The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

19 March 2006

Phoenix, Liberal Talk Radio, New Times


Conspiracy-Wielding Phoenix Lib Talk Backers Scolded

From a very unlikely place, Air America Radio's Phoenix backers faced a print media scolding this week.

Aimed right at the tinfoil hat-wearing crowd, the "progressive" weekly tabloid Phoenix New Times cut right through the rampant conspiracy theories now used to explain Air America's Valley of the Sun demise.

While remaining firmly on the left, the paper essentially advised former staffers and fans to get a fast grip on reality.

Here's an excerpt:

The Bird thinks that the only thing more unfortunate than the death of Air America Phoenix is the whining and bitch-fighting that's taken place since the liberal radio station's funeral.

Former employees of Air America Phoenix are as busy slinging mud and pointing fingers as they are scrambling to relaunch their hyper-liberal chat station with one of those "save our sunk ship" fund-raising sites -- behavior that The Bird thought liberal radio types were way above.

Wrong. The guys from Air America's Phoenix affiliate -- home to famed chat hosts Charles "Fearless Talk Radio" Goyette and lefty Ed Schultz, and found on the AM dial at KXXT 1010 until March 1, when the station's new owners, Denver-based religious broadcasters Communicom, switched to an all-Jesus format -- are taking the sort of self-pitying "Mom, he hit me!" stance so popular with, well, conservative Christians.

"Air America's Phoenix station was taken off the air by a Christian broadcasting company," according to the group's woe-is-me Web site (, which goes on to beg for $500,000 in donations from former listeners.

Please. As much as The Bird enjoys a good conspiracy theory, and as much as it enjoys going after big-bucks-corrupted Christians, even a pretend pigeon can tell that this is merely a case of someone with a bigger pile of dough buying out a little guy who couldn't say no.

Air America Phoenix's former station manager Robert J. Christy agrees.

"There's no conspiracy here," he moaned to The Bird. "S**t happens. Like a radio station gets offered a ton of money and decides to sell. There's nothing surprising about that. Everyone knew what was happening."

Not so, said former Air America employee Jeff Farias, who produced the station's Mike Newcomb Show and co-hosted a weekend chat fest with The Bird's favorite legislative lefty, state Representative Kyrsten Sinema (see "Howl of Sanity," March 9). "We were as shocked as our listeners. We found out the night we went off the air, when Ed Schultz announced on his show that he was going off the air in Phoenix."

"B*****t!" Christy squawked to this foul fowl. "These naive people that I gave paychecks to think they're smarter than I am. They don't know what it takes to put up a successful broadcasting business. Fifty-dollar donations from listeners aren't enough to finance a station -- the bank will throw their ass out the door!"

Christy hasn't given up, however, as the story continues:

But the former Air America-ers won't need a bank, if all goes according to their plan. "We're going to find a rich Democrat," Farias explained to The Bird. "We've already found a station in town that we can lease for a year. We had a meeting with our attorneys, and now we're looking for that wealthy Dem who wants to bankroll a radio station."

Hey, if these guys can get liberal talk radio back on the air in Phoenix, the Radio Equalizer thinks they should go for it. And if they've found a way to make it viable, who are we to stop them?

But why bother to re-affiliate with Air America?

From our perspective, it appeared KXXT's local programming garnered the most publicity and listener support. So why not stick with what worked best?

We'll be watching this one.

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  • Putting the ideology aside, the fact is that those who want to put a "liberal" talk radio station on the air are operating in a far different climate from the one extant in 1988 when Rush hit it big.

    In 1988, owners of AM stations had seen their fortunes falter due to FM. But most still had ratings of some sort and wanting to salvage something before music radio on AM died altogether.

    Now, most owners of all but the biggest AM stations in a market the size of Phoenix have abandoned attempts to garner audiences sufficient to be included in the Arbitrons. They have evolved a successful business model brokering time -- be it to preachers, financial husters, ethnic/foreign language producers, vitamin peddlers, or vanity radio shows. This is the impediment to Air America's return to the Phoenix airwaves. If there were the risk-taking environment present in 1988, and if most AM owners were still interested in actual ratings, AAR would have no trouble getting back on in PHX-town.

    By the way, conspiracy theories have historically served as great fuel for talk radio careers, giving one the aura of a fighting underdog, which Americans historically love. Howard Stern built his rep on getting fired by NBC and claiming the suits were out to get him. NBC Radio died soon after he left. Coincidence? Of course, but that didn't stop Stern from making the most of it.
    Limbaugh made a big deal out of getting fired in KC for his conservative commentaries, by a man who later managed KIRO.

    Failure is often the prelude to success.

    By Blogger smedge, at 19 March, 2006 21:09  

  • Smedge -

    It's all about the dough. Any broadcaster is going to go with the least amount of overhead that generates the most amount of revenue.

    The fact is that Air America suffers from a dismal financial model that was doomed for failure from the start. They don't react to market demands, they gather and raise money to force their programming into markets that simply can't sustain them and then struggle to stay afloat without compromising their inflated growth.

    It's not about the 'timing'. Fox News Radio started up not too long ago and they aren't (no one in radio is) having the kinds of problems that AAR is having. I have a hard time believing that if Fox were losing money in radio, that they would stick with it and continue to expand it. Newt Gingrich launched his new show this week on something like 350 stations. And if his program fails in some markets, no one is going to bail him out on ideological principle.

    You seem to be laying the failure of Air America on EVERYTHING except for...Air America! If it's not the timing, then it's the AM radio climate that isn't interested in maximizing draw and dollars.

    Rush Limbaugh didn't fill a niche that was being sought after, he created one. It seems odd to suggest that it was more reasonable to expect success for Rush where there was no evidence that it would succeed then Air America's current struggle to succeed in a business that has already been proven and established.

    What will it take for people to admit that there simply isn't a demand for fringe, negative, America-bashing, left-wing rhetoric and conspiracy theories? Liberals have stated for as long as I can remember (before AAR came along) that conservatives dominated talk-radio because liberals were intellectuals who liked to read instead. Maybe someone should have listened to that.

    By Blogger OttO, at 20 March, 2006 02:37  

  • What smedge said seems to be correct. Some stations can make more money with lower ratings, by selling time , rather than just selling ads on programs that they play. So when a station
    like KXXT in Phoenix changed ownership/formats, it doesn't mean that there wasn't a market for liberal talk radio, or that the liberal talk format could not make money in Phoenix. The people running the station (KXXT) reported that they were profitable within the first 9 months on the air there.

    As far as Otto's comparison to Fox news radio; He says that if Fox was loosing money with Fox news radio programming, he'd have a hard time believing they would stick with it, and expand it. I wouldn't have a hard time believing that. How long did it take for Fox-News TV to make money? How much did Fox have to put into that venture, before they saw a return on their investment?

    I also disagree with Otto's view that liberal talk radio is America-bashing and conspiracy theories for some fringe element. I find many of the shows to be very informative, and helpful in sifting through misinformation promulgated by other media sources.

    Regarding Brian's article on KXXT:
    I think it would be fair to say that not everyone knew exactly what would happen after the change in ownership at KXXT. The new owners gave Bob Christy extra time to find a new home for the programming in Phoenix. Something he has not yet been able to do. There was a thread at
    That discussed a special announcement at the listener appreciation party February 28th. Some had speculated this would be when a new home for the format would be announced. Obviously that didn't end up being the case, though it certainly wasn't clear beforehand, what the final outcome would be.

    By Blogger Ezsuds81, at 20 March, 2006 03:20  

  • ezsuds81 asked:

    "How long did it take for Fox-News TV to make money? How much did Fox have to put into that venture, before they saw a return on their investment?"

    From a brief scan of its financial history, it appears that Fox News became operationally profitable about 4-1/2 years after launching in September 1996, which I believe is pretty fast in the cable-TV world given its much higher costs.

    The time required to achieve profitability in radio is much shorter (9 months if AAR's Phoenix affiliate's claims of having done so is any indication, and probably 12-24 months more typically.) For AAR itself, it would be much easier to tell how they're doing if they would simply make their financial data public.

    This has got to be some kind of record for the comments on Brian's blog - four on-topic posts in a row (so far!) without the usual appearance of the "inequalizers."

    By Blogger Ironman, at 20 March, 2006 10:12  

  • In regards to Fox News, I understand that you don't come out of the gate on top. That wasn't my point. There is a difference, however, between steady (and in their case, phenomenal) growth that achieves or exceeds business plans...and going backwards, struggling to stay in markets and avoid shrinking shares and relying on bail-outs to stay in business! My point was that AAR problems are not a reflection of the 'AM radio climate' but are UNIQUE to AAR!

    As far as liberal hate radio, I'm sure not all liberal radio is negative and conspiratorial, but I've listened to AAR quite regularly and it was depressing. Unlike my favorite conservative shows, AAR programs were constantly painting a bleak (and frankly, not accurate) picture of America. Rampant cynicism and fly-by-the-seat of your pants accusations are not very much fun to listen to and people certainly aren't going to tune in to Mike "Bush Crime Family" Malloy or Janeane Garofalo for thier deep insights!

    If their programming was attractive and competitive, we wouldn't be here posting on these discussion boards right now.

    By Blogger OttO, at 20 March, 2006 11:12  

  • To Ironman, building a talk radio operation from scratch takes longer to become profitable than a put-the-puzzle-together syndication outlet. KABC in Los Angeles took nearly a decade after its 1960 founding to turn the corner. I know of one talk radio station -- not run by ideologues of any stripe -- that went through bankruptcy reorganization and 12 years of red ink before the plug was finally pulled.

    As far as the problems being unique to AAR -- there's simply too much in the big picture to say that. Stations that run little or no AAR programming have the same issues. The typical liberal talker is a mix of AAR and Jones product, with perhaps a dash of Lionel from WOR thrown in. So you can't focus in on AAR's lineup and say "Aha! That's the problem!" I see nothing to indicate that non-AAR liberal talk is doing wildly better overall.

    Ed Schultz may be getting cleared live over Randi Rhodes in many markets, but that is more a function of affiliate relations strong-arming than of the relative strength of their programs with listeners. The non-AAR stuff got thrown off KXXT along with the AAR stuff.

    As for Fox News Radio, I'm sure it became profitable more quickly than Fox News TV, but the reason has to do with their business model. The company went to Clear Channel and cut a company-wide deal to get on all their conservative news-talkers, by offering to produce network news for less cost (less commercial inventory) than ABC Radio. Thus it obtains instant clearance for its commercials in most of the big markets. Hard not to make a profit under those circumstances.

    Unfortunately, you get what you pay for. Fox does not seem to have as many radio reporters in the field covering big stories the way ABC and CBS do. They seem to rely a lot on recycling opinion and sound bites from Fox talk shows to fill out the network news reports. Some conservative talkers have gone so far as to pick up secondary affiliations with other networks including CBS (ACK! THE DAN RATHER NETWORK!) to make up for the perceived shortcomings of the Fox News Radio product.

    By Blogger smedge, at 20 March, 2006 18:07  

  • B.M. is such a dope. He goes and puts up a cartoon pic of Montgomery Burns, not realizing that said voice of Burns, Harry Shearer, is guesting tonight on the Majority Report radio show on Air America. Ahh, the greatness of satellite radio. And the pettiness of B.M.

    By Blogger WHT, at 20 March, 2006 22:15  

  • Looks like six comments is the limit before they arrive....


    Good points all. I think what you observed with Fox News Radio's content though isn't necessarily a unique weakness. I believe the various news organizations are migrating to editorial policies where they have heavier coverage of fewer stories. Given Fox's shorter institutional life, it's just more obvious - they just don't have the large staffs that their much older competitors have accumulated over the years.

    By Blogger Ironman, at 20 March, 2006 22:29  

  • One would think from all of the people who want to make excuses for AAR that the network would be king of the hill if it weren't for this and that. I'm sorry, but I'm not aware of any serious radio venture 1. using the same near-socialistic model that AAR uses and 2. moved so aggressively so early with no track record to fall back on and no pure market demand for their product and 3. attempt to preserve or even grow their business while taking donations and multi-million dollar bail-outs in order to continue that model. Yeah, we can use Ma & Pa's Bumstuck, Iowa AM farmers almanac station as a comparison, but come on...AAR radio had more opportunities than most (if not all of the) other random programming and stations that are struggling. Their arrogance is doing them in. They should have tried starting out in 3 to 6 major metro markets and then grow systematcially from there, based on financial common sense and demand. It's expected that they would pre-decide where they are going to expand to but then they go for it hell or high water! I'm not aware of other programming doing this and especially succeeding at it. And the hosts appear to be getting paid to fail and AAR might be the only business in the free world that thinks it can give it's people raises while watching the bottom drop.

    I guess I should just say that AAR is the epitome of a successful radio venture and the stupid people should continue to air them, fund them and listen to them. ;o)

    By Blogger OttO, at 20 March, 2006 23:13  

  • What's with this serious talk? This is the supreme-o lampoon-ready place.

    Who cares about all the dour, pinch-faced right-winger talk show hosts without a sense of humor?

    but I've listened to AAR quite regularly and it was depressing. Unlike my favorite conservative shows, AAR programs were constantly painting a bleak (and frankly, not accurate) picture of America.

    Please, name one righty host who has a sense of comedic timing approaching that of anything the left has to offer; this includes any sidekicks. Corn-pone humor does not count.

    Oh yeah, I think I get it. By painting a glowing portrait of America, you can't be bothered to say anything remotely entertaining, or funny. Somebody might think you hate the USA.

    By Blogger WHT, at 21 March, 2006 00:34  

  • WHT: "Please, name one righty host who has a sense of comedic timing approaching that of anything the left has to offer; this includes any sidekicks. Corn-pone humor does not count."

    Who said anything about comedy? Is this why comedians gravitate towards ventures like AAR? I know there are a couple of comedians on AAR, but have they ever expressed anything funny outside of their serious political views? I thought Al Franken was funny when he sat there and insulted John O'Neil 10 feet away from him and refused to engage him directly because he admitted that he was far more ingnorant of what he was talking about than O'Neil was (and then continued to slander the man who was eager to join the discussion). That may have been when he blew up and threw a choai because he couldn't find his notes he needed in order to respond to a challenge!

    I'm not talking about comedy, I'm talking about attitude. I honestly thought that AAR would be entertaining, but it was just cynical and depressing. Apparently, many others share my distaste of AAR.

    WHT: "Oh yeah, I think I get it. By painting a glowing portrait of America, you can't be bothered to say anything remotely entertaining, or funny. Somebody might think you hate the USA."

    How would we know? I've never heard one "glowing portrait of America" projected on AAR (and the obigatory "I love America, BUT..." doesn't count. EVERYTHING is 'blame America first' even when that rhetoric is sympathetic to enemies and detractors across the world. Why would I want to listen to sour propoganda that constantly and endlessly wants to tell me how awful everything is in this country and even in the world because of this country?

    These people are entitled to their views and their individual styles but acknowledging that isn't a defense against criticism like mine. I don't understand why people get defensive about this. It is what it is and if it bothers you, then why try to paint a pretty picture over it?

    By Blogger OttO, at 21 March, 2006 16:53  

  • "We were as shocked as our listeners. We found out the night we went off the air, when Ed Schultz announced on his show that he was going off the air in Phoenix."

    That is an obvious lie. The sale of the station had been announced months earlier. In late January, MSNBC reported (unfortunately the article has expired):

    "The employees are hanging on because they hope Christy can get a deal done to buy a new station to keep Air America alive in the Valley."

    The new owners allowed Christy a month to find a new station. During the last few weeks, almost all of the local shows mentioned the impending demise of the network in the Valley of the Sun.

    By Blogger Pat, at 22 March, 2006 17:25  

  • Brian, All,

    It would appear that AAR will be back on the air in Phoenix:

    Air America Radio has found a new home in the Valley.

    The liberal-talk network will debut Monday on KPHX-AM (1480).

    Nova M Radio, a company headed by Valley radio personality Mike Newcomb and Air America founders Sheldon and Anita Drobny, will lease the radio station.

    Newcomb's nationally syndicated show will air from 6 to 9 a.m., followed by Air America programming.

    Air America previously was heard on KXXT-AM (1010), but the station changed ownership and switched formats this month.

    "There was a palpable sense of loss in the community," said Newcomb, who takes over as general manager at KPHX.

    "To pull this off is a great victory."

    KPHX 1480 AM is a former Phoenix affiliate of All Comedy Radio, having dropped the format in favor of a "Music of Your Life" adult standards programming in February. AAR has been negotiating with the station since late last year. The station has had a history of low ratings.


    Recent Interview with Mike Newcomb

    Nova M Radio

    Sheldon Drobny on saving AAR in Phoenix

    Announcement on Save Air America Phoenix

    By Blogger Ironman, at 28 March, 2006 08:58  

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