing to loose its base listeners on the outside chance that they this is going to be a miraculous, money making move.

I have been patient with AAR for the last three years. I can't do it anymore. They may gain millions, but they've finally lost me. Good luck to them. I've had it.

NYLefty said...

Well said, ltr. I agree completely. Not only was AAR losing affiliates...an overwhelming number of the affiliates who were still carrying some AAR programs were NOT carrying Seder. It made no sense to continue with a show that had been rejected by the vast majority of stations that were willing to carry progressive talk.

Karl said...

Good-bye Air America Radio.

I was listening on the first day, and almost every day since. I have gone out of my way to send my business to AAR advertisers whenever possible. But this programming decision is the latest in a long line of incredibly stupid decisions. Air America Radio is officially dead to me now.

Dermot said...

I agree with you LTR. Sam was very popular with the base, but I think that his potential to expand was limited. I did not feel the same way about Maron - I thought that Morning Sedition was distinctive, and might have been able to gain a share of the post-Stern audience. I have heard Lionel a little on the DC affiliate, and he did not make much of an impression on me. But AAR had to shake-up the line-up, and I think that this move at least creates the possibility of growing the listener base.

News said...

I wonder if those who consider themselves AAR's base and who want it to continue doing what led it into bankruptcy are familiar with these words of Benjamin Franklin:

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Elderta said...

Of course AAR's base listeners want the station to be profitable, and have more people listen to it. Seder does have a following, and if it were not for the stations who are afraid of his show, he would have more affiliates. But safe and easy is always the best route it seems. Insanity is doing the same format over and over with different people. When something fresh and informative does come along, it's insane for a corporate entity to do the same thing over and over again, too.

You point, if you have one, is a two-edged sword.

Elderta said...

Oh never mind. Money trumps everything. I should remember that.

Jim said...

What's with all the sturm und drang? We progressive radio listeners have more choices than ever before, terrestrial, satellite, and web audio, streaming and podcasting. No one took away anyone's lollipop.

You want Sammy? Great; send him an email offering to pay $X a month for a podcast show. I love Stephanie Miller, but no one carries here her in NJ. So I subscribe, and get to listen to it all whenever I want, and I'm happy to pay the money.

If you're just a listener, then any progressive voice may be good enough for you. But if you're a progressive radio activist, then you've got more work to do, and complaining isn't work. Get out there and spread word of mouth. Subscribe. Call non-progressive shows and complain about how lame they are. Write to Congress and the FCC about the Fairness Doctrine, or Low Power FM, or whatever you think will increase the left's share of the media ecology. But please stop whining!

Elderta said...

Done, done, done, done and done. Why can't people complain about what they don't like? I subscribe to AAR to listen to Sam and Rachel. If I pay my money, shouldn't I be allowed to kevetch or whine? I have no right to complain? Oh, that's just classy.

News said...

Seder does have a following, and if it were not for the stations who are afraid of his show, he would have more affiliates.

Stations aren't "afraid" of his show. They recognize that Stephanie Miller, who is just as liberal as Seder, does a better radio show and draws more listeners. It's that simple.

Lionel also does a better radio show and draws more listeners. He may not be quite as liberal as Seder, but he's got almost six times as many affiliates.

ltr said...

Very true. One of the reasons 9-noon on AAR is considered the "death slot" is because of all the competition. Aside from Miller, this is morning drive in the western half of the country. Big time for local shows. And stations in big markets like San Diego, Portland, Denver and a few others do just that.

In order for AAR to succeed in that time slot, they need to put in something that would encourage stations to run it. Is Lionel the key? Who knows? But I think it's a step in the right direction.

Elderta said...

It's that simple why the United States is going to hell in a handbasket, too. I've tried to listen to Miller, and I can't stand the show. It's that simple, too. AAR brought me into the realm of radio talk shows, and AAR will bring me out of them, too.

Again, it may be a step in the right financial direction but it's not the step in the right direction for liberal thought. Sam's show was just hitting a good stride, too. I will miss it.

Have a great day, folks.

RussKC said...

I must differ with you, ltr, with your assertion that radio station Sales staffs can't figure out how to sell Progressive Talk. Look at who owned the Air America affiliates in Ohio: Clear Channel. Are their Sales staffs idiots? No. They have: the top 3 commercial stations in Cleveland/Akron, the top 3 in Columbus, and the #1 station in Cincinnati.

Look at the ratings for the formats which replaced Progressive Talk: Columbus dropped from 1.3 a year ago to 0.5 and is now in last place with Laura Ingraham and Michael Savage; Cincinnati's station switched to some "self-help" format, and WSAI doesn't even appear in the latest ratings. Are their Program Directors idiots? No.

There is a political agenda at work here. Either the station management grew weary of the constant pointing-out of the Republican Party's arrogance/ineptitude (which would indicate that they didn't know what Progressive Talk was all about), or the management agreed to take on the Progressive Talk format and then make it appear that "the format was just not popular, so we had to change it".

I know this is a conspiracy theory, but how else do you explain that Clear Channel bought all these stations, failed to market them, discouraged advertisers from airing ads, and then cited "business reasons" for changing formats? Let's see the paperwork! How much money did they spend to market the station? Whom did they contact to generate ad revenue?

And finally ... Progressive Talk proved to be unpopular in Madison and Boston? Give me a break.

One more thing: you say that Progressive listeners don't need to hear the constant drumbeat of un-spinning the Right Wing Talking Points. Two things: not everyone listens to Prog Talk 18 hours a day: they have their favorite hosts. Second: debunking the Right Wing Spin is a full-time job, because the Right is constantly spinning,. And they are always trying to come up with new ways to make their lies sound plausible. Progressives need to hear the logic behind WHY each talking point is a lie, AND how to argue against it. As Kent Jones says: Vigilance!

Jill said...

Then let them move Sam back to evenings where he did perfectly well. Are David Bender and Eco Talk really doing that well?

What no one at AAR, no matter who the cast of characters is, has never understood is that AAR listeners had an investment in AAR and in its personalities from the beginning; a bigger investment than most radio audiences. Much of this stems from Morning Sedition, where Marc Maron made himself accessible both through his continued work in stand-up comedy, the blog at AAR, and by taking calls from regular callers.

Morning Sedition has been off the air for nearly a year and a half, and the web site dedicated to the show still receives daily traffic. I suspect Sam's blog will do the same. If you get 10,000 new listeners to Lionel who don't give a rat's ass about the rest of the lineup, but you've lost 10,000 of Sam's listeners who for two years practically bled Air America blue, what have you gained?

Besides, Lionel's audience isn't going to live forever, and his track record isn't exactly skewing towards that ever-elusive 18-49 slot. If no one is going to be able to overtake Stephanie Miller in that 9-12 slot, then why NOT use it for something experimental and different like Sam?

gregrocker said...

Do you think there's any chance the Greens have a strategy to poach Lionel from WOR to weaken it further in order to possibly take it over? They have the bucks. It would be the ultimate flagship for Air America. Heck, they could even poach Dr. Joy who could fit into Air America somewhere as the anti-Dr. Laura (sane).

I still mourn Majority Report and will listen to Sam wherever he goes because he achieved the perfect melding of the blogs with radio which to me is post-modern. That's why the blogosphere is whipping up such a firestorm over his demotion.

But before kissing off Air America, remember that it is still the only player we have on the field the right used to take over the country and wreck it. It now has the deep pockets it lacked before, and the business coverage I read of Green is that he has a golden touch and doesn't make any moves incautiously. Sam didn't get the ratings, and that is the bottom line in radio. Unlike Sedition and Majority Report, he got a decent proving period. The Greens have a vision and I for one want to see where it goes because the alternative is continuiing to cede the field to the rightist liars.

NYLefty said...

To say that Air America is the "only player" on the field isn't exactly true. The only progressive talk station that I can pick up over the airwaves is Entercom's 50,000 watt WWKB in Buffalo, NY. It's 6 am to 1 am lineup consists of three shows from the Jones Network (Bill Press, Stephanie Miller, and Ed Schultz), one from AAR (Randi Rhodes), and one from WOR (Lionel).

They run Miller twice, so Jones supplies 12 hours of their programming.

Aaron said...

Yeah, what Jill said. Plus:

Then why put all your eggs in the AM basket? I have never understood why, with the deal AAR struck with the XM, which happens to be headquartered in Washington, D.C., why, oh why AAR hasn't tried to establish a showcase radio program that has an emphasis in satellite and how an entire national network dedicated to the topic of public policy can expect to be taken seriously without some kind of presence in Washington, D.C. It makes sense to me: Put a staff here and create a newsy, left-leaning program that's broadcast primarily on the XM and offered to the affiliates. You'd have wonderful facilities in the XM studios (I've toured them; they're just awesome) and the network would achieve some gravitas with a show based in D.C. staffed by its very own Washington Insiders. Tempt Bill Press away from whatever his deal is--he's here already. Hire Wonkette to team with him and/or Christy Harvey.

My point: Every time there's a period of transition at the AAR, it's quite clear that they simply no longer invest in R & D for programming. All they want to do is to sweep up a currently popular Mic Worker and plop him into the slot and hope for the best. I don't see anyone really planning anything interesting, or even good.

Instead of just filling its own potholes, AAR should be creating compelling, awesome programming, award-winning programming, programming that would make Ira Glass blush, even. What would a couple of Marconis do to convince affiliates to accept AAR programming?

Hey. Greens. It's the programming. Stupid.

zeek said...

ltr, a chapeau tip for dropping by the Morning Seditionists' lion's den the other day.

As almost always, I have to agree with Jill. They should have never moved Sam from the evening and should have let him go back there. He would have a decent chance at getting more carriage rather than banging up against that tough slot he is in now.

I do see the ltr logic that Lionel might get penetration where Seder could not because the slots were locked up. I hope you are correct. I just don't like his show.

Thinking outside of the box (gawd, I hate that phrase) is what we got in the beginning from AAR. Franken with Lanpher, Majority Report, Unfiltered, and of course, MORNING SEDITION and more. There was a variety of blends of politics, advocacy, HUMOUR, music, culture, and intelligence that were sometimes amateurish and works in progress but it was entertaining. The shows deserved patience and nurturing to find their stride and audience and succeed.

Locked inside the box radio/media think with a dash of music business dinosaur/loser Danny Gold**** whittled away at the freshness and brilliance before it was allowed to succeed. The 'throw it against the wall and see if it sticks' model that is in no way creative and visionary has doomed what AAR coulda, shoulda been. I hope they have some success presenting some other voices out there but I will not be paying much attention.

I think there is a place for something more exciting and revolutionary out there and I hope there are some truly intelligent folks and some bucks to make it so.

William said...

As much as I like and respect Sam, I do agree that he was not going to catch up to Stephanie Miller. I respect your opinion, ltr, and think that you offer several good arguments. However, I wonder how many stations -- and some of them are conservative stations -- will air an Air America Radio host in the morning slot, which is often a time for local shows. Maybe I am being too skeptical, but I think that Lionel and the Greens have their work cut out for them.

Also, any thoughts on gregrocker's suggestion that the Greens may be seeking to acquire WOR?

(PS. Still no luck linking to what I posted yesterday at the Unfiltered News Network, even though I followed the instructions for Firefox and IE.)

ltr said...

Hey, I saw this comment over at Baroosk's blog and it makes a lot of sense. He claims to be a radio guy, and quite frankly, I believe him:

As someone within the industry, with hands on "progressive talk" radio experience, I can tell you this is a smart move for AAR - from a business AND programming perspective.

I know this will come as a shock and disapointment to some of you, but the format has got to start speaking beyond the choir. You wonder why "progressive talk" is not doing as well as it should? It's not about crappy signals, it's not about a Clear Channel conspiracy, it's because too many hosts are all about message and not about entertaining and bringing people into the tent!

Sorry guys, this is show business. It doesn't mean having to dumb down, it has everything to do with creating programming that people will find interesting, compelling, memerable, worth coming back to, something you can't wait to tell other people about your "discovery." I gotta tell you, there's not many "progressive" hosts who bring that to the table. Stephanie, Randi, usually Big Eddie, Mike Malloy (often for the wrong reasons!), even Mark Maron had it sometimes, but that's about it.

Lionel is a great move. And I can tell you that a bunch of the format PD's are pissing in their pants right now, tryng to figure out what to do - they love Stephanie but Lionel is a proven winner.

Thinking that Sam, Michael Jackson or Phil Donohue or most of those lame-ass weekend hosts for AAR should be on the weekday schedule is suggesting suicide for the format.

This is what bugs me about many liberals who comment on these blogs - they bitch and moan about how the format is still getting killed by conservative talk - how they can't understand when the country has moved so solidly in their direction - and when something is done to make the format stronger, more vibrant, more effective, they find more reasons to bitch and moan.

Sorry, always been a lurker but some of the comments here - and yes, I know they are just personal opinions and we are all entitield to them - needed a response.


As for some of the comments here, well first off, no way in freakin' hell will AAR ever buy WOR. The Buckleys still have a lot tied up there, and the network won't crumble without Lionel. Actually, Dr. Joy Brown is their top draw next to him. And they own other stations as well. Besides, a 50,000 watt AM station in New York, especially one with WOR's heritage, has got to be worth an absolute fortune. For example, WQEW recently sold to Disney for $40 million (I'm sorry, but pissing away that much money to air Radio Disney in NYC is a sign that you've got way too much money). WOR is worth a lot more than that! Consider that AAR filed for bankruptcy owing roughly that amount. Sorry, not happening.

Same with Joy Brown joining AAR. Think people are pissed off at them for hiring Lionel? They'll show up at Mark Green's house with pitchforks and torches if she ever got hired.

As far as XM exclusivity goes, that won't happen. AAR has more web listeners than they do on XM. Same with the over-the-air affiliates. AAR does, however, have use of XM's Washington studios, as part of the deal with them, or so I've heard.

As for copying text, works fine for me. I just highlight and copy. I've tried it in IE, Firefox and Opera. No problems. Or just highlight the text in the top address bar, copy and paste that. Might be a problem with UNN.

ltr said...

I want to go back a bit and address RussKC's post. Now, being a progressive talk fan in Ohio, you have every right to be pissed at Clear Channel. And while I don't think their salespeople are idiots, I do think they had a problem trying to sell progressive talk. The people in those buildings are used to selling top 40, rock, adult contemporary and sports. Those are lay-downs. A trained chimp can sell those formats. But I imagine that this whole progressive talk thing seemed a bit weird to them. It's not the same 'strip clubs n' car dealerships' you sell for WEBN or WMMS. It's a different kind of game. In Madison, the sales people complained that they couldn't sell WXXM. A fan of theirs, with no sales experience and collecting disability, went out and signed 30 new clients for them. Imagine that!

I don't believe CC set it all up to fail. And I don't really think it was politically motivated. CC put progressive talk on many of their underperforming AM stations because they saw it as a format du jour, something that would attract listeners to dying AM signals. Well, it did. But the bigger corporate entities see these things as ATM's, and since progressive talk was a rather distinct format that required a slightly different way of selling it, they flipped the stations to more familiar formats like sports. The Cincy and Columbus stations were flipped to throw-in formats, meaning they're sold with their main talk stations, and thrown in as an incentive to advertisers. In Akron, they went the easy route with sports, since it's a simple format to sell, even without listeners.

Again, I really don't think the Mays family, at this time trying to sell their stockholders on going private, have time to worry about how a little AM station in Ohio is doing in regard to their bottom line. And Clear Channel has owned these stations for awhile, swallowed up along with previous owners like Jacor, Capstar, AMFM and others.

Plain and simple, companies like Clear Channel like easy-to-sell, low-maintenance formats. Which explains how bland many of their music stations sound.

NYLefty said...

If Clear Channel was engaging in some company-wide conspiracy to torpedo progressive talk it wouldn't be investing in local programming on its libtalkers in Los Angeles, San Diego, Portland, Denver, and Miami. In fact, the ratings for KTLK in Los Angeles are so poor (a .06 share) that I'm surprised they haven't pulled the plug there already. Instead, they hired a local talker with a big following to do PM drive.

As for WOR, it will probably do better than they're doing with Lionel if they put in a fellow right-winger to follow Michael Savage. With all the right-wingers on that station, Lionel sounds like Mike Malloy in comparison. Lionel must come as a nightly shock to Savage's audience. I can see Lionel doing much better on a station where most of the listeners aren't three miles right of center.

William said...

Ltr, the problem that I have with the link is that I type in my google ID and I either get an error message of bad syntax or it just refreshes.

punditfight said...

a very reasoned and thorough case. Whilst i am a fan Sam Seder, you do make good points about the Radio business and the realities of it. Sam has said as much, conceding its probably for the good of Air America. I think Sam has the talent and fanbase to land on his feet. I just hope whereever it is, it has a comprehensive free podcast service.

pjs said...

It will be interesting to see if, in six months or a year, AAR is begging Sam to come back and stick a knife in Lionel's back, they way they tried to get Mark Maron to screw over Sam.

NYLefty said...

People in the radio business are saying this was a smart move. Here's a typical comment from a message board for people in the business:

AAR has thrown down the gauntlet, they are making a statement to Jones that they are going to be a much tougher competitor. I agree with earlier posts that there won't be much if any switching out Steph to Lionel. But for AAR to remain viable, they have to offer strong shows between 9am - 6 or 7pm weekdays. The key will be the get more clearances than Seder had - and sorry to Sam's fans - that won't be hard. Still, this was a gutsy and smart move by the the Greens.

PS - on other boards the lefties are whining that Lionel isn't a true "liberal." Maybe not, but it's guys like him that will give the format a chance.

NYLefty said...

If you get 10,000 new listeners to Lionel who don't give a rat's ass about the rest of the lineup, but you've lost 10,000 of Sam's listeners who for two years practically bled Air America blue, what have you gained?

Talk about setting up straw men! If AAR picks up a quarter of Lionel's current listeners that number would be more than 350,000, not "10,000."

Elderta said...

I'm just waiting for Lionel to pull a Don Imus and see what happens. That'll be fun.

Missy said...

I used to listen to Lionel quite a bit when Columbus had Prog Talk. I expect he will be good if Attorney-Gate heats up more and impeachment comes into play (impeachment is not just for Bush). Lionel was excellent breaking down Schiavo and illegal wiretaps, with his legal background. He does have some amends to make w/ AAR listeners. I remember listeners calling about suspicions that the Bushies wiretapped the Kerry campaign. Lionel would pooh-pooh such talk and dismiss callers saying, "I sure can tell who the Air America listeners are, HA, HA..."

Sam is AARs best talent and the Greens are fools not to give him 15 hours of programming a week.

Missy said...

I must say that Russkc is spot-on that their is a political agenda to torpedo Progressive Talk. Only 30% of the public is still on board with the CONservative agenda. It's not a coincidence that all five of the commercial talk radio stations in my market are spewing talking points from the RNC. Clear Channel made a half ass attempt making the Progressive Talk format work. Little or no promotion and and weak signaled stations. Their game plan seems to be to poison the well for the format.

icelander said...

I think the main problem with Air America is that they're taking great shows with limited appeal and putting them on a broadcast medium. Let's face it: If you give most people a choice between learning something new or hearing the same old pablum they've been fed their whole lives, they're going to choose the latter. In other words, most people are dumb.

So a show like Sam's, or Mark Maron or Mike Malloy, won't make it in a broadcast market. It costs too much to reach the few people who want to listen. They're long-tail content that's being spread using a bell-curve medium.

But that's not to say there isn't a market. It's just spread out. I'm sitting in Lancaster, PA and I've been listening to AAR since its inception, despite not having an affiliate. I stream it occasionally, but I prefer to podcast it.

What I don't understand is why more liberal talk networks aren't using sponsored, free podcasts. AAR has one, Workin' It, which is produced in cooperation with American Rights at work. It is broadcast, but it doesn't need to be.

Why doesn't AAR management have Sam doing a daily podcast with a sponsor? That way, we proud few who crave edifying radio will be served, AAR will make money, and the vast unwashed will still get their entertainment news, uninterrupted by actual events.

And if Nova M gets Sam Seder and Marc Maron on a show together, they'll get my $100 subscription fee within the hour.

Jill said...

Mine too. Sheldon Drobny, are you listening?

tremaine said...

Lionel can not succeed during weekday hours. To the extent he has listeners, they are at night, when people are trying to wind down and relax. It is then that Lionel's fluffy talk gets some interest. I thought that Air America was going to put Lionel on late evenings when Malloy was fired. That might have worked to some extent.

This move will fail ratings wise and lack of advertising success will follow. I would be stupefied if this works and I am almost never stupefied.

NYLefty said...

"Lionel can not succeed during weekday hours."

He succeeded for years doing morning drive on one of the most successful radio talk stations in the country, WABC in New York (in the '90s, before WABC went almost all- conservative).

tremaine said...

By definition, just about anyone "succeeds," relatively, at "the most successful radio talk station in the country". That does not mean Lionel can succeed at a network that desperately needs to grow, and nor does it prove or even hint that he does better in the morning than in the evening.


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