Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Liberal Air America is alive and well, to the surprise of naysayers, founder

Neal Boortz was ragging on the rookie of talk radio. His crystal ball foresaw a smoggy future for Air America, the start-up national network that had appeared out of left field to inject a distinct tone into the chorus of chatmeisters with conservative and libertarian accents.

"This is not something I would invest in," the decidedly unliberal Boortz of Atlanta's WSB-AM (750) said dismissively on his nationally syndicated show earlier this year.

In the coming days, Jon Sinton, the Atlanta radio consultant who midwifed Air America, expects to announce:

• The 8 1/2-month-old network, already in 40 markets including Atlanta, will expand to at least four more, covering about half of the country;

• Al Franken and Janeane Garofalo, its most recognized on-air hosts, will re-up, dousing speculation that they would bolt when one-year commitments expire;

• Investors have sunk enough new money in Air America to see it through to profitability.

"What an incredible accomplishment ... in opening the industry's eyes," says Michael Harrison, editor of the trade magazine Talkers.

"It's clear that the public is aware there is an Air America."

Less clear is whether listeners will set their car radio buttons on the network. Initial ratings are inconclusive but encouraging.

"I didn't think it was going to succeed. I'm pleased that it [might]," Boortz says now, delighted to welcome a new foil. "I'm rooting for them."


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