Air America Radio is dead. Long live Air America Radio! The big news today is a mixture of good and bad for Air America Radio. The Washington Times reports that it has been rescued from bankruptcy, but it is losing its big-name talent, Al Franken:
Air America Radio was rescued from bankruptcy yesterday, but still faces the impending loss of Al Franken, its most popular talker.
The liberal network will be sold to Stephen Green, a Manhattan real estate investment mogul with heavy Democratic ties, including his brother Mark Green, who ran for mayor against Michael R. Bloomberg in 2001. The sale of the network — deemed a “personal investment” by the two brothers — will be completed in mid-February for an undisclosed sum.
Mr. Green is intent on bringing solvency to Air America, which has been troubled by flagging ratings, cash deficits and management turmoil since it was founded almost three years ago as a foil to popular conservative talk radio.
The network was often called “Err America” by critics.
“In the long run, content is king,” said Mr. Green, vowing to stabilize the network’s finances, beef up the talent roster and extend the Air America “brand” into other marketing or broadcast opportunities. The network’s weekly audience has been stuck at just under 2 million since the beginning — about one-tenth the number of listeners who tune in each week to conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh.
Al Franken’s replacement will be Thom Hartmann. Yeah, I said “Thom who?” But according to his webpage, Thom’s show has better ratings in Seattle than Rush Limbaugh. Now the challenge comes in matching or beating Limbaugh’s ratings across the U.S., and cannily competing with the many other successful conservative talk radio shows. Based on past performance, that will be a very difficult task.
I have listened to the local Air America radio station, and it is going markedly downhill. Two of the local radio hosts have left the show, and their replacements have been either lackluster or canned shows from elsewhere. I have listened to Air America Radio on the way to and from work, and I have written about my reactions before. I figured I was bravely investigating something that hardly anyone else was listening to, but I can’t stand listening to the local Air America radio station any more. I don’t like the attempted humor of the canned afternoon show, and the local morning show is dry and boring. I wish them the best of luck in their business, but I don’t hold out much hope that the new Air America will be a booming venture, even in this liberal city where hippies go to die.
If Air America Radio, and liberal radio in general, were able to compete well against conservative talk radio, it would do so. But three years and many millions of dollars and man-hours later, we see that it can’t compete. That is why I predict we will hear more people calling for a return to the Fairness Doctrine, the First Amendment’s protection of free speech notwithstanding. Assuming that the Fairness Doctrine isn’t implemented, liberal talk radio will continue to do lackluster business. The question is whether the Brothers Green will acknowledge that the free market just doesn’t like liberal talk radio much — or will they continue in the fantasy that just a little more money would really see it take off?
If so, they’re very typical of the liberal mindset.
UPDATE (2/7/2007 12:28:30 PM): The Smoking Gun website has reported that the buying price for Air America Radio was $4.25 million. Yep. The free market really supports liberal talk radio.