The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

11 June 2005

More Liberal Talk Radio Weirdness


Conflicting Purchase Reports Like Earlier Lib Troubles

Remember a year ago, when Air America's programming was abruptly yanked off the air in Los Angeles and Chicago, after financial troubles were revealed, including bounced checks?

Air America has since gone out of its way to put those unpleasant memories into the distant past. But they're not the only liberal talk radio game in town, with other syndication companies in the mix.

The somewhat mysterious Democracy Radio has also been involved in this effort, with ownership of the Fargo, North Dakota-based Ed Schultz show, in partnership with Denver-based Jones Radio Networks.

Friday, a bigger question mark emerged: who exactly owns Schultz's program? Just during the course of one day, the answer appeared to change several times.

Schultz, a former conservative Fargo talker turned national liberal host, has been better able to secure station affiliates than Air America's talkers, using JRN's more aggressive approaches.

In addition, many of the more recent liberal talk stations to emerge, have done so without Air America's programming, using Schultz and other "progressives" developed by smaller outfits.

Earlier in the week, industry eyebrows were raised, when it was reported that infamous former Clear Channel head honcho Randy Michaels was purchasing the show from Democracy Radio.

This is from All Access at the time of the announcement:

DEMOCRACY RADIO has spun off THE ED SCHULTZ SHOW FARGO, ND-based syndicated show to RADIOACTIVE LLC President RANDY MICHAELS (former CLEAR CHANNEL CEO). DEMOCRACY RADIO plans to return to its core mission of incubating radio talent.

THE ED SCHULTZ SHOW was cleared on 95 stations, 8 of the top 10 markets, in only 17 months of syndication. JONES RADIO NETWORKS will continue to rep the show for sales.

DEMOCRACY RADIO CEO TOM ATHANS said, "We are proud to have pioneered the new Progressive Talk format and to have changed the radio industry by proving this format can succeed.

DEMOCRACY RADIO has accomplished its first mission, now we will return to our core mission, to incubate and launch new progressive voices on AMERICA's airwaves.

Having Michaels involved in liberal talk seemed strange, because Clear Channel's involvement in that format occurred after his departure.

But industry rumors have persisted for at least two months that the company might spin off some or all of its liberal talk stations to his new radio firm, wouldn't this fit quite well into that plan?

On Friday, however, it all took a very strange turn, as a report by the typically cautious Radio and Records trade publication said the deal was likely off:

Is Democracy Radio's Sale Of The Ed Shultz Show About To Implode?

Insiders familiar with the proposed sale of the nationally syndicated liberal talk show to Randy Michaels tell R&R that the deal is absolutely "not done," and that Democracy Radio may have killed any possibility of it going forward by prematurely announcing the transaction earlier this week.

Democracy Radio released an official announcement to the press on Wednesday saying it was spinning off Schultz' program to a new division of Michaels' company, Radioactive. The release included glowing quotes about the pending sale from Michaels, Democracy Radio CEO Tom Athans and even from Schultz himself.

However, sources close to the deal have told R&R that, in fact, a deal has not been reached and that last-minute snags have slowed, if not actually stopped, the sale from happening.

Did Democracy Radio's premature news release threaten the deal? Later Friday, without explanation as to the earlier report's origin, the story was changed to this:

Although Democracy Radio's announcement earlier this week that Randy Michaels' company, Radioactive, would soon purchase the syndicated talk show may have been premature, reliable sources close to the negotiations tell R&R that the deal now appears to be back on track.

R&R has learned that other, unnamed parties involved — beyond Michaels and Democracy Radio — had not yet signed off on the deal when Democracy announced the sale.

But word came down late Friday afternoon that progress had been made in final negotiations and that approvals from all parties involved should happen by next week and perhaps as early as Monday.

This was an unusual approach for Radio and Records, normally they stay out of the fray and stick to press releases, so they must have been hearing from conflicting sources.

Doesn't this come across like amateur hour in the business world? Who sends news releases to media organizations, gloating about a sale that's not yet completed? And why are there so many parties involved in the purchase of a small, syndicated radio program?

Could it be Michaels is primarily lending his name to this, rather than sinking substantial amounts of his own money into it? And why waste money on liberal talk, when there still aren't many signs of ratings or revenue growth?

Something tells the Radio Equalizer there may be more twists and turns ahead, in this latest chapter in what will be a thin volume of liberal talk's short, dubious history.

Update: Bore America also covered this, with additional points and links.


  • Problem I have with Ed's show is it is primarily a call in show. Most people who call in to radio seem interested in hearing their own voices on the radio and often don't have anything insightful to say.

    Here in Portland he was the only non Air America radio show though many listeners didn't realize it and he made little effort to clarify it.

    Portland recently added another guy name Tom Hartman who moved here from Vermont after filling in for Randi Rhodes. He is not part of Air America lineup either though I think he may be in a few other markets.

    The only 2 programs I like on Air America are Al Franken and Mike Malloy. Al Franken not because I think he is funny but he because has a lot of good guests. I like Malloy because he is funny and passionate and rips on Republicans.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11 June, 2005 02:25  

  • It'll be interesting to see how well Schultz does head to head with Randi Rhodes.

    Hiring Beverly Tilden as marketing director at AAR is another interesting development.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11 June, 2005 11:30  

  • >I like Malloy because he is funny and >passionate and rips on Republicans.

    Yeah, he sure is "funny and passionate." And a real "ripper" too. Last night, while turning the dial, I caught Malloy saying that he was certain that Bush (or more specifically the "Bush Crime Family") was behind 9/11.

    The Libs will have to do much better than this black helicopter shtick if they are ever going to succeed in talk radio.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11 June, 2005 13:22  

  • I have dialed by Malloy's show while driving. One evening I turned him off when he refered to the Grand Canyon as God's sewer or cesspool. That was more than I could handle.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11 June, 2005 17:24  

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