Air America has always been in a bit of a cash crunch, which shouldn't be much of a surprise. They were trying to do something that nobody else has done before -- create a network of radio shows that all shared the same theme, replacing an entire stations lineup with their own. To make matters worse, they tried to fill the air with something most of America doesn't want to hear: a whole lot of complaining. Air America has always been in a bit of a cash crunch, which shouldn't be much of a surprise. They were trying to do something that nobody else has done before -- create a network of radio shows that all shared the same theme, replacing an entire stations lineup with their own. To make matters worse, they tried to fill the air with something most of America doesn't want to hear: a whole lot of complaining.
I can't blame listeners for being turned off. I am very liberal, and I can't stand Air America. Al Franken isn't funny on the air, Jerry Springer says virtually the same thing every single day, and so does everybody else for that matter. "Bush is stupid", "Cheney is a criminal", "Rove runs the show". This is not news to half the country, we already know these things.
For being a progressive network, there is little to no progressive ideas or debate on AA. During the times that I've tuned in, I've never heard any host advocate an idea for changing the country. They all say John Kerry would have been a better president, but nobody will tell you what he would do different to qualify the claim. I know what the country has to do differently, as do most Democrats, but not the politicians, and not the people who have the soapbox.
Another problem is that AA didn't have enough variety. There are many people in the Democratic party that do not toe the line on every issue. In fact, the largest problem our party has had in the last decade has been agreeing about much of anything, but the network doesn't reflect that at all. If you've heard Springer for today, then you've heard Fraken, Rachel Maddow, and Jeanne Garofalo for tomorrow.
This is only made worse by having shows that run three hours, necessitated by the lack of diversity in the lineup. I dig Al Franken, even when he's not being funny (which is definitely the case on the radio) but even three hours of him is too much. Three hours is too much of anything.
I would also argue that Franken and Garofalo were poor choices to lead the network. Garofalo's primary calling is as an actress and comedian, and she is not particularly good at either. Franken doesn't bring any funny to the program either, so you'd do just as well to bring in a couple of random people off the street so long as they were Democrats and could talk for three hours straight (about anything.) A few opposing voices from the other side that have honest things to say and believe in their ideas would be nice, too.
Most radio programs break out because the host is either charismatic, or sensational. Howard Stern is sensational about everything -- though his radio audience is only about one-tenth its original size since moving over to satellite -- so he gets the numbers. He is also very charismatic. Rush Limbaugh is also a sensationalist (and asshole), so he draws big numbers. That's why people listen. It has nothing to do with conservative rhetoric being more popular than liberal, it's that people are entertained by wild and baseless rhetoric no matter where it comes from.
Limbaugh, like Stern, are entertainers. They are not political pundits, politicians, or even people who are informed. They are day-time talk-show hosts like Oprah, and Jerry Springer. They say wacky shit and have wacky hosts, so people tune in to see what they'll say and do next. It's as simple as that.
Springer sets himself apart in that he has been a Mayor before, and is a genuinely informed and intelligent person. If you have ever seen an interview with him in a normal setting, talking about world politics, you'd know right away that you're engaging someone who knows their game. It is a shocking contrast from the trashy talk-show-host that everyone knows him as. In all likelihood, Springer was going to retire from Air America in the near future to again run for public office anyway.
But conservatives, never one to leave a piece of news un-spun, are claiming that Air America's impending bankruptcy is a sign that nobody wants to hear the progressive message. This is simply not true, all you need to do is look at National Public Radio. Long considered a bastion of liberalism by the nazi-block, NPR's Morning Edition is the second most listened to show on the air (Rush is first) with 13,000,000 listeners (that's 13x the readership of the NY Times and 5.4x more people than Fox's Bill O'Reilly gets.)
The issue is not now and never has been about the "progressive" or liberal message. It's about reality TV and Rush's junk. Who can spew the most hate, and who postures the best. Air America could not and would not compete on that level, because it would have been lowering themselves, not raising the bar.
There is plenty of room on the radio dial for the progressive message, and eventually somebody will fill that void, but will it make any difference? Like Rush, not a chance.
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