Al Franken Departure, Air America Network Purchase
Newsweek, New York Times Publish AAR 'Exclusives'
*** With Major Update Below ***
Exclusive To The Radio Equalizer
Flash: Al Franken is likely to leave Air America Radio in order to run for the US Senate!
Flash: Air America Radio is likely to be bailed out by new buyers!
If you'll excuse your Radio Equalizer for having a good chuckle, sometimes reading the mainstream media's "exclusives" is a bit too much to take. If the blogosphere beats these guys by weeks or even months to a story, can they still consider it a scoop?
That's why we found no reason not to slap our own "exclusive" tag on this one. After all, new details regarding Air America's buyers are included below, which the New York Times and Newsweek have missed.
And with his weird, almost paranoid aversion to blogs, Matt Drudge is usually the worst in this regard. Hence his Sunday night headline:
AL FRANKEN LIKELY TO DEPART 'AIR AMERICA'; TELLS ASSOCIATES HE'S EYEING RUN FOR SENATE...
Earlier, it even had his trademark "developing..." tag added. Is it really news only when one of the weekly magazines runs with it?
A month ago, based on public statements from his affiliates, we ran with a story that Franken was expected to exit the airwaves on December 8. As Al's been visiting Iraq, he hasn't actually done a show since then, but we do expect him to return to airwaves at least long enough to say goodbye. Whether that on- air adios will last a few days or longer isn't clear.
Less than three years after launch, Air America's last hope lies in finding a white knight.
By Matthew Philips
Updated: 2:57 p.m. ET Dec 17, 2006
Dec. 17, 2006 - After filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in October, liberal talk radio network Air America has spent the past two months looking for someone to buy it out of the $40 million hole it has dug itself since launching in March 2004. With reports of potential buyers ranging from a group of investors led by two Showtime executives, to a small obscure media company, this week the network finally confirmed that a letter of intent has been signed by an undisclosed potential buyer, and that negotiations have now turned to drafting a purchase agreement to divvy up the $20 million of debt the broadcaster owes to a roster of more than 100 creditors.
It’s still anyone’s guess as to what shape Air America will take if and when it re-emerges under new ownership, especially amid reports that one of its biggest stars, comedian Al Franken, may leave the network to launch a campaign for the Democratic nomination to challenge Minnesota Republican Sen. Norm Coleman in 2008. (Franken is currently on a USO tour in Iraq and Afghanistan, and couldn't be reached for comment.) The prevailing sense among media watchers, though, is that Air America is a failed enterprise. The only question is why.
A look at Air America’s bankruptcy filings offers insight into an impatient network that seemed bent on catching up to such industry mainstays as Rush Limbaugh practically overnight.
Air America certainly spent like the big boys. Included among its $4 million of assets is a combined $1.2 million in broadcast and recording equipment, computers and office furniture. It still owes $327,000 in back rent on the sprawling 2,200-square-foot studio in New York's Chelsea area it built in 2005, as well as $1.4 million in wage and severance claims to on-air talent and high-priced executives. Franken alone is owed more than $360,000.
While the Newsweek piece actually does contain a number of good points, especially regarding the infighting, we'd like to point out that Air America has outspent the big boys by far.
We're aware of no other instance of an assistant being paid more than $600,000 a year, as has Franken executive producer Billy Kimball. And Franken's own $2 million salary is about ten times higher than that of many other syndicated hosts with a similar audience reach.
As far as Franken's future, the conventional wisdom is that he'd like to run for the US Senate from Minnesota, but we also sense he would jump at the chance to host his own cable talk show, especially since that would allow him to continue the lavish lifestyle to which he's increasingly grown accustomed.
Breathing down Newsweek's neck is this fresh New York Times piece, which is where the Drudge link takes his readers. While the paper rehashes some of what we reported on December 7 regarding Air America's potential buyers, it misses the key development: the name of the network's new "strategic media partner":
After Bankruptcy Filing, Recriminations Fly at Air America
By ELIZABETH JENSEN and LIA MILLER
In its search for a new chief executive this past summer, Air America Radio interviewed seasoned media executives in an effort to revive the faltering network. One interview took a bizarre turn, however, when the executive got into a political argument with Randi Rhodes, one of the network’s on-air hosts.
“I laughed and said, ‘You sound like Republican talking points,’ ” Ms. Rhodes recalled.
At Air America, business and politics always mixed, and that was the problem, critics contend. Begun with an onslaught of publicity in spring 2004 as an alternative to right-wing talk radio, the network is given some of the credit by its supporters for having helped achieve the Democrats’ Congressional election victory in November.
Detractors label the liberal network’s programming as combative, one-note and emotional. At least its business dealings seem to fit that last description. Even before Air America and its corporate parent, Piquant L.L.C., sought bankruptcy protection on Oct. 13, its management was engulfed in a series of financial crises. The search for new investors and managers has been marred by infighting among those who want the network to succeed, according to people in the organization.
In recent weeks, Air America, which has its headquarters in New York and reaches about 2.4 million listeners weekly, has suffered the defection of a handful of its more than 80 affiliated stations and soon faces the likely departure of its most visible host, Al Franken, even as it cobbles together a plan to emerge from Chapter 11.
A possible solution surfaced on Friday. Douglas Kreeger, an initial investor and former chief executive who stabilized the network in its early months, said in a telephone interview that there is “a signed letter of intent” for a new group to take over the network and that he is “likely” to be a part. The lead equity position would be taken by Terence F. Kelly, of Madison, Wis., also an Air America investor from the beginning and a former board chairman.
Mr. Kelly said in a separate interview that the investor group included a new strategic media partner he declined to name, and both men would not predict when a deal might come to fruition.
Other than Bill Press, who in their right mind would be crazy enough to argue that Air America played a role in this year's Democrat Party election victory? We think it happened despite their participation.
And here at the Radio Equalizer, we believe that a purchase deal has already been reached, contrary to what the NYT is reporting. Including participation by Kreeger and the Showtime executives named in our previous report, we've learned that the network's primary "media partner" is the French family, which owns the New York- based Regional News Network.
From Wikipedia, here's more on their current television operation:
WRNN-TV broadcasts a schedule of mainly infomercials and home shopping from Rye Brook, New York with two and a half hours of news programs weekdays, some hourly one minute news updates, and enough children's programs to meet FCC Educational / Informational (E/I) license requirements. The main, full-power signal broadcasts in digital only on UHF channel 48.
It first went on the air in December 15, 1985 as WTZA, an independent station serving the mid-upper Hudson Valley region of New York State (the cities of Kingston, Poughkeepsie and Newburgh and region) and peripherally (by virtue of the outer range of their signal) the Albany area and the northern suburbs of New York City. The area is one of the biggest in the country to lack its own TV stations due to being in the signal range of both the New York and Albany stations.
The RNN talk set, where nightly programming is hosted from, in Rye Brook, NY. July 2006.
The weather portion of the newscast was unique in that it would give full forecasts for both New York City and Albany even though the station was not on-air in either city. WTZA would be relatively successful given the underserved nature of its coverage area. In 1993, station founder Ed Swyer (an Albany-area commercial developer) would encounter financial difficulties and late that year would sell the station to Richard French Sr., a Westchester County businessman.
Though WTZA was still doing well in its market, the station had begun to struggle prior to the sale due to the station being shut out of many syndicated programs by larger stations in New York and Albany. In early 1995, most general entertainment programming was replaced with infomercials with news remaining and that October the call letters were changed to WRNN and its focus shifted to mostly news and infomercials with a lean going southward towards the French's home base of Westchester County.
After a 1999 reduction of news programming to only weekday evening hours, the station began to target New York City even more. For example, weather forecasts are not given for points north of Kingston even though its license is there, and more emphasis on New York City news is given than in the past.
Oddly enough, the station applied for must-carry in the entire Albany market several years after the station stopped covering the area outside of politics.
So the "media partner" is a home shopping channel? That's how it appears, but a look at RNN's fairly crude website shows its news programming takes a leftist political approach, with a great deal of union backing.
But is anyone watching? We wonder how many people can actually pick up the station.
We still believe that the new Air America Radio will primarily focus on developing its website, including the addition of video segments. It doesn't appear that more than a few of the network's current shows will remain, but we do expect AAR's syndicated Thom Hartmann Show to slide into Franken's place.
From here, the left's ongoing mission is to convince the public that liberal radio can still succeed, despite Air America's failure. But beyond a couple of moderate hits, we've seen no evidence to support this claim. If it were the case, the recent libtalk format changes would not have taken place.
After years of trying out every lefty under the sun, isn't it time to admit this just isn't going to work?
ALSO: the AP joins in on the fun. And more from Sister Toldjah and NewsBusters.
UPDATE: Franken is not returning to the airwaves anytime soon, we now think he may not even say goodbye to his listeners.
AAR Bellringer, I'm Rich: David A Lunde
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