The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

25 May 2006

Air America Budget Cuts, Al Franken, Jim Wiggett, Rob Glaser


For Interim CEO, It's Chainsaw Massacre Time

*** Exclusive to the Radio Equalizer ***

By Brian Maloney

Air America Radio's acting CEO has been ordered to either cut millions from the bloated network's budget or condemn the left- wing talk radio experiment to the ash heap of history, the Radio Equalizer has exclusively learned.

Taking marching orders from RealNetworks CEO Rob Glaser, who also oversees and often funds Air America parent Piquant LLC, interim head Jim Wiggett is in a surprisingly tough position.

If at least $5 million can't be sliced away soon, it could finally be curtains for Franken & Co.

According to a long-standing, reliable source who has supplied documented evidence, the clock is ticking on these coming changes.

Despite all of the potential fat just waiting to be trimmed, sadly, much of this network excess is untouchable, thanks to long-term contracts. Constantly- escalating budgetary "needs" just for the Al Franken and Randi Rhodes shows alone consume funds faster than Al Gore can burn jet fuel heading to his so- called "environmentalist" conferences.

Who says liberals don't know how to function in the private sector? At concocting self- serving and generally outrageous employment deals, Air America staffers have been brilliant.

It's enough to make an Enron exec salivate!

Unfortunately, it takes a village to create a viable leftist radio network, but its on- air hosts have long shared an every- man- for- himself attitude.

While to a major corporation, $5 million in cuts might sound like chicken feed, for what is still essentially a start- up operation, it represents almost 20% of Air America's annual $26 million operating budget.

To fill the huge revenue gaps, Air America has long turned to its sugar daddies: billionaire George Soros, insurance magnate Peter Lewis and especially in recent times, Glaser himself.

What has made the RealNetworks founder finally lay down the law is unclear, but the best theory is simply that he was tired of making trips to the ATM to pay the network's bills.

Even before the recent removal of free- spending left- wing activist and CEO Danny Goldberg, Wiggett was already working behind the scenes, assessing the network's sorry state of affairs.

From long- distance conversations with top Piquant executives, the picture that emerged must have frightened the longtime corporate suit: between back- stabbing managers, greedy hosts and expense accounts bloated beyond anything seen in modern corporate history, the prospect of fixing this sinking ship must seem overwhelming.

But don't let Wiggett's San Francisco address fool you: he's got a resume that could make Tom DeLay, G Gordon Liddy or Baroness Thatcher's son Sir Mark blush. From his corporate bio, just to watch how fast the needle moves into the red zone, try running this excerpt through your lefty PC analyzer:

Before founding Jackson Hole Group, Jim held a number of prominent senior executive positions. As Executive Vice President for the Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH) Retail Group, Jim provided leadership to each of the 10 operating companies within the Group.

In addition to his overall operational responsibilities, Jim provided consulting support to the individual management teams and coaching to the key executives. He also provided consulting support to the non-retail organizations of LVMH including the LVMH/DeBeers collaboration, Phillips dePury & Luxembourg, Europatweb and Groupe Arnault.

During his tenure, Jim participated in several mergers and acquisitions, including the acquisition of Duty Free Shops (DFS) by LVMH. At DFS, Jim was Executive Vice President with functional responsibilities for Human Resources, Administration, Information Technology, Merchandise Planning, Business Process Planning and Logistics.

Yes, that's DeBeers, of South African diamond cartel fame. Those guys make the Halliburton gang look like Berkeley hippies, circa 1968. He's also had key roles at brokerage firm Chuck Schwab and the fur- selling R H Macy Corporation (now Federated Department Stores). Running with this crowd, there's no doubt Wiggett has had many cocktail parties in Atherton and Woodside to visit.

So ingrained is the free- spending atmosphere at Air America, however, that even during this dramatic belt- tightening process, staffers have still continued to push fresh budget- busting proposals.

Until you stop shaking food into the tank, does a goldfish know when to stop eating?

Inside the operation, there's simply been no recognition that additional expenditures need to at least indirectly result in increased revenue. If there's money, or even when there isn't, let's spend, spend and spend some more!

So who gets hit by these cutbacks? Essentially, anything not nailed to the office floor, via long- term employment or other types of contracts. In addition, once time runs out on deals still in force today, further cuts will be made.

Early signs of the new plan's implementation emerged this week, when it was announced that Air America will now handle affiliate relations in- house, rather than continuing to outsource the task to Envision Networks. The downside: this makes it even harder to potentially pick up new stations down the road.

This plan means reductions in obvious places like evening and weekend programming, but some surprises are coming, as well. Air America's on- air hosts have employment terms that vary wildly, with some absolutely sucking the place dry and others making (at least by comparison) far more modest salaries.

Rhodes and Franken provide particular challenges for any budget- cutter charged with making the company viable. Not only have they fought for incredibly high salaries and outrageous perks, but they've also successfully insisted on huge, contractually- mandated staffing levels for their shows.

For the moment, we're going to leave out specific names of staffers that may be cut, so that those potentially affected can first find out internally where they stand with the higher- ups, rather than read it on this website. Of course, it's quite possible some are already aware of what's coming.

We will say this, however: when asked where cutbacks should be made, managers have often disagreed. That's because the company is full of factions and fiefdoms they'd like to protect.

One big surprise: a host widely considered by lefty fans to be a rising star within the operation may now be in trouble. What happened?

From here, Air America Radio has two paths to choose from:

A) It can immediately change its doomed free- spending mentality and accept drastic cuts that give it at least a chance at survival.

B) Or, it can go ahead and croak now.

Of course, these changes don't address Air America's other huge problem: beyond Soros handouts and money from political groups, from where future advertising revenues are going to emerge.

Welcome to the world of free- market capitalism, guys, glad you could finally join the rest of us!

Elsewhere: from the NRO Media Blog, even as Hastert threatens a suit, ABC still won't back off of its phony "investigation" story.

Thanks to The Anchoress, Jonah Goldberg at National Review's The Corner and Ace Of Spades for link support today.

Your Amazon orders that begin with clicks here, regardless of your final purchases, are vital to supporting this site's efforts. Thanks again!

Failures, Drain, Bitter: David A Lunde for the Radio Equalizer, Infidels, Businesswoman Janeane: Pete at IHillary for the Radio Equalizer


  • It would one thing if AAR were a loss leader like the NY Post which brings people into the conservative fold via tabloid stories and sports, but AAR simply preaches to the choir, and is therefore nothing but a money pit.

    I wonder if your buddy Sam Seder's days are numbered, as Janeane has already stated on-air that she is no longer on the payroll.

    By Blogger Brett, at 25 May, 2006 07:57  

  • ScareAmerica is no different than the Democrat party and it's spending habits in and out of Congress. The only thing missing is the demand that the "Stingy" American Taxpayer pick up ScareAmerica's tab and increase their budget exponentially.

    As you know, Liberal ideas will work if they are fueled with enough taxpayer money. They just continue to prove the opposite.

    By Blogger PCD, at 25 May, 2006 09:12  

  • seriously, what are you going to write about if AAR folds? look at your own posts. the only stories that get a decent number of responses are stories about AAR. if they shut their doors, you'll have to find another line of work, so i'm actually rooting against them. i don't even listen to it anyway, so it'll be no sweat to me.

    By Blogger liberal outlaw, at 25 May, 2006 10:52  

  • Wow! Hats off, Brian!

    It would seem that the situation for AAR's hard-working, but non-marquee employees is simply not good. It's important for them to remember now that there are other opportunities well worth pursuing - and it would be better to do so now than after the axe falls, given the necessary time requirements of securing a more stable future.

    One question though - one wonders that since Franken's and Rhodes' contracts specify a certain level of personal staff for each, who has control over who fills these positions and how much they're paid? Is it AAR or is it the host? I ask only because it would seem to be an obvious potential source of cost cutting that would reduce the potential impact to non-host-assigned employees.

    By Blogger Ironman, at 25 May, 2006 11:12  

  • "According to a long-standing, reliable source who has supplied documented evidence,..."

    Let's see the evidence Brian. Until you do all we see is speculation on your part.

    By Blogger waaah123, at 25 May, 2006 13:01  

  • seriously, what are you going to write about if AAR folds?

    Well, there's always NPR, the taxpayer-funded funded version of AAR.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 25 May, 2006 13:33  

  • Or, should I say, the geriatric, taxpayer-funded version of AAR.

    How old are Garrison Keillor and Nina Totenberg, anyway? 108? 109?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 25 May, 2006 13:34  

  • Gee, other than the fact that Brian has been right on every single story about Air America, I see no reason to trust this report at all.

    By Blogger Brian, at 25 May, 2006 13:35  

  • Not that it's tremendously germane to your otherwise excellent report, but I'm afraid you're wrong about the politics of DeBeers. I've known and have worked with them for a long time and, their South African ancestry notwithstanding (their parent company is currently Swiss), such politcs as they have could best be described as Hillaryan -- limousine liberal, but ruthlessly and pragmatically so.

    By Blogger El Matamoros, at 25 May, 2006 14:14  

  • Well, I had bet they wouldn't make it past the elections of 2004. In fact, I believed they weren't intended to make it past the elections.

    Which means the whole enterprise was a lot less cynical, but more stupid, than I originally thought.

    By Blogger S. Weasel, at 25 May, 2006 14:29  

  • Brian has predicting AAR's imminent demise for well over a year, yet it remains on the air. he has proven to be an unreliable prognosticator.

    By Blogger Justin, at 25 May, 2006 14:32  

  • What else to write about?
    How about the fact that NPR and Pacifica are entitled to vast sums of money and are subject to not one but tow statutory madates concenring fairness and balance, while providing unfair and imbalanced programming.

    Aside from the programming content take a look at where NPR's major funding comes from - this is a story worth investigating - I only wish I had the time ro the expertise to do so.

    By Blogger Alex, at 25 May, 2006 15:06  

  • El M:

    I was trying to be a bit silly when reporting on Wiggett's background. The point is that I couldn't find any ties to liberal politics or causes.

    He's the kind of guy that might otherwise probably hang out with Republicans, at least in business settings.

    To AAR's supporters, that must be a bit unnerving.

    As for DeBeers, I appreciate your clarification.

    By Blogger Brian Maloney, at 25 May, 2006 15:18  

  • Apparently, they already are a lot like NPR. We've been getting fundraising letters from the local Boulder affiliate.

    By Blogger Joshua, at 25 May, 2006 16:13  

  • >>Brian has predicting AAR's imminent demise for well over a year, yet it remains on the air

    The KC Royals are still playing baseball, too...they've just lost 12 straight, and have a 10-34 record.
    Kind of like AAR's ratings, though _those_ are probably worse in comparison.

    By Blogger raccoonradio, at 25 May, 2006 16:40  

  • "Brian has predicting AAR's imminent demise for well over a year, yet it remains on the air. he has proven to be an unreliable prognosticator."

    To ressurect my 'Daewoo-Motors- going-out-of-business analogy'-

    We used to hear:

    See? Not dead yet!

    a lot from the truely faithful....

    No, not dead, yet.

    But soon, my little ones, sooooon...

    By Blogger Lokki, at 25 May, 2006 18:17  

  • I actually have to go against the Equalizer on this one.

    Until I start seeing pink slips being handed out, or AAR selling daypart-size blocks of programming to "paid commercial advertiser" programs, I think that Soros, RealNetworks and Fat Bastard are going to keep throwing good money after bad until the election.

    Let's apply Occam's Bazooka to the AAR-is-failing discussion: This whole thing comes down to the ego and greed of Al Franken. If Franken runs for the Senate, he has to leave AAR, and his anvillian weight on the AAR payroll disappears, and AAR continues to dodder along. If, however, he stays with AAR, there is the chance that he will take the whole place down unless he makes a "very public, selfless, magnanimous gesture" - something that is entirely in his makeup, as he knows he will make whatever salary he loses from restructuring on the back end via other media deals. You won't be able to get his mug off of NBC, CBS, ABC or CNN if he does something like that - and watch his book sales skyrocket as a result.

    By Blogger SierraSpartan, at 25 May, 2006 20:03  

  • "If, however, he stays with AAR, there is the chance that he will take the whole place down unless he makes a "very public, selfless, magnanimous gesture" - something that is entirely in his makeup, as he knows he will make whatever salary he loses from restructuring on the back end via other media deals."

    By JD, at 25 May, 2006 20:03

    I don't see this happening. From the start, AAR has never admitted that things were going badly financially or ratings-wise.

    Franken's taking a pay cut would be an admission of failure.

    I do agree with you that the sugar daddies propping up the corpse known as AAR will continue to do so until the election.


    By Blogger Brett, at 26 May, 2006 01:05  

  • Big salaries for the likes of Rhodes and Franken, in the hopes of luring "big names" to progressive talk radio. But they seem to be the type of people who turn moderates/conservatives off, and more than a few liberals might prefer
    NPR instead.

    In mostly liberal Boston:
    Conservative talk WRKO 4.6
    Mostly conservative WTKK 2.8
    AAR's WKOX/WXKS: 0.4

    By Blogger raccoonradio, at 26 May, 2006 03:10  

  • RacoonRadio,

    I live in Boston, so can say with certainty that one big problem for AAR here is terrible signal strength. You simply can't hear it in most places, but it will be on a 50,000mw tower within a year (being built in newton). as for wrko, it has changed morning drive conistently, now often has the celtics bump savage and next year will have the red sox. in other words, in with sports, out with talk.

    By Blogger Justin, at 26 May, 2006 06:53  

  • How about the fact that NPR and Pacifica are entitled to vast sums of money and are subject to not one but tow statutory madates concenring fairness and balance, while providing unfair and imbalanced programming.

    Remember the conniption fits at NPR when the government actually appointed someone who dared suggest that they balance their coverage? They shrieked like they were having their gonads cut off with a pair of rusty pruning sheers (not that there is anyone at NPR with any actual testicles.)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 26 May, 2006 07:33  

  • Except maybe Nina Totentberg.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 26 May, 2006 07:34  

  • It depends on how good your radio is, and what time of day it is (re: WKOX and WXKS) but certainly the tower move to Oak Hill in Newton will help WKOX's
    signal. As for WXKS, they're next to Kiss 108 in Medford, about 5 miles away from Boston/Cambridge, etc., and I'd think most people inside Rt 128 can pick them up.

    WXKS daytime coverage map:

    WKOX daytime coverage once the tower move is made:

    By Blogger raccoonradio, at 27 May, 2006 03:42  

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