Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A potpourri of Tuesday goodness

Not feeling the desire to do a long diatribe-style entry for today. And while the tighty righties are making a big stink about the whole Obama/Limbaugh thing (which just plain reeks of faux outrage), and with a bunch of little things going on, here's yet another one of those catch-all entries:

You've got four more months

Okay, so you've been procrastinating and haven't sent away for the DTV converter coupons yet. Well, it looks like you got lucky. Yesterday, the Senate voted to delay the much-ballyhooed analog-to-digital television conversion until June.

The reason for the delay is that the $1.5 billion government program designed to send out the coupons ran dry of funding and is awaiting a fix to get it all taken care of. Currently, an estimated 6-8% of homes nationwide would be left in the dark come February 17 as it now stands.

Obama himself called for a postponement of the switchover date, in order to satisfy demand for the converter box vouchers. The extra money is due to come from President Obama's proposed $825 billion dollar stimulus package.

Again, if you have an older TV and get your signals via an antenna on the top of your set or on your roof, you may just need that converter box. If you already have cable, satellite or the equivalent, you need do nothing. If you currently have a newer TV set that can obtain digital signals, you should be in the clear, but should also check and make sure.

If you realize that yes, indeed you do need a DTV converter box, well, get off your dead ass and apply for one (or two, if needed). Stop procrastinating!

You can find out more here or here. And here's a few common questions answered in this USA Today column.

Status quo at Marti

Right-wingers can bitch all they want about the Obama Administration's desire to spend money on stuff like (gasp!) health care. But I rarely see a peep out of them about ridiculous government sinkholes that they support. Like Radio Marti.

I caught a little blurb yesterday on AllAccess about the station, who's sole reason for being is to pump propaganda into Cuba. Nevermind that Cuba jams the signal, making it all a lost cause. But Pedro Roig, the Director of the U.S. Office Of Cuba Broadcasting, which operates Radio and TV Marti, has been asked to stay on by the Obama Administration at least temporarily.

Radio and TV Marti have both long been criticized. Aside from reception issues in Cuba, Cuban exiles and dissidents have complained that the stations do not bash the Cuban government enough over suppression and assorted human rights abuses. Many also don't see the whole excercise as being worth its $250 million spent on the operation over the past decade. Hey, the Pentagon can get a toilet seat for that!

In the future, all radio will be sports

As Super Bowl week has arrived, sports is a big story in the radio industry as well. Clear Channel always has some sort of uninspired gimmick up their sleeves, and now, it appears to be their FOX Sports division (Clear Channel's syndication arm, Premiere Networks, owns it, but licenses the name from you-know-who). Last week, they flipped former progressive talker KLSD in San Diego to an almost wall-to-wall feed of the network. Stations in Los Angeles and Detroit basically got the same treatment.

And now, another former progressive talker, WYTS in Columbus (formerly WTPG), has dropped their right-wing talk format and flipped to wall-to-wall FSR. And there have also been rumors that a future prospect for an automated FOX Sports outlet is another liberal talker, WINZ (940AM) in Miami. But so far, it's all rumor, and most of it is FSL-type message board cranks that like to pull rumors out of their asses. So, best to not bet the farm on this until you hear it from a better source.

In the meantime, sure wouldn't hurt to let station management know you're listening. Or at the very least let their advertisers know.

Oh yeah, that Obama/Limbuagh thing

I really didn't feel the need to spill anymore electrons over this. Am I really the only person who doesn't think it's a big deal? And I typed out a couple paragraphs on this so-called 'controversy' only to have my browser crash and erase it all. An omen, perhaps?

It started innocently enough. President Obama invited some top Republican lawmakers to the White House, to try and sell his stimulus package. Now that in itself is notable, since the previous president, while enjoying a majority in Congress, would merely tell Democrats to go pound sand and just deal with it. At least Obama is listening to his opponents.

The whole thing started innocently enough. He even got off a rather funny line. "You can't just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done," he told them. In other words, it's time to get beyond partisan sniping. Of course, invoking the name of His Tubbiness is enough to stir up a virtual shitstorm of fabricated outrage. Sure enough, faster than Brian Maloney can affix his lips to Limbaugh's ass, two of the biggest purveyors of phony hostility, the Drudge Report and the New York Post, went nuclear, and turned what appears to be a molehill into Mount Vesuvius.

Of course, much of it is coming from Rush Lowbrow himself. He thinks it's all about him. And, in what appears to be the beginning stages of an all-out meltdown, is going out of his way to start some kind of high-level fued with the president. That attitude, coupled with comments such as "I hope he fails," is making him look even more like a complete fool. Especially when he claimed that it is Obama that wants Limbaugh to fail. Is this yet another shark jumping moment for the Round Mound of Obnoxious Sound? Are people finally rolling their eyes at this reclusive, drugged-up, loud-mouthed millionaire former disc jockey and his neverending attempts at playing the victim?

Thankfully, Obama isn't taking the bait. He's ignoring Limbaugh, as he should. Obama's the big gun now. Limbaugh's small potatoes. Let him implode on his own.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Forbes uncovers the vast liberal conspiracy

Throughout the Bush II era (and even before that), right-wingers had become quite adept at mocking and finger-pointing. Childish insults, full-out verbal attacks and just plain whining have been trademarks of this mindset. After all, who else fought so hard to make the word 'liberal' an insult?

So, what to make of an article from Forbes Magazine, a longtime bastion of fiscal conservatism? In their most recent issue, to mark the inauguration of President Obama (once again, it sounds pretty darn nice saying that), Forbes decided to rank the liberals. Meaning, of course, to make a list of who they think are the most influential liberals in the U.S. media.

Not surprisingly, if you work for a newspaper or television news operation, you are basically a liberal. Never mind that the mainstream media is really only as liberal as the ultraconservative corporations that own it. Humorously, the Washington editor of The Wall Street Journal, that longtime bastion of radical leftist commentary, is branded a 'liberal.' Who the hell wrote this list? Bill O'Reilly?

And how do they arrive at this thing anyway? Forbes defines a 'liberal' as someone who believes in "progressive income taxation; universal health care of some kind; opposition to the war in Iraq, and a certain queasiness about the war on terror; an instinctive preference for international diplomacy; the right to gay marriage; a woman's right to an abortion; environmentalism in some Kyoto Protocol-friendly form; and a rejection of the McCain-Palin ticket.

In other words, if you're a tree-hugging vegetarian that hates Bush, voted for Obama, doesn't like pollution, bitches about HMO's, doesn't believe in God, favors civil liberties, has dark skin and/or works at a major newspaper, then congratulations! You are a liberal!

Again, I really have no idea what to make of this list. It's loaded pretty heavily with bloggers and newspaper columnists. No Barbara Streisand, Sean Penn, Michael Moore or any of the other usual suspects (and I count them as part of the media). I'll be honest in saying that I haven't even heard of half of these people.

Of course, most readers of this blog are familiar with some of the names found here. Jon Stewart of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" is #5. MSNBC/Air America host Rachel Maddow comes in at #7, just below... get ready... Oprah(!!!). MSNBC's Keith Olbermann got snubbed, and the gang at Forbes must really hate him, because Chris Matthews made it on here. They must assume that, because Olbermann also works for NBC Sports, he can't possibly be a liberal. Matthews cut his teeth working in the Carter Administration, so, by golly, he must be a liberal!

Apparently, if you're cranky, hate everyone and are an atheist, you are automatically a liberal. That's the only possible explanation for the inclusion of Christopher Hitchens and Andrew Sullivan.

The names that are on here are quite puzzling. Lots of representation from the dead tree division of the media, as there are a large number of newspaper columnists and editors here. The usual suspects, like Dowd, Freidman and Krugman (who finished #1).
So, make of this silly article what you will. The best response I've seen so far is from blogger Melissa McEwan, who said that "Forbes unintentionally (wrote) the best Onion piece I've read in ages." This whole list will be the topic of very short-lived debate that should only last about a minute or two, about the length of time this nonsensical article really deserves.

All in all, not a bad laugh for a Monday.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Clear Channel bloodbath

I was tempted to sit on this one for a few days, just to let the smoke clear. But to be quite honest, I really don't know if and when that will ever happen.

So, while the real world is caught up in the whirlwind of President Obama's inauguration, the radio world is reeling with news of massive layoffs by the industry's giant, Clear Channel. In essence, 1,850 positions, or about 9 percent of its staff, have been wiped out, effective immediately. These cuts are occurring at the outdoor advertising division and the company's stations nationwide, and have affected everyone, including management, salespeople, office staffers, part-timers and even full-time air talents.

The cuts began yesterday, and they keep coming in (industry bible Radio and Records is keeping a running update on their site). And where it all stops, no one knows.

Most of the paring down is due to the economy. As companies struggle, that leaves far less money to put toward advertising. And that lack of advertising revenue is hurting the media, especially newspapers, magazines and radio.

Of course, the cynical among us assume that the woeful state of broadcast revenue makes it quite convenient for radio station owners to cut staff down to a minimum to minimize expenses and maximize revenue. After all, does anyone expect radio stations to hire more on-air staffers once the economy rebounds? Considering that even music-oriented radio stations are filling afternoon and evening shifts with syndicated programming, that doesn't bode well for the local guy. The big corporations will see this as an opportunity to program stations from regional or even national offices. Look at all of this as a trend toward the national homogenization of radio.

Rumor has it that the Obama Administration's FCC will make the corporatization of the radio dial a heavy priority over the next few years. They would certainly like to expand access to the airwaves to more parties as opposed to the Bush/Clinton approach of letting a few big groups own virtually everything. This would certainly be a welcome development in the industry.

As for what layoffs concern stations covered by this blog, there are so far only a few. WXXM program director Brian Turany is one of those who have gotten the axe, which is a shame, since he has been a stalwart and sympathetic supporter of the station's progressive talk format.

And in San Diego, former progressive talk station KLSD, currently withering away with its sports talk format, has virtually eliminated its local presence on the airwaves. Four of its five on-air hosts are gone, with the remaining personality teaming up with the station's program director to host a four hour afternoon show. The rest of the schedule is straight off the FOX Sports national feed.

And for those curious, KLSD's sports format is still mostly a no-show in the local ratings, having fallen off the list with the departure of its old progressive talk format.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Schultz says farewell to Fargo - off to D.C.

Since launching his syndicated radio show five years ago, Ed Schultz has long resisted leaving his home of Fargo, ND. That is, until now.

Schultz is pulling up stakes and leaving NoDak to be closer to the action is - Washington, DC. So goodbye to the pickup truck, the dog, the Minnesota Vikings and the house in Detroit Lakes, MN and hello to the bright lights and the big city.

Starting next week, he will be based at least half the time at the offices of the Center for American Progress, run by John Podesta, who headed the transition team of President Obama. The think-tank is also home base to another syndicated talker, Bill Press. Both Press and Schultz are syndicated by Dial Global.

The move more easily allows Schultz to be available for more media opportunities.
"I need to be more accessible to the networks," he told the Fargo Forum, adding that a couple of business deals now in the works could come to fruition in the next few months.

"There is a real possibility of a television opportunity on the horizon, but that’s really all I can say about it right now,” said Schultz.

In addition, he wants to witness the unveiling of the Obama Administration first hand. "This is just a real exciting time for the country, and I want to be there," he told The Forum. "I want to see it. I want to be around it. That’s another reason for this change."

Schultz won’t necessarily leave the truck, the dog and the tackle box behind for good. He will still spend quite a bit of time in the Fargo area. Many shows will still originate from Fargo.

As for his local show on KFGO, "News and Views," nothing will change. The show will keep its local and regional focus, as well as its host.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Rachel renews

Here's the press release, which just landed in my email box. As it looks, Maddow's show will feed in mornings (for an hour) and Ron Reagan expands his show to 6-9P ET. Evidently, this will compliment her busy schedule, with the MSNBC show taking priority.

NEW YORK – Rachel Maddow has reached a new agreement with Air America Media to extend her tenure with the company’s Radio Network and Interactive Division. “The Rachel Maddow Show” will air as a one-hour program to be presented in morning drive time on the network’s affiliates and streamed on airamerica.com.

“Rachel is a unique talent with an unlimited future,” said Air America CEO Bennett Zier. “We are delighted that Air America remains her radio home.”

“We’re elated with Rachel’s continued commitment to Air America,” added SVP/Programming Bill Hess. “As millions of Americans now know, Rachel has become a breakout star and our affiliates and listeners will continue to benefit from her wit, intelligence and insight.”

Simultaneously, “The Ron Reagan Program” will expand to three hours, airing weekdays from 6-9pm EST, also beginning February 2. After co-anchoring for Air America during the 2008 Republican National Convention, appearing as a regular panelist on Air America’s “7 Days in America” and guest-hosting “American Afternoon” in 2008, Reagan joined the company as a permanent host in September.

“The response to Ron Reagan’s one-hour program has been outstanding and we’re very happy to offer listeners, viewers, and readers even more of Ron’s perspective in 2009,” added Hess.

UPDATE AND CLARIFICATION: Maddow's show will be offered in morning drive by the network, to be fed three times, during the 6, 7 and 8A hours. The show will feature radio-only content, as well as a few bits from her MSNBC show. As with the other shows, affiliates will more or less be free to air it whenever they want.

Indie 103.1 leaves the air

Say it ain't so!

First we lose Ricardo Montalban, and now it's the end of the coolest and most adventurous rock station in America. KHAAAAAAAAAAAANNNNNNNN!!!

After five years, Entravision is pulling the plug on Los Angeles' KDLD & KDLE (a.k.a. Indie 103.1). Along with the end of Indie is the dismissal of the radically diverse airstaff, which even includes former Sex Pistol Steve Jones.

The station is currently running a loop of a few songs with the message that "Indie can no longer compete with the corporate radio game."

Dubbed "the coolest commercial station in America" by Rolling Stone, Indie will move its cutting-edge alternative format online to digitalindie.com.

An earlier message was posted there:

Indie 103.1 will cease broadcasting over this frequency effective immediately. Because of changes in the radio industry and the way radio audiences are measured, stations in this market are being forced to play too much Britney, Puffy and alternative music that is neither new nor cutting edge. Due to these challenges, Indie 103.1 was recently faced with only one option -- to play the corporate radio game.

We have decided not to play that game any longer. Rather than changing the sound, spirit, and soul of what has made Indie 103.1 great Indie 103.1 will bid farewell to the terrestrial airwaves and take an alternative course.

This could only be done on the Internet, a place where rules do not apply and where new music thrives; be it grunge, punk, or alternative ? simply put, only the best music.

No word yet on the new format at the terrestrial frequencies, rumored to debut this weekend. It certainly won't be as cool as Indie 103.1.


Los Angeles Times: Ex-Indie 103.1 host Chris Morris on the end of the station, Indie 103.1 is going off the air
Rolling Stone Magazine: Los Angeles Rock Station Indie 103 Going Web-Only, Quits “Corporate Radio Game”
Google blog search

You say goodbye, and I say Hello

Always looking for a clever gimmick in which to report on rather mundane news offerings, I have dedicated the theme of this entry to the greatest band in rock history, The Beatles. And it also helps set up a personal, off-topic rant at the end of this.

So, to tie it all in, here's their 1967 hit, "Hello Goodbye":

Hello, Hello Air America adds a new correspondent and weekend host, as the network has tapped former Time magazine columnist and Wonkette.com co-founder Ana Marie Cox as its first Washington, D.C.-based national correspondent. She will also travel the country to profile people and stories illustrating life in America.

In this new capacity, she also will contribute content to airamerica.com and host a weekly radio program. Cox makes her Air America debut on Monday, January 19 to contribute to Air America’s Inauguration coverage.

“We’re thrilled to have Ana Marie’s unique voice join the Air America chorus,” said Bill Hess, senior vice president of programming for Air America. “Her curiosity about the issues facing Americans and how they deal with these issues on a daily basis promises to serve as the foundation for lively reports and commentaries from the capital and from the Main Streets of America”.

“Ana Marie’s presence on Air America is a significant step in the continued growth of Air America Media,” added Bennett Zier, Air America’s chief executive officer.

In addition to her work at Wonkette and Time, she served on the editorial staffs of Suck.com, Mother Jones and Radar. She is currently writing for The Daily Beast. Cox also published her first novel in 2006, “Dog Days.”

By the way, Air America, not surprisingly, is offering extensive coverage from next Tuesday's inauguration of President Obama (gee, sounds good saying that!). Thom Hartmann's show will air live from the Capitol with guests Cox and fellow Air America host Ron Reagan. Ira Mellman, former WTOP and WCBS reporter/anchor and Air America’s special correspondent, will also be contributing on-air and online live from Washington, D.C. on the Inaugural festivities.

Goodbye KHRO (1650AM), the former Air America outlet in El Paso, last week parted ways with its most notable remaining liberal talker, afternoon host Paul Strelzin.

On his last show, Strezlin said. "There are a lot of people out there that like radio, that like to talk and will do it for free. I can't at my age do it for free." Strelzin was the only paid on-air employee on the talk station.

As with much of the radio industry these days, crippled due to the economy and the lousy advertising market, it was due to budgetary reasons. Strelzin does have an open invitation to return to the station, provided he can enlist sponsors for his three hour show.

Hello, again Only days after WXXM in Madison (92.1 The Mic) replaced Thom Hartmann with Dave Ramsey, listener outcry has forced station management to reconsider. So, Hartmann is back and Ramsey has been moved to the vacant morning shift. And no, the station has no current plans to change formats.

Goodbye WLIB in New York loses its last link to its Air America days as morning guy Mark Riley departs. Prior to returning to WLIB, Riley hosted several shows for the network.

Hello, Goodbye President-elect Obama has reportedly tapped Julius Genachowski to succeed Republican Kevin Martin as head the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Genachowski, a onetime executive at IAC/InterActive and a former DC venture capitalist at LaunchBox Digital, served as Obama's chief technology adviser during the presidential campaign and also had a major role in fundraising. He has an FCC background as well, having served as chief counsel for former Chairman Reed Hundt during the Clinton administration.

Although the nomination has not been finalized, NAB President/CEO David Rehr issued a statement saying, "Julius Genachowski has a keen intellect, a passion for public service, and a deep understanding of the important role that free and local broadcasting plays in American life. NAB salutes President-elect Obama on this superb choice to lead the FCC."

Tech fans will also welcome Genachowski, as he is a strong advocate for net neutrality, as well as for universal broadband access, a high priority for Obama.

Incidentally, earlier today, the most recent head of the FCC, Kevin Martin, turned in his resignation from the commission altogether.

Goodbye, Goodbye? Times are tough in the media industry, mostly due to a serious decline in advertising revenue, and the print media is perhaps hurting the most. Case in point are two notable daily newspapers, currently on the selling block. Hearst is looking to unload the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and E.W. Scripps is seeking a buyer for Denver's Rocky Mountain News, Colorado's oldest newspaper. Hearst will close the paper if a suitor cannot be found and Scripps set a Friday deadline for a buyer to come forward, or it too will fold. Both Seattle and Denver have another daily paper.

Hello and Goodbye? to the DTV transition. If Genachowski is nominated and confirmed as FCC Chairman, the first big thing on his plate, in contrast to Martin's obsession with Janet Jackson's tits and allowing the corporate takeover of the radio dial, is the upcoming switch from analog to digital television, to commence less than five weeks from now, on February 17.

Or will it?

The current DTV voucher program, which allows viewers with older sets to order $40 coupons good toward purchase of a DTV converter box (average price $50-60), has also been in place for a year, and has been promoted heavily via the airwaves. Evidently, many have taken note, as demand for the coupons has outstripped the supply. As of last week, the DTV coupon program has run out of money, and no more has so far been earmarked for it, hence no more coupons being issued for outstanding requests. Because of this, the Obama transition team and Democratic lawmakers want to delay the February 17 date, in order to play catch-up. Another option proposed is to waive the expiration date on expired coupons still floating around.

The current FCC administration has warned that changing the date would prove to be chaotic and confusing. In addition, it could cause problems for local television stations that have already arranged for shutting down their analog facilities on that date (though stations could go ahead and switch on that date if they wanted, as quite a few already have).

So, why are there people who haven't upgraded? Yahoo! tech columnist Ben Patterson says it's either due to procrastination, denial or just plain "technical naiveté."

According to this New York Times story, about 6.8 percent of U.S. households aren't ready for the DTV transition — meaning that 93.2 percent are indeed ready to go.

Patterson is one of many arguing to keep the February 17 date. To be honest, so am I. After seeing many of these same cutoff dates come and go over the years, perhaps it's time to just get it over and done with. Plus, many television stations will be able to increase their power once they turn off adjacent analog facilities. Stations and networks can also go about the task of standardizing image layouts, perhaps doing away with the maddening 'letterbox-in-letterbox' look of many affiliates and the constant switch between standard definition and widescreen HDTV. And, most importantly, it will allow for the rollout of 4G, the next generation of Wi-Fi internet transmission.

Goodbye KQDS in Duluth, which actually got ratings with their former progressive talk format before dumping it for oldies a year ago, has switched once again. Goodbye oldies and say "heba hello" to sports, adding FOX Sports Radio and occasional feeds of Twin Cities sports powerhouse KFAN. KFAN syndicates their programming around the region.

Hello, uh... Help! Remember Michael Zwerling? His conservative talk station in Santa Cruz, KSCO (1080) has turned to begging for money – via PayPal – on the station website. They’re suggesting a monthly donation of $10.80 to “help us keep quality programming on the air.” Zwerling told Brad Kava of the San Francisco Examiner that operating his talk station without adequate money flow is “just a struggle. There’s a lot of things I want to do with that station, but I can’t do it unless we get some money coming in.” What about the traditional way? Zwerling says “I’d like to get it from advertisers, but that isn’t always there.”

Zwerling's complaints about lack of advertisers for his stations are nothing new. A couple years ago, he waged a notorious campaign directed at listeners of then-progressive talk KOMY, threatening to pull the programming if people didn't step up to either advertise or send money to keep the format on the air. Only thing is, his two stations never really had much of an advertising staff, often relying on local hosts themselves to sell time for their own shows.

Goodb... oh, good grief! And what would be more complete in an entry such as this than a Beatles/new media tie-in?

Austin Washington, who by day works for the Obama transition team and is also distantly related to George Washington, created a music video that became somewhat of a web sensation over the holidays. It shows a bunch of people in Santa Claus suits randomly hugging tourists and federal bureaucrats in D.C.

The song, he claims, came from a dream (a #9 Dream?) on, of all dates, December 8, the 28th anniversary of John Lennon's tragic death. In the dream, Lennon sang a song called "Need A Little Love." Whatever gets you through the night, I guess. Interesting thing is, it's not a song Lennon himself actually wrote or performed, let alone released.

Austin was inspired, though. With his acoustic guitar and laptop, he recorded a demo of the song. A few days later, Austin encountered the bizarre scene of 150 anarchic Santa Clauses forcibly hugging tourists and federal bureaucrats outside the White House, obviously giving peace a chance. He recorded all this with his cell phone. Hence, a music video was born, with the unwieldy title "Best Christmas Video EVER! Pole Dancing Elves, John Lennon, Santa Claus" became a YouTube sensation, being posted there after it had already crashed the servers of original home PopMusic.com. On YouTube, it allegedly became the most popular Christmas video in history. The whole thing was a unique way of showing that, all in all, all we need is love.

But the video was living on borrowed time. Enter the Grinch, in the form of Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono. Ono, wielding her ticket to ride as executor of Lennon's estate, spoiled the party and, faster than you can say 'everybody's got something to hide except for me and my monkey,' complained to YouTube. She said, she said that the song and video were copyright violations. Essentially, she has copyright control over stuff you imagine Lennon singing, so keep your thoughts to yourselves.

YouTube, oddly maintaining that the song is owned by the Lennon estate, pulled the video off their site on the twelfth day of Christmas, January 5. Nevermind that the song had never been released by Lennon, never even showed up on bootlegs, and for all we know, was probably never even written or conceived by Lennon (aside from Washington's dream), let alone trademarked. Perhaps the copyright complaint is due to the use of Lennon's name in the title, and YouTube is a bit confused by the whole thing.

Well, well, well. How do you sleep, indeed, Dear Yoko!

It's ironic that Ono would get pissy about something like this. This almost sounds like something John and Yoko would have done in the late 60s and throughout the early 70s, if they could be bothered to actually get out of bed. Ironic in that Ono has always felt a sense of pride in fans celebrating the peaceful message of Lennon's legacy. And over time, she has also gone out of her way to soften her public image, which needed a great deal of work.

And there's already a bunch of copyrighted Lennon and Beatles material already on the site (evidenced by the official music video at the top of this entry). Why pick on a guy who was obviously inspired by Lennon's memory to record something unique and original that helped forward his primary message of peace and love, perhaps inspiring many to come together? It's power to the people in real-life form. Yoko's actions just look petty, and one wonders whether instant karma's gonna get her. She obviously should have known better.

Most peculiar, mama.

Uh... Hello? And while we're on the topic of the Fab Four, how about a nagging recent question heard by countless Beatles fans? Sure, this is totally off-topic for this blog, but one issue close to my own heart, as a die-hard Beatles fan, so please indulge me for this rant. So, here's the question: When are we going to actually hear decent sounding CDs from the greatest band in rock history?

The current lineup of 13 original albums available in the marketplace, plus the two Past Masters catch-all collections, are the same ones that were originally released in 1987 and 1988. And we all know how much CD mastering quality has improved since then. Contemporaries such as the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, David Bowie and the Beach Boys have released remastered and better sounding CDs over the years to keep up with technology and present their music in the best quality possible. All four former Beatles have issued remasters of their solo works in recent years. But from the band itself, all we have is flat, cruddy sounding 80s-era drink coasters with lame booklets and liner notes (aside from Sgt. Pepper). Two albums, A Hard Day's Night and Beatles For Sale are still available only in mono (due to an uncorrected misunderstanding between EMI and producer George Martin), even though songs from these two albums, which have great stereo mixes, have since been reissued in that form on various compilations (to be fair, their first two albums, Please Please Me and With The Beatles do sound better in mono).

How lousy-sounding are the original CDs? Bootleggers have made better-sounding discs by copying original high-quality vinyl records (without scratches) to their PCs using state-of-the-art store-bought equipment. Meanwhile, there's a lot of money sitting on the table, waiting to be acquired from the many fans who are more than willing buy their CDs all over again. Hello?

Sure, there are recent collections of old material that sound pretty good, like 1 (all the #1 hits), the extensive Anthology series (which features rare outtakes), Yellow Submarine Songtrack (which also features radical and stunning remixes of much of their material from the original four-track session tapes), Love (an even more radical remix/mashup) and Let It Be... Naked (an entirely stripped-down mix and reconfiguration of the 1970 original). There's also The Capitol Albums box sets, in their original American configurations (in both mono and stereo), that feature remastered early songs from the Capitol vaults, and was reluctantly approved by Apple Corps. The audio quality between these and the old 1987 CDs is like night and day. And Capitol used second-generation masters! The Capitol set, however, does give us a hint of what to expect. Maybe.

The present shoddy state of the official Beatles catalog irritates many of their fans. Especially since a 40th anniversary release of The White Album was teased last year, then pulled. Instead, to celebrate the album's release, the Beatles' web site offers commemorative clothing and, the most ridiculous of all, a $395 commemorative fountain pen. Ugh!

So what's the hold-up? The remasters are ready to go. The Beatles' label, EMI, commissioned the project two years ago, and the output currently sits in the vault of Abbey Road Studios. But EMI, due to a 1989 legal agreement with Apple Corps., which represents the Beatles partnership, cannot release anything Beatles-related without the approval of Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison (the latter two representing the estates of their late husbands). And, according to McCartney, it's the fault of unspecified and 'unacceptable' demands from EMI, whom they have long been at odds with. The band does want the remasters released, even enlisting Jeff Jones, who previously oversaw Sony's recent reissue program, to become Apple Corps. CEO in 2007.

Likely, some of the reissue question revolves around digital downloads. The band is chomping at the bit to release the music online, via iTunes and possibly other services like Rhapsody. These talks have stalled too. This doesn't matter much to die-hard fans who already own the CDs and will likely buy the reissued ones in sonically superior physical form. But, like the 1 compilation and other recent issues, digital availability opens their music to a new generation of potential (and younger) fans. All of the individual band members and/or their estates issue their solo works in download form, with McCartney (who owns all of his solo masters) and Starr being the most aggressive. In recent interviews, McCartney has been very vocal about "EMI's neanderthal approach to the internet." McCartney himself issued his latest album, the experimental Electronic Arguments, in digital form in a variety of different file formats, including the lossless, open-source and DRM-free FLAC.

Thus, a reissue of the remastered catalog will likely coincide with digital availability of the music. Why release the old stuff online only to change it soon after, right? It appears to be the 'chicken and egg' approach.

But back to the CDs. The remasters promise some really cool stuff, as can be evidenced from listening to the recent compilations. If all you've heard is the current batch of 22 year-old CDs, then the new and improved stuff will be mind-blowing. There's even a chance of hearing some of it in 5.1 surround sound, as Abbey Road's mixing staff has created many of these kinds of mixes for various DVD projects, reissued films and even the Cirque du Soliel Love project. And the next project in the Beatles pipeline, a special edition of the Rock Band video game, also features a 5.1 mix. Furthermore, many fans have been quite vocal in their demands for cleaner, updated mixes and even the availability of the original mono versions (the mono mix of Sgt. Pepper, for example, sounds radically different).

But until then, the selection of high-quality recordings of Beatles music is still quite thin. And it's a win-win for all, which makes this even more baffling. And what better time than now? EMI is hurting bad. Some doubt whether they'll even make it through the year, and in recent years, they've lost some of their highest profile artists, including Garth Brooks, Radiohead and McCartney himself, who opted to go the indie label route. If EMI gets swallowed up by an even bigger corporation, then the rights to the Beatles recordings go as well, and I'm sure, as much as they seem to detest EMI, they'd rather stick with the devil they know. The Beatles also have a legacy to uphold, and given the timeless appeal of their music, a need to preserve it for future generations. Retail sales for recorded music would get a serious kick in the pants. And the somewhat-slumping download market would no doubt benefit from the music's availability online.

And quite frankly, I would love to hear something like Abbey Road in surround sound, if not at least a version of Rubber Soul with a decent stereo mix. Oh, and while you're all at it, how about those DVD versions of the "Let It Be" movie and the Shea Stadium concert? I won't hold my breath.

Hopefully, all parties involved can resolve their issues and make 2009 a banner year for The Beatles.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Mayhem at The Mic?

Listeners in Madison, WI are a bit perplexed by several radical changes at local progressive talker WXXM (92.1FM), a.k.a. "The Mic."

In a major move that has irritated the station's die-hard fans, the same ones that persuaded station management two years ago to keep the progressive talk format, WXXM has dropped Thom Hartmann from the 2-5P shift and replaced him with financial advisor Dave Ramsey. Hartmann's show will continue on the station in overnights.

In addition, morning host Lee Rayburn announced on Friday afternoon via his Facebook page that he has left the station. WXXM's official response is that it is to "pursue interests outside of radio."

A local listener support group, Friends of Progressive Talk, is holding a meeting tonight at a local restaurant to rally around Hartmann's show. Local Clear Channel operations manager Mike Ferris, who brought the progressive talk format to WXXM (92.1) more than four years ago, will speak about the decision behind the changes at the station.

From an email newsletter:

At the upcoming meeting Tuesday, January 13, at 6:30 p.m. at the Dardanelles Restaurant, Clear Channel Operations Manager Mike Ferris, who brought the progressive talk format to WXXM, The MIC 92.1 over four years ago, will speak on his decision for the format switch Mon-Fri, from 2 to 5 p.m. The Fox News media regular Dan Ramsey is now broadcast in the slot in which progressive talk show host Thom Hartmann, had been delay broadcast. Hartmann, an author of over 20 books, is known for his considerable knowledge on the United States Constitution, history and politics. Mike Ferris will talk about the issues, his decision and his intention to keep progressive talk on The MIC. The group will then have a discussion on the program changes and plans of action. The event is sponsored by Friends of Progressive Talk and The Dardanelles Restaurant.

Ferris is the one who made the decision to add Ramsey's show. In an email response to a lsitener, he stated:

...I spoke with Thom last week, he understood and respected my decision. I believe Dave's show offers expert advice and counsel on subjects that affect everyone, our personal finances.

The addition of the Dave Ramsey show makes the MIC 92.1 a more complete and well-rounded program lineup. Indeed, this has been the goal of this station over the past four years, to provide exceptional programming not available anywhere else on the FM dial, and one that offers more than just political talk.

There has been no further word thus far about any other changes pending at the station. A replay of Ron Kuby's Air America show is replaying in the morning slot, and permanent lineup changes will debut next week.

Here's more from The Capitol Times.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Senator Franken (???)

A Minnesota board on Monday certified results showing Democrat Al Franken winning the state's U.S. Senate recount over Republican Norm Coleman, whose lawyer promised a legal challenge that will keep the race in limbo for weeks. The Canvassing Board's declaration started a seven-day clock for Coleman, the incumbent, to file a lawsuit protesting the result. His attorney Tony Trimble said the challenge will be filed within 24 hours.

The challenge will keep Franken from getting the election certificate he needs to take the seat in Washington. Trimble said the process "is now just at the beginning."

Franken, a former "Saturday Night Live" personality and radio talk show host, ended the recount up by 225 votes, an astonishingly thin margin in a race where more than 2.9 million votes were cast. The recount reversed the unofficial Election Day results, which showed Coleman with a 215-vote lead.

Franken made up the deficit over seven tortuous weeks of ballot-sifting in part by prevailing on challenges that both campaigns brought to thousands of ballots. He also did better than Coleman when election officials opened and counted more than 900 absentee ballots that had erroneously been disqualified on Election Day.


So, it ain't 100% over yet, kids!

First news roundup of the year

As we start the new year, this is a good opportunity to tie up a few loose ends...

Nova M completes Phoenix move

As of January 1, Nova M has completed its move down the dial in their home market of Phoenix. KNUV (1190AM) is now known as "1190 Nova M," and is the sole progressive talker in the Phoenix market. Former home KPHX (1480AM) is no longer being leased, and is now programming an adult standards format called "Martini In The Morning." In addition, it appears that former KPHX host Mike Newcomb is back on the station, in the 4-6P local slot. Hmmm...

The station also has a new web address, 1190novam.com.

Former Nova M station falls silent

Pssst. Hey - wanna buy a radio station in Little Rock?

Attentive observers may remember a little station in Little Rock, KDXE. They were one of two stations leased by upstart Nova M a couple years back (along with KPHX). After the one year lease, the company quickly fled the run-down tiny AM outlet, washing their hands of the whole Arkansas thing.

And now, Simmons Media, owner of KDXE, has announced that it is turning out the lights at 1380AM. Simmons informed the FCC that it has "suspended operations due to financial reasons." They'd like to remain dark for at least 180 days (though they could’ve asked for a full year) and are "currently seeking business alternatives to resume the station’s operations speedily."

Supposedly, a $675,000 deal to sell the station to a local owner that was filed last summer never closed, and wasn't likely to.

Chicago changes

With WCPT's programming expanding to the FM dial a couple months back, the three FM signals now have new call signs. WCPT-FM (92.7FM) is located in the north Chicago suburbs; WCPY (92.5FM) is in Dekalb and covers Rockford, Aurora and places west; and WCPZ (99.9FM) is located in the south suburbs.

For fans of the three signals' former Nine FM format, some message board postings are claiming that another Newsweb-owned station, WKIF in Kankakee, south of Chicago, has dropped the wall-to-wall CNN HLN feed and is now airing the "we play anything" format.

Schultz out in L.A.

Upstart talker KGIL (1260AM) is still tweaking its schedule. And in their latest change, Ed Schultz is off the schedule. In his place is Glen (shudder!) Beck and Monica (double shudder!!) Crowley. Yikes!

The station, which once boasted of it's on-air ideological balance, is now wall-to-wall wingnuts, with the exception of Alan Colmes, who's still on at 7P.

More SoCal changes

Down the coast, at San Diego's XEPE (1700AM), it appears Air America is back in town. Kinda.

The station, which dropped Stacy Taylor a few weeks ago, has now let go local morning guy Mark Larson. In his place this morning was Air America's Lionel, according to Radio and Records. Not sure if this is permanent.

The pending radio apocalypse

A sign of things to come, perhaps?

The radio landscape these days is quite brutal. Listeners are turning away. Ad revenue is in the toilet. And radio owners are responding by cutting back even more, further thinning their product.

CBS, to their credit, still owns quite a few AM signals that are heavy on live programming, 24-7. Most notable of these is WCCO (830AM) in Minneapolis. Since the early 1920s, the station has so far resisted virtually all syndicated programming (aside from sports, "60 Minutes" simulcasts and some low-profile programming). They even programmed live, local talk in the overnight hours. Now, an era is slowly coming to an end.

In addition to a number of station staffers, including news staff, the station has dismissed longtime late night talker Al Malmberg, replacing him with an out-of-town product, Jon Grayson from sister station KMOX in St. Louis. Grayson's show will also air on CBS-owned WBZ in Baltimore and KDKA in Pittsburgh. The good news is that Grayson bucks the trend of typical talk radio, in that he's not a mouth-foaming wingnut. In keeping with WCCO's tame nature, the show is nonpolitical, and more pop culture-centric.

It may not sound like much, but the addition of syndicated talk programming is definitely a momentous occurance at a station that has long prided itself in being live and local around the clock.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

The Top 10 Talkers of 2008 (Reader Poll Edition)

So, another year has come to a close, and for many, perhaps a year that's best left far in the past. Granted, 2008 did see some really good things. We elected a very promising president in Barack Obama, but otherwise, it was a grueling year of foreclosures, failures and $4 gas. Let's hope 2009 will be a marked improvement. Could it be any worse?

So, given the weird year that was 2008, what could possibly be more fitting than a really weird year-end readers' poll. I conjured up a variety of ideas on how to carry this one out, and improve on last year's experiment, which was flawed but fairly effective. Of course, strange things will always happen. And this time around, they certainly did. And the outcome certainly did surprise me.

When I initially set up this poll, there were some problems with it. I left off some important names. And there was some sabotage. I had to reboot and start over, with the promise to retain the previous results, as several thousand readers had already cast votes. When the poll was rebooted, many more people discovered it, including a few radio personalities themselves. Imagine my surprise on one occasion when I found several thousand votes that had been cast virtually overnight, particularly for one group of hosts. But that's the way it goes. As previously mentioned, it ain't scientific. And if Obama and McCain can campaign for votes, why not the hosts themselves, right?

As I vowed earlier, I combined the results of both polls into the final outcome. Strangely enough, it worked in rather interesting ways. It also produced a startling outcome. And it minimized the possibility of box stuffing as well. The vote tallies of the two polls have not been altered, except to add them via a simple calculator.

From the get-go, I didn't care who won. It was all up to you. Sometimes it's quite interesting to just see where it all goes. And whatever the results, that was fine by me.

It's not a scientific poll. No web poll ever is. But quite frankly, the resources just aren't there to enlist Gallup or Zogby to do a meaningless survey. Let's face it, it's all for fun anyway, right?

Will there be controversy in the results? Absolutely. Lots of pissed-off people? Sure. Hurt feelings? I hope not. At least controversy does tend to lead to spirited discussion. While the poll did have some flaws, it was the several thousand of you who voted who determined the outcome. As we learned from controversial votes like with Proposition 8 in California, which banned gay marriage, the ones who cast the votes are the ones who decide the outcome. You may agree or disagree with the results, but it is what it is. And with that said, here's how it all turned out.

10. Sam Seder

Sam Seder is kinda like the Rodney Dangerfield of radio. He just gets no respect. At least he doesn't by his radio handlers. His listeners, meanwhile, absolutely adore the former screenwriter/actor turned radio talk show host.

Seder held sway in middays on Air America until April 2007, when his show was dropped in a controversial move that brought Lionel to the network. Following that, he started a Sunday afternoon show that lasted a year and expired when the contract did. But Air America, to their credit, still saw value in Seder. They named him webmaster for their site, as they slowly ramped up their anemic online presence. He also auditioned for the open afternoon slot vacated by Randi Rhodes, which was given to New York talker Ron Kuby.

But that was not the end of it. There were rumors of him leaving the network and heading to greener pastures. But Seder segued into another gig with Air America, teaming up with pal (and former Air America host) Marc Maron for a regular online-only offering, "Maron vs. Seder." The new show is basically no-holds-barred. No time clock. No restrictions. No real structure. And no prohibitions, particularly when it comes to profanity. With terrestrial radio becoming stifling and restrictive, and fading in popularity to the wide variety of other options out there, have Seder and Maron latched onto something? Could web-only be a sign of things to come? Whatever the answer is, we'll be looking forward to see what happens in 2009.

9. Randi Rhodes

It's an all too familiar tale. An entity hires a controversial, outspoken personality to be controversial and outspoken, and distances itself from said individual when the proverbial shit hits the fan. It didn't quite work that way with Randi Rhodes and her former employer, Air America Radio. But it sure appeared that way.

Back in March, Rhodes was in San Francisco, making a public appearance at an event thrown by her affiliate, KKGN. It was at a popular comedy club in town, and anyone with any knowledge of the San Francisco comedy scene knows that things can get quite bawdy. And with Rhodes on that night, it most certainly did.

In the heat of the Hillary Clinton/Barack Obama primary fight, things were getting pretty hot. The Democratic Party split into two warring factions, and even divided many politicians, pundits, personalities and bloggers along with it. Geraldine Ferraro, a former representative who made history in 1984 when she was tapped by Democratic nominee Walter Mondale to be the first female running mate on a major party ticket, was among the most outspoken in her support for Clinton and her disdain for Obama. She tarnished much of her well-earned credibility in the process.

Rhodes was likely speaking for many of her listeners when she lashed out at Clinton and Ferraro onstage that night in San Francisco. Clinton "is a whore," she said. Ferraro "is a fucking whore." Not much was made of the incident until a short clip hit YouTube. The pro-Hillary blogs went nuts, calling for Rhodes' head. Air America soon stepped in, issuing a statement 'suspending' the host for an indefinite period. In the meantime, listeners and affiliates alike were confused as to what was really going on. Soon, KKGN and a few other stations, including longtime flagship WJNO in West Palm Beach announced they would carry the show themselves, with or without Air America. Then, an announcement that Rhodes and Air America had parted ways, and another announcement the next day that Rhodes had joined the fledgling Nova M Radio.

So what really happened? As it turned out, the departure had little to do with the San Francisco incident. As it turns out, Rhodes and Air America were involved in heavy contract negotiations. The new management team offered more money, but they wanted to insert a non-compete clause, which could have stifled her career if she were to be fired at will. Coincidentally, her last day at Air America was the last day of her contract. The 'suspension' was merely a cover-up. And that YouTube clip? That was allegedly circulated by her former bosses, as a way of measuring her popularity.

But as we all know, Rhodes quickly rebounded, retaining most of her affiliates and gaining a few in the process. Along the way, listeners noticed a more upbeat Rhodes, as she stripped away most of her frustration and anger and returned to what she did best - being funny.

8. Bill Press

When The Young Turks departed from Air America last January and the network declined to fill the slot with live programming, syndicated liberal talk in morning drive in the eastern half of the country was left to Bill Press.

Thanks to the lack of competition, Press' show landed on even more affiliates that prefer going the syndicated route in mornings. Both Sirius and XM air his show, as do many terrestrial stations. Stations in the western half of the country by default air him as a live offering in the wee dark hours of the early morning. And with Jones Radio Networks being swallowed up by an even bigger fish, Dial Global, Press was backed by a bit more network muscle.

But this lack of competition is by no ways a means of disregarding Press' show. It's good. Press, a longtime television personality, has a knack for broadcasting, and is by no means a slouch. Unfortunately, his show is held back somewhat by a lack of web presence. Searching for podcasts of his show is akin to finding a mint-condition Honus Wagner baseball card in the attic. Given the heavy web presence of many of his peers, Press would surely benefit from a little online exposure.

7. Mark Thompson

With Air America and others seemingly dominating the scene and the dialogue, Sirius Left, which boasts three exclusive daily programs, is still worth noting, and in the past I have made sure that they not be ignored. Likewise, listeners made sure their voices were heard.

One of the beneficiaries of the groundswell from Sirius listeners is their newest host, Mark Thompson. Airing during the evening hours, The more amiable Thompson has garnered a favorable response from listeners who haven't warmed to the more caustic approach of Sirius Left's two other hosts.

6. Stephanie Miller

An item I read in radio industry pundit Tom Taylor's daily newsletter last week pretty much sums up Stephanie Miller:

Who had a good year in 2008? “Progressive/liberal talk show hosts,” says longtime Boston-based radio pro and Lesley University professor Donna Halper. She says “it’s true the progressive and liberal talk personalities weren’t on as many stations as righties like Limbaugh and Hannity. But for those who had long predicted that progressive talk could never survive, the format demonstrated in a number of cities that it did have staying power.” She says “Ed Schultz and Stephanie Miller both turned a profit (again) and both picked up more affiliates and were regularly seen on TV as pundits.”

When her show began in the fall of 2004, Miller satisfied a unique niche. While other hosts veered toward being quite droll and serious, Miller went for laughs. Airing in morning drive in the western half of the country, the show turned into a three hour laughfest, skewering the newsmakers in a way similar to that of "The Daily Show." And the light approach has translated into massive popularity. Most of the progressive talk stations in the country carry her show. A Top 40 FM station in Pennsylvania even carried it at night. Her dominance of the time slot has even wedged out rivals such as Sam Seder and Lionel. It's to the point that other most other liberal talk entities and stations don't even bother to compete with her.

5. Lynn Samuels

I admit, I'm not really all that familiar with on-air stylings of Lynn Samuels. I do know that she has long been a fixture in afternoons at Sirius Left. I also know that she has quite a long history in New York radio, most notably on venerable talker WABC. And I know that she is very, very confrontational. And yes, I realize that she was a beneficiary of the Sirius Left wave that hit this site in the past few weeks.

I had only heard her Sirius show on a few occasions. Thick New Yawk accent. Outspoken. Lots of profanity. Somewhat prickly demeanor. Yeah, I guess it's a bit much for a laid-back Midwestern boy like me to wrap his noggin around. And I get lots of emails and read a lot of blog and message board postings from people saying how much they despise her. That reached a head earlier this year when Samuels, initially a Hillary Clinton supporter, continuously lashed out at chief rival Barack Obama throughout the campaign, as the Democratic Party seemingly and briefly divided into two factions. Even as Obama successfully fought his way through the general election, many did not forgive Samuels.

But at the same time, there are people out there that absolutely adore her. And that's what matters, right? I realize that it's a big tent out there, and one of the key principles behind this blog is that generic groupthink is pointless. And in a country that values free speech, people should be encouraged to speak their minds and ruffle a few feathers. Living in a land of over 300 million distinct personalities, we would all be hard pressed to find someone who agrees with us on everything. And while those on the right behave like drones and most parrot identical agendas across the board, we should be thankful for the culture of diversity laid out on paper by dapper guys in wigs over two centuries ago. Lynn Samuels might not be your cup of tea, but give her credit for at least carving her own niche.

4. Rachel Maddow

What a year it's been for Rachel Maddow. With the departure of many of top Air America talents, such as Randi Rhodes, it's been up to promising up-and-comers like Maddow to step up. When she first started with the network almost five years ago, as an unknown personality on the morning ensemble show "Unfiltered," her primary radio experience had been hosting a morning show on a station in Massachusetts. But as many know, pure talent will always shine through. When "Unfiltered" ended its brief run, Air America management saw something in her and gave her a solo show, running in the early morning hours. That show later moved to a higher profile early evening slot and she soon became an important cornerstone in the network's lineup. MSNBC saw something in her as well and enlisted her for frequent pundit appearances. Earlier this year, as MSNBC was looking to build around their top host, Keith Olbermann, they finally decided Maddow was ready for her own prime time show, immediately following the highly-rated "Countdown." The results surprised even them. Soon, Maddow was even getting higher ratings than Olbermann on some nights, and even beat CNN stalwart Larry King on quite a few nights.

Liberal talk has been derided for many years, with many saying it just doesn't work. As it evolves, however, there are obvious people who have shot to the head of the pack. One of them is Rachel Maddow. As I said in the past, the future does indeed look bright. And it keeps getting brighter and brighter.

3. Alex Bennett

Now, here's one of the main focal points of the controversy. Frequent readers of this site by now know that Bennett has been actively campaigning on behalf of himself and fellow Sirius Left hosts via his weekday show. They even plugged this blog and the poll via the displays on Sirius radio receivers. Many pissed off readers fired off emails, letting me have it. Yeah, I was a bit bemused by the whole thing. But hey, I didn't say he couldn't plug Sirius. In fact, I finally decided to just encourage anyone interested to plug the heck out of themselves. It was best to just let it all play out. Plus, a spirited campaign kinda makes things more fun. And we did get a lot of new traffic, and that's not a bad thing.

Of course, when the dust settled, many thought the results would be a foregone conclusion. But, as I mentioned earlier, there was that first poll I had to deal with. So while Sirius hosts clear and away rocked the house on the second poll, the results of the November one provided for a rather interesting outcome.

Like I said, that's exactly what happened. The numbers speak for themselves.

But perhaps its time to praise Bennett, not to slay him. After all, he did get a lot of votes. At least a few thousand people like him enough to stand up for him, right? And he was at least honest enough to come here and communicate with his many critics on this very blog. Perhaps it even inspired to create his own blog. So I guess the guy does deserve some props.

Essentially, you either love him or you despise him. There's not much of a middle ground. But give the guy some credit. He's been in the game since he was a teenager in the latter years of the Eisenhower era, and spent much of his younger years roaming the nation as a Top 40 disc jockey. He wound up at WMCA in New York in the late 1960s, just before they transitioned from their famed "Good Guys" hits era into talk radio. Bennett made the move with them, and found his niche as a default radio voice for the emerging counterculture. His late night show featured many of the New York radicals of the day, guys like Abbie Hoffmann and Paul Krassner. And yes, even John and Yoko.

As the years went on and the national mood settled during the 'Me' decade and the Reagan era, he moved to mornings and held sway on the airwaves of his hometown of San Francisco throughout the 80s and most of the 90s. And in recent years, he's transitioned once again, into a somewhat controversial no-holds-barred talker on satellite radio, given carte blanche by management to say whatever the hell he wants. After all, isn't talk radio supposed to piss you off? For that, I certainly can't fault the guy. Hey, why should you?

2. Thom Hartmann

Finishing just 22 votes ahead, readers went with a familar, friendly voice, Portland, OR-based Thom Hartmann. Although up against heavy competition in his time slot, he is one of the most successful progressive talk voices out there.

Hartmann's current show has been on longer than most on this list. He was part of the old I.E. America network, along with Mike Malloy. When that network folded five years ago, Hartmann continued to self-syndicate to a small number of affiliates. He hooked up with Air America a few months after they began and with the departure of former host Al Franken gained one of the network's highest-profile time slots, in addition to a strong affiliate base. Along with Rachel Maddow, Hartmann is a cornerstone of the network.

And that still isn't enough. Hartmann is also a prolific author, having written many books over the years and still releasing 1-2 each year. He has also done well as a businessman, which helps when he goes head-to-head with the Ayn Rand types who typically appear as guests on his show. In the past, Hartmann has credited a conservative talker, Michael Medved, as giving him the idea of bringing in on-air guests who disagree with him, as a way of spicing up the show. Not many liberal hosts tap conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation for guests.

So, as the smoke and dust has settled, you voted Thom Hartmann as your #2 Top Talker for 2008.

So, that brings us up to the winner, the one you all voted for. And the winner of the reader's poll, for the second year in a row, is...

1. Mike Malloy

He's on late at night. And only on a handful of stations. Yet there perhaps is no other host who possesses the passionate following that Mike Malloy does.

And he's been at it for longer than most on this list. A former writer for CNN, he moved into radio during the 1990s, with stints on well-known talk stations like WSB in Atlanta and WLS in Chicago. As ABC abruptly moved their talk stations hard to the right, Malloy's popular show was unceremoniously dumped from WLS' airwaves, and he returned to Atlanta to begin a syndicated effort via I.E. America, where he carried on during events such as the beginning of the war in Iraq in 2003.

I.E. America went belly-up in early 2004, just as Air America was set to launch. Passed over at first, and unable at the time to broadcast remotely from his hometown of Atlanta, he soon was tapped for the late-night shift at the fledgling network.

Malloy's relationship grew icy in 2006, after a myriad of executive turnovers. In August of that year, he was unceremoniously dumped by the network, amid a vast outcry from his devoted listeners. He soon rebounded, thanks to former Air America boss and faithful supporter Sheldon Drobny, who proceeded to launch a new network built around the host. More than two years later, Malloy is still doing what he does best.

A revolutionary aspect of his show is how popular it is via the internet. Shut out by many radio stations and tape delayed by others, he gets most of his support and listeners online, via live webstream and podcasting. And with terrestrial radio going through very tough times now, due to decreased advertising revenue and stale programming practices, Malloy and his listeners are exploring the new frontier of broadcasting.

You voted for him in a landslide, and yes, you named Mike Malloy the Top Talker of 2008. Really.

(NOTE: In the companion entry, posted immediately before this, is a list of the Top 10 picked by this very blog, rather than the reader poll. Consider them to be companion pieces.)

The Top 10 Talkers of 2008 (The LTR Picks)

With the posting of the readers poll results of 2008's Top Ten Talkers, a severe storm of shit will likely rain down upon this silly little blog. I assure you that I played as fair as I possibly could. I merely put up the poll. I just added up all the numbers, and delayed posting by a day or so in order to accurately check and double-check the results. It was up to you all to vote in it. All I asked was that you refrained from cheating by casting multiple votes. And no real evidence of that was determined. So, it is what it is.

A couple years ago, I did the list on my own, before the poll idea came about. I created the list of who I saw as the most influential hosts of the year that had passed, and who made the most impact. In creating the list, I tried to remain impartial, to take a step back and judge who made a difference. It wasn't my own personal preferences, just fair judgement calls. And just to show where my loyalties lie (I try not to play favorites), here is a similar list compiled by yours truly. Again, this is not a list of my own personal favorites (that kind of list would look radically different than this one). Rather, I chose the people who I thought were the most listened-to, the most talked-about, the most influential, the most noteworthy and most generally liked of the past year. I also tried to figure how many of you would rank them. Here is that list:

My list

10. "Maron vs. Seder"
9. "Democracy Now!"
8. Alex Bennett/Sirius Left
7. Bill Press
6. Mike Malloy
5. Randi Rhodes
4. Stephanie Miller
3. Thom Hartmann
2. Ed Schultz
1. Rachel Maddow

So, how did I arrive at this list? Well, the one person who made the most impact this year, Rachel Maddow, was far and clear the big winner in this list. No comparison. She did have one hell of a year. After building an impressive affiliate base, she was tapped by MSNBC for a high-profile slot following the highly-rated "Countdown with Keith Olbermann." As her show exploded in the ratings, and sometimes even beat the high-profile competition on CNN and FOX News, she far exceeded expectations. Her radio affiliates love her and have done quite well with her show. If there is a future in progressive talk radio, the name Rachel Maddow is perhaps first to come to mind. In 2008, she was The Beatles. Everyone else was Gerry And The Pacemakers.

Most of the hosts on this list have already been covered in depth in the accompanying entry, so there isn't much more that could be added. One that hasn't, and barely missed the cut of the readers' poll is Ed Schultz, arguably, the top dog in progressive talk radio. This week, his show reaches its fifth birthday, and it's still going strong. Schultz also employs the advantage of being on quite a few small-market stations that program a mostly conservative talk lineup. So yes, in some areas, one can potentially hear Schultz and Hannity back-to-back on the same signal. In addition, Schultz often gets the best guests, with the A-list of Washington insiders appearing on his show. Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have made frequent appearances. He had Ohio representative Dennis Kucinich on for a whole show, since he flew all the way to Schultz' home base in Fargo to appear. Needless to say, Schultz still has serious pull.

Why didn't Schultz fare stronger in the reader poll (he finished #11, just shy of the Top 10)? The only answer is to guess. Schultz' popularity is a bit more mainstream, where he has often aimed. Rather than a passionate hardcore following from the left, a la Mike Malloy, Schultz' draw is much wider and not as deep. And its possible that a "gun-totin' meat-eatin' lefty" may be a bit off-putting to some. But I'm a Midwestern guy, and I can relate to Schultz' North Dakota populism. I also like the structure of his show, very polished, tight and professional, countered with Schultz' folksiness. And where else can one hear about the biggest stories of the day, including interviews with the newsmakers themselves? Schultz' listeners were the first to hear the infamous allegations against Idaho senator Larry Craig over a year ago, and months before the embarrassing 'toe-tapping incident' at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport was revealed to the public.

Being successful in a small format is a challenge when up against strong competition in the same time slot, but both Schultz and Thom Hartmann pull it off. Often, they're both on the same station by way of delay (Schultz also feeds replays of his show in late afternoons and early evenings). Hartmann has been at the talk game a bit longer than many of the names out there, and many are drawn to his friendly, direct style. And his show is still growing, both in popularity and in the number of stations carrying him.

The recent brewhaha over Randi Rhodes' departure from Air America has solidified her popularity. Her show barely missed a beat when she moved over to Nova M Radio and relocated from New York back to South Florida. The change of scenery, from New York to Florida and from Air America to Nova M seems to have resulted in a change of demeanor, as the oft-prickly host began showing a warmer, more relaxed side.

Stephanie Miller is still one of the format's biggest guns, and almost completely dominates her morning/late morning time slot. Nobody comes close to competing with her.

Mike Malloy ranks on my list by sheer fact that he has such a loyal following. While he is not carried by many radio stations, he is on both Sirius and XM, and has a very devoted following of people who listen online, which is perhaps the next frontier in radio listening. His strong online presence is a factor in his ranking here.

Bill Press enjoys a somewhat similar situation to that of Miller's, in that he has little competition in his time slot. As a result, he has gained a rather decent affiliate base. The show also includes quite a bit of organized professional polish, befitting an offering from a major radio syndicator, something I feel is important in the genre.

And yes, I did put Alex Bennett on my list. Sirius Left, as I mentioned before, is still a presence. Perhaps this is more a reflection of Sirius Left than Bennett, its most popular host. With the ongoing merger of Sirius and XM, we shall see how things pan out for the channel in 2008 as it (hopefully) gains a stronger presence.

Many of the names on this list and the shows they host have been around only in this decade. "Democracy Now!" has been around since 1995, and via commercial and noncommercial radio stations, public access cable channels and satellite TV services, they have been presenting a direct approach to the news that just isn't seen on commercial news outlets. Granted, the show at times can be a bit dry, but for those looking for a serious breakdown of serious news events, rather than missing blondes and Britney Spears' latest hijinks, "Democracy Now!" is that very tonic. In addition, "Free Speech Radio News" is another noncommercial entry similar in nature and airing on many of the same radio stations as "Democracy Now!" Air America Radio airs hourly feeds from that service.

While still a young show (only a few months, as a matter of fact), I put the new offering from Marc Maron and Sam Seder as the last entry on this list. At this time, it's only available online, offered by Air America Media. But it employs the talents of two much-loved hosts, and is an important step in branching out into web-exclusive media. Both names are included here not particularly for what they did in 2008, but what possible impact they can make in 2009 and beyond.

For results of the readers poll, please refer to the companion entry, immediately following this one chronologically.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Top Ten... reasons the list ain't done yet

I know, I know. You're all asking the same question.

Where is it?

Well, the Top 10 Talkers of 2008 feature is nearing completion. I had hoped to have it up today, but there were a few delays. Actually, there were ten of them. Here they are:

10. The dog ate it.

9. Rod Blagojevich wants more money.

8. The end result was unacceptable, and John, George and Ringo are bringing Phil Spector in for overdubs. They forgot to tell Paul.

7. Alex Bennett hasn't finished writing the rough draft yet (just kidding, just kidding...)

6. Had to be in Alaska for the birth of Tripp Palin.

5. Clint Eastwood movie marathon on AMC ("The Good, The Bad And The Ugly" is a very long flick).

4. Hockey at Wrigley Field? Who'd miss that?

3. Still in denial over the Rod Marinelli firing from the Detroit Lions.

2. Waiting for the outcome of the Coleman/Franken senate race.

And the number one reason...

1. Wasting my time doing stupid Lettermanesque lists like this one.

Rest assured, the list should be up tomorrow. There were a few snags with it. And the process of compiling the results of two polls (the most recent one and the one from November) is a complicated process. In fact, I did spot an error that needed correction (a glaring omission, actually - sorry, Steph). So the results needed another combing over.

In addition, you'll get not one but two lists - one based on votes from all of you and another prepared by yours truly (just like two years ago). Two for the price of one. Cool, huh? So, look for it by tomorrow.

In the meantime, enjoy this early part of 2009. Crappy New Year!

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