The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

20 June 2005

Bill Press Tries To Launch Syndicated Radio Program


Former "Crossfire" Host Not Burning Up Radio Dial

It's a sure sign of industry saturation: with liberal talk radio now the flavor of the month (despite the lack of results), every Progressive Peter or Socialist Sally who's ever walked a precinct, waved a sign, or run for town council, seems ready to kick off a syndicated talk program.

Announcements of new efforts, some by relatively unknown people, now seem to emerge ever more frequently.

We saw this in the early days of conservative radio's explosive growth period, where a large number of unqualified and uninteresting people, got national talk shows. Soon enough, however, the riff-raff was weeded out and they became distant memories.

One far better-known lefty, though, seems to be having an awfully tough time getting his national offering off the ground. Why is Bill Press facing so much resistance?

So far, only one station, in Akron, Ohio, is carrying "The Bill Press Show". Soon, SIRIUS will be picking it up for their left-wing talk channel (which will help only slightly), but otherwise, there are no takers.

According to reports, Press actually uses local identifiers such as station call letters, in a frank admission it's only heard there. From where is he broadcasting, though? Washington, Los Angeles, or did he relocate to Akron (which seems highly unlikely)?

One could argue that his program is too new to face judgment, with less than a month on the air so far, but with the kind of background Press has, it's a very bad sign.

With an extensive background in television and radio, Press has been in the business for decades.

He joined KABC-TV in 1980, ran the California Democratic Party from 1993-1996 and had stints on KABC radio, KFI, and WMAL/Washington as a talk host and news commentator. Recently he's worked as a fill-in host at KGO in San Francisco.

On television, he's known for CNN's "Crossfire" debate program as well as other shows on that network and at MSNBC. His columns appear weekly at WorldNetDaily as well.

He's been just about everywhere in the last three decades, that's exactly why the Radio Equalizer isn't willing to cut Press any slack.

Since syndicated radio programs spend months in the planning stages, usually a significant behind-the-scenes effort is made to secure stations for a major new national offering, especially when the host has major name recognition.

With that lead time, and the increasing number of liberal talk stations signing on this year, there's simply no way of justifying a "Bill Press Show" with this obvious lack of demand.

It would have been reasonable to expect at least a dozen stations on board for day one, with several more by now. Given Bill's extensive background, I think that's a pretty minimal requirement.

So, who exactly is behind the program? That's not easy to ascertain.

Press serves on the board of Democracy Radio, which recently sold the "Ed Schultz Show" to a former Clear Channel executive. Indications are that they're now developing his show. But there's no information on their site about it.

If it were a politician without radio experience launching a new show, it would make sense to test the waters in Akron first, before rolling out nationally.

With Press, however, you have a guy who's used to doing this every day for many years. There's no reason not to go all-out from the start.

That leaves a strong sense stations are simply choosing not to pick up his show. Radio industry observers, especially the liberal talk cheerleading squad, have been wondering aloud as to what's going on with the program.

Who would carry it? The morning slot chosen for Press is already claimed by other syndicated liberals, so where would he fit, unless run tape-delayed?

Only a few cities have more than one liberal talk station, leaving Press and the other newbies to fight for table scraps, unless they can force out other programming. That's known as competition, something foreign to the leftist ideology.

What's the verdict on his hosting abilities? Mixed: on radio, he hasn't fared particularly well, especially in Washington.

He seems to have had more staying power on cable news channels, however, even if some of his programs, like CNN's "Spin Room" were short-lived. I thought he did a decent job representing the liberal viewpoint on "Crossfire". Others disagreed.

Radio insiders tell me there have been problems during fill-in stints getting Press to jump on hot, breaking news stories, where he instead rambles on with boring topics. This inflexibility has been a source of frustration to producers and station managers.

For the new program, Press has embraced one of liberal talk's most annoying recent habits, hiring a co-host or sidekick. Christy Harvey of the Center For American Progress serves that role on "The Bill Press Show".

Since he's been on the air for years, why does he need this on-air crutch? Other liberal hosts have them because they lack radio broadcasting experience. What's his excuse?

How well things go from here is anyone's guess. Democracy Radio could very well stick with Press for the long run, but they can't force stations to carry him.

How quickly liberal talk radio has gone from few offerings, to a full-scale glut. Bill Press has fairly high name recognition levels, if he can't get his project off the ground, what will that mean for the other liberal aspirants?

Update: an Akron-based radio news reporter/anchor that I've known for many years, has been following the Press situation closely, including email conversations with him.

He says Press is indeed broadcasting from studios in Washington, even if listeners get the impression he's in Akron, given the local references. In addition, he's listened extensively and feels the show sounds rough around the edges.

I disagree with the idea Press is using Akron for "dress rehersals" while he gears up for a big national show. If he's not a local Akron host, then obviously, the show is available to any station that wants it. But they aren't grabbing it.

Word's been out in the industry about its syndication for quite some time. Press is a seasoned broadcast veteran, so there's no need for a lengthy trial run. None of this holds water when it comes to someone with the experience that Bill Press has accumulated.

I do see one way out of radio oblivion for him: if he impresses Clear Channel, they could bump more of the remaining Air America programming on their stations, opting for Bill instead for the early morning shift. So far, they haven't indicated this would happen.

(Welcome TVNewser and DCRTV readers)


  • I find the presence of a sidekick an annoying practice because I frequently find the sidekick is straining to interject something. The Al Franken show is an example of this. I think a show like the Majority Report works better since they are equal participants and they are frequently panning on each other which adds some humor.

    However, I do like it when the host engages his employees (producers, engineers or news people) in conversation which happens on shows such as Don Imus and Bennett in the Mornings.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 19 June, 2005 05:04  

  • Anon, great comments, maybe I will write an article on the co-host/ sidekick subject.

    By Blogger Brian Maloney, at 19 June, 2005 12:32  

  • Dick:

    I guess it's just a sign of how low the standards are for liberal talk shows. On the conservative side, if this ever happened, it would be very embarrassing.

    Press has major national experience in political talk radio and television. There's no reason why a dozen or more stations wouldn't have been there for the first day.

    By Blogger Brian Maloney, at 19 June, 2005 14:03  

  • I listened to Bill Press in Los Angeles back when he used to have a weekend show on KFI. Though I am a conservative, I thought he was very good, one of the smartest liberals around.

    The sidekick issue is interesting, and I hope Brian will discuss it. I agree it's kind of annoying (ever listened to Bill O'Reilly's show?).

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 19 June, 2005 15:07  

  • According to the link you supplied this show hasn't even launched its national syndication yet. Anyone who reads you piece wouldn't know that though. Brian, come on now. Your standards are usually higher than this.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 19 June, 2005 17:39  

  • Doing local ID's for Akron is an admission that he's only on one station, huh? The show hasn't even launched yet. Geeesch. I really have to think one of two things, either 1) you deliberately try to mislead by suggesting this show has failed in the marketplace when in fact it has not even launched yet; or 2) you don't do even elementary research.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 19 June, 2005 20:04  

  • Anon, the link supplied gives the date for the SIRIUS debut. That's a start, but he needs some bona fide radio stations.

    See the new update to my story, added above. Radio trade publications ran stories about his new program some time back. They had every opportunity to jump on board from the start, but didn't.

    Anon, one thing to consider is the confusion even Press's fans are noting over this program. See the new link in the update, which takes you to an industry discussion site.

    Details have been sparse, especially from Democracy Radio.

    If anyone did want to take it, who the heck would they call? Liberals are not known for marketing skills!

    By Blogger Brian Maloney, at 19 June, 2005 23:17  

  • To the other anon:

    I think the ones who are truly misleading are those who claim the show hasn't been yet launched into national syndication.

    Clearly it has been available for other stations since the day the program began. He's not in Akron, he's in Washington, anyone could pick up the program if they wanted.

    I've never seen a conservative syndicated program launch without at least a small number of stations on day one.

    At the time Michael Medved's national show began, I was working at the same Seattle station. He had a considerable list of affiliates from day one.

    That's what's standard, otherwise the program isn't launched to begin with.

    By Blogger Brian Maloney, at 19 June, 2005 23:23  

  • I could be wrong, but if you include Sirius, that's two more stations than you, Brian. Or are you on air somewhere that your profile doesn't point out?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 20 June, 2005 01:02  

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