The Al Franken Decade Was Over 16 Years Ago


Air America files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Previous Air America blogging from many of your favorite Hit and Runners here and here and here and here.

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  1. Will Air America ever learn that Al Franken is boring as hell to listen to?

    Randi Rhodes is the only host remotely interesting on that network. Everything else is a sleep-inducing preaching to the converted.

  2. Personally, I always found Sam Seder pretty entertaining as well. And I’d much rather listen to him on the radio than watch him on TV or see his “movies”

  3. So it isn’t the lefty philosophy that has doomed AA, but the boring delivery? This is strange, considering most entertainers (comedians included) hail from the left.

    I can’t think of anyone more boring than Sean Hannity, and yet…

  4. OK, having been in management at a college radio station, I can definitely say that Al Franken and most at AA sound just like the kids I used to oversee. It’s was painful to listen to then (except when I was high) and it’s painful today (except when I’m high).

  5. I can’t think of anyone more boring than Sean Hannity, and yet…

    While I haven’t heard much AA, I have heard Hannity and if anything describes “a sleep-inducing preaching to the converted” better than his show I can’t imagine what it could be. Yet his numbers (and those of the other right-wing radio blowhards) are reportedly stratospheric. Are(were?) the AA shows really that much worse, or is there just no sizeable left-wing radio market?

  6. Dead air america is finally as bankrupt as their political ideals have always been. Please excuse the grammer of the previous sentence as I am laughing real hard.

  7. It’s been said that lefty radio is doomed at the start because modern liberals are almost completely humorless. They take themselves way too seriously and manage to be both shrill and depressing.

    That said, I find both Rush and Hannity pretty pointless, too. They have this extremely irritating tendency to field calls from fawning suck-ass fans who have nothing interesting to say.

    One time, though, I caught a show by a guy named Mark Levin, and it totally cracked me up. The guy’s delivery is perfect. And he comes across as being so over-the-top right-wing that I wonder if this is just an act. I really recommend a listen.

  8. ed:
    right wingers will watch anything that validates their view. Lefties expect their entertainment to be entertaining. Aside from that, I agree that Air America was no fun to listen to.

  9. Few left wingers know am radio even exists. And the tripe AA offered was no different than the spin the MSM was already providing. It’s great to see Franken fail, while the big fat idiot rakes in his 20+ million a year.

  10. My favorite bit from the story:

    “Nobody likes filing for bankruptcy,” Elberg said in a statement. “However, this move will enable us to concentrate on informing and entertaining our audience during the coming months.”

    Yes, all five of them …

  11. “right wingers will watch anything that validates their view. Lefties expect their entertainment to be entertaining.” -Lamar

    The popularity of right-wing radio is due to the stupidity/shallowness/simpleness of the right wingers. The failure of left-wing radio is due to the intelligence/depth/sophistication of the left wingers. And you wonder why left wing radio fails.

    Unfortunately, the continued failure of Air America coupled with a possible takeover of the legislative branch by the Demecrats brings visions of dancing “Fairness” doctrines to my head. If that comes to pass, maybe Bush will finally discover that he has a pen and it can write “Nay” too! Probably too much to hope for.


  12. So it isn’t the lefty philosophy that has doomed AA, but the boring delivery? This is strange, considering most entertainers (comedians included) hail from the left.

    Yes… yes and a big phat YES!

    Air America has been broken since day one. The only thing that amazes me is that it’s lasted… like Salon Magazine.

    Air America has been a classic case of how not to start a radio station, and no I’m not taking pleasure in this because they’re a bunch of lefties, I’m taking pleasure in this because their business model was completely wrong-headed.

    Air America was the brainchild of a couple of wealthy liberals who thought the market was ready for a progressive counter (or counterpoint) to the wildly successful conservative radio talk-shows of the 90’s. Fair enough. Unfortunately, conservative radio started the way a good business radio enterprise should: from the bottom up. The rules go a little something like this:

    1. Start a radio show.
    2. Get listeners which begets advertisers… become profitable.
    3. Continue a good radio show, which people like which begets more listeners.
    4. Get syndicated on a couple of stations. (from here, you begin to know your listeners and their demographic)
    5. Continue good broadcasting which begets more listeners->more advertising.
    6. Eventually become a nationally syndicated show and from there, create a radio “network”.

    Air America made a business deal to syndicate their show nationwide before anyone sat down before a mic or they truly ‘knew’ their audience. Get expensive celebrities who are politically motivated to host the show. Start broadcasting. Hope for the best.

    There are other points which have been pointed out that I think have some serious merit. Some (although not all) of the conservative commentators are trained broadcasters, Rush Limbaugh being the primary example. They were broadcasters first, having significant experience in the medium that is radio, then they were conservative commentators second. This should not be overlooked.

    It makes a difference. I’ve listened to both Rush Limbaugh and Al Franken respectively. Rush Limbaugh, regardless of what he’s saying is punchy, quick-witted, has a good broadcast voice, understands radio timing and, despite what some people say is almost never rude to his callers. He also understood the interesting nuances of grabbing an audience and making his show interesting. He knew that a show gets boring if all the host has are people that call in and agree. 3 hours of “Yeah, what you just said” gets real old. Rush Limbaugh was well known for giving liberal callers who disagreed with him more air time than the conservatives that just called in and said “uhh, yeah, what you said”. He also had a well established call screening process which is another thing that cannot be underestimated in any radio program.

    You can have a good call-in show with a great topic, but lously call screening, and it gets real painful, real fast.

    Al Franken, on the other hand is not a trained broadcaster. He’s painful to listen to, nasally, and boooooooooooooooring. My wife, the avowed liberal in the family can’t stand to listen to him, not because she doesn’t agree with him, but because he’s just painful to listen to. She never got to the place where she could agree or disagree with him because he couldn’t hold her attention. It’s just bad radio. Ironically, Al Franken, a career comedy writer is about the un-wittiest, un-punchiest guy on the planet. Rush Limbaugh on the other hand had a razor sharp wit on the radio.

    Air America should have started the way Rush Limbaugh did. That way, they could have worked out the bugs and maybe settled on a good broadcaster who clicked with audiences. Liberals have traditionally ruled the television and hollywood entertainment arenas, surely they could find a bright, funny, sharp witted, punchy comedian who was on top of the issues…. but they chose Al Franken. Doomed.

  13. I recently started listening to AA, and my first thought was, “regardless of your political beliefs, this is terrible radio.”

    1. Most hosts (especially the Young Turks in the morning) made derogatory statements about the Republicans in power with no apparent awareness that the same thing could (and was) said about the Dems when they were in power for 40+ years. Remember, talk radio took off when the right kept saying “look at the insanity and corruption, when we do things it will be different” and there was an outside chance after 40 years in the wilderness that they were right. Now the left is saying “look at the insanity and corruption, when we do things it will be different” and not even my semi-lefty wife believes that. Why not? The people who lead the Dems when they still had power are the ones who lead it now. 14 years, unlike 40, with little turnover at the top, is unlikely to produce less corruption, just different corruption.

    2. Randy Rhodes had the winning trifecta of Jersey accent, shrill voice, and whiny attitude.

    3. The left is such a large coalition of so many groups, the “we disagree with the Repubs” message is the only one they could agree on.

    4. AA targets the same audience as NPR. Tough to compete with a government-supported (once, then near, now soon to be again) monopoly.

  14. Echoing some other comments, doesn’t this kind of reflect well on liberals?

    There are some very successful conservative commentators that are just as bad as AA was (and I heard it, it was bad). And even the entertaining conservatives are brain dead and corrosive to the kind of centrism you see on blogs like this one.

  15. It’s simple, if people like it they go watch/listen/support items. If they don’t, they just ignore it.

    The whole Liberals being X,Y, and Z than Conservatives to explain why Air America is ridiculous. Let’s just face facts, the reason why AA is failing because very few people are interested in it.

  16. Legate:

    You beat me to it. Yeah, AA was doomed from the start because they were indeed competing with NPR, which can exist indefinitely on government funding.

    I was listening to NPR the other day (my wife insists on playing it in the kitchen). They had young male “anarchist” on the phone talking about a protest. The female host gently prodded the young man to describe his being tazered by the police, and I swear to God, the pussy starting CRYING! Crying like a girl! It’s one thing if the dude was like “Yeah, I was on the street mixing it up, and some pig zapped me, and it FUCKING FELT GREAT!” But no. He had to cry like he was on the Oprah couch. No balls. That is pretty much NPR in a nutshell.

  17. Bad radio, which Air America is, combined with a horrible concept, doomed them from the start.

    Madison Avenue types aren’t stupid.

    If you want to sell all natural herbal suppliments which claim to enlarge your penis our improve your sexual stamina, or aluminum siding, you’ve gotta find the right market.

    Rush managed. AA, not so much.

  18. Are(were?) the AA shows really that much worse, or is there just no sizeable left-wing radio market?

    Chicagotom. To the first part: Yes. To the second part, I’m not sure, but I believe ‘yes’.

    There are definitely some nuances about radio audience demographics that I can’t comment with authority because I just don’t know.

    NPR is a good example of ‘leftish’ radio and they have listeners. However, do they have ‘enough’ listeners to be profitable? That’s hard to say because they don’t operate on a traditional ‘live or die by the market’ strategy.

    However, because NPR does produce enough ‘striaght’ news, they attract other non-left listeners– ie they’ve widened their audience a bit. I can say that anecdotally, eveery NPR staffer listens to Air America and reads Salon.

    There are successful left leaning shows such as The Daily Show, which are punchy and quick-witted, so why not radio? I’m not really sure. What I am sure about is Air America has the wrong personalities at the controls, and as I stated in my previous post: they started from the top-down, which almost never works.

    In the case of Shawn Hannity, try to see through the rehetoric, and listen objectively to the quality of the broadcast itself. He’s good at what he does. He produces a fast-paced and lively show.

    Air America produces complete sleepers. I saw a TV broadcast of Al Franken on the air, and I swore it was some kind of ‘public-access’ tripe produced by total amateurs.

  19. I’ll give NPR fairly good grades for their hard-news coverage. An alert listener can catch the subtle lefty spin* that has been honed to perfection over the years, but by and large they seem at least to be trying, sometimes painfully, to achieve “balance.”

    *A recent example from Foleygate: Several times over a couple days they referred to the Washington Times (and its call for Hastert’s resignation) as the “conservative” Washington Times (fair enough). However, the Washington Post is rarely if ever called the “liberal” Washington Post. Subtle, mostly harmless, but there all the same.

  20. It was just a flawed attempt. There’s certainly room for more leftish broadcasters out there. I thought they were doomed from the beginning, simply because they didn’t really understand the medium. Obviously, any statement here or elsewhere that people on the left don’t go for shrill talk is totally laughable. If you really buy into one stereotype for one party and one for the other–meaning that all people in this country fall into exactly two personality types–well, there’s not much that I can do for you. Three hundred million people, two viewpoints. Uh, huh.

    Of course, what we really need are more libertarian radio shows 🙂 There’s a few. Boortz is sometimes libertarian, and, of course, there’s Penn Jillete’s show.

  21. Ed —

    That’s not the most convincing example of bias I’ve ever heard. Saying the Washington Post is the “lefty” equivalent of Sun Myung Moon’s run-at-a-loss newsletter is like saying that CNN should be called the “liberal” counterpart to the Sean Hannity Show. Just because they have the word “Washington” in their names doesn’t mean they’re equivalent opposites.

  22. I agree Air America was a snooze. But how does that explain Pacifica’s survival?

    I feel the same of Limbaugh and Hannity, etc. Perhaps is was simply a matter of momentum and simple demographic dominance. There are tons of radio stations completely devoted to boring conservative crap, and seem to survive well enough.

    Another thing to consider: radio formats genrally have a very short lifespan and can change on a whim. The nativists howl everytime their favorite pop station, presumed to have been popular and viable, begins broadcasting in Spanish.

    Perhaps it’s partly a case of putting the cart before the horse. My guess is that the presumably “liberal” Daily Show is driven by the desire to deliver laughs rather than ideology. In fact, contra to some earlier sentiment, I find very few “conservative” comic entertainers that are actually funny at being conservative.

  23. There’s something self-perpetuating about a really successful radio program. Look how long some run, even past the point where they are novel or even very good. Air America just never reached that point, in my opinion.

    I thought Limbaugh was more palatable when Clinton was in office. He obviously doesn’t entirely believe what he spouts, and it’s more obvious under the current administration. He’s pretty polished, though, even though I don’t listen to him, myself. Much more so than the Fox guys, Glenn Beck, or loonies like Michael Savage.

    Heck, even in the nonpolitical arena, the same thing happens. Is Stern really that good anymore? I got tired of him years ago. He’ll still be on when I’m a senior citizen.

    Paul Harvey just passed his first century of broadcasting, by the way. Congratulations, Paul!

  24. Let’s correct Paul’s formula first:

    1. Start a radio show.

    Not so fast. Ed McLaughlin and the investors behind Limbaugh first identified a felt need that wasn’t being filled by the market: talk radio with a conservative slant. Several things aligned to allow them to exploit this as a market opportunity. Namely:

    a.) The FCC’s dumping of the Fairness Doctrine, which allowed broadcasters to have a program with a host who wasn’t neutral or balanced by a co-host with a differing opinion.

    b.) The cratering of AM ratings that led ABC radio, as then was, to want to dump its anemic national daytime feed and sell the space to an outside producer. This cratering was an artifact of the FCC’s regulation changes that mandated that car manufacturers stop making AM-only radio receivers the default standard feature in their products. Once FM availability in cars hit a tipping point, FM stations were able to get good ratings in “drive time” and actually start making money, in some markets for the first time ever.

    c.) Cheap satellite delivery of programs. Once enough birds were in orbit, syndicators could do live shows without breaking the bank.

    Then they could start their show. In Limbaugh’s case, they recruited someone who had succeeded in Sacremento, CA. Before they went “live” on their initial 56 stations, Rush did a local show on WABC New York for a short while.

    2. Get listeners which begets advertisers… become profitable.

    The Limbaugh show was offered to stations on a barter arrangement. The national feed had commercials, but the local station dropped in its own ads that it sold itself. So there was no cost to running the program other than that of generating the signal and operating the board. Since it was running in a day-part that wasn’t drawing flies, it was a win/win for both network and station. AA, on the other hand, had to resort to paying stations cash to take the program.

    3. Continue a good radio show, which people like which begets more listeners.

    Right, except read “popular” for “good.”

    4. Get syndicated on a couple of stations. (from here, you begin to know your listeners and their demographic)

    This is the tough part for a new network. AM having rebounded from the hit it took in the 80s, there are fewer stations in the desperate straits that the ABC TalkRadio affiliates were in circa 1987. The News/Talk/Sports mix of many AMs in the late 80s and 90s was the only real alternative to FM music stations for making money. Air a News-heavy show when folks wake up and drive to work, some local or syndicated talk for a few hours, follow it with 3 hours of Rush, then let your local “Rush clone” do for local issues what the Big Man does for national ones. During TV prime time, switch to sports-play-by-play or talk. After the post-game show, keep the transmitter warm by sending out the overnight syndicated stuff: Larry King BITD, then Art Bell and the Guy Who Took Over Art’s Show.

    Where I live, the local Newspaper-owned AM was getting so pummelled in the dayparts by a competitor airing Limbaugh, a Limbaugh-clone and the Limbaugh clone’s regular fill-ins, that they lured the fill-ins away and canned their MSM oriented day-hosts, one of whom landed on her feet at the State Public Radio Network.

    AA never aired in our market, which has 2 powerful AM signals pushing a conservative line, another smaller one with more religious-minded talkers, and two-African American-oriented AM stations that do talk. There are also 2 Christian-talk FMers and two NPR FM affiliates, one that runs local interview/talk and one that concentrates on the national NPR shows. If they had found a willing affiliate, there’s no guarantee that listeners sympathetic to their POV would desert the several outlets already serving them.

    The radio market has also change between the launch of EIB and that of AA. All-sports talk hadn’t happened yet, nor Radio Disney, nor Bloomberg-style all-business radio. Then there’s Sirius, XM and MP3 players. It’s not enough to be good enough to attract some audience. You’ve got to garner more than the prospective alternative. This AA was never able to do.

    5. Continue good broadcasting which begets more listeners->more advertising.

    6. Eventually become a nationally syndicated show and from there, create a radio “network”.

    Actually, the syndicators create the network. But dominating a market will bring you to their attention, and several made a stab at rivalling Rush. On the right there were Michael Reagan, Ollie North, G. Gordon Liddy. From “the Left” (or the Center) came Tom Leykis and Michael Jackson. (No, not that one.) They had varying degrees of success, but the “celebrity” hosts: Mario Cuomo, Jim Hightower – flopped.

    AA or any other competitor would have been wiser to scout out good broadcasters who happened to agree with their POV, instead of plopping celebrity-libs like Franken and Garafolo in front of mikes. I actually have enjoyed both performers on SNL and in films, but it might’ve been smarter to lure someone with radio expertise – Harry Shearer comes to mind – to their outfit. I understand that Rhodes was a broadcaster in FL. I’ve never heard her, but she seems to have some fanbase. One problem AA must have had is that FM talkers like Stern and the other shock-jock imitators, and even longtime broadcasters like Don Imus, did partly fit the anti-Limbaugh niche the declared progressive voices were trying to reach. NPR covered the rest of them. Why stop listening to Talk Of The Nation to try to tune in an AA program – complete with those awful commercials! – on some decrepit AM coffeepot?

    (radio fan)

  25. Kevrob:

    I read your post with interest. I’m not sure if you ‘corrected’ my formula as much as you expanded upon it. Appreciated, nonetheless.

    According to Rush Limbaugh himself, regarding the EIB network, as Rush was opening in more and more stations (markets) around the country, he was creating a buzz in the talk-show host circuit, and Larry King (being, you know, Larry King) would ‘act’ like he didn’t know who Rush Limbaugh was because there was no ‘network’. He was simply a popular host being broadcast live on a large number of stations. In response to this, Rush Limbaugh ‘invented’ the EIB network to satisfy Larry King’s feigned ignorance as to who this ‘johnny-come-lately’ was.

    Anyway, fwiw.

  26. Paul, kevrob, Por Libertate:

    You guys are fucking smart, it’s impossible for me no to be impressed. Thanks. The rest of you are just so-so (just kidding).

    Rush Limbaugh’s show is most entertaining when he’s off playing golf somewhere and Walter Williams is guest host. He has a down to earth, common sense way of explaining his libertarian point of view and is also very funny.

  27. Boortz cleaned Hannity’s clock in Atlanta. In fact, Boortz was the reason the step-child station could afford to hire Hannity to begin with. I’m surprised they’re good buddies now, considering Hannity is an bible thumping idiot ( in character at least). Boortz doesn’t suffer fools much, and although he and Walter Williams are philosophically very close, Boortz would be revulsed at Williams’ unapolagetic smoking.

  28. FWIW – I haven’t listened to Rush or others (Hannity, Savage, Franken, etc) in years, but it’s always seemed to me the basic difference between Franken and Rush is that Rush would at least admit Republican Senator from state X, or even the Republican President, was going against basic conservative principles.

    I have yet to see Franken (and honestly don’t listen enough to say this strongly) say anything bad about the Dems. The party loyalty seems to die on TV or Radio – it seems they need to stick (like Randi Rhodes) to the ideas and beliefs themselves, instead of consistently arguing party politics.

    This is true with Stewart as well – he laughs at everyone even though the slant is obvious. Given three hours a day in which to speak, if he lost his principle on where the jokes seem to be founded and only existed for a “party” instead of a consistent philosphy, he would probably fail as well.

  29. Air America is going down the tubes, bad business model and all. But that doesn’t change the fact that Al Franken had one accurate point to make: Rush Limbaugh IS a big, fat idiot. Too bad that was teh cover of the book and the guy had absolutely nothing of value to add.

    Normally, I think ad hominem attacks are for people with no real point to make. But in Rush’s case I am forced to make an exception due to the incredible… um… weight of the argument.

    But Franken is just as big a loser. For every offensive action there is an opposite and equally flatulent reaction.

  30. I agree Air America was a snooze. But how does that explain Pacifica’s survival?

    Well, it doesn’t hurt that Pacifica gets taxpayer funding (via the CPB).

  31. This is true with Stewart as well – he laughs at everyone even though the slant is obvious. Given three hours a day in which to speak, if he lost his principle on where the jokes seem to be founded and only existed for a “party” instead of a consistent philosphy, he would probably fail as well.

    Stewart is clearly liberal, but he’s smart enough to understand that being liberal all the time would get old fast; he knows that his real target for mockery is not conservatives per se — though he barely even tries to hide his views on the current administration anymore — but the media. Whether you’re a conservative or liberal, you can agree that the MSM sucks. And while the “Bush is stupid” or the “Kerry is French” or whatever storyline never changes, there’s always some new idiocy from the MSM.

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