Tuesday, March 31, 2009

MSNBC puts new show plans on hold

For the past few months, MSNBC has been toying with the idea of building on their prime time lineup, possibly by adding a new show in the 10P ET hour following "The Rachel Maddow Show", in place of a rerun of Keith Olbermann's highly-rated "Countdown". But don't look for it anytime soon.

MSNBC will continue airing "Countdown" twice each weeknight in prime time, with the possibility of adding a new show put on "indefinite hold." No reason was given, but it could be due to the rough economic climate affecting the media as a whole, and the fact that the Olbermann rerun actually pulls in a respectable audience, considering that rerunning it is a lot cheaper than starting something new.

MSNBC chief executive Phil Griffin suggested earlier this year he was on the lookout for a new show. He never named names, but the potential host most bandied about was Ed Schultz, who had done some fill-in work for the network on various shows. Fans of the online show "The Young Turks" and of Air America's Sam Seder have been lobbying to get MSNBC to consider them.

From Huffington Post:

Fox has 2.1 million viewers, on average, in the time slot in March. Cooper on CNN has 1.2 million and Olbermann has 902,000, according to Nielsen Media Research. On a handful of nights, a rerun of Olbermann has even beaten a live Cooper in the 25-to-54-year-old demographic that MSNBC watches most closely.

MSNBC may give up entirely on the idea of putting a new live show in that time slot, Griffin said.
"We're not going to mess with it until we see where it levels off," he said. "It places the burden, if we are going to put a show there, (for it) to be a big show because the repeat of `Countdown' is doing so well."

Speaking of MSNBC and cable news, CNN is poised to finish March third in the prime-time weeknight ratings behind Fox News Channel and MSNBC, according to the Associated Press. This would be the first time this has ever happened for the channel that pioneered the cable news genre back in the early 1980s.

Air America - five years later (Part II)

When Al Franken opened up the microphone just after noon eastern time on Wednesday March 31, 2004, the upstart Air America Radio network was officially born. And, at that very moment, the vultures and cynics officially began speculating on their demise.

Right-wingers, supposedly the champions of free enterprise and the Capraesque American dream of entrepreneurial achievement, were rooting for their quick death. Executives in the oft-cutthroat fraternity of the radio industry were understandably pessimistic. Even many of the new network's target listeners on the left were a bit skeptical - most of them didn't even like talk radio. Yet five years, numerous radio station affiliates, four or five ownership groups (for those keeping count), one bankruptcy and countless departed hosts later, Air America has defied the odds, and are still around to celebrate their fifth anniversary on March 31, 2009. Imagine that.

Looking back, who in 2004 would have predicted that in 2009, a popular Democrat of mixed-race origin named Barack Hussein Obama would be in the White House, or that his party would control both houses of Congress? Or that his much-derided predecessor, George W. Bush, would leave office in disgrace (okay, we already predicted that)? Who would have expected our once-robust economy to be teetering on virtual collapse? Or that people would still be buying Britney Spears albums? We easily could have guessed that the radio industry would be in absolute turmoil, a victim of its own short-sightedness. But could we have guessed that the newspaper industry would be suffering so brutally, with even legendary entities like the San Francisco Chronicle threatening to shut down its presses? Most certainly, very few probably predicted that the media entity that is currently known as Air America Media would be around to celebrate their fifth birthday. You certainly wouldn't be faulted for thinking so.

To be honest, I wasn't even sure if they would get this far. Radio is a strange, funny and unpredictable industry. The big fish swallow the little fish. The system worked against Air America from the very beginning. They did have a few things in their favor, though. First, the programming, though a bit intimidating to the many stubborn and unadventurous radio programmers polluting the industry, was a unique departure from the sea of Rush clones on the marketplace. They had the advantage of becoming big fish in small ponds, rather than being just another small fish in the vast conservative radio ocean. Plus, there were many struggling or obscure AM radio stations dotting the landscape, desperate to do anything to get noticed. Certainly liberal talk content providers could find affiliates somewhere? And the promise of technology, satellite radio and wireless broadband internet networks would allow them to bypass the much more restricted radio dial altogether. So, Air America at least had some things going for it.

But it was a tough climb. If anything, I assumed that the investors' egos would keep Air America afloat for a few years, before the company got swallowed up by a bigger radio entity like Westwood One or Jones MediaAmerica. Or they could have just put the whole thing to sleep and taken the tax writeoff. That's usually the way things work.

So, how did they get to this point? How did they even make it? How did a tiny independent radio network, seeming built on hopes, dreams, egos and a whole lot of drama, chaos and disorder, survive this long? And do they even stand a chance of reaching their tenth birthday?

In late 2002, when a group of left-leaning investors laid the groundwork to launch what was initially going to be called Central Air, many were excited. The beginning of the Iraq War in March 2003 effectively shut out dissenting radio opinions critical of the Bush Administration. Insecure right-wing demagogues named Limbaugh and Hannity, along with their many various clones, even branded those who would not go along with their short-sighted agenda as 'traitors' or worse. Clear Channel and other similar radio ownership groups, in the interest of 'patriotic correctness,' excised many left-leaning ideas from the airwaves of their talk and music-oriented stations, going so far as to even issue a 'ban list' of 'questionable' songs for their FM stations (which included such anti-war tracks as John Lennon's "Imagine"). The radio airwaves got pretty ugly, and no doubt the inevitable backlash would hit. An opportunity existed for an opposing voice.

Sure, Air America wasn't the first foray into liberal talk. Even before Ed Schultz launched his syndicated show three months prior, liberal voices did exist on the airwaves, just as rock n' roll was around even before The Beatles and Bob Dylan. But the existence of a somewhat viable full-service liberal talk programming service certainly made it easier for radio programmers to build stations around, rather than suffer the many complaints of their myopic conservative-leaning talk radio listeners for having the audacity to air some 'subversive lefty socialist traitor' like Schultz immediately after Limbaugh. Air America, like 'em or not, did help kick in the door. Due in large part to Schultz and Air America, progressive talk exploded like wildfire in mid-2004. Soon, Stephanie Miller and Bill Press launched successful syndicated ventures.

The path traveled by Air America certainly wasn't easy. Their aim in the beginning sounded like radio suicide. The new network's initial investors seemed more focused on forwarding political agendas and winning elections than building successful shows. At least the people behind Limbaugh's show realized in the beginning that ideology was merely icing on the cake.

Add to that the turmoil that goes with any new media venture. Lots of investors and their egos clashing with each other. Many of them seemingly felt that status on the Washington and New York cocktail party circuits took priority over establishing a viable business model. There was a tendency to overspend on ridiculous stuff as opposed to building on a sensible budget. And there was too much emphasis put on the oft-quoted line from "Field Of Dreams" - if you build it, they will come. It's never that easy.

And Air America did stumble, and quite gloriously. They frequently appeared to be a radio version of The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight. They took in a few shady investors (hello, Evan Montvel Cohen) that did more harm than good. They blew through enough money to make AIG look like skinflints, while remaining investors were hesitant to foot the bill. They refused to heed the advice of experienced radio people, convinced that they were trying to change radio from the inside out. For a media company built on the 21st Century web-based model, they certainly couldn't maintain a decent website or reliable webstream (which led indirectly to the creation of this very blog). And they suffered one public relations blunder after another, certainly not helped by ravenous right-wing pundits desperate to rip the flesh from their bones over even the littlest things. And the powers-that-be seemed more concerned about what they wanted, rather than what their listeners wanted.

Air America also had to contend with a very picky, demanding audience that often could never be placated. Even canceling an unpopular show like "Unfiltered" created an uproar, which subsided when the show's least-known personality, an obscure New England talk show host named Rachel Maddow, became a bona fide success. Certainly, the ugly departures of popular hosts like Mike Malloy and Randi Rhodes created public relations nightmares with the very group of people they were courting.

In addition, by initially building shows around non-radio personalities from other entertainment backgrounds, who were often tempted by more lucrative opportunities, Air America seemed to be asking for trouble. When Franken hit the air, few thought he would make a career of it. Sure enough, he was gone in three years.

It was certainly no surprise that Air America finally wound up in bankruptcy court two and a half years after their debut. Some wondered what took so long. To their credit, they survived, and finally woke up and realized that changes had to be made. This was a major turning point for them, and showed that perhaps there was some hope for the fledgling operation.

Sure, the two succeeding ownership groups haven't had complete success. They did streamline the ship, but still made many of the same mistakes as previous owners. The controversial move of hiring syndicated radio veteran Lionel was a disaster for both parties, as they were unsuccessful at using him to build their affiliate base. Subsequently, he is being replaced by Montel Williams next month. A clash of egos led to the departure of Rhodes, their most popular host, last year. Her replacement, New York radio veteran Ron Kuby, hasn't come close to filling the void. Maddow's success was a double-edged sword, as she virtually departed for a television gig. More recently, Thom Hartmann, by now their biggest talent, saw the writing on the wall and took his show to the competition.

Many still wonder if talk radio is really the way to go about moving an agenda. A few weks ago, comedian Bill Maher joked that despondent Republicans were seeking an innovative new technological platform on which to push their agenda, and they discovered AM radio. He's probably not far off the mark. Is radio really even the answer anymore? Since Air America launched, web-based media has exploded. The left-leaning news and blog site Huffington Post, which debuted a year later, currently has a reach and influence Air America could only dream of. Barack Obama's presidential campaign successfully tapped into a web-based model for fundraising and communication, giving power to a grassroots army. Air America's current management has wisely realized that online is where it's at, with an increased emphasis on web content and even a name change that substitutes "Media" for the previous "Radio" in their name. But is it too little, too late?

As Air America reaches its fifth birthday, they seem to be starting from scratch, like a sports team in rebuilding mode, after seeing their top players leave the game or get better deals in free agency. Dial Global, with Schultz, Miller, Press and now Hartmann, is currently the big player in progressive talk. The dire state of the economy, currently wreaking havoc on the radio industry as a whole, has definitely hurt the fledgling progressive talk genre. Upstart rival Nova M Radio is now history, and longtime syndicated host Peter B. Collins recently ended his show, citing the high cost of syndication.

As for the network itself, they still need to fill the critical daytime shift vacated by Hartmann - a glaring gap in the schedule. They have to wonder if four one-hour replays of Maddow's MSNBC show from the night before is really the answer in morning drive. And they have to build on their current strengths, whatever they may be. Recent hire Ron Reagan is seeing some growth, and seems to be going over well with the network's fan base. The hiring of Montel Williams has generated some industry buzz, with even their L.A. affiliate thinking of picking up the show. And some venerable weekend shows, such as "Ring Of Fire", are still popular with their dedicated listeners.

In the past year, the current management of Air America seems to have been a bit more focused. Current owner Charlie Kirecker hired two established radio executives for their front office. They've been working at building up their web presence, trying to position themselves as a Huffington Post with audio and video content. Again, is it too little, too late? Is there a spot for Air America in the rough economic radio climate in 2009 and beyond? Or will they become like former Pittsburgh Steeler Kordell Stewart, a guy who could play multiple positions but couldn't excel at a single one? Most importantly, can they even stand toe-to-toe with their rivals, rather than turn into a Triple-A ball club that exists mostly to feed the major leagues?

For the past five years, naysayers have been writing the network's obituary. How many right-wing blog entries and articles, or even mainstream news sources have been calling Air America a failure during this time? Yet, five years later, here they are.

So, happy birthday to Air America Media, and here's hoping there will be more. And forget the cynics. They obviously don't believe in the American Dream.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Just another manic Monday

And now... the rest of the news.

Hartmann takes over your cell phone

Can't get enough of Thom Hartmann? Well, you can get him on your cell phone. No, he's not going to call you. But highlights from his show are now available via cell phone programming service Foneshow. The segments are available for free subscription at Foneshow or Hartmann's own site.

"As a lifelong telephone junkie myself, I'm so very pleased that my fans can now hear the show anywhere they want on their cell phones," said Hartmann. "Foneshow is thrilled to add Thom Hartmann to our roster of programming. After our initial success with the Stephanie Miller show, it was only natural that as soon as Thom joined Dial Global he'd be available via Foneshow,” said Foneshow Founder and CEO Erik Schwartz. "The demand for progressive commentary has never been higher, and Foneshow is the perfect solution for users that want this type of content in an on-demand environment."

Invasion of the robot swine

KPIG (107oink5 FM), the venerable free-form eclectic country/rock station based in Santa Cruz, CA, has long had a devoted, piggish following, both on-air and online.

And in yet another testament to the woes afflicting the radio industry as a whole, the station has done what many other stations have done, scaling back its airstaff and going automated from 8P to 6A.

In 2006, the station, which once prided itself on live on-air personalities 24/7, went on autopilot from midnight to 6A.

This is nothing new. Most stations across the country are run by a computer, which can hold virtually any kind of audio file, including music, commercials and even prerecorded talksets. And the computers allow those stations to run unattended, which many do at one time or another.

With the economy wreaking havoc on the radio industry, often the first area to see cutbacks is the on-air staff, who sadly tend to be underpaid for what they do. Because of that, jocks are either offered the opportunity to prerecord their shows (at a drastic pay cut), get replaced by canned syndicated programming (wonder why so many stations have added such hideous offerings like John Tesh and Delilah?), or are not replaced at all, with the computer simply shuffling in and out of songs and commercials.

Back in the day, going directly from a song into a commercial spot, and vice-versa, without even a simple liner telling folks what station they're listening to, would be the ultimate in amateurism - a virtual radio sin. Nowadays, it's not uncommon. Even Clear Channel stations in big cities do this. The spontaneous live advantage once enjoyed by radio has long ago been pissed away. Essentially, the typical radio station has turned into nothing more than a hands-free iPod. Only difference is, your iPod probably has better stuff on it.

Get a new Bob Dylan tune - free and legal

Speaking of your iPod, perhaps its high time you feed it with some new music. And in the interest of giving, I now turn attention over to arguably the greatest songwriter who ever lived, the legendary Bob Dylan.

The song is called "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'", and Bob, feeling mighty generous, is giving it away. Free. And legally. Really.

It's a promo for the new album "Together Through Life", which comes out at the end of April.

Don't procrastinate. You can get it only until 4A tomorrow morning at BobDylan.com. Just look on the front page.

Now if you'll excuse me, my iPod is hungry.

Five years later: Air America and the mainstreaming of progressive talk

Come noon Tuesday, Air America, the little radio network that could (or couldn't), reaches a notable milestone. After five years, through all the chaos and turmoil, they're still miraculously standing. As is the progressive talk radio format they helped to inspire.

Wait a minute! Air America's still around? I thought they were dead. To believe the hoards of crazy right-wing bloggers, one would think this little ragtag radio outfit was a dismal failure. They're kaput. Dead. Nobody's listening. Obviously, they're lying. Because, believe it or not, this much-derided privately-owned radio network managed the seemingly impossible, in that they've given the middle finger to the naysayers and managed to stay alive for five whole years. And yes, that's quite an accomplishment. Especially if you're Air America.

To salute this rather unlikely success story, I felt it appropriate to take a look into the past, the present and the future, via several blog entries posted over the next few days, and pay tribute to this controversial radio startup, often a lightning rod for friends and foes alike. You may like them, or you may scowl at the very mention of their name. But in terms of what this blog is all about, minimizing their significance is quite short-sighted. Sure, Air America didn't invent liberal talk radio. Then again, the Beatles didn't invent rock n' roll either.

Obviously, there was left-leaning talk before Air America. Perhaps we should go back in history to explain why and how Air America came into being. In the late 1940s, long before something like Air America was even imaginable, a non-profit organization, Pacifica, was founded with a somewhat similar aim in mind, albeit in a more cultural, less soapbox-like kind of way. In the late 1960s, free-form rock stations emerged on the then-obscure FM dial, complete with left-leaning disc jockeys free to express their views on politics and the emerging counterculture in between long music sets featuring artists like Bob Dylan and The Doors expressing views on the the same issues via their songs. Talk radio was then a novelty on AM, compared to today. Most AM stations still played music. But the talk stations that did exist were locally-oriented and featured a variety of views and opinions.

The 1980s saw a seismic shift in the radio environment. By now, music fans abandoned the AM dial for the sonically-superior sound of the now-dominant FM. Free-form rock stations had also adopted Top 40-style presentations, with liner cards and tight playlists replacing long-winded soapbox rants and spontaneous music sets. Popular Denver liberal talker Alan Berg was gunned down by right-wing extremists. The Reagan Administration phased out the Fairness Doctrine and ushered in the deregulation of the industry, turning radio stations away from public service and into corporate commodities. And with contemporary music moving to FM, the most obvious format left for AM was talk. But maintaining full rosters of local talk show hosts and nurturing them was expensive. And there wasn't a whole lot available via syndication. Enter Rush Limbaugh.

Limbaugh's success inspired radio station programmers to do what they do best - imitate. Soon, everyone wanted their own Rush, even if they had to make a half-assed clone. Politics didn't matter too much in this case. If Rush were a liberal and experienced a successful launch, we'd see a ton of lefty talk on the airwaves and conservative whiners would find something new to bitch about.

Liberals did try to copy Rush's success. But radio audiences didn't warm to the half-baked offerings from the likes of Jim Hightower and Mario Cuomo that were offered to them. Meanwhile, Michael Savage, Sean Hannity and others seemed to attract listeners and affiliations like flies to feces.

In their infinite wisdom, radio programmers equated all of this with people wanting to hear nothing but obnoxious wingnuts ranting about sordid tales involving Monica Lewinsky. By the mid-90s, whatever left-leaning talkers still remained on America's airwaves were slowly phased out or forced to toe the new party line (like WLS' Jay Marvin was forced to do). By September 11, 2001, there were few liberal talk show hosts still left, aside from highly-rated local personalities like Randi Rhodes in West Palm Beach. Whatever liberal talk still remained languished in obscurity, via small radio stations, unreliable ancient webstreams and the rather low-key Detroit-based I.E. America Radio Network, which featured left-leaning talkers like Thom Hartmann, Nancy Skinner and Mike Malloy, and was owned by the United Auto Workers union.

Eventually, the tide turned a bit, as the Bush Administration began to experience a backlash, and with it, the conservative-dominated AM airwaves. Many listeners wondered why they we only hearing one side of the argument. Liberals were especially vocal. Time was right for a change.

The vastly underfunded I.E. America was not going to be the answer, and the UAW was ready to pull the plug on the slow-growing, money-losing venture (which they finally did in early 2004). And that's when a couple groups stepped in.

The first was a group called Democracy Radio, founded by Tom Athans, husband of Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan. He reached out to Democratic investors and politicians to find and back a bonafide, mass-appeal liberal voice on the airwaves. They flirted with Randi Rhodes, who was shut out of syndication by her employer, Clear Channel (also owner of Premiere Radio Networks), allegedly due to an anti-liberal syndication mandate from their biggest star, Rush Limbaugh. But they settled on a self-described 'gun-totin', meat-eatin' lefty' from Fargo named Ed Schultz. And they even found an established network, Jones Radio, willing to take a chance on it.

Another group had also formed in late 2002, this one consisting of venture capitalists Sheldon and Anita Drobny and Atlanta radio executive Jon Sinton. Initially, this new endeavor, dubbed AnShell Media, was an effort to help syndicate Mike Malloy's radio show. After hosting a few fundraisers and attracting more investors, they realized that there was a demand for a full-service radio and webcast network, with a different kind of approach.

There weren't a whole lot of liberal radio talkers to choose from, so the fledgling outfit, to be called Central Air, would have to create them. Comedian and writer Al Franken would be the anchor and highest profile host, taking the midday shift. Actress Janeane Garafalo, comedy writers Lizz Winstead and Sam Seder, activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and rapper Chuck D. of Public Enemy would also have shows. Actor, comedian and public radio host Harry Shearer turned them down. The only true radio people initially added were Rhodes and an obscure young morning show host from Vermont named Rachel Maddow. So, with this lineup, Air America was going to usher liberal talk onto the nation's commercial airwaves.

By this time, the Drobnys felt they had gone as far as they could with it, so they sold their stake to a pair of the network's investors, Evan Montvel Cohen and Rex Sorenson. AnShell Media became Progress Media, and signed up a flagship station, WLIB in New York.

Soon, they brought other stations into the fold, first by leasing time on small AM outlets in Chicago and Los Angeles owned by Multicultural Broadcasting. An AM station in Minneapolis opted to air local boy Al Franken, a tiny daytime station in Riverside would take a few hours of programming and even Clear Channel got in on the act, as the program director of KPOJ, a struggling AM oldies station in Portland, OR, was willing to do anything to breathe life into the moribund outlet. KPOJ's approach, however, in contrast to Air America's initial demand for full clearance, was to throw Ed Schultz into the mix. So with this modest affiliate lineup (and a semi-dependable webstream), Air America would launch.

When Air America hit the airwaves on March 31, 2004, things were looking good, with clearances in the three biggest media markets, a few smaller ones, and San Francisco and other markets in the works. Then all hell broke loose. After only four weeks, Multicultural Broadcasting pulled the programming off of their Chicago and L.A. stations, claiming nonpayment of bills. CEO Mark Walsh and VP/Programming Dave Logan departed. Cohen and Sorenson were forced out. And embarrassingly, the network's website was listing some rather suspect pending affiliates on their website, likely due to a little too much enthusiasm. Some were legitimate deals that eventually fell through (such as the tiny San Francisco/San Jose duo of stations that couldn't afford a satellite dish). Ridiculously, some frequencies listed didn't even exist (like Santa Cruz and Aspen).

Following the ouster of Cohen and Sorenson, the remaining investors regrouped and purchased the company's assets, renaming the venture Piquant, LLC. To save money and expand, they decided to no longer lease blocks of airtime on individual stations, Rather, they would do what most networks do - allow affiliates to air programming a la carte, rather than run the entire lineup.

Even after the early adversity, there was light at the end of the tunnel. When the first ratings trends were released a month after their debut, things looked good. Franken was very competitive with Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly in New York. And, more importantly, the former poorly-rated oldies station in Portland shot into the top ten. Executives at Clear Channel's offices in San Antonio took notice. Within months, Clear Channel rolled out a similar Air America/Schultz lineup on stations in San Diego, Miami, Denver, Detroit, Madison, San Francisco and other markets. Ironically, the very radio monolith most identified with right-wing radio pollution and the squashing of all left-leaning thought on the airwaves became the progressive talk format's biggest supporter. A few mom-and-pop-owned AM outlets picked up similar formats. And other big companies, such as CBS, Saga and Entercom, came into the picture. Within six months, almost 70 stations, including some in most of the top twenty markets, had progressive talk radio stations. A minor reshuffling welcomed established radio personalities such as Thom Hartmann and Mike Malloy into the Air America fold. And the format's initial success inspired other personalities like Stephanie Miller and Bill Press to jump into the fray, albeit with a rival outfit. All in all, things were looking up for Air America and their contemporaries.

But adversity kept coming. The front office kept shuffling, and one CEO, veteran music industry executive Danny Goldberg, dissolved the network's increasingly popular morning show, 'Morning Sedition' and opted to allow co-host Marc Maron's contract to lapse. Goldberg also created an embarrassing situation when he decided to directly solicit donations from listeners, making the whole operation look like a charity case. And a scary ghost from the past emerged when the remaining investors and the public at large discovered the main source of Cohen and Sorenson's former investment in the network - a loan from a Bronx-based nonprofit Boys and Girls Club. Giving further insight into his character, Cohen himself was arrested for alleged money laundering in a separate incident a few years later.

In addition to Goldberg, who left the network after just over a year, the Air America executive suite has had a revolving door from the get-go. And many left their marks in rather notorious ways. One suit abruptly fired Malloy, over the phone, a move that inspired a massive listener backlash. Another sought to get his voice on the air as much as possible. The current owner let the network's biggest personality, Randi Rhodes, walk after a failed power play. And many of the more qualified people departed with their tails between their legs after various ego clashes. There was seemingly enough drama inside Air America's Manhattan offices to fill an entire season of the old ABC soap "Dynasty" (but without the face-slapping and fancy clothing). Eventually, the dirty laundry got hung across the news media and the internet when Air America wound up in bankruptcy court.

But bankruptcy was not the end. They reorganized, shook off the dirt and found new white knights in the form of the Brothers Green, who scooped up what was left, excised many of the former bickering demons and worked to turn Air America into a real business. Once things returned to normal, the network was sold once again to Charlie Kirecker. Things began to stabilize a little (front office hijinks weren't showing up as much in the media and blogosphere), but the constant upheaval began chasing away some of the network's best known personalities.

It certainly didn't help that expectations for the little radio network that could were set ridiculously high by various snarky observers. If one were to believe the various right-wing pundits who deem themselves to be armchair 'radio experts', for Air America to succeed, they would have to be profitable right out of the gate, immediately land hundreds of affiliates and have top ten ratings showings in every market. Obviously, that's impossible for any radio startup to accomplish. But merely gaining 60-70 affiliates virtually out of the gate, helping to bring a new format to the mainstream and developing a few legitimate radio talk show talents, one who currently has a top-rated prime time show on a cable news channel, and another, Franken, who has a strong chance of becoming a U.S. Senator, are not bad accomplishments for a little radio network with seemingly no chance of succeeding.

So, like 'em or not, five long, challenging years down the line, Air America still miraculously stands. And the ability to actually survive in a brutal market, with all the chaos, all the instability, all the insanity and all of the attacks is, at least on some level, successful, right?

Tomorrow at noon (the very time they launched on March 31, 2004), I'll pay further tribute to this crazy media venture known as Air America, offering an analysis of where they've been and where they are now, and what kind of influence they've wielded. I'll continue on Wednesday, with a look at the next five years. That is, if they can stay airborne that long.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

WINZ flip coming mid-April, to become 6th area sports talk station

There has been no real official statement, but the pending switch of Clear Channel's WINZ (940AM) in Miami to an all-sports talk has been a poorly kept secret, especially coming on the wresting of the FOX Sports Radio affiliation from another area station and the recent dropping of Don Imus' morning show for four replays of Rachel Maddow's one-hour show.

And now, it looks like WINZ will become the sixth sports talk-formatted station in South Florida.

From the Miami Herald:

WQAM general manager Joe Bell cracks that "we're not going to rest until there are more sports stations than gas stations" in South Florida.

It's certainly headed that way.

When WINZ-940 switches to an all-sports format by mid-April, South Florida will have more sports radio stations than pro teams -- six if you include West Palm Beach, as well as Miami and Fort Lauderdale; and five if you include the stations that can be heard throughout Broward County and at least part of Miami-Dade.

Can that many stations survive in a reeling economy? And why would a few of these stations even try?

"Of course it's too many," said Howard Davis, station manager of 790 The Ticket. "In my mind, there are two sports stations in this market -- us and WQAM. I don't consider syndicated [programs] local radio."

For the record, the other sports stations include locally-oriented stalwart WQAM (560AM); WAXY (790AM), which also carries a large amount of local programming; WFTL (640AM), which lost the FOX Sports affiliation to WINZ and recently picked up another syndicated service, Sporting News Radio; WFTL's sister station, WFLL (1400AM).

The real irony? Over the past year, WINZ's liberal talk format bested the area's top sports talker, WQAM, in the overall ratings.

Is South Florida really that sports-crazy, or is it just radio station owners that are crazy?

Monday, March 23, 2009

EdTV? MSNBC/Schultz rumors persist

This rumor has floated for quite a while, and still won't die. The New York Times makes it seem as there has been some continued activity on this front behind closed doors. The Times account cites an unnamed source from last Friday, so this new blurb doesn't seem to be part of any kind of echo chamber ripple effect.

From The Times:

MSNBC is in talks with Ed Schultz, the progressive radio talk-show host, about a permanent position, a source with knowledge of the negotiations said on Friday. The source requested anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss the network’s deal-making. MSNBC, which has become well known for its liberal-leaning prime-time lineup, is seeking a 10 p.m. host to replace the time slot’s repeat of “Countdown With Keith Olbermann.” Mr. Schultz has been a guest host on MSNBC twice this month, leading to speculation that he was in the running for a position...

...Mr. Schultz did not reply to an e-mail message Friday evening. An MSNBC spokeswoman said a contract had not been offered to Mr. Schultz and declined to comment further.

Speaking of MSNBC, the network has replaced its early morning newscast "First Look" with a re-air of "The Rachel Maddow Show", according to TVNewser.

"First Look," which aired at 5A ET, often re-purposed stories from NBC's "Early Today" which airs at 4:30A in many markets, leading in to NBC affiliate morning shows. TVNewser quotes an insider as claiming the purpose of the move "is to give "Morning Joe" the best lead-in possible."

And in a clever method of segueing smoothly from one topic to another, Rolling Stone magazine has ranked Maddow #22 on its "RS100: Agents Of Change." Congrats!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Randi ressurection?

A very brief and very vague rumor, but it is from one of her affiliates, KPTK in Seattle, in an email that just hit my inbox:

Our fight to bring The Randi Rhodes Show back to the Seattle airwaves continues and we are now seeing the beginning of some success in this effort. We have received word from sources in Randi's camp that The Randi Rhodes Show will return to national syndication and that it will do so fairly soon. Rest assured, as soon as Randi is doing a daily radio show again... you will hear it right here, each night, on AM1090.

With Peter B Collins deciding to leave radio, starting Monday 3/23 AM1090 will begin offering a daily rebroadcast of The Thom Hartmann Show from 6–9pm. We will keep you updated as events unfold.

Yes, and that's all I've got. I know nothing more at this point.

Notta lotta Limbaugh love

With the conservative movement currently in a state of disarray and seemingly leaderless, it seems that quite a few people are attempting to fill the void.

Most prominent of these is radio conservojock Rush Limbaugh. While many rank-and-file conservative Repbublicans deny that Limbaugh is the figurehead of the party, and act offended at suggestions from the left that this is the case (remember when they tried to claim people like Jesse Jackson and Michael Moore spoke for all Democrats?), the radio host has maintained a rather high profile as of late, going so far as to challenge President Obama to a debate on his show (which Obama rightfully ignored, probably after laughing his ass off). Like it or not, with no stronger direction currently existing for the GOP, they have become, in essence, the Party of Limbaugh.

And judging from the results of a recent CBS News poll, the GOP better get their act together. And fast. It seems that Limbaugh is not as popular as the extreme right wingers think. According to the poll, Limbaugh’s favorable rating stands at just 19 percent of Americans. The number, however, increases drastically when taking into account conservatives, crabby old white men, Florida drug dealers, Brian Maloney and Limbaugh himself.

Obama's approval rating? Try three times that - 62 percent.

From CBS News:

Limbaugh’s unfavorable rating, meanwhile, stands at 40 percent, while 41 percent say they don’t know or don’t have an opinion. Not surprisingly, the conservative commentator, who has said he hopes that the president’s economic policies fail, is far more popular with Republicans – 47 percent view him favorably – than with Democrats, just seven percent of whom view him favorably.

The poll also found that Republicans are relatively pessimistic about the future of their party. Just 40 percent believe the party is going in the right direction, while nearly as many – 36 percent – say it is going in the wrong direction. Among all Americans, just 27 percent say the party is going in the right direction and 48 percent say it is going in the wrong direction.

Perhaps the tide is indeed turning, and people are tiring of right-wing carnival barkers and their continuous attempts to divide and conquer America. People are sick of the bitching and kiddie games and want results, not rhetoric.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Weighty matters and the circular firing squad

Since there's not a whole heck of a lot to write about today, I thought I'd share with you a rather amusing political melodrama that's been unraveling over the past week or so. And what better than a genuine Republican cat fight?

These days, it's not much fun being a conservative Republican. Lots of backbiting. Tons of denial. And nonstop pouting. Sucks to be them.

And with all this negativity abound, it was a given that all hell would break loose as everything was reduced to inane childish name-calling. Hey, with these people, it usually does. Enter Laura Ingraham.

Ingraham is your typical right-wing radio blowhard. Syndicated show. Lots of punditry gigs on FOX News. Likes to dabble in nasty rhetoric and low-level insults. And her latest target is a fellow Republican, the daughter of her party's most recent presidential nominee - Meghan McCain, daughter of Sen. John McCain. All shooters, please form a circle now.

During the crazy election season last year, Meghan McCain stepped into the limelight to do all she could to help her old man in his uphill quest to become president. Hey, that's cool. I'm sure any one of us would do the same for our dads. She also started blogging about life on the campaign trail, in an effort to appeal to her own twenty-something demographic (a serious weak spot for Republicans). She was also a regular on the talk show circuit as she stumped for dear old dad.

Truth be told, it's quite difficult, even for those on the left, to dislike Meghan McCain. How could you? While it is certainly tempting to loathe her based on who her father is, she seemed to transcend that. She added an aura of warmth to the often cold and shallow persona of the McCain/Palin ticket. Her demeanor contrasted that of her father, who came across as an out-of-touch grouch, and her mother, icy (and even blonde) enough to be cast as the female lead in an Alfred Hitchcock flick. Meghan, on the other hand, comes across as friendly and genuine, as if she didn't really ask for all the hoopla orbiting her old man last year but made the most of it. Just a typical 24 year-old. And unlike the taverage gloomy wingnut, she has an air of positive enthusiasm about her. She never did get nasty and start flinging mud like many of her old man's paid underlings. Perhaps the party ran the wrong McCain.

With the election season over, and her defeated pop back in the Senate, she has turned her blogging thing into a full-time occupation, working for hot website The Daily Beast. Sure, many of her columns are a bit fluffy, such as complaining about how the campaign juggernaut put a damper on her love life. But more notably, she has continued in her quest to paint a big smiley face on the otherwise dour GOP, appealing to her peers with the bright side of Republicanism, and some ideas to work through the current malaise surrounding the movement. Though she doesn't take the low road and fire snide cheap shots toward the people she disagrees with, she has occasionally taken the lunatic fringe of the conservative movement to task. She is repelled by the nastier nature of pundits like Ann Coulter, whom she recently referred to as the "poster woman for the most extreme side of the Republican Party."

"If figureheads like Ann Coulter are turning me off, then they are definitely turning off other members of my generation as well," she wrote.

Pretty constructive criticism there. No nasty insults. No low blows. A very fair take, I'd say. To her credit, Coulter took it all in stride. The same, unfortunately, couldn't be said for Ingraham, who was not mentioned by McCain. In fact, until Ingraham went on the offensive, McCain had never even heard of her.

On her radio show, Ingraham played back parts of an interview that McCain did with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, in which McCain said, "I think there's an extreme in both parties and I hate extreme. I don't understand. I have friends that are the most radically conservative and radically liberal people possibly ever and we all get along. We can find a middle ground."

So, did Ingraham respond by countering McCain's remarks in a substantive manner? Of course not, silly. Instead, Ingraham mocked McCain, using a faux Valley-girl voice:

"Ok, I was really hoping that I was going to get that role in the 'Real World', but then I realized that, well, they don't like plus-sized models. They only like the women who look a certain way. And on this 50th anniversary of Barbie, I really have something to say."

So, just as before, what we get is not spirited debate or substantial reasoning. Instead, we get fat teeny-bopper jokes. Delivered by a woman who should know better.

Perhaps this is how people like Ingraham view the outside world from a rather, dare I say, elitist perch. If you're not Hollywood-type thin (i.e. a skeleton with a loose skin wrapper), then your just some low-life porker. What kind of message does this send to the women that may actually be listening to her radio show?

McCain shot back. On her blog, she wrote, "I expected substantive criticism from conservative pundits for my views, particularly my recent criticism of Ann Coulter. That is the nature of political discourse, and my intent was to generate discussion about the current problems facing the Republican Party. Unfortunately, even though Ingraham is more than 20 years older than I and has been a political pundit for longer, almost, than I have been alive, she responded in a form that was embarrassing to herself and to any woman listening to her radio program who was not a size 0."

On her Twitter page, she gave some words of encouragement to her peers. "To all my girls out there. Don't let anyone make you feel bad about your body! I love my curves and you should love yours too."

And on ABC's "The View," McCain all but told Ingraham to 'kiss my fat ass.' All Ingraham could muster in response was to call her "a useful idiot," whatever that means. We can all safely say that, in this case, McCain won.

What makes all this even more ridiculous is that Meghan McCain is not what most people would consider fat. Admittedly being a size 8 (up to 10 during the crazy campaign season), she's what many of us normal rank-and-file consider to be average.

And it's pretty sad that people like Ingraham think all women who possess curvier figures than her are obese. Especially considering that there are undoubtedly many, many women who would normally agree with her that would love to be down to a size 8.

What's telling, though, is that rather than take McCain to task and challenge her on substance, Ingraham, using her shock-and-awe conservojock radio schtick, had to take the low road. Sadly, I'm not even sure why I'm surprised.

I'm certain many hardcore conservative Republicans dislike Meghan McCain because, although her writing isn't necessarily 'weighty' in itself, she, like RNC chairman Michael Steele, has recently come forward to condemn the nasty rhetoric that has circulated in place of constructive ideas, especially at a time when they're needed most. And people like Ingraham just proved that point.

Without making this all sound like I'm writing an essay on a Sir Mix-A-Lot song, let me just it say again. Meghan McCain is not fat. Actually, she looks pretty damn good. Hey, I'd take her over the typical stick-figure Hollywood waif any day. I'm probably not alone. Using the entertainment industry as an example, I would think that more men would consider, say, recent Oscar-winning actress Kate Winslet (very far from fat but given much grief by the media over the years in regard to her curvier-than-her-peers figure) sexier than the numerous weight-obsessed celebrity skeletons we often see splashed across publications displayed in the supermarket checkout lanes. The types of women who feel they must be P.O.W.-type thin in order to be considered attractive. And if they're taking that message to an extreme, letting it affect their self-confidence, what about their fans? This is what leads to things like anorexia, bulimia and substance abuse.

In the end, it's not what one's shell looks like, it's how one carries it around. If Meghan McCain is happy with her figure (and damn right she should be), then that great. More power to her. Paraphrasing an old Rod Stewart song, she wears it well.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Hartmann, Medved to duke it out in suburban Chicago event

For those of you in the Chicago area, you may or may not be able to snag tickets for a rather interesting event tomorrow night, as liberal talker Thom Hartmann debates conservative counterpart Michael Medved in a live event.

The two stations sponsoring the event, Hartmann's affiliate WCPT and WIND, which carries Medved, will offer podcasts of the proceedings. iPhone users will also be able to listen as well.

Both stations dub it "The Great Debate." Okay, it's a bit overblown, though it would be kinda cool if they could throw in a steel cage with barbed wire or something. The event in Rolling Meadows, scheduled for 7:30P tomorrow night, is sold out.

Hartmann and Medved, who are both considered rather mellow figures in their respective talk radio genres, do have a friendly history. Hartmann had guested on Medved's show many years ago, and he even credits him for the inspiration to feature guests who disagree with the host's opinions, which makes for more spirited discussion.

Peter B. - Not dead yet

Brad Friedman of BradBlog sent along an email updating the status of the Peter B. Collins Show, which is due to end this Friday. It appears there's a movement under way to save it.

From BradBlog:

Following last Friday's announcement on his show, some of the audio of which we posted with last week's article, a number of listeners have been working to help determine if sustainable funding could be raised to keep PBC on the air. I've been in close touch with Peter, both before his announcement last week, and since then. I have, of course, offered any help I might be able to provide, but what can feasibly done has been difficult to determine.

He noted during last week's show that his monthly costs are just over $5000 to stay on the air, and that while a miracle could happen to help keep him on the air, stations had been notified, and the outlook wasn't good.


In addition, he summarized the shrinking access that Progressives have been given to our airwaves, as corporate ownership continues to shut down station after station across the nation over the last several years. "The total number of stations offering progressive talk in the US peaked at about 105 in 2006, and is now around 70," he wrote. "Miami, DC, and even Ann Arbor have lost their progressive stations in the last month."

In response to those who had felt that raising $5,000 a month could be done with a few hundred $10 or $20 per month pledges, he wrote: "We have tried that to some extent, but I don’t want to turn the show into a pledge-a-thon, ’cause I listen to the radio, too, and don’t like them....Overall, I don’t think we can shift to a voluntary subscription plan to produce a reliable funding stream."

In closing, Brad issued a call-to-arms:

If you'd like to try to help keep Peter on the air --- and I believe he is one of the nation's most important progressive voices who should not only be on the air, but be on the air in every market in this country --- then let him know if you're able to pledge any amount on a monthly basis at Peter@PeterBCollins.com.

Speaking of Brad Friedman, who has been a frequent guest and fill-in host on Collins' show, among others, he now has a twice-weekly six minute radio feature called The Green News Report, which covers environmental issues. The show runs on San Francisco's Green 960 on Tuesdays and Thursdays at noon and 5P PT. MP3's can also be downloaded from BradBlog.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Everything's Gone Green

I don't care if I'm Irish, I usually don't do much to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. To me, it's just a day where all you non-Irish people (who normally would be directing hostile and idiotic insults toward people like me about my ancestry and family's religious background) go out, get plowed at the local watering holes and make fools out of yourselves. And on top of it all - you tell everyone you're Irish! No wonder us 'real deals' get such a bad name!

Hey, I don't go 'round telling people I'm Italian on Columbus Day. Or tell people I'm Jewish on Yom Kippur. And I certainly don't claim to be African-American on MLK Day (I don't think they'd believe me). Leave us Irish folk alone!

So, not much to report, but I'll do it in green text, just to make it look festive. Drive safe!

The Air America mystery wheel lands on... Nicole Sandler

So far, there's an opening at Air America for what was once their highest-profile time slot. The network has, in typical fashion, refrained from naming a permanent replacement for the recently departed Thom Hartmann. David Bender filled in the past two weeks, and this week, you can hear
Nicole Sandler, formerly of WINZ Miami, on the network from 12-3P.

Beyond that? Who knows?

I do, however, know of at least one experienced and respected radio host that's available for a gig...

Montel's first affiliate?

Speaking of Air America, the network may have found at least one new affiliate for incoming mid-morning host Montel Williams. Robin Bertolucci, PD of KTLK in Los Angeles, is keeping her options open.

"I am definitely interested in hearing his radio show," said Bertolucci. "At this point we're trying to see what's going on with Randi Rhodes and such but I am excited to hear him," she said in an e-mail to the Orange County Register.

But Williams' new show would air live on the West Coast from 6-9A, the same time as Stephanie Miller, who's show airs from KTLK's studios. Not to worry - KTLK will not lay a finger on Miller's show.

A more likely time would be 12-3P PT. Currently, the station is airing Nancy Skinner in the time slot, but this doesn't sound permanent. And given that Skinner's 'network' is an unknown entity at this point, it may not be a long-term thing.

Randi update

Most of the emails I get concern either Nova M Radio (or what's left of it) and their former afternoon host, Randi Rhodes. The same Orange County Register article quoted above has the only thing close to an update on the status of her show. Here's what they say:

She has been off the air since she left her syndicator. Word is if and when a deal is worked out with a new company to distribute her program nationwide, she will return to the air.

And yes, that is all I know too. Randi and her people aren't known for telling anyone much about her or her show, and they most certainly don't tell me anything, so for now, it's all speculation. Same as it ever was.

ESPN Radio ups its affiliate price

So, all you radio management types that thought running a syndicated sports radio feed off the board would be a stupid-proof way to rake in some ad income, right?


And for this, I turn to
Sports By Brooks:

...A source told me that ESPN is planning to charge some non-ESPN owned and operated sports radio stations fees to carry its radio network programming. For big markets (Top 30), the annual charge to stations is as high as $100,000.

Even in good economical times, that move is a serious horse pill to ingest for local sports talk radio stations.

My reaction, as a former sports radio program director and on-air personality for 16 years (including on ESPN radio affiliates), is that very, very few (if any) Top 30 markets would pay a six-figure sum to air ESPN network programming.

So, let's do the math. Cost to run ESPN in a large market: $100K/year.

Cost to run an all-syndicated progressive talk format: Zero, aside from ceding aside some ad time to the syndicator.

Then again, radio doesn't operate on the common sense plan.

Not green - gangrene

I was going to mention something yesterday, and even started an entry, but I got a bit distracted by reality and didn't get a chance to make a clean entry out of it all. Yesterday saw Don Imus announcing that he has stage II prostate cancer, and we also saw the announced passings of both Ron Silver kicked the bucket and yet another major city newspaper, which has bitten the dust. Pretty grim, huh?

Well, it's not like either of those two guys will get much sympathy from the types of people reading this blog, particularly Imus, if all the stories that I've heard from first-hand sources regarding his personality are true.

Probably not much love from the left for actor Ron Silver either, particularly given his ideological turnaround in recent years, as he became one of those "9/11 Republicans" that think the best way to protect our country from terrorists is to support the people who let the attacks happen (i.e. Bush and Cheney). Nonetheless, Silver had a passion for what he did, and he was a very actor, particularly in roles where the audience is supposed to really hate the character. It was too bad Jeremy Irons blew everybody off the screen in "Reversal Of Fortune", otherwise Silver's role of Alan Dershowitz would have been remembered even more fondly.

Sure, the guy came off sometimes as kind of a creep, and does anyone really believe that he was more or less 'blacklisted' from Hollywood, especially since staunch right-wingers like Robert Duvall and Adam Sandler still get lots of work? As for his political bent, who cares? Misguided or not, he was what he was.

And finally, yet another newspaper has folded. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is kaput after 146 years and shift to an online-only presence, yet another victim of the rough economy.

This move comes less than two weeks after another major daily, Denver's Rocky Mountain News, also ended its run altogether. The Tuscon Citizen will likely shut down this Saturday.

Hearst, which owns the Post-Intelligencer, put the paper on the market in January, warning that it would close down the printing presses if a buyer didn't come forward.

In addition, as yet another sign that the newspaper industry is hurting due to modern technology such as the internet and the lousy economy, Hearst has also made noise about selling or even shutting down their highest-profile paper, the San Francisco Chronicle. Tough times indeed.

Time magazine recently published a column on their website, claiming that the newspaper shuttering could go even further. They cite 24/7 Wall St. with an article that says venerable dailies such as the Chicago Sun-Times, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the Boston Globe and the Miami Herald might not make it to the end of the year, unless things turn around.

Okay, enough of the gloom and doom. Have a safe and happy St. Patty's. And by all means, if you're not Irish, don't tell people you are. Sheesh!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Peter B. hangs up the microphone

After self-syndicating his daily talk show for many years, Peter B. Collins has decided to end the program, citing the tough economy. His last show is this Friday (March 20).

From his site:

On Friday, I delivered the news of my decision to end the daily broadcasts of the PBC Show.

Our last live broadcast will be Friday, March 20, which will replay on some stations through March 22.

Since we started on KRXA in 2005, I’ve been covering the costs of producing the show and delivering it to our affiliate stations by satellite. With phone bills and the other expenses, it adds up to more than $5,000 a month. We get a little advertising revenue and some generous listeners contribute, but most of it is absorbed by my small business, Collins Media Services. Until last summer, I was able to cover the costs from my work as a radio producer and consultant. Like everyone else, the Bush recession has hit me hard.

To make money in syndication, we need to be on 20+ stations and at least one of the big 3, NY, LA, Chicago. As an independent, self-syndicated show, we’ve had to compete with Air America, Dial-Global and Nova M programs, and for various reasons, the PBC Show didn’t break through. Air America is the brand that most people connect with progressive talk radio, and their bankruptcy and sequence of blunders has, unfortunately, defined our collective efforts in a negative way that has provided an easy target for the non-liberal media. As a result, the total number of stations offering progressive talk in the US peaked at about 105 in 2006, and is now around 70. Miami, DC, and even Ann Arbor have lost their progressive stations in the last month.

Over the past 3.75 years, I’ve tried it all. I pitched all of the Air America programmers except the current one, who never returned my calls or emails. I was offered a deal by Nova M, but they reneged in a bizarre story I’m saving for my talk-n-tell book. Air America just announced that Montel Williams will be their new offering in the Thom Hartmann time slot, which tells us that Jerry Springer’s flameout was just their first attempt to retread a tabloid TV host as a “progressive” radio host.

More at BradBlog.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

WLBY/Ann Arbor goes business

From Michiguide (Thanks Lu Cifer):

On Monday, March 16th, AM 1290 WLBY will become Ann Arbor's Business Talk Radio. Cumulus management says the new format will serve the growing need for intelligent financial and business information in Washtenaw County.

"Talk radio doesn't have to be LEFT or RIGHT...but good for all. Dave Ramsey, Clark Howard and Lucy Ann Lance will provide that platform for Ann Arbor everyday on 1290 AM", commented Scott Meier, General Manager for Ann Arbor Radio.

With the addition of The Lucy Ann Lance Program M-F from 9am to 12pm (effective Monday, March 23rd), Business Talk 1290 WLBY will serve as a media platform for local business owners and organizations. Business Talk 1290 WLBY will provide relevant information for people who want to learn more about the global economic climate.

"Ann Arbor deserves a local Business Station... to help local business men and women tell their stories! We plan on providing a media platform for the good news of our community, from SPARK, the DDA, the local CVB's Chambers and startup companies", continued Meier.

WLBY, which has carried a progressive talk format for several years, has gotten so-so ratings, considering it's weak daytime-only signal. Though overall ratings paled against other stations in the market, it did do better as progressive talk than it did with previous formats (including oldies).

The station is owned by Cumulus Broadcasting.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Montel Williams joins Air America

Apparently, the rumors have been confirmed and former television talk show host and author Montel Williams will join the regular Air America lineup.

Williams' show, "Montel Across America", will debut in the 9A-12P timeslot on April 6, and will replace Lionel, who is reportedly developing a new show for the network.

From the press release:

“Montel is a multi-media star and a familiar name to millions of people across the country,” said Bennett Zier, chief executive officer of Air America Media. “The addition of Montel to our talent line-up is an important step for the continued growth of Air America, as we look to distribute Montel’s show across America.”

“We’re extremely pleased to be able to add such a talented, passionate voice to our programming line-up,” added Bill Hess, senior vice president of programming for Air America Media. “This program will give Montel an outlet to do what he does best--reach people with his probing questions and insatiable quest for knowledge.”

“After being on television for more than 17 years, I’m looking forward to engaging in lively conversations and interacting with the American public,” said Williams. “Air America is providing me with the perfect environment to do this every day from New York City, as well as reporting from cities around the world as a travelling correspondent.”

And in other TV-turned-radio talker news, Jerry Springer, who once held down the same slot on Air America to be taken over by Williams, is back in radio, albeit temporarily. You can hear him do the 1-4P CT shift on Chicago's WGN (720AM) this week, though this will not be permanent, as Springer has no desire to return to radio.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tuesday newsday

A few little things to swirl around in your craniums...

Peter B. in at KPTK

KPTK Seattle sorts out it's afternoon vacancy following Randi Rhodes' temporary(?) descent into limbo. They had been airing Rhodes' Nova M/OST replacement Nancy Skinner, but with that network being an even bigger question mark at this point, the station has opted for a more established and stable syndicated host, Peter B. Collins. The show will run on delay from 6-9P PT.

Another west coast station, KKGN (Green 960) in San Francisco, started running Collins' show last week, but no word on whether this will be permanent.

MSNBC grooming Schultz?

As radio host Ed Schultz is guesting MSNBC's 6P show "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue" today, The New York Observer and Politico are both wondering if this is really just an audition for a potential new 10P post-Rachel Maddow show on the network.

But perhaps it's too early to read anything into that. It's just a fill-in gig, as regular host David Schuster will be filling in for Keith Olbermann on" Countdown". Official word at MSNBC says it's just that. Period.

A few months ago, MSNBC president Phil Griffin got the rumor train rolling when he told the NY Times that he was considering a 10P show to run instead of the "Countdown" rerun. Since then, there has been some grassroots lobbying by certain people who really want the gig, including a proposed joint effort by Cenk Uygur, of "The Young Turks." and Air America's Sam Seder.

Another one bites the dust

Things are pretty tough these days if you happen to be a radio talk show host. Even tougher if you happen to be a radio talk show host for CBS.

CBS blew out their whole talk roster at KLSX (97.1FM) in Los Angeles last month, when they flipped to CHR, and killed two syndicated shows from Tom Leykis and Adam Carolla altogether. Add Opie and Anthony to that list, as the duo, who have been losing many stations over the past year or so, have lost their New York flagship, WXRK, which is also flipping to CHR.

With the flip of the former K-Rock, th-th-that's pretty much all for CBS' syndication of the show. But Opie and Anthony will continue via their Sirius XM satellite gig. The loss of the show signals that CBS and Westwood One have virtually cut ties with the Howard Stern shock-jock era as a whole, though they still have one 'hot talker' in Washington DC (WJFK), and still syndicate that station's Mike O'Meara (one half of the former "Don and Mike" show. Other than that, there's not much left.

CORRECTION: Opie And Anthony still have one sole terrestrial outlet left. It's WROX in Norfolk, VA, though the station delays the show and airs it the evening hours.

Another day, another Maddow article

For those of you who haven't read enough mainstream media articles about Rachel Maddow, here's another one, from entertainment industry trade magazine Variety.

Spring Cleaning

As mentioned last week, I'm still slowly sorting through all the links and listings in the center column. That means shows, stations and whatnot.

With that, some stations have been removed from the listings, including KGIL in L.A. (which is all-wingnuts, all the time after dropping Ed Schultz) and WWRC in D.C. (which flipped to money talk -- I thought I had already removed that one).

And one station has been updated. KPTR in Palm Springs, CA has a website now, in addition to an audio stream. I'm sorting out new web addresses, listening links, etc. With some of these, it's often difficult to figure out what's going on (like in Jacksonville, for example, where the format seems to move to a different frequency every month or so).

I know that some of the show listings are a bit out-of-date. For example, I removed all the old Nova M shows a few weeks back as it appeared that hardly any of them were even on the air anymore, or had changed timeslots. Now that they're pretty much D.O.A., the point is obviously moot.

Know of any corrections? Let me know. Thanks.

Air America expands with syndication division

Just as the naysayers claim they're near dead, Air America surprises them by staying airborne. And interestingly enough, they're expanding. Imagine that.

Here's the slightly-edited press release:

Air America Media has now formed a syndication division to distribute radio programming outside of its hallmark progressive network offerings. Under the direction of Bill Hess, senior vice president of programming, Air America Media Syndication (AAM Syndication) on March 22 will begin by offering the award-winning weekend radio show “Newsweek On Air” to radio stations across its network and around the country.

For more than 27 years, "Newsweek On Air" has taken listeners behind the headlines and ahead of the news with the sources, resources and seasoned staff of Newsweek magazine, and more recently of the Newsweek Web site. The program, also a top-rated podcast, explores a wide range of topics from national politics and foreign affairs to health, technology, money and entertainment.

"AAM Syndication is pleased to team with Newsweek in this first venture outside of the traditional Air America package," said Hess. "This is a great show, with an excellent track record of performance on many great radio stations. We look forward to a long partnership with Newsweek."

"AAM Syndication is a great partner for "Newsweek On Air". This agreement will allow us to continue to grow our listener base across the country,” said Newsweek contributing editor David Alpern, the program's longtime producer and host. "We look forward to maintaining the same high quality content, balance and listener interest that has won our program various awards and a place on so many station schedules, some for nearly all of its 27 years on the air."

"Newsweek On Air" won its first major award, a Silver Medal, in the 1989 International Radio Festival of New York. Additional honors awarded to the program include numerous accolades from the Communicator Awards, including the 2000 Crystal Award of Excellence, two Communicator Awards of Excellence in 2005 and four Communicator Awards of Distinction in 2008. "Newsweek On Air" also received the 2000 Program of the Year award from the International Association of Audio Information Services.

Stations broadcasting "Newsweek On Air" include WNYC-AM in New York, WFED Washington, WELI in New Haven, KLIF in Dallas, WFTL in Ft. Lauderdale/Miami, KTAR in Phoenix, KCBS in San Francisco and WSB in Atlanta.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

The continuing Nova M(ess): Locked out

If upstart radio network On Second Thought, successor to Nova M Radio, is going to continue only weeks after they came into being, they may have to do it without a flagship radio station, or studio space, or something like that.

Phoenix New Times is reporting that KNUV (1190AM) has essentially been shut down, and their office doors have been padlocked. This is apparently due to a failure to pay their rent.

Even KKGN San Francisco PD John Scott claims that On Second Thought is virtually dead.

And apparently, the network's highest profile host, Mike Malloy, announced on-air last night that he will now self-syndicate his show, as he has made arrangements with Westwood One for satellite time, allowing him to reach his radio affiliates and Sirius XM.

According to some reports, the station is basically running on autopilot until they figure out what to do next.

Malloy fans can listen to his show via this streaming mp3 link.

And in a related note, Nova M refugee Randi Rhodes will reportedly return to the air soon, though no specific date has been announced yet.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

WINZ of change?

It's already been a month since credible rumors began to surface regarding the fate of Miami progressive talker WINZ (940AM). Word is that Clear Channel is ramping up a flip to the company's FOX Sports Radio, possibly by early March.

March is now here, and there's still no official word from Clear Channel on the flip to sports. In fact, the station has made one change, ditching the syndicated Don Imus for the morning Air America feed of Rachel Maddow's show. Never mind that it's only an hour long. WINZ is currently airing the entire four hour repeat feed.

Now, this strange move could, in fact, mean that a change is coming. It is quite likely that Imus was dropped (at the beginning of the month, no less) because of a potential flip, and the Maddow marathon is essentially a placeholder. Likely, the dropping of Imus could be some kind of contractual issue. The switch to sports could happen this month.

Again, no word yet on when (and/or if) this will happen. And certainly no affirmation that sports talk will be more successful on WINZ than their current format. In the overall ratings for Fall, WINZ topped the top sports station in the market, WQAM, 1.5 to 1.4. Granted, sports talk-formatted stations tend to rely more on much narrower demographics. But needless to say, with several other sports stations in the market already, and the fact that WINZ has built up a rather solid audience over the past several years, isn't this wholesale move to canned network sports talk a little half-baked?

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Limbaugh: The tail wags the dog

If you had doubts that the Republican Party wasn't a complete mess thus far, well, let me give you even more evidence of it.

Following the antics of Fat Bastard, er... Rush Limbaugh at this past weekend's CPAC gathering of bitter right-wingers, recently elected Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele put his foot in his mouth, telling all what he really thinks of the pill-popping radio talker, got roasted over the coals by Fat Daddy himself, and slinked back to make a half-hearted apology.

Essentially, Michael Steele has no spine, and certainly no balls. Congratulations, GOP! You now have your very own Terry McAuliffe!

Here's the Politico.com account:

Steele told CNN host D.L. Hughley in an interview aired Saturday night: “Rush Limbaugh is an entertainer. Rush Limbaugh — his whole thing is entertainment. He has this incendiary — yes, it's ugly.”

Then, Steele realized on what side his bread is buttered:

Steele, who won a hard-fought chairman's race on Jan. 30, told Politico he telephoned Limbaugh after his show on Monday afternoon and hoped that they would connect soon.

“I went back at that tape and I realized words that I said weren’t what I was thinking,” Steele said. "It was one of those things where I thinking I was saying one thing, and it came out differently. What I was trying to say was a lot of people … want to make Rush the scapegoat, the bogeyman, and he’s not."

“I’m not going to engage these guys and sit back and provide them the popcorn for a fight between me and Rush Limbaugh,” Steele added. “No such thing is going to happen. … I wasn’t trying to slam him or anything.”

And here's the retort from Jabber the Hut:

Okay, so I am an entertainer, and I have 20 million listeners, 22 million listeners because of my great song-and-dance routines here. Yes, said Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, I'm incendiary, and yes, it's ugly. Michael Steele, you are head of the RNC. You are not head of the Republican Party. Tens of millions of conservatives and Republicans have nothing to do with the RNC and right now they want nothing to do with it, and when you call them asking them for money, they hang up on you.

So yes, as much as the Republican Party tries to claim otherwise, they are so destitute after losing the Presidency and Congress in the past few years that they have essentially named a pill-popping ex-Top 40 disc jockey as their unofficial messiah. That's funny.

And one of the great things about not being a Republican is that I can freely write whatever the hell I want about that drug-addicted, child-raping, racist, hate-mongering Nazi gasbag, unlike other bloggers who have their heads buried so far up Limbaugh's ass that all they see is what he had for lunch. And boy, that freedom sure feels good.

Monday, March 02, 2009

I don't like Mondays

Here it is, the start of the week, and the start of March. As I wake up this morning, it's 12 degrees above zero and snowing. Spring can't start soon enough.

Uh, Monday.

So here we go, an update of sorts. Enjoy.

Air America shuffle

Now that Thom Hartmann is hanging his shingle at Dial Global, he will no longer be part of the lineup at Air America, not even on the webstream. In his place, the network's journeyman David Bender will take the 12-3P ET time slot, with little fanfare and nary a simple announcement or press release.

Nonetheless, it could be worth tuning in for today's guest, notorious rock legend David Crosby. And if that isn't worth listening for (so long as he dishes more about his music and rather colorful rock star life as opposed to boring personal musings about government policy). In addition, he'll take calls, so perhaps that will help.

And there shouldn't be any changes at most (if not all) of his radio affiliates. For streaming, KPOJ in Portland seems to typically be the best bet.

The show listings in the center column of this page will be updated in the next few days.

Oh Cullen, where art thou?

Columnist Tom Taylor of Radio-Info is quoting that site's message board in floating a rumor about the possible on-air return of Pittsburgh's Lynn Cullen.

The station most likely to be her new stomping grounds is WAMO (860). Cullen was laid off last year when WPTT (1360) switched from general talk to an all-business talk format. Station management told her at the time that if he had a few more saleable shows like hers, they wouldn't have dropped the talk format.

You know you miss him

Another tidbit floated by Taylor concerns the infamous Jerry Springer. The television personality, who once did a radio show with Air America, could be coming back to the AM airwaves, albeit temporarily.

The venerable talk station WGN in Chicago has been using fill-ins for the vacant midafternoon shift, vacated when John Williams moved to mornings. The station has already tapped local radio veteran Garry Meier and a rumor floated by the Chicago Sun-Times claims that Springer could even be enlisted for fill-in duties.

According to the paper's Lewis Lazare, "Meier has the advantage of being a known quantity in Chicago radio, but some broadcasting execs wonder if he can carry a daily radio talk show by himself. Springer, on the other hand, could simply be too wild to fit the bill at WGN. Then again, it may take someone like a Springer to spark a buzz and perhaps attract a few more younger listeners."

Springer? Wild? Obviously Lazare has never heard his Air America show.

More Nova (M)ayhem

Things are obviously chugging along at the former Nova M Radio (now On Second Thought). They haven't been in the news lately, so that must mean things are fairly hunky dory.

But that isn't stopping some former Nova M'ers from casting a few flies in the ointment. Former weekend host King Daevid MacKenzie offers another installment of his adventures at the former network (and he STOLE MY HEADLINE TOO!!!). Click here for his own "Nova Mess". Remember, as with many of the other tell-alls by former Nova M personnel, this is merely his take. I'm just linking to it.

Fat man talking

And finally, I include this, not just because it's from BuzzFlash, but because it's the best headline I've read all week. Here is editor Mark Karlin's take on the Rush Limbaugh lovefest that was the rather grim CPAC conference. The title? "Limbaugh at CPAC: It’s Not Over Until the Fat Man Rants."

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