Air America, the progressive talk radio network that was created to try and provide ideological counter programming to conservative talk, has now officially bitten the dust:
Air America, the long-suffering progressive talk radio network, abruptly shut down on Thursday, bowing to what it called a “very difficult economic environment.”
The chairman of Air America Media, Charlie Kireker, said in a statement that the company would file under Chapter 7 bankruptcy “to carry out an orderly winding-down of the business.”
In a troubled time for advertising-driven media businesses, “our painstaking search for new investors has come close several times right up into this week but ultimately fell short of success,” Mr. Kireker said.
The closing did not come as a surprise. Air America, which began six years ago and has 100 affiliated stations, cycled through a number of owners and never found its financial footing. It first filed for bankruptcy protection in 2006 but managed to stay on the air.
“The fact of the matter was, it was always a very challenging business proposition, and it never had the right management,” said Sam Seder, who hosted programs on Air America until last year.
Although it lacked a substantial audience, the network catapulted a number of progressive media personalities into stardom, most notably Rachel Maddow, who now anchors a prime-time program on the cable news channel MSNBC.
Al Franken, now a Democratic senator from Minnesota, hosted an Air America show from 2004 to 2007, before running for office.
From the onset, Air America faced several problems. Liberals/progressive (choose the word that fits your political bias) wanted a countervoice to conservative talk. But some Air America shows, particularly the early ones, were not especially good broadcast PRODUCT.
The key to talk radio is to find a host who is not just opinionated but who knows how to pace a program, is an entertainer, and can have something original about his take on events or his personality (for better or for worse) who sets him apart. Talk show hosts need to be more than just talkers; they must be savvy broadcasters.
Air America also chose to essentially clone the talk radio model used by Rush Limbaugh and other conservative talkers who copy Limbaug. It was more counter conservative talk radio than original talk radio that happened to be progressive.
And look some of the top progressive talkers: Rachael Maddow, Ed Schultz, Stephanie Miller. Love them or hate them, they are broadcasting talents much as Limbaugh and Glenn Beck — putting ideology aside — are top broadcasters and showmen.
I met several talk radio executives during my travels over the past several years doing my shows. They all said the same thing: progressive talk AS A PRODUCT had simply not caught on. Progressives will say it’s all due to ownership. Conservatives will say it’s all due to an ideology people didn’t like. But, in reality, it has to do with the feel of a radio show, the talent that runs it, the pacing and whether it’s an original voice…
….or a counter echo.
Several other prominent talk radio personalities who worked at Air America, including Randi Rhodes and Thom Hartmann, remain on the radio, but without the network affiliation. “It would be a shame if the world sees the failure of Air America as representing the failure of progressive talk radio,” said Michael Harrison, the editor of Talkers Magazine, a talk radio publication.
So some progressive talkers have audiences. But Air America’s seeming premise — a network to provide a counter ideological voice to progressives and others — wasn’t buttressed in some cases by on the air talent that could propel the network into general listenership ratings where people who hated the message tuned in due to the colorful and/or original messenger.
UPDATE: A wide variety of blog viewpoints can be read HERE.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.