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Air America Crashes, No Surprise

With the announcement of Air America’s second, final trip into bankruptcy, an important chapter comes to a close. When Sheldon and Anita Drobny first floated the idea in 2003, liberal radio guys like me said, “finally, we can take back talk radio from the right.” When it launched in 2004, I had a daily show on Sirius satellite and a handful of AM’s. Then I connected with Hal Ginsberg and we bought KRXA in 2005 and launched a progressive talk lineup without Air America shows. We have carried a few since then–Thom Hartmann and Ring of Fire.

But most of their shows overpromised and under-delivered. The suits knew how to raise money from investors ($65 million in the first 2 years) but were failures as programmers, ad salesmen, and radio operators.

I was on the Air America payroll as a sub host for 3.5 years, mostly for Thom and Jon Elliott. I did a week for Lionel that was one of the weirdest episodes in my wacky “career” in radio. Even though I was on their roster, I could never get the PD of the year to talk about adding my daily program to their offerings. They were stuck on a 24-hour model that died in the 1950’s, and star-struck by Al Franken, who wasn’t a very good radio host.

After the bankruptcy, Charlie Kireker took over, and eventually hired a pair of Clear Channel guys from DC who knew radio, but weren’t progressives. They made Montel their marqee talent (replacing Thom!) and now they wonder why they crashed it. They forgot the stench they made with Jerry Springer.

The real damage is that lefty talk is now stigmatized by the failure of Air America. I continue to believe there is a big audience available to progressives who are radio pros, and that we shouldn’t surrender the AM band to the right. But AAR’s business failure will be the roadblock in front of any one who tries to launch new progressive shows. Yes, Franken’s in the Senate and Rachel’s on TV–but in our cars, the right still rules.