Sunday, December 31, 2006

Top 10 gripes about liberal/progressive talk

One of the complaints received here at LTR is that we're not critical enough of the liberal talk format. With the abundance of smarmy attack blogs out there written that try to be funny, yet come off more as whiny, crude, or just plain lame, we decided to take a different overall approach with this thing. And yes, LTR can be critical of the likes of Air America and others, and there certainly is quite a bit to nit-pick about. Sure, the vultures will likely post excerpts of this article in yet more weak attempts to slam liberal talk ("See, even this guy says..."). Uhhh, not so fast. LTR personally believes in being honest and straight-forward, rather than coming off as some sort of "Baghdad Bob". After all, this blog is primarily a meeting of the like-minded, and unlike the other side, we can tackle a little constructive criticism. Consider it 'tough love'.

1. Ed Schultz needs to relax and drop the big radio voice

Big Eddie is a favorite here at LTR, and we understand why he constantly switches topics to non-political stuff like sports, fishing and grilling. After all, the ability to not overkill a topic and to enable it go down smoother makes a show stronger and more sincere. Schultz is a Joe Sixpack-kinda guy. But along with years behind a microphone comes the development of what we call 'the radio voice'. Whether Big Eddie really talks the way he does on the radio in real life is unknown, but hearing him on TV shows or while phoning in to his show on off days, he sounds much more genuine and down-to-earth than his normal bombastic on-air delivery would suggest. Schultz has been around radio for a quarter century, and much of it was doing sports broadcasts. Of course, we all know sports guys like to kick it up a notch, but many listeners gripe that he comes off sounding like a left-leaning version of El Rushbo.

2. Stephanie Miller's show occasionally suffers from overkill

Hey, don't get me wrong. Momma is brilliant, and her show is wildly entertaining. But too much of a good thing is definitely possible. Sidekick Jim Ward is very, very talented, but at times, the voice impersonations can get a little grating and drag on way too long. Okay, we've heard the Dennis Hastert jokes about bratwurst. Too many times. There is such a thing as killing a good joke.

3. Thom Hartmann's theme music/imaging really sucks

Okay, there, I said it. While Hartmann is one of the most intelligent and interesting hosts on the air, and I've probably learned more listening to him than from any other talk show host, his show production sounds like it was done by Ed Wood Studios. The theme music sounds like it's from a bad Blood, Sweat and Tears tribute band, and the voice guy, who sounds like Harry Shearer on thorazine, is pretty cheesy and mumbly, while committing the biggest crime a voice guy can commit - nobody can understand him! Hartmann's show is probably AAR's fastest-growing program, and he deserves production elements (known in the industry as 'imaging') that reflect that. Of course, there are probably many that feel the show's imaging is reflective of Hartmann's simple style. Just one listener's opinion here, but it kinda sounds lame.

4. Randi Rhodes needs to lighten up

Randi Rhodes is a very funny person. And occasionally, she'll prove that on air. Unfortunately, she tends to be more angry than funny. To the point that obvious jokes will slide right by her. And that's too bad. It takes a person with strong tolerance sometimes to sit through a one hour vicious tirade about, say, the Iraq War. Yes, it's a travesty and morally reprehensible, but talk about beating a dead horse! And she does this at the expense of airing callers, who she blows off anyway. Ed Schultz is effective at juggling topics, going off politics to talk about things like sports and barbequeing, and is very consistent in the way he handles callers. Rhodes, on the other hand, sounds like she's going to tear apart the studio at any point. Don't get me wrong - Randi is great, and her show has consistently been one of the best on Air America. But the formatting of her show (or lack thereof) shows that the network really needs to bring in an effective radio person to help keep the show on track. Otherwise, it's really tough for listeners to keep up Randi's thought processes. With a little fine tuning, Rhodes' show could be one of the best in the whole format.

5. Same with Mike Malloy

We know, we know. Mike is Mike, like it or not. And that's why we listen. But his show is not for the weak-hearted. And there is a place for a show such as his, which is perhaps the angriest show in the whole liberal talk format. However, Malloy's at his best when he's taking phone calls. Malloy's show is a perfect fit for the nighttime hours, and is one of the most intimate and personal three hours on the airwaves. Not to mention that his following is one of the most dedicated of all talk show hosts. Hearing callers on the Mike Malloy show gives a kind of community feel to the show, and reassures us that we are not alone. Quite frankly, I'd like to be reminded of that even more.

6. Air America needs to be more about radio and less about the bully pulpit

When the creators of Air America initially announced their intentions of starting up a liberal talk network, I held out hope for one important thing: That it not be merely a propaganda engine. Unfortunately, that's what it seemed to become at times. Some of the powers-that-be at the upstart network made a huge error when they saw AAR as an opinion maker, or a way to influence elections. While I agree with their point of view, it is not an effective way to create a successful radio operation. First and foremost, it has to be about entertainment value. Let's face it, most talk radio out there is basically just entertainment. And while we may loathe someone like Rush Limbaugh, we must admit that he understood this important quality. When radio shows simply become mouthpieces for political parties (as we have seen conservotalk shows, including Limbaugh's, become), it makes for very boring, insulting radio. Luckily, some hosts, such as Schultz, Miller, KTLK's Cary Harrison and others realize this. Even Hartmann, who has turned informative and intellectual programming into an entertaining and captivating three hours, understands this. It's not all about having a big megaphone. It's knowing how to effectively use it.

7. Air America needs to polish their programming

Air America's on-air staff, all Al Franken jokes aside, could easily be referred to as the modern-day "Not Ready For Prime Time Players". They made the right decision to hire good, experienced radio personnel such as Randi Rhodes and Rachel Maddow. And even new host Jon Elliot is not too bad (though he's saddled with the stigma of being the guy who replaced Malloy). But some of their shows are in need of some work. The Young Turks, at times, sound like cable access programming. Sam Seder, though a listener favorite, too often sounds a bit sloppy on the air without a sidekick. And a whole staff of writers and producers can't turn a low-key Al Franken into an effective radio entertainer like Phil Hendrie. Let's be brutally honest, Air America needs to hone their on-air product. It's in dire need of some serious zip. Established operations such as Jones Radio Networks have been successful with creating shows that engage and entertain. Even Clear Channel has been effective with their local programming (take a listen to Stacy Taylor, Jay Marvin, Jim Defede or Cary Harrison for proof). AAR's on-air product can at times sound a bit crude, and this reflects badly on many of their shows. The hosts also need to create their own identities, apart from the AAR structure, as their shows occasionally become more about the internal politics of their employer than the politics of this country. When the fill-in hosts over the holidays (including Marc Maron, Stacy Taylor and Lee Rayburn) start sounding better than the people they're subbing for, that certainly says alot.

8. Air America needs to stop charging for their podcasts

Rush can get away with this, since his dittoheads will cough up the money for anything he's selling. I guess Sean Hannity can as well, since there's a sucker born every minute. Bill O'Reilly? Hell no, he can't even attract radio listeners. But for a struggling network like Air America, which could most certainly use some strong promotion, charging money for their top-tier podcast content is not the best idea in the world. Sure, the bandwidth can cost some money, but podcasting is all a part of effectively promoting the on-air product. Most talk shows nowadays make available podcasts of their shows, and Clear Channel and CBS especially have been very aggressive on this front. Mike Malloy's show has grown over the years due to aggressive audio archiving. Ben Burch has been archiving a healthy selection of liberal talk shows for several years at White Rose Society. Non-commercial outlets such as NPR, PRI and Pacifica have been effectively utilizing podcasts for quite some time. Even Stephanie Miller has recently gotten out of the pay plan, now offering podcasts of her shows to the unpaying masses. Sorry, but AAR is not at the point yet where they should be charging listeners to hear or sample the shows, especially since a lot of the free stuff out there is in many ways superior to much of their own content. I'm not being cheap here (okay, maybe I am), but free podcasts, even snippets such as the ones Ed Schultz offers, are not a bad way to get the product into peoples' ears. Especially with podcasting becoming such an integral part of talk radio.

9. Air America needs a new webmaster

Old news on the front page. Outdated schedules. A list of affiliates that includes stations that no longer carry them. And is Peter Werbe still even on Air America? Granted, not all people really grasp the concept of HTML programming, but coming from someone who taught himself the basics and designed and updated this entire blog, this is a travesty. AAR doesn't deserve all the scorn for this, in fact, the websites for some of their individual affiliates are far more embarassing. But really, does AAR still need a front page announcement declaring the arrival of The Young Turks, THREE months after the fact?

10. Al Franken is really, really, really boring

There. I said it. I'll be brutally honest with all of you. Al Franken, while being a rather funny guy, is a bit of a bore. Allegedly, AAR employs a generous staff of writers to help prop up the show. Guess what? It ain't working. Sure, Al can really turn it on in front of a crowd, and at times he can be quite good. But more often than not, it sounds like he could really care less about doing a radio show. It's too tough to relate to him. And while we're on that topic, it's high time for Al to determine where he wants to take his show, if he plans on taking it anywhere. The rumors and stories about his political aspirations, not to mention interests in other areas of the entertainment world, are very distracting, and are hurting the show terribly. So much that some affiliates have either dropped it or timeshifted it out of prime hours. Even Schultz moved his show to compete with him. Franken needs to make up his mind once and for all, since this foot-dragging is only going to hurt the show in the long run. My personal hope is that he finally decides to leave on a high note and cede his shift to the much-superior Thom Hartmann, a dedicated radio host in it for the long haul. How's that for brutal honesty?

The Top 10 rejected LTR tie-ins of 2006

This very blog that you're currently reading got it's start on October 12, 2004. During that time, it's seen a few changes along the way, evolving like many other entities do. The year 2006 saw a huge spike in readership, growing at least sevenfold since last January, when I had nearly blown the whole thing off due to other outside committments.

Since then, I've looked into other ways of branching out from just this lil' ol' blog thingie. One spur-of-the-moment idea took hold, with LTR's own YouTube group (which will likely be reconfigured in the coming months). Aside from that are a few ideas that were shelved or just didn't make sense in the whole scheme of things. As we all look back on 2006, here they are:

1. LTR @ MySpace

I know, I know, Rupert Murdoch's gotten his grubby little hands on it, and he's using it to spy on people. Now, I'm not much of a believer of conspiracy theories, so I highly doubt that. Murdoch only really cares about money and power, and money will buy him all the power he needs anyway. I really don't think he gives a shit what song you put on your MySpace profile or what obscure garage bands are asking to be your friend.

So yes, I thought about doing a MySpace thingy to promote the site, but I felt it was redundant. Keeping up with this thing on Blogger is enough work, and I didn't see the value of the whole MySpace thing. Plus, I think MySpace is kind of obnoxious anyway. I see it as the 'Seinfeld of web sites' - basically, it's a site about nothing. Plus the thing is ridden with too much spam and adware.

2. The LTR Podcast

I guess it wouldn't be a bad idea, but the thought of me talking about the stuff on this blog will likely not create visions of excitement. Then again, Al Gore did make over $100 million with a powerpoint presentation about global warming, so anything could happen, right?

3. The LTR message board

This actually does exist, going back to the early days of LTR, though I no longer link to it or even pay any attention to it. I've run enough outside message boards, relating to sports, radio broadcasting and other little things that I was interested in at one time or another. I also felt that this board would be a good replacement for the comment function here, which for a time was overrun by spammers selling various crap. Unfortunately, the board itself was overrun by spammers, trolls and some asshole named AZ Joe, who gets his jollies by threatening physical harm to liberal-minded folks, and by using cute terms such as 'traitor', 'commie' and some rather vulgar insults that I would rather not repeat here. I got him back by getting several of his email accounts shut down and getting his ISP to drop his sorry punk ass. Nevertheless, the LTR board is out there. Floating in cyberspace. Somewhere.

4. "LTR for Kids"

Okay, it sounded like a cute idea. Lots of big graphics, simple text, maybe even a puzzle or two. Then I worried about all the lurking wingnuts here, and with the whole Mark Foley thing happening, I felt it would be an idea best shelved. But the banner I threw together sure looks cute.

5. "LTR: The Musical"

It was all set up. Then Andrew Lloyd Weber had to back out. I don't like his stuff anyway, and the songs he wrote for it were total shit. I tried to adapt the concept to another use, but Disney never returned my call regarding "LTR On Ice". Maybe I need bigger stars...

6. My own radio station: WLTR

Until I win the lottery or millions of dollars start falling from the sky, this sure as hell ain't gonna happen.

7. The LTR Holiday Resort and Casino, Las Vegas, NV

Found some land in North Las Vegas for it, but anyone who knows anything about North Las Vegas knows that it is perhaps the worst place in the world to build a casino. Sure would have been cool to get Miss Nevada USA, Katie Rees, involved. We hear that she's quite the party animal. The casino idea is permanently shelved, but we're still investigating the whole, ahem, Katie Rees affair.

8. LTR Swag

Sure, the idea of t-shirts, hats, thong underwear, beach towels and coffee mugs emblazoned with the logo of your favorite blog sounds like a nifty idea, but really, who would buy that shit anyway? Besides, the snowglobes weren't up to par. Cafe Press' inability to make an LTR 70's era bitchen' brass belt buckle was a dealbreaker of sorts. And the difficulty in procuring enough 8-track tapes of "Foghat's Greatest Hits" as a free throw-in effectively killed the idea. Did I mention that the LTR rolling papers were a logistical nightmare?

9. LTRfestockapalooza

Kinda like Woodstock, Lolapalooza, or Ozzfest but rejected because I don't like muddy fields.

10. A blog devoted to pimping crap on Amazon.

Oops, sorry - wrong blog.

That's all for now. Keep checking back for more year-end lists, including the Top 10 talkers of 2006, which should hit by New Year's Day. And thanks to readers who sent in their own lists, in case I haven't had the chance to reply to your emails. You can send in your own lists here.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Calling MythBusters! LTR debunks the top myths and misconceptions of 2006

As 2006 draws to a close, LTR sees this as an opportune time to look back on the year that will soon pass. Over the next few days, you'll see some lists commemorating the year that was.

We'll start with this rather long piece, which will hopefully debunk much of the nonsense, myths, rumors and misguided speculation you've likely read about across the vast series of tubes known as the internet about the radio format so dear to all your hearts. So, without further ado...

1. Major advertisers banded together with ABC to boycott Air America Radio programming

You all remember that whole ABC Networks 'Air America Blacklist" memo, right? In fact, it's still one of the most searched-for terms at LTR. Well, just to let all of you know, the whole AAR blacklist thing is not what it seems.

The fax was brought to public attention by syndicated host Peter B. Collins, who apparently got it from management of KSAC in Sacramento (they have an original scan of the fax on their website).

Oh yes, the fax is real. And I thought it really was a blacklist when I first saw it. The wording of it does seem rather strong. Then, the more I thought about it and looked into it, the more I realized that reaction to it was a bit overblown. I remember seeing similar memos back when I worked in the business (albeit without the strong wording), and I've heard of them being used for years with various syndicated shows. The reason for this 'blacklist' could be attributed to several things.

Many in the radio industry know that 'blacklists' exist for many talk radio formats. AllAccess, a radio industry web site, said that this list was similar to the ones that conservotalk and shock talk stations get. Rush Limbaugh has one and so did Howard Stern. Many advertisers tend to avoid polarizing or controversial programming. Others shun talk radio altogether (like the US Navy, since the teenagers they target really don't listen to talk radio).

Other companies prefer to concentrate on particular formats (talk radio, in general, is not as desireable as music formats) in order to target whatever demographics they desire. Some, like McDonalds and Radio Shack, avoid advertising on talk radio altogether.

Some of the companies listed do indeed advertise on AAR affiliates, and some have their own deals with AAR or other syndicated progressive talk programming. REI, for one, had no idea they were on this list. And Office Depot is a major sponsor of Ed Schultz' show. Schultz even voices some of their ads. Guess what? Office Depot is listed on this memo.

The more I thought about it, and after seeing the exact memo, the more I realized that the reaction to the blacklist memo from bloggers on both the left and right was overblown.

So, what exactly is this document, anyway? This so-called 'blacklist' is really just a set of directions for the traffic department (which is responsible for the scheduling of advertising spots) of the radio station. This is an internal memo from the network to ABC affiliates about which advertisers will air on the station during a given week. Many of these advertisers ask to avoid being place with certain types of programming (such as shock jock shows or political talk) or format specific, such as not running Massengil ads on a male-oriented sports format. I worked at a Rock/Country station combo, even dubbing ads from Westwood One's network into the system as an up-and-coming grunt, and some advertisers shunned one or both of these formats. They have an idea of who they want to target, and use a particular format's demographics for ad placement. Ever hear Depends or Gold Bond ads on a Top 40 station? Or Pepsi ads on an adult standards station? This is why.

What does ABC have to do with all of this? Well, some AAR affiliates run ABC newscasts at the top of the hour. The more likely scenario is that many more stations carry ABC's ad syndication network. The big radio networks do indeed syndicate national advertising. They sell the ad time, they send it to affiliates and they all get a cut. Easier than the national companies going to each and every station individually, right?

And if you want to see who's advertising on your favorite stations, is a website that is designed to show what stations are playing what songs, but for quite a few talk stations, it shows some of the national agency ads (including ones from ABC Networks) airing on them. You may notice some of the 'blacklist' advertisers are indeed running ads on AAR affiliates. I've seen HP, for example, quite a few times.

From what I could find, it doesn't really seem like an all-out advertiser boycott of Air America. The wording on the memo is a bit strange, but all in all, I don't think it's anything to be alarmed about.

2. Air America Radio is going out of business

After months of speculation and rumors, Air America filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in New York on October 13. Of course, this gave wingnut bloggers, anxious to relive the grand ol' days of Gloria Wise, raging hard-ons. The smarmy vultures immediately began writing the struggling network's obituary. Uhh... not so fast, guys. See, Chapter 11 is a reorganization, meaning that the filing enabled them to set up a repayment plan to their creditors while getting their ducks in a row. If they had filed Chapter 7, then it would be adios, Air America.

And it looks like AAR is expected to stick around, since there is a hush-hush agreement to take over the company, pay off their debts, and run it like a real radio business, as it should be.

Hopefully, all involved with AAR, and radio in general, will realize how a radio business should be run. Bickering board members, unpopular programming decisions, extravagant spending, a huge staff of writers to deliver a rather mediocre show, the lack of experienced and successful radio people, and running a network primarily as a propaganda bully pulpit while maintaining more secrecy than the Illuminati is not the best way to do radio. Hopefully, they take a cue from Jones Radio Networks, currently one of the largest and most successful syndicators in the country, who see fit to run their operation like a business.

3. Air America Radio is liberal talk, liberal talk is Air America Radio

According to many in our so-called mainstream media, or whiny wingnut blogs, liberal talk stations are almost always Air America stations, as if they merely air just the AAR satellite feed and nothing else. Sure, AAR has built itself (for better or worse) into a sort-of brand name for the format. But they are not the be-all, end-all of liberal/progressive talk. Actually the biggest player in the format today has become Jones Radio Networks, which has experienced some remarkable success with Ed Schultz, Stephanie Miller and Bill Press. Not to mention others tossing their hats in the ring, such as Nova M Radio, WOR Networks (Lionel), Radio One's Syndication One with their African-American talk format featuring the likes of Al Sharpton, or even the independently syndicated fare from Peter B. Collins and Doug Basham. And coming soon is Tom Athans' Talk USA Radio, which is slated to develop an assortment of 'non-conservative' shows in the coming year. Finally, don't forget the non-commercial Pacifica network, which has been airing hard-hitting news shows and progressive opinion for almost 60 years!

4. Nobody listens to this stuff

The commercial progressive talk format as we know it today came into being on March 31, 2004. That's the day Air America signed on via seven stations across the country. One of those stations was Clear Channel-owned KPOJ in Portland, then a high-powered AM station struggling with an oldies format that garnered virtually no ratings whatsoever. The initial results were not bad. WLIB in New York scored decently in demographic ratings breakdowns. The Los Angeles and Chicago stations showed up for the first time in years in the ratings books. But the big success was KPOJ, which combined the AAR programming with Ed Schultz' show, which had debuted in syndication earlier in the year. KPOJ went from a perrenial ratings dog to one of the top rated stations in the market. And inspired a much-used template schedule that many other stations emulated. Clear Channel, and eventually others, were impressed enought to spread the format to other cities.

The success didn't translate to all markets as it did in Portland, since many market managers seemed to merely put the format on their weakest signal and hoped for the best, while promoting it as little as possible. It was basically seen as inexpensive programming that they hoped would get strong word-of-mouth promotion. As the saying goes, you get out of it what you put into it.

Some stations were promoted well and succeeded with it, such as KLSD/San Diego, KPTK/Seattle, WINZ/Miami, WXXM/Madison, KKZN/Denver, KABQ/Albuquerque and many other markets. And progressive talk has shown a gradual ratings increase as of late in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Phoenix and other places.

But is anyone listening to it? Well, yes. Currently, Air America Radio's main streams are ranked in the top ten of all webstreaming services, not counting the streams of individual affiliates. And in even the larger markets, a 1.0-1.5 overall share translates to tens of thousands of listeners. Outside of Air America, personalities such as Ed Schultz and Stephanie Miller have done very well in comparison to their talk competitors, with Schultz even claiming victory against Sean Hannity in a few markets.

So yes, whether the wingnuts like it or not, people are listening.

5. Mitt Romney is buying Clear Channel in a fiendish plot for world domination

On November 17, after months of speculation, the Mays family, which controls Clear Channel Communications, announced the sale of the largest radio station operator in the country. The buyers consisted of two private equity firms, Thomas H. Lee Partners and Bain Capital. Many were skeptical of the sale, particularly since Bain Capital was founded by Republican politician Willard 'Mitt' Romney. Many thought that Clear Channel would become even more of a right-wing company, controlled by a guy yearning to be George W. Bush's replacement in the White House. Well, you can all take a deep breath, since Romney is no longer involved with Bain Capital, having cashed out of the firm in 2001. Therefore, Mitt Romney will have no say in the new Clear Channel Communications.

There is a positive in all of this, since the sale will negate a grandfather clause that enabled them to swallow up so many stations. As a result, Clear Channel is currently divesting of most stations outside of the top 100 markets where they own broadcast properties, and is also divesting of stations in larger markets to get to the maximum allowed. And in some cases, the company is taking a significant loss on a few properties, including Fargo, ND.

6. Selling advertising spots on progressive talk stations is impossible

I've written a great deal about this in recent posts. Many people are bewildered that radio station account executives have been having such a hard time selling advertising spots on liberal talk stations. Even Ed Schultz has been very vocal on this topic, particularly since he has positioned his show as very advertiser-friendly. The problem can be attributed to many things. First off, account executives tend to take the easy way out, and sell the 'easy' formats, such as sports, rock, adult contemporary, country, Top 40 and even conservotalk. Those are formats they understand. They don't seem to understand this 'progressive talk' thing, and think that it doesn't necessarily sell effectively to the same advertisers who buy time on the other stations. Some, like the Zwerlings in Santa Cruz, don't seem to even bother to try and sell time on their station, preferring to hold the station's format ransom to force sponsors to come to them. And some large radio clusters try to get by with a skeleton sales crew selling anywhere between 4-10 stations, obviously leaving them less time to seek out new sponsors for the unique new format that is actually reviving a previously left-for-dead frequency.

Obviously, Clear Channel managers and sales execs in Madison must have felt somewhat humiliated when, after announcing the dropping of WXXM's format, a young disabled veteran with no radio experience whatsoever named Valerie Walasek organized a devoted grassroots effort and delivered reportedly a whopping thirty new sponsors to save the station, something management couldn't do in the previous two years. If she can do it, so can the so-called 'professionals'. And if they don't at least offer Walasek a job, they're stupid, since she obviously showed them all how it's done.

So, there you go. Hopefully this will go a bit farther in debunking some of the crap that's out there. Am I 100% correct on all of this? Probably not. And I'm sure I'll get dumped on by both the left and right over what's written here. But at least it's a good, hard, realistic look at the state of progressive talk at this moment. And you won't read about that over at the Tranquilizer's site either.

WLBY/Ann Arbor sale paperwork filed

All Access reports that the in-the-works swap involving nine Clear Channel stations in Michigan and Cumulus' WRQK-FM in Canton has officially been filed with the FCC.

In the deal, Cumulus sends WRQK to Clear Channel in exchange for four Ann Arbor stations, including progressive talk-oriented WLBY. Included in the deal are four other Michigan stations. Another AM station will be donated to Family Life Broadcasting as a tax write-off.

Obviously, it's way too early to speculate as to what this means for WLBY. The station has been run more or less with sister station WDTW in Detroit, which airs almost identical programming, including Stephanie Miller, Ed Schultz and various shows from Air America Radio. Now the two stations will be separated.

WLBY is a former daytime-only radio station, meaning it broadcasts at its full power, a paltry 500 watts, during the daylight hours before dropping down to a weak 26 watts at night, giving the station a rather fuzzy signal into Ann Arbor after dark. It's likely that the station will retain the progressive talk format, even though Cumulus does not currently own any liberal talk stations. Considering the limitations of the station's signal, WLBY's current format is likely delivering the best ratings the station will ever expect to get, averaging a 1.2 overall share. Many stations in a similar situation are fortunate to obtain even that.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Sirius Backstage interviews Mike Malloy: "A traditional Democrat"

To celebrate his return to Sirius Left, Sirius Backstage has a great interview with radio talker Mike Malloy. In it, he talks about how he got involved in radio, Air America Radio's problems, life after Air America with Nova M Radio and Sirius, his political beliefs, who should/shouldn't get the Democratic nomination for president in 2008 and being a liberal talk show host vs. a conservative one. It's a highly recommended read.

...(Air America) was a great idea to begin with, but a sad story. The founders were pushed out by new investors who didn’t know anything about radio but wanted to play radio executive. There was a huge disparity in pay: Al Franken was making 2.6 million per year, but Mike Malloy was making 88k. I think Al Franken contributed to the demise of the network. At one time he had a staff of 20 or 30 people, writers and workers and all this other bullshit. There were many factors that caused Air America to go into bankruptcy: The executives didn’t know what they were doing, and when they hired radio people who knew what to do, the executives weren’t listening, and the radio people left. They couldn’t get investors because they didn’t have a viable structure as it is now. It would have been easy to be a success. Everybody jumped on the bandwagon to snipe at Air America, from Hannity and Limbaugh to all the others in between. It built an instant brand overnight. I still have friends who work there, they were talented people like Rachel Maddow, Randi Rhodes, Sam Seder, and many others. As far as the company itself, I’m really pissed.

...I define myself as a traditional Democrat. I am pro-union, only 13% of the workforce is now unionized compared to 35% 50 years ago... I believe in the equality of the law. Gays have the same rights as everyone else, and that all these constitiuional amendments to ban gay marriage are bullshit and bigoted. I believe in racial equality as well, at least in the workplace... [Affirmative Action] is the way Bush got into Yale. His father was there, so Bush got in. I also believe there should be regulatory agencies to watch the federal government. That’s what I mean by traditional Democrat.

...As far as liberals are concerned, liberals in radio are marginalized, and that’s why it’s so difficult to find them. The marketplace isn’t saying “we want conservative talk”, it’s utter bullshit. Take a look at the recent elections, take a look at polls, and see if the country wants conservative talk. Those decisions to make shows come from the top, and it is done by one of the five radio companies who control over 90% of the airwaves. The right winger will tell you that the marketplace determines what brand of butter you buy, what radio show people want, and its not true. If 70% of the nation hates George Bush and 80% of talk radio hosts support George Bush, there’s something fucked about that. I don’t know how to counteract that other than the talk radio I do is decisive, its hard hitting, and when the managers don’t screw with what I say, I have come up pretty big with a 6, 7, 8, 10 share in markets like Chicago and Salt Lake City. Another problem is advertisers. If advertisers don’t like what I say about the Bush crime family, there is nothing I can do about that. Again, if all things are equal, if you have a talented liberal and an average conservative, you will see the conservative picked up by the radio company. If you look at these no talent hacks like Sean Hannity, or Limbaugh who is a drug addict, they’re on 300 stations, why is that? Because he has a phony ass Christianity belief, supports the war. It’s a real shitty situation out there. It is not an equal field.

Read more of this interview at Sirius Backstage.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Disenfranchised radio listeners increase grassroots efforts

A grassroots swelling of Clear Channel-owned WXXM/Madison listeners succeeded last week when station management reversed a decision to flip the station's format to all-sports. This has obviously inspired other groups in similar situations to start up their own efforts to save their favorite stations.

After a few weeks of speculation, Boston's Clear Channel-owned liberal talk simulcast of WKOX and WXKS changed formats last Thursday to a Spanish-language tropical music format as "Rumba 1200". A group of livid listeners to "Boston's Progressive Talk" took action, setting up a Yahoo! group and a website, with the goal of returning the talk programming to local airwaves.

And in Columbus, where another Clear Channel-owned station, WTPG, plans to drop liberal talk in favor of shows from Michael Savage, Laura Ingraham, Dave Ramsey and others, listeners have begun taking action as well, with a website, petition and Yahoo! group already established.

Grassroots support for the format is nothing new. A group of listeners in Portland, ME banded together two years ago to help save WLVP, which was planning a flip to ESPN Radio. The station's owners, Nassau Broadcasting, changed their minds and kept the format, which carried mostly shows from Air America Radio. Since then, other listener efforts helped bring the format to markets such as St. Louis, Iowa City (albeit briefly), and New Orleans. A dedicated effort helped bring the format back to Phoenix, a mere few weeks after being dropped following the sale of KXXT, and following the demise of liberal talk stations in Dallas, Missoula and Atlanta, listener-supported movements sprung up to help bring liberal talk back to the local airwaves. A petition with over 18,000 names on it obviously helped get Mike Malloy's show back on the air after its much-criticized cancellation by Air America.

Fans of liberal talk obviously took a cue from television fans who rallied in years past to help save shows such as "Star Trek", "Beauty and the Beast", "Due South", "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", "Arrested Development", "Stargate: SG1", and even the current "Studio 60", among others.

Will it all succeed? Who knows? But doing nothing certainly won't work. LTR wishes all the supporters the best of luck in their efforts, and of you can keep up with developments on their sites and, of course, here.

Left laughing: Stephanie Miller moves from 'Sister Sleaze' to progressive radio queen

Here's a great article from Rochester, NY's City Newspaper about a local radio star who hit the big time, Stephanie Miller, whose syndicated talk show is currently airing in the market on WROC.

In it, she talks about her Republican father (who shared the presidential ticket with Barry Goldwater in 1964), her Catholic school upbringing, her dream of being an entertainer, her start in radio as Brother Wease's sidekick ('Sister Sleaze'), working with current sidekicks Jim Ward and Chris Lavoie, the state of progressive talk radio, death threats, her 'future husbands' and CNN's offer of her own show.

How Republicans give her so much material:

"When you've got the head of the evangelicals out with a male hooker buying crystal meth: you can't write this stuff," says Miller by telephone from Los Angeles. "A congressman who's head of the missing-and-exploited-children caucus having instant-message sex with children: you've got to be kidding me. When do you remember a vice president shooting someone in the face?"

How she drifted into political talk radio, after resisting for many years:

"It's just how mean-spirited and exclusionary I saw the Republican Party becoming," she says. "It's not my dad's party."

Her partners-in-crime:

"They are genuinely funny," says Miller. "Jim Ward says something at least once a day that literally makes me fall out of my chair. Most of it's off the cuff, so you don't see it coming."

The struggles of Air America:

"Capitalism is kind of hitting progressive talk," says Miller. "Air America is bankrupt, so I think the expectation is they're going to go away, but progressive talk isn't. Progressive talk is having some growing pains, but the good shows that get ratings will make it." The problem with the progressive format, she believes, lies more with a lack of understanding about radio than with the liberal slant of the shows. Miller bemoans the fact that people who have never done radio, like Mario Cuomo and Jim Hightower, are put in front of microphones and are expected to win over audiences.

Putting people on the air who disagree with her:

"To me, it's just better radio," she says. "What's entertaining about listening to people who just agree with me? You don't just get on, you go to the front of the line if you disagree with me."

Her personal life:

"Most people in radio are big losers with no life," she says. "Trust me. I don't know what it is about, particularly, women in the business, but look at Oprah, she's not married, doesn't have kids. Pundits like Laura Ingraham and Ann Coulter are not married...That's true. Ann Coulter --- what is it? Is it male, is it female?"

Read more in City.

Monterey, CA attorney/radio journalist suffers mysterious death

Following the recent passing of both former President Gerald Ford and music icon James Brown is a death that will likely slide in under the radar. So far, only the local Monterey County Herald has reported on it. Granted, both Ford and Brown are more noteworthy individuals, but this one may be of interest to readers of LTR.

In what police describe as a "probable" suicide leap, a prominent Monterey Bay Area attorney fell at least nine floors to his death at the Embassy Suites Hotel Monterey Bay in Seaside the morning before Christmas.

Sunday morning, officers found the body of Paul Sanford, an attorney, journalist and local radio talk show host, in the west end of the hotel lobby, where he had landed on a large ventilation grate.

In addition to his work specializing mostly in DUI cases, Sanford was active in local organizations and causes, and made waves in the national arena. He appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2004 when he argued unsuccessfully that the words "under God" should be stricken from the Pledge of Allegiance. A passionate believer in "a dynamic Constitution," Sanford claimed that he "never leaves home" without a copy of the U.S. Constitution in his pocket. He was a vocal advocate of free speech, and for the rights of homeless people.

In recent years, he became a journalist. Almost immediately, he caused a stir after he joined the White House Press Corps in 2005, making waves as the first reporter to ask then-White House press secretary Scott McClellan whether the leaking of CIA agent Valerie Plame's name might be considered an act of treason.

"There has been a lot of speculation concerning the meaning of the underlying statute and the grand jury investigation concerning Mr. Rove," Sanford asked. "The question is, have the legal counsel to the White House or White House staff reviewed the statute in sufficient specificity to determine whether a violation of that statute would, in effect, constitute treason?"

McClellan was apparently flustered by the question and replied that "those are matters for those overseeing the investigation to decide."

The White House incident sparked controversy after political bloggers incorrectly described Sanford as a reporter for the Air America radio network. At the time, he was associated with Watsonville radio station KOMY, an Air America affiliate, and Sanford told reporters he never claimed to work for Air America.

Sanford eventually filed suit against KOMY owner Michael Zwerling after Zwerling was reported as saying Sanford had not been authorized to represent the station as a reporter, a statement Sanford refuted. The case was scheduled to begin in Santa Cruz County Superior Court in February. The status of the case is unknown following Sanford's sudden death.

Although the dispute with Zwerling caused Sanford a great deal of stress at the time, his close friend, fellow Monterey attorney Shawn Mills, said his friend was feeling fine about it and believed he would soon be vindicated in court.

Sanford and Mills both co-hosted the "Paul and Shawn Show" on Saturdays at local progressive talk radio station KRXA, where they covered last fall's election.

Friends and associates expressed disbelief at the news of Sanford's death and that it was ruled a suicide, saying Sanford seemed happy and had made many plans for this week and in coming months. Mills said he and Sanford recently decided to open a shared law office to serve Monterey and Santa Cruz counties, something Sanford was looking forward to doing.

He and Sanford spoke on the phone "around four or five times a day," Mills said, and the two had just spoken on Thursday, "tweaking a marketing plan" for their new law practice before Mills went out of town for the Christmas holiday.

"I just don't know what happened since Thursday. There was nothing on the horizon there to know this was going to happen," Mills said. "We were going to get together this week."

Mills said he had spoken to Sanford's wife, Paula, and that she also was in shock. He said Sanford, a father of two, was a devoted family man.

"This is a horrible thing for his family. He would never have intentionally put his family through that trauma. Something's not right, it doesn't make sense."

Sanford recently purchased his mother's home in Pebble Beach, and Mills said his friend planned to retire there one day.

Police declined to state exactly why they ruled the case a suicide.

Mills said Sanford should be remembered for his volunteer work in the local community. "People don't like to work for free, and Paul worked for ideology. He didn't like the attention a lot. The attention he's going to get now would upset him."

Sunday, December 24, 2006

An open fire

Like KPIX, KOFY and other fine television stations, we're taking a break to enjoy the holiday. Sit back and roast some chestnuts.

Happy Holidays!

Season's Greetings!

Whether you celebrate...




...Winter Solistice:




...Life Day:

...Sol Invictus:

...Boxing Day:


...Or "Screw it all! Let's just stay home and get shitfaced drunk!"

Our best holiday greetings to you and everyone else!

Oh, and I couldn't forget all you culture warriors out there! Here's "Bill O'Reilly's Twelve Days of the War on Christmas". Enjoy!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Sheldon Drobny on Air America Radio: An example of ego and crony capitalism

From Sheldon Drobny at Huffington Post:

When my wife and I conceived of the idea of forming a liberal radio network in 2001, we had no idea what was in our future. As socially responsible venture capitalists (usually an oxymoron) we hoped that we would help to balance the media bias that led to the stolen election of 2000 that has so negatively impacted all Americans.

You can read about this in my non-best selling book: Road To Air America. Unfortunately, AAR reached a dead end as a result of cronyism and ego which is usually a disease suffered by many mega millionaires of either political persuasion. My next book, Defying The Distortion, has a final chapter still waiting to be written and will be published when the AAR final chapter is known.

The positive news is that about 100 radio stations have now committed themselves to progressive talk radio and many of the listeners have demanded that their communities continue to carry non-conservative talk radio. AAR established a beachhead for the concept and the follow on content companies, if run well, will make non-conservative talk radio the wave of the future so that our country can re-establish itself as a shining light for democracy and human rights. But, the inside story of the major shareholders of AAR is the worst example of predatory greed and vanity. It was surprising to me as one who originally believed that rich liberals would somehow be different.

You can read more of this interesting article at Huffington Post.

Those "Changes" to WTPG/Columbus are a format change

Columbus' liberal talker will soon take a sharp turn to the right.

Starting in January, Clear Channel-owned WTPG in Columbus will drop its progressive talk format and pick up shows from the likes of Laura Ingraham and Michael ("Liberalism is a mental disorder") Savage. Because Columbus obviously doesn't have enough right-wing talk, dammit!

In addition, WTPG will become WYTS ("Your Talk Station), and also add sports talker Jim Rome, consumer-oriented host Dave Ramsey and the morning show of Quinn and Rose, piped in from Pittsburgh. Stephanie Miller and the programming of Air America Radio will be gone. Ed Schultz's show left the station's schedule a couple weeks ago.

The rumors started last week. WTPG in Columbus, OH Last week, the station's owner, Clear Channel Communications, put up banners on the websites of both that station and it's sister, WTVN, which airs mostly conservative talk. Both banners proclaimed that "Changes are Coming".

Evidently, station personnel were prowling the blogosphere to see what was being said about them. Both MLM Liberal and myself noticed Clear Channel ISP's in our userlogs. Not long after, the banners came down off both sites. Well, now the banners are back up, and it looks like changes are indeed coming to WTPG. And these changes will likely not go over well with current listeners. Obviously, adding the likes of Ingraham and Savage will likely be seen as a total slap in the face of many Columbus listeners.

So don't say Clear Channel never gave you anything for Christmas.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Mic lives!

The announcement this afternoon on Rachel Maddow's show was like music to the ears of thousands of Madison radio listeners. Clear Channel announced that, after weeks of protests and public outcry, The Mic would stay put.

Clear Channel/Madison will announce on-air Friday that WXXM (92.1FM) will drop its plans to switch to an all-sports format at the beginning of the new year and keep its liberal talk format, meaning that Stephanie Miller, Ed Schultz and Air America Radio will be here to stay in Wisconsin's capital city for the forseeable future.

The announcement, made on the station's site on November 10, resulted in a very negative reaction from the station's listeners, who had helped make it one of the top-rated liberal talk stations in the country. Miller and Schultz even blasted the station on their nationally-syndicated shows, which obviously caused station management a great deal of embarassment.

Thousands of people protested the end of their favorite station through e-mails, phone calls and a signed petition delivered this week. A rally last week drew 500 people and politicians such as Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., denounced the decision.

In addition to Air America personalities like Al Franken, the station features local shows that focused on progressive causes from city politics to animal rights. Lee Rayburn and Jodie Shawback hosted a popular locally-oriented morning show.

"We are overwhelmed by the recent outpouring of support for our progressive talk format from the public, some of our community leaders and some dedicated local advertisers," said Jeff Tyler, Clear Channel's market manager in Madison. "We deeply appreciate the local business leaders who are pledging their advertising support -- they are playing an enormous role in helping to keep progressive talk on the air in our community."

Today, Tyler disclosed more plans for the resurrected WXXM. He said the station would aim to increase its share of the local market but it had no deadline to increase earnings, which were 14th out of 14 local stations that report them despite the station being rated second among the market's news-talk stations and 11th out of 25 stations overall. About 30,100 listeners tuned into the station during any given week, according to the latest ratings from Arbitron Inc.

Tyler said he hoped to improve the quality of the local shows and was encouraged that Air America would do the same for its programming when it emerges from bankruptcy. The radio network said this week that is close to a sealing a deal with an undisclosed buyer.

"We're here to make it work. We're going to put all of our resources into it," he said. "People have spoken out in Madison and said, `This is a great radio station and we support it.' We encourage them to prove it."

He said Clear Channel had to end an agreement with Fox Sports Radio to make the deal possible.

The announcement came just as the opponents of the change appeared to give up, staging a mock funeral procession from the Capitol to Clear Channel's local offices on Wednesday to mourn the death of the station.

Valerie Walasek, a 28-year-old listener who organized the protests, said she had shifted her focus to other options, such as trying to buy a new station. She was shocked by the company's last-minute change of heart.

"It's evidence that as people stand up and demand what they want and demand they are going to take back the airwaves, somebody will listen," she said. "Maybe Clear Channel just came to their senses because it never made sense for them to get rid of it. They were making money."

Of course, the results of this massive grassroots effort will not please all people. Some parasitic, lame-ass bloggers will no doubt be crying in their beers tonight. Not to worry, since Madison is a pretty awesome drinking town. Perhaps they could choke on a bratwurst while they're at it.

So, from a fellow Wisconsinite, I raise my glass to you all. Good job!

UPDATE: The parasite cometh! The Radio Tranquilizer's off on yet another piss, moan and spinfest. And he's still convinced that the media is controlled by 'evil libruls' (if you consider News Corp., Disney, Viacom, General Electric and Clear Channel to be liberal, that is). For the sake of pitiful humor, I'll post the lowlights so you don't have to bother reading that drivel:

...Did the recent protests have an effect? If the station couldn't make money before, how will it do so now with scaled- down Air America programming?

And was this from the beginning a mere stunt designed to generate publicity?


One last point: our real agenda at the Radio Equalizer from the beginning has been to counter the mainstream media's pro- Air America hype, not to celebrate libtalk's collapse.

If Clear Channel or anybody else wants to run libtalk on their stations, it's not an issue to this site. They should, however, expect us to provide an alternative to the Frankenfluff reporting that even now permeates the mainstream news media.

The rest is pure drivel and whatever straws Brian Baloney is clutching at today. He even uses a quote from a New York Radio message board(!!!) to defend his point. Uh huh.

Screw him! It's time to party. Merry Kwanzachristmahannukah!


The Capital Times

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Joe Finan (1927-2006)

Northeast Ohio Radio legend Joe Finan, most recently at WARF in Akron, has passed away at the age of 79.

Finan was a radio legend in Northeast Ohio, with an ample resume consisting of both radio and television since the mid 1950s. Until October, Finan was the midday host at Clear Channel liberal talk WARF "Radio Free Ohio". Prior to that, he had a 20 year stint in afternoon drive at talk WNIR (100.1FM) in neighboring Kent.

Joe was born July 6, 1927. He turned 79 this past summer.

Mr. Finan’s Family is planning a private burial service to be held this weekend. No Public services are planned at this time.

New features - just in time for the holidays!

As you peek around this site, you may notice a few additions. Namely, a few show and host links, as well as some funny little orange symbols that look like . What's that, you ask? Well, that little icon is used to denote an available syndication feed. In this case, it denotes a podcast feed link.

The symbols are located next to the names of various hosts and shows to show if there is an RSS/XML feed available. From that feed, you can download podcasts (mp3's) of those particular shows.

So, how does one do this? Well, if you currently have a browser that incorporates XML, RSS or other feed reading (such as Internet Explorer 7 and Mozilla Firefox 2.0), you're all set. You can also 'copy shortcut' to insert link into your own feed reader or any podcasting program.

Many of you may already use iTunes to download podcasts and shows, and that's fine. I plan on adding iTunes links as well, for people who prefer this method, as well as for shows (such as "Real Time with Bill Maher" or Alex Jones) that seem to be available only through that service. Oh yeah, did you know HBO's excellent "Real Time" is available as an audio podcast? Or even highlights from "Countdown with Keith Olberman"? Well, you do now! Check the links.

There are also some shows that don't provide feeds, or even make programming available to services such as iTunes. Rather, they feature show archives exclusively on their websites. I have those marked with a . You can click on any of those little icons for feeds, sites, etc. Neat, huh?

What about unauthorized feeds, torrents, etc.? Uhh... I won't go there. You're on your own with that. We're trying to be legit here, okay? However, some podcasters do use torrents to spread their shows. Those may be added.

More personalities, shows and podcast-only links have been added to the listings on the right-hand column, with more to come. So far, the list consists of both commercial (Air America, Jones Radio, Nova M, etc.) and non-commercial (Pacifica, NPR, PRI, etc.) radio shows, as well as podcast-only offerings (like the hilarious Irrational Public Radio). The goal is to create as complete a list as possible of liberal talk shows, hosts and podcasts, in addition to other recommended programming that isn't necessarily political in nature (i.e. Penn Jillette, Tom Joyner), but may be of interest to readers of this site.

If you know of any that you feel should be here, or that we just plainly missed, just drop an email. I've tried to keep up with links that have been sent in (thanks to Harry O, Barry Gordon and anyone else I missed for dropping me a note).

So, while other bloggers' 'added features' consist of massive amounts of slow-loading ads, we're giving you more of what you want. Just our way of saying "Happy Holidays".

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

"Boston's Progressive Talk" flips to "Rumba" on Thursday

After weeks of speculation, Clear Channel stations WKOX (1200AM) and WXKS (1430AM) will switch from "Boston's Progressive Talk" to "La Nueva Rumba," both simulcasting a "tropical" format of primarily Spanish-language announcers and music, ranging from salsa, merengue, and bachata to the contemporary sound of reggaeton. The move will come Thursday at noon.

WKOX plans to boost its power to 50,000 watts by August. (The station currently operates at around 10,000 watts during the day.) After the upgrade, the two stations will separate , with WXKS getting its own, as yet undetermined format. Station management may look at returning the progressive talk format to WXKS when the power upgrade goes into effect, if no other station has picked it up.

Management hopes that the two stations will fare better than the similar-sounding "Mega" stations, WAMG-AM (890) and WLLH-AM (1400) which gave up on the "tropical" format and were sold.

The two stations began airing the progressive talk format, consisting of Ed Schultz and shows from Air America Radio, on October 4, 2004.

As mentioned in comments for this post, former listeners of the two simulcast stations have started a Yahoo! Group, and one supporter has reserved a domain name,, which will be active within a few days.

Air America Radio web listenership up for October

While many people, particularly certain failed weekend disc jockeys turned shitty bloggers, have been ghoulishly awaiting the hoped-for demise of Air America Radio, there are still quite a few people who don't feel the same way. At least that's what online listening ratings are saying.

Webcast Metrics, a firm that measures online streaming listenership, has released its monthly ratings for October, showing listenership to the official Air America Radio streams improving from September.

In October, 214,526 different computers accessed the official streams of Air America between the hours of 6AM and Midnight, Monday through Sunday, compared to 199,700 during the same period in September. For the time period between 6AM and 8PM, Monday through Friday, those numbers are 165,010 and 148,856 respectively. This is referred to as the 'cume', meaning the average number of unique persons (defined as the number of different IP addresses) who listen to a station for a minimum of five minutes within a reported time period.

The ratings report, similar in some respects to the terrestrial radio ratings measured by Arbitron, also measures average quarter hour (AQH) ratings, the average of the number of listeners recorded every fifteen minutes for each station. From 6AM-8PM in October, that number is 5,129, compared to 4,824 the previous month. From 6AM-Midnight, those numbers are 3,623 and 3,498. In both surveys, Air America holds the #10 position of the top internet radio stations. Keep in mind that all of the services in the Top 10 broadcast multiple streams. Air America's main stream and its secondary stream, which currently airs only the Thom Hartmann show, are included.

Here's how the top 15 stack up, from 6AM-Midnight:

1. Digitally Imported (Electronic/Dance)
2. 1.FM (Multiple formats) (Multiple formats)
3. AccuRadio (Multiple formats)
4. (Multiple formats)
5. ABC Radio Group (Multiple formats)
6. RadioIO (Multiple formats)
7. ESPN Radio (Sports Talk - two streams)
8. EMF Broadcasting (Multiple religious formats)
9. Soma.FM (Electronic/Dance)
10. Air America Radio (Political talk)
11. Big R Radio (Multiple formats)
12. WNYC (Public Radio)
13. (Classical music)
14. (Contemporary hit music)
15. (Multiple Formats)

You can see Kurt Hanson's report on the October rankings here, or go directly to the Webcast Metrics site. A month-by-month reference can also be found there.

And finally, it should be noted that the numbers provided are for the official Air America streams only. They do not include the webstreams of individual affiliates, which make up a sizeable percentage of online listening.

Monday, December 18, 2006

WHLD/Niagara Falls drops liberal talk

"The Voice of Reason" has been silenced.

The group that runs WHLD in Niagara Falls, NY, has flipped the station to a format consisting mostly of gospel music and brokered shows, effective today.

Brian Brown-Cashdollar, WHLD's president and general manager, said the station's ratings were "respectable" for a start-up station and advertising revenue shot up "tenfold" during the 10-month effort. But ultimately, it was not enough to satisfy investors concerned about cash flow.

"We went from 3,600 to about 20,000 listeners by the end of September. By all indications, we would have continued to grow," Brown-Cashdollar said.

"We've done a lot of things right, but in the end we fell short. We had a business opportunity to protect the shareholders, so we took it," Brown-Cashdollar said.

The station's license is owned by Citadel Broadcasting Corp. and will continue to be operated by Niagara Independent Media. Brown-Cashdollar said there will be layoffs but could not yet say how many.

WHLD's left-of-center format evolved out of an effort in January 2004 by the Buffalo Coalition for Progressive Media that brought Pacifica's "Democracy Now," hosted by Amy Goodman, to Buffalo. It was the first time the nationally syndicated program landed on a commercial station. At the time, much of WHLD's programming came via time brokered programming.

Eventually, the station built around the Pacifica programming, adding shows from Air America Radio, as the small AM station became a full-time progressive talk outlet. They added more locally produced shows, such as "The Newsroom," which aired mornings with Joe Schmidbauer and Grady Hawkins," "Radio Civil Liberties," "The Einach Report" and "Speakeasy radio." Schmidbauer said his abrupt dismissal came "with about five minutes notice," and expressed disappointment for "all the people whose hopes and dreams rode with us."

The station competed with another local station, Entercom-owned WWKB in neighboring Buffalo, which airs a mostly syndicated talk format consisting of hosts such as Stephanie Miller, Bill Press, Ed Schultz and Lionel. Brown-Cashdollar, in a statement on the station's homepage, encourages his former listeners to support WWKB.

"Democracy Now" will still air, for the time being, on WHLD, but will eventually move to WBBF (1120AM), which is also owned by Niagara Independent Media and carries a gospel format.

In related news comes word that KTXX-FM, located outside of San Antonio, has flipped it's format from liberal talk to a Spanish-language music format. The station is owned by Border Media Partners, which previously operated the Texas Progressive Network, and aired programming over stations in San Antonio, Dallas and Austin. The group sold Dallas affiliate KXEB in September. The sole remaining Texas Pro affiliate, KOKE in Austin, will still carry liberal talk programming. The flip of KTXX is not surprising, since they really aren't a San Antonio station, as their signal is located too far outside the city to really make an impact in the local ratings. Basically, KTXX hits a lot of Texas ranch land. The flip to a Spanish language format does make sense, in this case.

Meanwhile, reports out of El Paso say that KHRO, a newcomer of sorts to the format, has dropped liberal talk for an undisclosed format. KHRO was never a player in the El Paso market, who's demographic makeup is roughly 80% Mexican origin, and it doesn't appear that they did a whole lot to promote the mostly automated format (though, rumor has it, they did allegedly carry at least one local show). As proof of their lack of promotion, the station's rather pathetic website has, since their sign-on earlier this year, consisted of a blank page, with only a solitary link to Air America Radio's website. And they expected this to be a success? Can't wait to see what their format will be next month, and the month after that, and so on and so on...

The continuing adventures of Air America

This weekend, Time Magazine announced their much-anticipated recipient of "Person of the Year" for 2006. The choice? You, silly. No seriously. It's you. And me. All of us. Or at least the ones who actively use the internet for things like blogging, MySpacing, YouTubing, Facebooking and whatever else. In short, the people have become the New Media, further pushing the 'professionals' into the background. A flurry of articles regarding Air America Radio over the weekend sheds some interesting light on this notion somewhat.

The blogosphere, including your favorite Liberal Talk Radio blog (ahem!), has been all over the goings-on at Air America for months, with traditional news sources giving a recap every so often, sometimes with actual fresh information provided. And the relationship between the open source internet media and the press do often create a neverending cycle of sorts.

Giving credit where credit is due, there was some original information given in major articles about the struggling network in articles from the New York Times, Newsweek and the Associated Press, though much of it has been floating around the blogosphere for several weeks. To their credit, though, the Newsweek and NYT articles are both examples of some of the better writing about Air America as of late. Both rely more on actual reporting and less on lazy bias or just repeating tired rumors and untruths. The AP article consists of five paragraphs of the same 0l', same ol', which we have more or less grown to expect.

Unfortunately, one problem with 'Web 2.0' is that the internet media often regurgitates relatively old information, creating an 'echo chamber effect'. The Drudge Report cited the Times article, and pulled out of it the tired rumor about Al Franken leaving his radio show. Drudge should just stick to reproducing GOP talking points releases and gossipy tidbits about catty celebrities, since that part of the Times article is just a regurgitation of what we already know, in essence creating that 'news echo'. Of course, look for the whole cycle to repeat itself, as more reports about Franken's radio retirement make the go-round once again. Gotta love Drudge.

As regular readers of LTR know, a sale agreement is still being hashed out, and due to the sensitive nature of the whole deal (not to mention the ridiculously secretive atmosphere of Air America itself), nothing has been officially announced as of yet. Spokeswoman Jaime Horn says the company had reached a tentative agreement with a buyer, but a final deal was not in place. Douglas Kreeger, an initial investor and former chief executive who has been rumored as of late to be one of the network's buyers, confirmed to the Times that there is “a signed letter of intent” and that he is “likely” to be a part. The lead equity position would be taken by Terry Kelly, of Madison, WI, a former board chairman and one of the network's original investors.

Kelly said that the investor group included a new strategic media partner he declined to name, and both men would not predict when a deal might come to fruition.

"Any number of things can happen," Mr. Kreeger said.

The article in Times is recommended reading, as it goes into more specifics about the troubles and trials of Air America. It also gives a good assessment of the entire format. Newsweek shows the many ways that the network screwed up, including being too top-heavy with executives, the lack of a program director, squabbles between staffers, the cancellation of shows such as Morning Sedition and Mike Malloy, and various front office clashes between people who saw strong business potential and ones who pushed it as merely a political cause.

As for the future of Air America, all connected see the future of the network in a positive light. Kreeger cites Air America's deal with XM Satellite Radio and the network's web site, which he said had "absolute untapped potential for 24/7 online streaming that has never been effectively monetized." "It will be up to us to really create compelling content," he said. Kelly agrees, saying he would like to see the new ownership group expand the Air America brand into other areas, such as television.

Kreeger disputes the idea that Air America “was a vanity project,” but acknowledged that things may be done differently in the future. “I have come to understand very clearly that the radio component of this requires a radio professional,” he said.

In closing, I'd just like to say that it is indeed an honor to be chosen as Time Magazine's "Person of the Year". I couldn't have done it without all of you. Thanks.

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