Tuesday, April 29, 2008

LTR rocks the box

Seeing as I've grown a bit weary of the ongoing presidential primary soap opera that seems to be dragging on until the 2012 primary season begins, I figure it's time for a change of pace. While Barack and Hillary beat the crap out of each other over crazy pastors and whatnot, let's talk about something we can really relate to. Let's talk television. Or, the future of it. And along the way, we'll test drive the hot new electronic gizmo everyone's talking about - the DTV converter box.

Most likely, you've heard the story before. I even wrote about it last Summer. Come next February, that old electronic box in your living room may produce nothing but electronic fuzz. That is, if something isn't done to bring it into the modern age. What is happening, as you have likely no doubt heard, is what will perhaps be a major milestone in broadcast television history, rivaling the old days of pioneers like Philo Farnsworth and Vladimir Zworykin, the day in 1928 when W2XB in Schenectady, New York and a few others fired up and started beaming 48-line images via the airwaves, and 1950, when stations started experimenting with broadcasting in color. Simply put, the way television's been transmitted more or less for the past 80 years is changing drastically. Say goodbye to Depression-era technology. And to static and ghost-like images. Say hello to digital television.

Television has evolved in a major way since the beginning. Many of us grew up in an era of watching only a few channels - NBC, ABC and CBS, the non-commercial station that played Sesame Street and perhaps one or two rerun channels, all via a box with two metal sticks sprouting out of the top. Soon cable TV arrived, which allowed us to watch faraway stations, HBO and porn without those silly metal sticks. Satellite TV gave us an alternate to the evolving cable monopolies, especially in places not yet wired, and also gave us gargantuan dishes in the backyards of America. Then came the VCR and the old laserdisc players, which gave viewers the ability to play program director. The VCR and laserdisc gave way to DVD and DVR's, and digital cable suddenly gave us access to hundreds of channels. And now, over-the-air television is playing catch-up.

Even with the penetration of cable and direct broadcast satellite into homes across America, 30-40% of television viewers across the country still watch the old fashioned way - with rabbit ear antennas pulling signals out of the air. That translates to tens of millions of people who either don't want to pony up to the cable or satellite monopolies, aren't interested in it, can't afford it, or just don't watch enough TV. Those are the people that will really notice the coming transition to the world of DTV.

DTV has been in the works around the world for over a decade. Researchers, developers, broadcasters and governments realized that the transmission of ones and zeros was much more efficient than that of clumsy, bandwidth-hogging analog waveforms. Countries around the world realized that this form of transmission would evolve very fast, and would eventually replace analog transmission. They started formulating switchover dates. European countries were the first to jump, and the United States even began setting their own analog shutoff dates. A early target of 2002 for the analog switchoff came and went, but nobody was even close to ready. A hard date of January 1, 2006 also came and went. Finally, Congress set it in stone - February 17, 2009 would be the day that full-power television broadcasters would officially turn off their analog transmitters and go solely digital. This time, everyone was ready. All television sets manufactured in the past year or so and sold as new in the United States are now required to be DTV-compliant. But the ones manufactured before that date that only receive analog signals will need a little help. Enter the digital converter box.

To make this whole DTV conversion palatable to the masses, lest they march the streets of Washington with torches and pitchforks over the prospects of shelling out hundreds or thousands of dollars for a new TV set during a recession, the government wisely allocated funds to cover an unprecedented voucher program, The little plastic cards, free for the asking, could be redeemed for DTV converter boxes, which at that point didn't yet exist. The boxes themselves would enable reception of the new digital signals. Fast-forward to February 2008, which saw the mass unleashing of said little black boxes to the marketplace. Coupons, good for $40 off the price of these $50-60 devices, were sent out to viewers who requested them (provided they didn't already subscribe to cable or satellite.

Now, being a connoisseur of cheap hi-tech electronics, and one who finally ditched cable and the ridiculously high fees and monotonous programming that went along with it. I couldn't wait to get my vouchers in the mail (they send out a maximum of two per household). I even did a little research on each of them, just to be prepared. Upon receiving mine a few weeks ago, after what seemed like an eternity of waiting (that's the government for you), I went shopping.

My first box of choice was the Zenith DTT900, since I heard so many good things about it. I went to my neighborhood Radio Shack, which was one of the stores that supposedly stocked them. Every Radio Shack in town was sold out of them, according to the sales clerk, but they had quite a few of another model, the Digital Stream DTX9900, for the same price. I had never heard of it, nor Digital Stream for that matter, and was wary since I didn't do any research on this obscure model. Besides, it was butt-ugly. Later, I read that it was actually a pretty good box. The clerk who pointed me to the Digital Stream box said the Zenith model was hot, and selling very fast, but a new fresh shipment would arrive within a week or so.

I couldn't wait. I want my DTV! I ventured off to Best Buy for my backup option - their privately-branded Insignia box (which I knew they had in stock). Now, I suspected that this one and the Zenith were the same exact unit (I later found out they basically were), so I guess it was a fairly decent backup plan. Best Buy was obviously prepared for the masses, as they had quite a few of these in stock. Sold! At the checkout lane,the clerk also said that they were selling like mad. I noticed several red voucher cards scattered around her terminal.

So I got home and went through the ritual of ripping open the box to reveal the sexy contents, a process that, for hardcore tech geeks, is almost as exciting a process as peeling the clothes off a hot date. I proceeded to connect the wires to the back of the set (instructions? I don't need no stinkin' instructions!). I hit the power button on the remote, and the first thing it did was pop up a setup wizard on the screen. It asked me to specify an aspect ratio (seeing as my main set was about five years old, it was one of those tube-style sets with a 4:3 picture size). Then it did a search for channels. Now, I had doubts that it would pull in a great number of channels, since analog reception was basically crap with my chintzy antenna. I was proven wrong. This nifty little box pulled in a whopping 22 different ones (including the many various subchannels - the local PBS operation has 9 between their two stations). I even pulled in the local Ion channel, which I had never gotten. Not bad.

Of course, there were a few drawbacks. One of the reasons my reception sucks is that, even though I live no more than fifteen miles from most of the transmission towers in the city, there is an airport nearby. That messes up reception pretty bad sometimes. Instead of static and ghosting, with the new box I would occasionally find pixelation, frozen pictures or a plain black screen. Welcome to the world of digital. I realized that my old, crappy amplified antenna (purchased for a mere $10 at the local Big Lots) wasn't going to cut it. I did more research (antennaweb.com is a handy resource for this) and came up with a simple, somewhat attractive unit from Radio Shack that set me back around $20. Lo and behold - it worked! Now, all the signals in town came in crystal clear (the box has a signal strength meter that can be viewed for each channel). And I even pulled in a few low-powered stations, including the local signal-impaired Telemundo outlet (yes, I watch occasionally, even though my Spanish sucks). Now I'm able to watch soccer, Hong Kong martial arts flicks dubbed in Spanish, raunchy soap operas and whatever else they show.

Other drawbacks to almost all of the boxes available are the lack of better connection possibilities. My set is only five years old and fairly sophisticated, so it has connections in the back for S-video and component video hookups. The only options enclosed with the unit I purchased were an RF cable antenna jack and a little yellow composite video plug. At least there were two-channel stereo jacks. Also, on this unit, there is no analog pass-through, which some TV geeks and low-power broadcasters are griping about, though there are a few rare boxes that do have it (since my set has different input settings, I was able to plug the antenna straight in for analog capability). In addition, technological issues mean that your soon-to-be-obsolete VCR won't work quite the same when recording shows once analog goes bye-bye.

Of course, change is rather difficult for some, especially when it comes to the ubiquitous television set. So it goes without saying that this digital transition will be a bitter pill for some. How exactly does one explain that people will have to send in for a coupon, in order to go out and pay an average of $10-20 for something that enables them to get what they once could for free? And to buy yet another set-top box, of all things! Well, alongside this stick comes some pretty nice carrots. First of all, the picture and sound with DTV is near flawless, as far as television goes. The picture is DVD quality, and the sound is pretty close to CD.

The icing on the cake is that there are indeed more stations. If you live in a metropolitan area, all the local stations should come in static-free with some minor antenna positioning. In addition, some stations are carrying subchannels on their main digital signals. In other words, you get 2, 3, 4 or more stations for the price of one! Many public television stations are running multiple feeds, geared toward different audiences. During the early round of the NCAA basketball playoffs, CBS affiliates ran split feeds that showed up to three games at once. The Ion Television network, formerly Pax, a slowly improving, yet rather unremarkable operation located on small, often out-of-town UHF stations, runs stale reruns and a ton of infomercials. They do, however, carry some interesting programming, including such movies as "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest," which was on last week. And then there's the Battlestar Galactica (the original) and Baywatch reruns on weekends. DTV allows Ion to penetrate more households than they could have ever hoped to before. Most of the network's affiliates have three additional subchannels, including one for kids (Qubo), some quasi-religious network called Worship and Ion Life, which, as far as I can tell, runs many episodes of a show called Get Out!, which is best described as very attractive women in bikinis setting off on outdoor adventures such as bungee jumping and alligator feeding (Okay, I admit - I've watched it).

Many NBC affiliates air a heavily-localized "Weather Plus" channel, designed to give The Weather Channel a much-needed run for its money. The AccuWeather Channel is also a competitor in this segment. New, niche-oriented networks of various types are quickly popping up that are geared toward subchannel coverage. A few entrepreneurs were smart enough to realize that the licensing of old dramas and sitcoms from the 50s-80s are relatively cheap and easy to obtain. Retro Television Network (RTN) is popping up on subchannels across the country, since so-called classic-oriented TV Land has started ignoring chestnuts such as Mission:Impossible, Happy Days and Hawaii Five-0 in favor of Fresh Prince marathons. Similar concepts such as Columbus' Dot 2 and MeTV, located on stations in Chicago and Milwaukee, have also taken flight. Stations in some smaller markets are even using subchannels to pick up network affiliations that don't otherwise exist there, such as The CW and the utterly pointless MyNetworkTV. Even big gun FOX has approached stations in rural areas with the idea of adding their affiliation to the subchannel, for those few fortunate souls who haven't yet heard of American Idol. Some individual stations are even using subchannels to set up separate independent operations.

In addition, the availability of the space-saving digital form of transmission allows for the broadcast of high-definition programming, not really possible before. Imagine watching a golf tournament played in lush surroundings where you can actually see the individual blades of grass. Unfortunately, you'll need an expensive HD set for the full effect, since the simple little converter box won't do hi-def. But the HD picture does indeed look sharp on an old tube TV. I can tell the difference.

Getting back to my new toy, one thing I noticed about the Insignia box (and the Zenith and a few others) is that it allows for switching the picture layout. Now, this part gets a little bit confusing. With the change to digital comes an overall new picture formatting standard, which is slowly being phased in. The longtime aspect ratio has been 4:3, or 4 units wide by 3 units tall (or 1.33:1). Let's assume that this is what most people still have in their homes (see picture at right).

The new standard, as you've no doubt seen on newer sets, is 16:9, or 16 wide by 9 tall (1.85:1). The 16:9 ratio is closer to what is shown in movie theaters and on letterboxed DVDs. Think wider. On a 4:3 set, you'll see black rectangular bars at the top and bottom of your screen, as you can see by the second image on the right, taken from an HD version of the same newscast.

Now here's where it gets a little mind-boggling for owners of old TV sets doing the digital upgrade. When the image is in letterbox setting, or 16:9 mode, the fields of black are on each side of the picture for shows in the standard format. This works out well for owners of newer widescreen TVs. Same height, just a slightly squarish image when showing standard definition programming. But for older sets, this makes for a rather strange image when in letterbox mode, in which the 4:3 picture has a rather chunky black frame on all sides. One weird example was a local commercial cut-in, a trailer for the upcoming widescreen flick Speed Racer, which showed a tiny, scrunched ultra-widescreen image surrounded by a large field of black (as shown in the third image). Not to worry. Some of the boxes, including the Insignia, Zenith and others, have a 'zoom' button that corrects this manually, but it requires a little button pushing. Be sure the box you purchase has this. This glitch has not gone unnoticed. NBC and the Tribune Company are among the broadcasters working on their own software fix for this stuff, and this "postage stamp" effect should be resolved as more individual stations correct this.

This ongoing lead-up time to next February is when we'll see many of the kinks of DTV ironed out. Transmission issues will also likely be fixed, enabling coverage consistent with the soon-to-be previous analog signals. Over the remaining months, broadcast engineers will be making final adjustments for their digital makeover, with some even shutting down their analog signals early (a few already have) in anticipation of the switch. Many stations will be moving to different channel allocations, but through the magic of digital mapping will still appear on 'virtual channels' (this is one part that I will not get into here, lest I really confuse all of you).

So far, the heavily-promoted DTV converter box program surprisingly seems to be working. Over 10 million vouchers have been requested to cover over 5 million households in the first few months of the program, and no doubt more are on the way. The boxes themselves have been flying off the shelves, likely rivaling the success of the much ballyhooed (and cool as hell) Nintendo Wii.

So, with less than ten months to go before the dawning of the new digital area, being prepared for the switch will ensure that people who watch TV the old fashioned way will continue to do so. It will also usher in a new experience for television viewers, with clearer pictures, sound and content. I, for one, extend a hearty welcome our new DTV overlords.

Converter box vouchers, good for $40 off any approved unit, can be requested at dtv2009.gov.

Have any of you bought a DTV converter box yet? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Midweek roundup: Rhodes to XM, Newsom to the radio

XM fans may be able to satisfy their Randi Rhodes fix soon. Orbitcast is reporting that Rhodes, who left Air America earlier this month for Nova M Radio, is in talks to return to XM Radio's so-called Air America (ch 167) channel.

An announcement can be expected in the coming weeks, according to sources.

In addition to Air America programming, the channel also carries Nova M stablemate Mike Malloy and Jones Radio Networks' Bill Press and Ed Schultz.

And coming in a few weeks is a new radio show. Chris Mason of KKGN (Green 960) in San Francisco dropped a line to let you all know that they reeled in none other than the city's mayor, Gavin Newsom, who will do a local Saturday afternoon show starting May 3 at noon (PT).

Green 960 Program Director John Scott says "We're really excited about this, and we jumped at the opportunity. Most programs of this type are normally done as part of an existing show, with a regular host. This is Gavin Newsom, on his own, no rules, his passions and his interests. He'll be doing interviews from across the country (when he's traveling) as well. It's going to be a great way for him to engage with his constituents and fans. The test shows we've already done have been really compelling!"

The show will feature interviews with local personalities, newsmakers, and cultural icons, in a relaxed, intimate conversational format; and live phone calls as well.

Contrary to previous reports, the show will not be on Air America. It is strictly exclusive to Green 960. Of course, the station does stream across the country, so anyone interested can tune in via webcast.

Monday, April 21, 2008

"Race" gets a radio place, and Maddow holds her place

As rumored a couple weeks ago, MSNBC's Race for the White House will indeed be simulcast on Air America Radio, according to TVNewser. The simulcast will start this Wednesday at 6P.

The show, hosted by David Gregory, also features Air America's Rachel Maddow as a panelist. The simulcast will replace the first hour of her three-hour radio program, The Rachel Maddow Show. That hour is currently prerecorded to accommodate her television schedule.

"We're enthused to air this new MSNBC show with Air America's own Rachel Maddow," said Mark Green, president of Air America Radio, in the release. "Her smarts and wit light up Race for the White House just as they do her own evening show."

Maddow has become increasingly popular as an MSNBC contributer and fill-in host. She even chased a rather tongue-tied and thin-skinned Joe Scarborough off the set during one exchange last week. "Joe didn't walk off. He chose not to participate in the final couple of minutes of the discussion because he felt the conversation didn't fit his role as a political analyst," MSNBC spokesperson Jeremy Gaines told HuffPo. Of course, right-wing bloggers are wagging their fingers at 'dem mean librulz' for slapping around the alleged Republican intern slayer and pushing him to make a 'Race for the Exit Door.' Sounds like somebody better call the whaaaambulance.

After that little disagreement, with Scarborough gone during the "Panel Predictions" segment, Maddow worked to quell any outstanding problems, saying, "First of all Joe and I will go out for a beer and hash this all out, that's my prediction."

And in other Air America news, this week Joy Behar of ABC's The View hosts American Afternoon, the show that replaced Randi Rhodes when she left the network for Nova M Radio earlier this month.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

News for short attentions spans

Lots of little stuff going on in the wacky world of media, and since I haven't had much time to really dig into it, I'll do yet another one of those catch-all entries.

The Randi wrap-up

First, a follow-up in regard to the whole Randi Rhodes saga. With Rhodes finally finding a happy home courtesy of Nova M Radio, she opened up about what led to the falling-out with Air America Radio. And, contrary to popular belief, it wasn't the 'whoregate' thing that led to her departure. A very candid Rhodes opened up on the air about what transpired over the past few weeks.

"It wasn’t about what I said, it was about locking me into something that I had deserved the right not to be locked into," claimed Rhodes. The whole dilemma was the result of contract issues. The most recent one ended on April 6. Air America was willing to sign her to a new one, and even offered her more money to do so. But there was a catch. The new contract would strip her of much of her freedom, mainly the right to leave at will, and install a new clause that would allow her bosses to fire her on a whim. After years of fighting for the generous contract she had been working under, this was unacceptable. During the contract impasse, she was indeed yanked off the air, as occasionally happens in the radio business.

During this time, Air America decided to test Rhodes' strength, and importance to the network. They floated the San Francisco appearance in the media, and even announced that she was 'suspended.' "My own company fed this story to the press… They released the statement saying I was indefinitely suspended." Rhodes, who had no 'morals clause' in her contract, was "shunned and banished."

"There had been no coverage of the (San Francisco) event, pro or con. I called them and said, tell me what news story are you reacting to? They said they wanted to see the real value of the company and the ripple effect. What they found out was that without me they were nothing."

Yet Air America played hardball, and told her that if she did not agree to the new conditions, she would not be back on the air. Rhodes, who had made a decision immediately following the suspension to jump ship, called their bluff and told them she was done with them.

"They aren’t radio professionals and have no radio background," she said on her show.

As soon as word started leaking out, Rhodes' supporters rallied around her. First to her defense was Clear Channel, which owns many of her affiliates, including longtime flagship WJNO in West Palm Beach. KKGN in San Francisco was first to announce they were bringing her back, with or without Air America. By the next afternoon, Nova M Radio, which is currently run by several of the people who initially brought her to Air America, reached an agreement to syndicate her show, which would originate from WJNO's studios.

As for other matters, Rhodes has no idea what happened to her website, which was pulled down as soon as Air America announced her departure and replaced with a redirect to their site (the site later redirected to Nova M). Rhodes owns her website, claiming "It’s not a civil matter it’s a criminal matter. That’s my property." She hopes that the content on her site was saved.

Nova M Radio will offer podcasts of her show, as they do with Mike Malloy, Jeff Farias and others. They do charge a subscription fee, and will also ensure that her affiliates that carried podcasts of her show in the past, including KKGN and KTLK in Los Angeles, will no longer do so.

Musical chairs on Air America

While Rhodes has moved on to a seemingly more satisfying experience at Nova M, Air America is still in transition mode in regard to her old shift there. They're still using celebrities as fill-ins, under the banner "American Afternoon." Actor/comedian Richard Belzer has been guest hosting this whole week, and while rumored future hosts, including Rosie O'Donnell and Fran Drescher will not be hosting anytime soon, others, including talk show host Ron Reagan, actress/comedian/TV personality Rosanne Barr (with Johnny Argent), and "The View" co-host Joy Behar will be. Interestingly enough, all three, plus Belzer, have talk radio hosting experience. So far, there is no word on any permanent replacement for Rhodes.

"American Afternoon" currently airs on the network's webstream and satellite feed, and on affiliates WWRL in New York, WCPT in Chicago and WROC in Rochester, NY, among others. WWKB in Buffalo, NY is reportedly returning to carrying Rhodes, and there is no word from WXXM in Madison, WI, which is running "American Afternoon" this week and is looking into their options. A web poll on their site showed a strong preference by listeners for Rhodes, who garnered nearly 83% of the online vote.

As for a permanent replacement, Air America has made no announcement as of yet, though the ever-loyal Sam Seder has indicated to management that he wants to return to hosting a weekday show. A petition to support just that is currently online, via Brave New Films. You can also find a petition here.

New contracts that actually were signed

While Rhodes balked at the contract presented her by Air America, a couple progressive voices re-upped with their current stations this week. Popular longtime Miami talker Neil Rogers signed a new five year contract with WQAM, The deal calls for a substantial pay cut, reportedly from a maximum range around $1.5 million per year, to about half of that. The drastic drop is more a reflection of the financial situation at the station and in the industry than Rogers' performance. However, Rogers remains the highest paid personality in South Florida radio by a longshot. In addition, Rogers has dropped hints that he will move back to Miami from Toronto, from where he had been doing most of his shows.

In addition, Jay Marvin of KKZN in Denver has signed a two year contract to remain with that station, according to AllAccess.

Robbins lays it out for the broadcast industry

And finally, The National Association of Broadcasters must have realized what they were getting themselves into when they enlisted actor/filmmaker/activist Tim Robbins as the keynote speaker at the NAB conference in Las Vegas this week. The oft-outspoken Robbins held nothing back as he lashed out at the nation's television and radio broadcasters for fostering an environment that promoted irresponsible news reporting, homogenized programming and right-wing bloviators like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and others. In light of what many viewed as a rather tawdry and gutter-dwelling presidential debate a few days later on ABC, his words carried on even greater meaning.

“Shouldn’t broadcasters see themselves as part of a larger picture, isn’t there an obligation to honestly report on what’s going on, to pursue stories past their headlines,’’ Robbins said. “Haven’t criminal acts occurred in government? Shouldn’t there be accountability for inept policy decisions? Shouldn’t someone be fired? And you know something? I didn’t hear any of that, because I am still thinking about that starlet getting out of the car without the panties."

You can hear the entire speech via FAIR's website. Definitely worth a listen.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Air America does the shark hop

Now that the smoke has cleared and the dust has settled somewhat, we can now take a step back and assess the whole Randi Rhodes/Air America/Nova M game of musical chairs that took place this past week, as Rhodes prepares to relaunch her show from West Palm Beach, FL today. We can take a look at the winners and losers in all of this, and perhaps speculate about the future of liberal talk radio.

Here's what happened in a nutshell. On March 22 in San Francisco, Rhodes appeared at a promotional event for her affiliate there, KKGN (Green 960). As is the norm for radio stations these days, staffers posted video of the event on Green 960's website. Along came a reader and contributor to No Quarter, a blog run by ex-CIA agent, former Republican operative and current Hillary Clinton cheerleader Larry Johnson. This person discovered the Green 960 video and extracted a five minute segment where Rhodes lashed out at Clinton and former vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro in rather vulgar terms. The segment was then uploaded to YouTube. Johnson and company proudly boasted of the move.

And that's where the fun began. The YouTube clip, where Rhodes referred to both Clinton and Ferraro as 'fucking whores,' became the meme of the day during this ongoing and often hostile presidential primary season. The pro-Clinton blogs became livid, on a scale comparable to the mock outrage quite often found in the right-wing blogosphere. Air America, by now in damage control mode, took a stand quickly, doing what most other media companies do - they suspended her. This is par for the course in the broadcast industry, as ESPN took a similar stand against on-air personality Dana Jacobson a couple months prior after bawdy and offensive remarks made at a private employee roast. The oft-volatile Rhodes, who reportedly had shaky relations with the new management team of her network, was livid, and claimed that the suspension was a violation of her contract.

The suspension was only the tip of the iceberg. Last week, Rhodes' lawyer, Robert Gaulin, claimed Air America management told her that her suspension wouldn't be lifted unless she made contract concessions, and apologized for the raunchy on-stage remarks from a few weeks earlier.

"Their actions caused the contract to terminate. They refused to give her her microphone back and put her on the air," he said. "It was a real shame. She was ready, willing and able to go to work."

What Air America's new management team wanted to do in regard to her current contract was what led Rhodes to bail out. Simply put, Rhodes' old contract was very generous in radio terms, as far as the power she wielded. She could quit and opt out of the agreement at any time for any reason, but she could not be fired. That's one helluva radio contract! The new management, however, wanted to amend it, to reverse the terms and turn the tables on the power relationship, giving them the power to dismiss her at will if they so desired and to exert control over the content of her show. She would also have to fulfill the term of her contract if she chose to quit (likely, a non-compete clause, which is common in almost all big radio contracts). That would mean that if she left, or was fired, she would have to serve out a period of time before signing with a competitor. In other words, the hardball tactics with Rhodes are a pure example of corporate dick swinging, though these guys are not ruthless or cunning enough to be any good at it. Charlie Kireker and Mark Green don't swim with the sharks - they leap over them. Or get eaten by them.

Of course, this new contract idea was not acceptable to Rhodes. No way would she agree to these terms. She had quite a few options open to her. She was still a Clear Channel employee via her West Palm Beach station WJNO. She had close friends and supporters at Nova M Radio,who would no doubt drool over acquiring a marquee talent like Rhodes and her loyal affiliate base. There were also other syndicators, such as Jones Radio Networks, who were also sniffing around. She refused to agree to the revised terms. Management said, in essence, "we own your microphone and you'll never get on air again unless you agree." She called their bluff and quit on the spot. Within twelve hours, she signed a new deal with upstart rival Nova M.

Rhodes discussed her move in two interviews the night of her move. First, she appeared in a brief segment on "Larry King Live." Next, she was on the phone at her new employer, Nova M Radio. Another former Air America host, Marc Maron, was guest hosting for Mike Malloy, and was able to get Rhodes to come on and talk candidly about what happened. She also spoke with Nicole Sandler of her Miami affiliate, WINZ (mp3).

So far, the rollout of the show is going exceptionally well, says Nova M Radio CEO John Manzo, who told Radio & Records, "Many affiliates came in one big block, namely the Clear Channel stations," and "another slew committed after the deal was official." Manzo says the smaller independent stations are still being reached out to, but he "hasn't heard a firm 'no' yet from anyone," adding, "In fact, I can't recall getting so much industry support for a single move ever before." Some stations are holding out, however, with WWRL in New York and WROC in Rochester among those carrying Air America's fill-in programming. WWKB in Buffalo will supposedly bring back Rhodes, and WCPT in Chicago, WXXM in Madison and WVKO in Columbus are still thinking about it. A complete list of updated (shocking!) affiliates can now be found on Nova M's site.

Meanwhile, Air America, after throwing all their eggs in one basket and spending the past year positioning Rhodes as their marquee personality, was left with an embarrassingly large hole in the middle of their broadcast schedule. In addition, Rhodes' departure will possibly take away a huge chunk of Air America's listed affiliates, the ones that aired only Rhodes' offering from the network. Taking a cue from Arthur Fonzarelli, was the Rhodes ordeal the point where Air America, pardon the cliche, 'jumped the shark?'

So, how do they fill the gap? As has become typical for Air America, they will go with a transition period consisting of guest hosts, like they did when they replaced Morning Sedition, Jerry Springer, Sam Seder and The Young Turks in the past. This time though, instead of calling someone like faithful understudy Lee Rayburn, Mark Green opened up the Rolodex and called some of his buddies. Next week, actor/comedian Richard Belzer will hold down the fort from 3-6P. Belzer, a longtime standup comic who currently stars on "Law & Order:Special Victims Unit" is an interesting choice. When it comes to riffs on pop culture, politics or life in general, he minces no words. His hilarious and oft-vulgar standup routine would probably make Rhodes blush. Which is ironic, given that one of Air America's beefs with Rhodes is that they weren't too keen on Rhodes' own standup act in San Francisco. Go figure. Oh, and in keeping with the whole shark jumping thing, did I mention that Belzer's cousin is none other than Henry Winkler, a.k.a. The Fonz?

The choice of Belzer is not permanent. After all, he would have to get his head examined if he were to ditch his role on one of TV's hottest dramas, and the easiest meal ticket on the planet, to do radio for a teetering lower-tier radio operation like Air America. That's crazy talk. Belzer's merely on break from his TV show and is biding his time by doing a week behind the mic.

It appears that Air America president Mark Green is plugging the hole by turning his network into what seems like an exclusive audio clubhouse for fellow Huffington Post bloggers who want to play radio. Following Belzer, names that have been bandied about include Rosie O'Donnell (!), Fran Drescher (!!) and Phil Donahue. Granted, Belzer (who did radio at the old WNBC) and Donahue have talk show chops and the thought of hearing both on the air is somewhat intriguing. But Rosie the narcissistic emotional trainwreck? Fran, the nasally-voiced Nanny? Has Air America gone mad?

Conventional wisdom would dictate that Air America will permanently fill this time slot, one of the most high-profile on radio, with one of their own established voices, rather than explore the meager pickings outside of the network (the current HuffPo-palooza plan is not a viable long term solution). The smart money would be on their latest up-and-coming star, Rachel Maddow, who gets valuable face time and promotion nightly on MSNBC. Moving her show up three hours would make it easier for Maddow to make TV appearances, rather than the current usual method of prerecording her 6-9P ET show. In addition, a move like this would go down easier with a fanbase that has been quickly losing their confidence in the network. Moving Maddow would make quite a bit of sense, though common sense is something seemingly in short supply at Air America.

Switching morning host Lionel to afternoons would also be a no-brainer move. Lionel, brought over a year ago from a WOR show that had a substantial affiliate base, has been a dud for the network, as they've been fighting to sign affiliates to carry him. Most of the affiliates that do air his show delay it as long as 12-15 hours into the evening or late hours. After losing the New York clearance (in Lionel's home market) when WWRL opted for infomercials in the time slot, WWRC in Washington, DC appears to be the only over-the-air station in a major market that airs him live. And the low-powered WWRC is merely a bit player in a market overflowing with talk radio stations. Getting Lionel out of the morning dead zone could justify actually keeping him around. I can't imagine that a talent of that caliber in the industry is happy with the way his show is currently being handled. His former handler, WOR, is a pretty weak network, but Air America makes them look really good in comparison. Putting him in afternoons makes sense from a business perspective (and yes, I do realize that I will get flamed mercilessly by readers for even suggesting this).

A good option would be to move Maddow to afternoons and Lionel to the early evening slot. Lionel works better at night, as he proved at WOR in years past. I don't think Lionel would willingly return to his old late night stomping grounds, certainly not for Air America. But this is close.

As for filling the vacated shift, perhaps they'll try and salvage what core audience they still have and give Sam Seder back his weekday shift. But we know that won't happen. Air America doesn't seem to listen to their core fans. Seder, however, has made it known to management that he is indeed interested in returning to weekdays.

So, how does Air America clean up the mess, and stop the bleeding? At this point, they really need to hold on to their depleting fan base, now seemingly awash with so many options. This core of listeners have been angered by Air America's antics in the past, with Malloy's firing in 2006, Seder's demotion a year ago, the constant revolving door of shows and talent and now the whole Rhodes fiasco, which they bungled by trying to strong-arm their most-promoted talent. If I was in charge at Air America (and at this rate, I may someday be able to acquire it quite cheap), I would move Maddow to replace Rhodes, bump Lionel to the 6-9P ET slot, and give Seder his old morning shift. Hell, I'd offer Seder and the exiled Marc Maron the chance to team up for the still-vacant morning drive slot (6-9A ET) and tell them to do whatever the hell they want, so long as it's funny. Morning drive on the East Coast is an open field, with Bill Press the only syndicated option currently available. They could then find a unique show for 9A-12P ET that could possibly have a chance at competing with Jones Radio Network's Stephanie Miller juggernaut. Unfortunately, that unique show was supposed to be Lionel. Perhaps they could use it to groom an up-and-coming talent, as they did with Jon Elliot in late nights.

But let's face it, who does the management team at Air America listen to anyway? Aside from the voices in their own heads. Certainly not their listeners. And definitely not some pissant blogger like me. Air America all too often seems to be a network run solely on strong egos. And that's why they jumped the shark.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Rhodes jumps to Nova M Radio

Thursday afternoon, FishbowlLA got an anonymous tip, claiming that Rhodes is wasting no time rebounding from her split with Air America:

Not sure if you care about this at all but here some info on the Rhodes situation...

She's going to be signing a deal with Nova M Radio in the next few hours for about the same money Air America was paying her. She will broadcast Monday afternoon on all Clear Channel affiliates and several other stations. The folks at Air America don't miss her one bit, in fact she's widely hated among everyone who has actually met her. She has moved from New York City to West Palm Beach, FL and she will broadcast from the WJNO studios.

If you have any need to use that or pass it along, go right ahead. Please withhold my name and info.

And now it's official. Nova M Radio is reporting on their site that former Air America Radio afternoon host Randi Rhodes has signed with the upstart network, and will resume her show next Monday. Airtime will remain the same, 3-6P ET.

Nova M CEO John Manzo says, “I just can’t stop smiling - Randi is simply the biggest and the best. Randi Rhodes and Mike Malloy under one roof – talk about TALENT!”

Randi Rhodes adds, “With Manzo at helm of Nova M, I am truly going to work for the best of the best. He is radio elite…and I am too (laughs). I’m home, I’m home, I’m home!”

On board so far to carry the show are Clear Channel affiliates such as the previously announced KKGN in San Francisco, WINZ in Miami, KTLK in Los Angeles, KPOJ in Portland, KKZN in Denver and others. The Nova M deal also adds the network's KPHX in Phoenix back into the fold. CBS-owned KPTK in Seattle will also carry her show. More will be re-added.

Rhodes also appeared on "Larry King Live" Thursday night. And Rhodes' website no longer redirects to Air America, but now temporarily to Nova M Radio.

Meanwhile, Huffington Post reports that Air America will embark on the post-Randi era next Monday, with celebrity fill-ins. First up is actor/comedian Richard Belzer, holding down the slot next week. Belzer is perhaps best known for his role on the TV series "Law & Order:SVU," where he plays Det. John Munch. Other future fill-ins may include Rosie O'Donnell, Fran Drescher and Phil Donahue. In addition, Rhodes has been scrubbed from the schedule on Air America's site, with a vague "New Show Soon" graphic in the lineup.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Rhodes coming back, with or without Air America

UPDATE: Randi going to Nova M?

Less than a week since Air America Radio suspended Randi Rhodes, the fate of her show is up in the air. Rumors began circulating Wednesday night that Rhodes was no longer with the network, and that one of her affiliates will continue airing her show regardless.

Air America CEO Charlie Kireker and president Mark Green finally issued a statement Thursday morning:

Last week Air America suspended Randi Rhodes for abusive, obscene language at a recent public appearance in San Francisco which was sponsored by an Air America affiliate station.

Air America Media was informed last night by Ms. Rhodes that she has chosen to terminate her employment with the company. We wish her well and thank her for past services to Air America.

We will soon announce exciting new talent and programming that will accelerate Air America’s growth in the future.

At this time, Rhodes' own website and message board redirects to Air America's site.

Kireker announced her temporary suspension, a first for the network, last week following the release of a YouTube video that featured part of a raunchy monologue delivered by Rhodes at a radio station promotional appearance last month.

The partial video clip showed Rhodes doing a stand-up comedy bit, where she called presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton and former vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro "f-ing whores." The clip was allegedly circulated by associates of Larry C. Johnson, an ex-CIA employee and former Republican operative who is currently a strong supporter of Clinton and a bitter foe of Clinton's rival, Sen. Barack Obama. The video clip has since been pulled from YouTube.

Michael Hood at blatherWatch quoted a source at the network as saying she would be gone for several weeks. A suspension period of that length seems par for the course in the broadcast industry, as both David Shuster of MSNBC and Dana Jacobson of ESPN returned after two weeks following their own verbal gaffes. Personalities such as Don Imus and Opie and Anthony were suspended, then released outright by CBS Radio following controversial bits aired on each of their shows. The Rhodes appearance was not broadcast.

Since former air personality Al Franken departed the network early last year, Rhodes has been positioned by the network as their highest profile air talent. Air America has especially worked hard at lining up affiliate stations to carry her show. An outright dismissal could be messy for the network, and further upset a rather shaky alliance with radio stations.

But some began speculating that Rhodes could be gone for good. First to speak up was KKGN (960AM), the station that sponsored the promotional appearance on March 22. Whether Rhodes returned to Air America was irrelevant, as Green 960 forced their hand, claiming that she will be back on the air next Monday, Air America or not. According to program director John Scott, "We have been very frustrated the past few days in our efforts to rectify the Randi Rhodes Situation (her suspension by her network, Air America Radio). It is our understanding that today (April 9th) she is no longer an employee of Air America. So we are bringing her back." Green 960 will air her return next Monday (April 14) at 4P PT.

The station also dedicated a page on their site to refute claims made by others around the web. Some claimed that the appearance was an event for Obama. While one Green 960 listener did post the gathering on MyBarackObama.com's event listing, the appearance was strictly a Green 960 event. The station goes further, via a YouTube video.

Rhodes reportedly has been in the process of moving back to West Palm Beach, FL from New York. And her flagship affiliate there, WJNO (1290AM), which, like Green 960, is owned by Clear Channel Communications, has all but confirmed that they will air her show, to be broadcast from their studios. Rhodes has been with WJNO for well over a decade, long before joining Air America, and reportedly has a separate contract with them. The station has been running some of her best-of shows during the past week. Likely, other stations, such as WINZ (940AM) in neighboring Miami, will follow, and rumors point to all of her Clear Channel affiliates following suit.

Fellow Air America host Sam Seder, who had been filling in for Rhodes since her suspension, was skeptical about the rumors. "I'd really be surprised if Air America fired Randi and would be extremely disappointed if that was the case," Seder said in an earlier e-mail to Raw Story. "My understanding was that she was returning from suspension within a day or two."

However, adding fuel to the fire, Rhodes voiced her displeasure last week with the suspension. "They are in breach of my contract and have damaged my hard won excellent reputation in the broadcast industry," she told blogger Jeff Norman at Huffington Post last week.

So, as it appears Rhodes and Air America really have parted ways, where will she wind up? She has ties with Nova M Radio, which is headed by Air America co-founder Sheldon Drobny and currently employs her former producer and confidant John Manzo as CEO. They currently carry two weekday shows, and Rhodes would fit right in, provided Nova M has the resources to add her to the fold. And don't count Jones Radio Networks out either, which carries a nine hour block of progressive talk with Bill Press, Stephanie Miller and Ed Schultz. Both networks, according to subscription trade site AllAccess, are in the running.

Don't rule out Premiere, Clear Channel's syndication arm, either. They could conceivably step in, though their 800 lb. gorilla, Rush Limbaugh, has reportedly issued ultimatums in the past demanding that no liberal hosts be syndicated by them. Both Premiere and JRN initially balked at syndicating her back in 2004, but she does currently have a decent lineup of affiliates, including many of the biggest markets.

And so, we will write the next chapter in the Randi Rhodes chapter...

This entry will be continuously updated, so keep checking back.

Air America, MSNBC connect on "Race"

Air America Radio's Rachel Maddow, who's radio show is quickly becoming one the networks' most successful, is quickly becoming a TV star via MSNBC. And now, it looks like her TV and radio worlds will collide.

According to Rory O'Connor, MSNBC is in talks with Air America to simulcast their new show, Race for the White House weeknights on both outlets.

Maddow is currently a frequent guest on the show, hosted by MSNBC White House correspondent David Gregory. So far, nothing is confirmed, but if the move goes through, possibly by next week, Maddow will become a regular panelist. The show airs weeknights at 6P ET, and will basically make up the first hour of Maddow's radio show.

Maddow's radio show was recently expanded from two to three hours, extending into the 8-9P ET hour when some affiliates, particularly KTLK in Los Angeles, demanded more Maddow.

O'Connor has a nice profile of Maddow, which can be found here.

(Also thanks to TVNewser and Johnny Dollar for the heads-up.)

In other Air America news, another new show is rumored to be in the planning stages, this one by an actual politician. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom is in talks with the network to host his own weekend show. The San Francisco Chronicle says Mayor Newsom has a handshake deal with the network

"They said I could do anything I want, talk - take callers - whatever," the mayor said, adding that his show will probably air Saturday afternoon.

Chronicle columnists Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross also took suggestions for the name of the new show. Some of the reader submissions include Mayor McDreamy's Neighborhood, Something New (as in New-som) and - the one Matier and Ross liked best - Hair America.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

McCain furious at Schultz over "warmonger" remark

Proving that there's more going on than Randi Rhodes' "Whoregate," fellow progressive talker Ed Schultz is also making waves. He gets back clearances in a couple markets in Southern California, and now, he's also becoming a target in this year's election campaign.

Following on the heels of the whole Rhodes brewhaha, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, John McCain, is calling on Democratic front-runner Barack Obama to condemn Schultz for remarks he made while warming up the crowd at an Obama event.

So what did Big Eddie say? Did he call McCain a 'whore?' No, even worse.

Actually, what he called McCain was probably even more offensive. So devastating that people should take to the streets of Schultz' hometown of Detroit Lakes, MN with torches, pitchforks and shotguns. Okay, not really

Because you see, Schultz had the audacity to call McCain a... get ready... "Warmonger."

Yes, you read that right. I am not making this up. And as you can see from the link above, it appears that McCain's protectors at FOX Noise, the same network where John Gibson demanded Rhodes apologize for her 'whore' comments the other day even though Gibson often says way worse, are gearing up to spread this ridiculous meme.

To make it even more ridiculous, the McCain campaign likened the insult to the language used by conservotalk radio goon Bill Cunningham, who warmed up the crowd for a McCain rally in Cincinnati in late February by repeatedly invoking Obama’s middle name, “Hussein,” mocking him as a “hack” and suggesting that as president he’d cozy up to Hezbollah and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. McCain, in quick damage control mode, condemned Cunningham, and Cunningham subseqently turned on him.

So, what provoked this vile insult? Could it have been that time last year at a VFW hall when he launched into a clever little ditty called "Bomb, bomb, bomb. Bomb, bomb Iran?" Or the fact that he's long been one of the most vocal cheerleaders of the war in Iraq? The guy who said that if it came right down to it, spending 100 years in Iraq "would be fine by me." Yeah, doesn't sound like a warmonger to me.

You see, there's a big difference between the race-baiting antics of Cunningham, and calling a spade a spade (figuratively speaking). McCain certainly ain't no agent of peace. And it's likely this ridiculous demand from the McCain camp will open up a can of worms that he doesn't really want opened.

And yes, the Obama campaign responded promptly to McCain's finger-pointing. And they didn't even throw Schultz under the bus in doing it. Campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement: "John McCain is not a warmonger and should not be described as such. He's a supporter of a war that Senator Obama believes should have never been authorized and never been waged."

Notice the nice little polite dig at McCain there? It was a classy and clever response.

Meanwhile, Schultz didn't back down in a telephone interview. He said he has used the term many times on the air to refer to McCain because of his support for the war in Iraq.

"He voted for this war. He's a perpetrator of the war. He's an advocate of the war," Schultz said. "In my personal definition, that's a warmonger."

Needless to say, this proves once again how thin-skinned crybaby conservative Republicans really are. In a nutshell, anyone offended by the 'warmonger' slur has serious self-esteem issues, especially McCain. Rather than call out his opponent over this ridiculous matter, perhaps McCain should prove to the voters of America why he isn't a warmonger.' But that would be only slightly easier than squeezing blood out of a rock. Therefore, labeling a notorious war hawk like McCain a 'warmonger' is not a slur. Anyone who thinks it is should go suck on a pacifier.

Just another twist in this often silly election cycle. Sometimes I wish this whole campaign cycle would just end. But where would I get my laughs?

Speaking of Schultz, Big Eddie fans in Southern California will be able to hear him via the airwaves once again. The co-owned combo of KGIL (1260AM) and XESURF (540AM) in Tijuana/San Diego have added Schultz's show, albeit only on Saturday afternoons for now. Listeners can tune in from 4-7P PT.

Schultz was previously heard in the market on KTLK (1150AM), until the station dropped his show a few months ago. He was also on KLSD (1360AM) in San Diego, which flipped to sports last fall and has since spiraled down the ratings sewer, dropping almost 75% of its Arbitron ratings share.

Friday, April 04, 2008

War of the Words (Oh, the Whore Horror!)

whore (hôr, hr)
1. A prostitute.
2. A person considered sexually promiscuous.
3. A person considered as having compromised principles for personal gain.

from The Free Dictionary.

What is a whore? The word has many meanings. When most of us hear the word, our minds, naturally, turn to sex. We think Ashley Dupré and the whole Eliot (Client 9) Spitzer mess from last month. We think of streetwalkers turning tricks on seedy streets.

But the word does indeed carry many meanings. The brilliant conservative humorist P.J. O'Rourke even wrote a book called "Parliament of Whores." There was a great website years ago called "Media Whores Online." Unlike say, the Emperor's Club of Spitzer lore, "The Horse" had nothing to do with sex. It was an early left-leaning media watchdog, predating Media Matters for America, Crooks and Liars and others. James Carville and Paul Begala, who are currently very active in Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, cited it often on CNN's Crossfire. Former Vice President Al Gore had it bookmarked in his laptop. Sadly, 'The Horse" was sent to pasture about four years or so ago, when the still-anonymous owner went on to other things.

So what's all this about whores anyway? Well, it's become a big political controversy as of late. Following a bawdy promotional appearance in San Francisco last month, Air America Radio personality Randi Rhodes incurred the wrath of Hillary Clinton supporters when she lashed out at her and supporter and former vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferrarro, calling them, among other things, "f-ing whores." When the inevitable YouTube video got out, die-hard Clinton supporters were livid, accusing Rhodes of sexism and misogyny, among other things. Political pundit and former CIA spook Larry Johnson demanded she be fired and replaced by fledgling Clinton-friendly 'radio' host and Johnson crony Taylor Marsh. Supporters rallied the torches and pitchforks and demanded Rhodes' immediate firing, and got some satisfaction when Rhodes was dealt an indefinite suspension from the network.

Adding fuel to the raging inferno is Johnson's proud boast yesterday that it was indeed he and his acolytes who released the offending video on YouTube and got Rhodes suspended. In addition, an enraged Ferraro herself demanded Rhodes' firing. But more on that later.

Others are weighing in as well. Fellow radio host Bill Press is preaching peace between the camps, right-wing site Town Hall, predictably, is feigning outrage, and some Clinton supporters are attacking what they call the nastiness of the far left.

It's no secret to many of Rhodes' listeners who she supports or doesn't support in this year's election, which currently pits Clinton against Sen. Barack Obama (she's pro-Obama, duh!). In the left-leaning media, it's become pretty transparent who's who and who they like or don't like. The current Democratic primary race has created what seems like a major divide. This is especially apparent in the liberal blogosphere, which has seemingly split down the middle. Big log communities like AmericaBlog and Daily Kos lean toward Obama, and MyDD and Talk Left are very pro-Clinton. A divided nation seemed to be dividing even more.

I have tried to stay neutral on this blog throughout all of this. It's rather easy for me, since this blog is not overtly political in nature, as compared to the others. And I wanted to create a sandbox where everyone could play. In January, as primary season got underway, I got my presidential endorsement out of the way quickly, opting to vote off each candidate one-by-one, Survivor-style. First off my island was Hillary Clinton, who I referred to as "a shrill corporate hack" and a "suck-up" (whore?). Besides, much-needed real change cannot occur in this country if we keep on electing people named Bush or Clinton no matter how much entitled Hillary feels toward the nomination. I went so far as to say I would be forced to hold my nose at the polling place if it ever came down to actually voting for her. I had hoped she would be dispatched early. I endorsed John Edwards, and we all saw how that turned out. Nuts.

My runner-up choice to Edwards was Barack Obama, who, along with Clinton, was one of the last two standing. I like Obama, but I was skeptical as to whether he could hack a brutal presidential campaign gauntlet. Though he did stumble a bit out of the gate, he has really run an impressive campaign. I was initially turned off by his more hostile turn in the early days of the campaign, a sharp contrast to the ultra-positive and electrifying Tony Robbins-type he was in years past. But over time, he got a bit less cranky and really started to enjoy himself on the campaign trail, unlike most in his position. He gave speeches to packed houses of thousands. He flirted with old ladies on the campaign trail. He traversed across America as if he owned it. Many ridiculous so-called scandals were thrown his way, some of them from the Clinton camp. He swatted them down with relative ease and class. They tried to stir up nasty racist tendencies by wrongly claiming Obama's a closeted Muslim. He's not. They made fun of his name, even shouting that his middle name is "Hussein." Obama refused to hide it, in fact he embraced it, taking great pride in being named after his father. The man's got steel balls, I tell ya!

They claimed he didn't wear a ubiquitous flag pin once. Well, the Republican congressman making the accusation on live TV wasn't either. Ha ha! The Rezko thing? Obama did a three hour interview with the Chicago Tribune, a newspaper that hates Democrats, and left them singing his praises. His sharp-tongued former pastor? Obama gave a nationally-televised speech on racial issues that brought the country to its knees in praise. Then we found out he was (gasp!) a really shitty bowler. He mocked himself over that one. Above all, this self-described skinny black guy with big ears and a funny name went toe-to-toe with the most vicious political machine currently in America not connected to Lee Atwater or Karl Rove. He is the real deal, and he won me over along with much of America. Even Republicans I know actually admitted they liked the guy. That says a lot, especially given that almost every Republican or independent I know loathes Hillary Clinton. Needless to say, I'm convinced Obama is the real deal, and for once, I proudly cast a vote for someone I actually respected.

So, back to the Rhodes matter. The whole ordeal and how it was handled does have some precedent. In January, ESPN television personality Dana Jacobson got into hot water when, while allegedly drunk at a private roast for fellow ESPN personalities Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic, got in the spirit of things by lashing out in a kidding way with a string of f-bombs, mostly directed at Golic's alma mater, Notre Dame. Various groups, most notably the Catholic League, who didn't take kindly to phrases like "F-ck Touchdown Jesus!" went ballistic when word of this bawdy roast got out. ESPN was forced into damage control, sidelining Jacobson for a few weeks and forcing her to apologize profusely. Never mind that this was a private function, and roasts do indeed get rather vulgar and downright nasty (just watch one of Comedy Central's celebrity roasts sometime). Jacobson probably shouldn't have gotten suspended over this, but this is called damage control. ESPN has advertiser relationships, as well as a relationship with Notre Dame, that they don't want ruined by some bad publicity.

MSNBC analyst David Shuster got into some hot water in February when he used another colloquialism with sexual connotations, asking whether Chelsea Clinton was "being pimped out in some weird sort of way" by her mother's campaign. Shuster got dry-docked for two weeks after making that statement, which is regrettable only in that prominent television journalists are now being reduced to using street slang in their reports. Yeah, the Clinton camp got pretty pissed about that one too.

And then there's the Don Imus thing, where he uttered the infamous "Nappy Headed Ho's" comment, and got fired by CBS Radio as his faithful sponsors began jumping ship en masse. Syndicated Cincinnati conservotalker Bill Cunningham warmed up the crowd at a rally for presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain by throwing down all kinds of racist rhetoric regarding Obama, resulting in his being blackballed by the McCain campaign and being exposed as perhaps the goofiest looking right-wing radio talk show host in America. No action was taken by his radio station, WLW or his bosses at Clear Channel/Premiere Radio Networks.

So, to wrap it all up, here's my take on it.

Larry Johnson is a hypocrite. He proudly boasted that he and his people got her suspended. Never mind that the left-leaning crowd this former Republican shill is currently courting is one that is very vocal about media bias and censorship, and are also strong supporters of progressive media, including...surprise... Air America (where Johnson has even appeared, on Rhodes' show no less). This move spits in the face of all his supporters. And it looks very petty and tacky when one considers the little nasties he throws Obama's way. Yes, this is the same guy who posted an Obama hit piece with the charming title “Wrong Nigga to Fuck Wit.” Gee, nice.

Geraldine Ferraro, who along with Clinton was labeled by Rhodes as a 'whore,' is also a hypocrite. And yes, she's a sellout, a.k.a. 'whore.' There, I said it. Ferraro pisses me off. Last month, she lashed out at Obama when she said that "If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept". Evidently, Ferraro did not see the irony in her statement, since she was seemingly plucked out of nowhere to become Walter Mondale's running mate in 1984 (and her pathetic behavior as of late is one of the few things that make me proud to have supported Mondale's opponent in that election, in my brief teenage flirtation with Reaganism - ahh, youth). It certainly wasn't her uneventful four years in Congress that got the seemingly obscure Ferraro the nod over highly qualified people like Lloyd Bentsen and Gary Hart. I'm not trying to be sexist here, but Ferraro, in attacking Obama, is attacking the very system that gave her the platform to make those statements. Without her place in history as the first woman on a major party presidential ticket, she'd merely be a forgotten former congressperson from New York. Yesterday, she took her fiery rhetoric even further by demanding Rhodes' firing. And to top it off, she said that on her usual stomping grounds of...get ready... FOX News! (video) Hello? FOX Freakin' News? The most vehemently anti-Clinton cable news outlet in existence? The same network that, on the same show (Hannity & Colmes), rolled out right-wing hatemonger Ann Coulter (as if she's one to talk) to add her take on Rhodes' comments (while comparing Obama to Adolf Hitler in the same segment). Which makes me wonder why the Clintons even allowed Ferraro to carry their water in the first place. Geraldine Ferraro is batshit crazy, and I admit that I almost concur with Rhodes' opinion of her. Oh, and I feel less guilty now about my misspent past life as a Reagan Youth.

As for the Rhodes suspension, this is not a free speech issue. It's an Air America issue. While Rhodes made the comments at a live event for one of her affiliates (Green 960), she represented Air America. And Air America has worked hard to curry favor among many in Washington, particularly the Clinton camp. This is a face-saving issue, designed to minimize the damage a controversy can do. I'm also certain that at least a few of Rhodes' listeners were quite shocked at her diatribe, with language so course that Sam Kinison must be blushing in his grave. Even still, as with most controversies, look for Rhodes to return to Air America soon, after the heat has died down. That's par for the course. Nonetheless, perhaps Rhodes stepped over the line a bit. Even with the raucous San Francisco audience, the tirade may have been a bit over the top. And it's appearance on YouTube is likely to scare away some of her fans. But like other controversial media personalities, such as Imus, Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and others, these people have jobs because they're controversial. We expect them to say outrageous stuff. Anyone who expects otherwise is delusional.

In regard to the ongoing primary battle royale, one which Obama relates to "a good movie that's gone on too long" and Clinton described as seeming like a very long pregnancy, I offer this to both sides: Relax, this is not a bad thing. I've maintained for a while that the primary fight is a plus for the Democratic Party. It keeps them prominent in the news cycle, so much that much of the country has probably forgotten who the other guy is (his name is John McCain, in case you were wondering). It has allowed Obama to get a pretty healthy workout against the meanest, nastiest political mudslinging machine still in operation, and to get all his skeletons out of the closet early, so it won't mean squat come the fall. And the whole drama stirs up passion in the voting process for the left, a passion that seemed to evaporate in elections past. The whole primary road show will likely come to an end soon, and it looks like Obama will be the nominee, unless the seemingly impossible happens. And like the right-wing, where hardcore conservatives initially turned their noses up at McCain but later fell in line once they realized he was their only hope, the Democratic Party will come back together and all this feces flinging will be quickly forgotten. In the meantime, enjoy the party!

UPDATE ON THE RHODES SITUATION: This is from Jeff Norman at Huffington Post:

Understandably, Rhodes is stunned and angry. About her employers she told me: "They are in breach of my contract and have damaged my hard won excellent reputation in the broadcast industry..." Rhodes added she received thank you letters from representatives of Air America, the San Francisco affiliate and sponsors praising her for the performance that now has her in hot water.

Rhodes is scheduled to speak in New York on April 28 with former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter at an event sponsored by U.S. Tour of Duty, the nonprofit project I run. It is not yet clear if the popular host will be back to work for Air America by then -- or ever. At a critical moment in its evolution, the network has put itself in an untenable position. Ultimately, does Air America, or does it not, stand for free speech? At this moment, it clearly does not. That's not very progressive.

UPDATE #2: Green 960 has released their own statement on the incident, and posted the entire video from Rhodes' appearance on their site, as opposed from the snippet currently found on YouTube and circulating throughout the media. The station maintains that the decision to suspend Rhodes was made by Air America, not Green 960. They also said that, contrary to some rumors, the event had no connection whatsoever to the Obama campaign, though it was listed as a 'meet-up' event on the Obama campaign's social networking site.

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