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Air America Afloat After Sink Or Swim Birth

by Steve Young

Air America Needs A Farm Team ASAP

This week HBO debuted the documentary, "Left of the Dial," a look at the early, stumbling days of the progressive radio network, Air America, warts and all, though with all the warts the "all" was difficult to find. The doc which originally might have been only a amiable birthday present to the progressive network (Air America, not HBO) turned out to be a dramatic and most of the time, anguished look at an infant broadcasting entity born to parents who had little comprehension of how radio works. Kind of the way regular infants are born to regular parents.

With the irascible Randi Rhodes as the only experienced radio talent on the network and the comedy names (Al Franken, Janeane Garafalo, et al) filling out the AA roster, it would be difficult to think that anything but a comedy...of errors might be in the offing.

While there's no doubt the network was launched out of political and capitalistic ambition, it offers lessons aplenty for the real world on how enthusiasm alone does not a success make. The "throw them in the water to teach them babies to swim" approach may have worked at the network, though many of the babies have since drown.

Things have changed in the year since the traumatic launch. Most of the original investors (millionaire sleaze Evan Cohen making the perfect bad guy shyster) have uninvested and CEO's have come and gone, though Franken, Garafalo and the most of the talent have remained. Air America broadcast outlets have sprung up all over the country and the original bounced-check debacles that closed stations in Chicago and Los Angeles a year ago have given way to renewed ventures including Progressive Talk KTLK 1150 AM in L.A.

Questions remain, not so much for the network, which now seems to be a syndication steam roller, but for those who wish to create a viable profit-making adversary to the conservative talk radio behemoth. For progressive talk radio to thrive, even in L.A., where liberalness actually does thrive, liberally, liberals must look to their conservative competition, to hear how to do it.

Both L.A.'sKFI and KABC, homes of syndication Lords of Loud giants, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity respectively, have found that promoting national talent is only a part of the success formula. At both stations, the key to attracting and, more importantly, keeping the local listener, local talent must be developed. KFI's Bill Handel and John & Ken, KABC's Doug McIntire, Larry Elder, Al Rantel, Mr. KABC (who was once Mr. KFI), all deal with national stories, but readily slide into local issues. California budget deficits, immigration, the mayoral race, these are things that the national big boys don't discuss much, but even if they did, could never have the insight that a local possesses just by being here.

John & Ken, who were as much responsible for getting the recall on the ballot as were the paid Wal-mart parking lot signature gatherers, have lately been using their free of charge soapbox to help bring the Governor's initiatives on the ballot in an effort to circumvent the Democratic legislative majority. Currently there's absolutely no talk radio that does anything but pamper the Gov. Obviously the governor need not go on shows where he believes he won't be coddled as he did when he avoided KABC's Ken Minyard even though his chief advisor, Representative David Drier promised to bring him on. With Minyard since retired, there's been no L.A. radio voices to challenge Arnold.

This isn't to say that L.A. talk has just laid down for every Republican as John & Ken generated enough voter ire to nearly unseat Drier last November. But even this seemingly anti-Republican campaign centered not on Republicans but around the illegal immigrant issue which actually cuts across political lines. In most every political instance L.A. radio might as well been Republican radio.

With at least fifty percent of Los Angeles listeners spending more time screaming at their radio and other than another person in the car or room, no one hears. L.A. needs more than one soap box to have their opinion heard without being belittled and hung up on by a dictatorial adversary. Our local libs need a dictatorial ally to belittle and hang up on callers they disagree with. And don't give me NPR. L.A. needs another soapbox that doesn't put even those in agreement to sleep.


Well, it seems as though the local lib outlet has picked up the concept quicker that a 14 year- old boy picks up the puberty, as Progressive Talk KTLK AM 1150 begins to fertilize their homegrown eggs by giving birth to their own local talent. While the introduction of a local weekend lineup of Johnny Wendell, Cary Harrison and some guy who will appear a bit later in this column's credits, doesn't mean the babies will automatically grow into strapping leftist Hannitys and Limbaughs or even somewhere-in-between John & Kens, it does mean that progressive radio seems to be learning from their earlier Air America reproduction missteps. L.A.'s local lefties start hanging up on right April 9.

Steve Young, author of "Great Failures of the Extremely Successful" takes the KTLK 1150AM mike every Saturday, 1-4 PM beginning April 9th. His blog can be found at

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Albion Monitor March 31, 2005 (

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