The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

26 December 2006

New York Times, Air America Radio


Even Now, NYT Remains Upbeat On Libtalk

*** Happy Boxing / St Stephen's Day ***

Here's a lesson for bloggers and others who are convinced they can overcome the mainstream media's most obnoxious antics: never, ever underestimate the stubborn nature of the New York Times.

Even as what's left of liberal talk radio network Air America Radio makes a last- gasp effort to survive, our Gray Lady is happy to trumpet the rare bit of good news that might occasionally emerge from Franken & Company headquarters.

And in this case, the paper couldn't be bothered to mention the increasing number of stations that have dropped libtalk programming in recent weeks. Instead, the NYT has made an example of Madison protestors who were able to restore its programming in Wisconsin's far- left outpost and state capital.

When it comes to the so- called "newspaper of record", this isn't exactly a new battle, as bloggers and the paper have been duking it out over the latter's Air America Radio coverage for almost two years. That was especially the case when it came to reporting on the network's sleazy Gloria Wise Boys & Girls Club scandal.

This time, the NYT seems to emphasize the idea that Air America's libtalk programming can succeed, if only advertisers can be convinced it is safe to support.

Here's an excerpt from the piece:

Air America Wins Reprieve From a Station in Wisconsin

Published: December 25, 2006

While ongoing negotiations to buy the beleaguered radio network Air America have kept its future in a state of limbo, the company had one bit of good news last week.

WXXM-FM, a station in Madison, Wis., owned by Clear Channel Communications, rescinded a decision to drop the liberal network in favor of Fox Sports Radio. The station, known as “the Mic” 92.1, was preparing to switch to a local sports format on Jan. 1. But last Friday, in a surprise statement, the station manager, Jeff Tyler, announced that the station had decided to continue with the progressive talk format of Air America into 2007.

Soon after the initial announcement to drop Air America was made on Nov. 7, a 28-year-old-student, Valerie Walasek, began an an online petition campaign that gathered more than 5,000 signatures and also organized a large rally. She said she was shocked at the outcome.

“I’m still trying to get used to the idea of it, that it actually worked, that I got big business to change their mind,” she said.

Mr. Tyler said the initial decision to change formats was made because he thought listeners wanted more local sports coverage and because he had felt for some time that Air America had not been growing as it should have. Most important, there had been problems with what he called a “struggling advertiser base.” Mr. Tyler said that those issues, taken together with an overall lack of revenue, had led to the decision to switch to Fox Sports.

Mr. Tyler said his mind was changed when he saw that advertisers were encouraged by the local support.

“It helped them get over their fear,” he said, “Rush Limbaugh, other shows — Howard Stern — shows with a tinge of controversy, all went through this, but they’ve been at it longer. This helped us circumvent that wait and get past it quicker.”

Sure, but Stern and Limbaugh have consistently been generating top- notch ratings, while Air America simply hasn't. Where is the audience?

With this reporting, the New York Times has made it clear it subscribes to the theory that libtalk's content isn't its problem, it's instead the managers behind Air America's programming (with Madison's local station as a rare example of enlightenment).

As an excuse to explain away "progressive" radio's poor performance, we've seen this one thrown about quite a bit recently. Too bad the Times can't come up with something a bit more original or convincing.

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  • God Help Us, the same tired angle, the same tedious graphics....

    Reminds me of the "Steam Buggy" infomercials....

    By Blogger hashfanatic, at 26 December, 2006 01:57  

  • Hash, the small respite from your hate of all things not Socialist/Communist has beed a joy. Too bad you haven't changed a bit.

    By Blogger PCD, at 26 December, 2006 07:59  

  • Meanwhile the NY Times Jr., aka Boston Globe, did mention that AAR would give way to Rumba just before the format change but has published nothing about it since to the best of my knowledge
    (didn't pick up a Globe yesterday and so far haven't bought one or looked online today). No articles about how
    local libs are trying to get a way to get AAR/prog talk on the air, no letters to the editor saying how unfair this is...

    There actually is a yahoo group of
    people trying to get prog talk back on the air in Boston (buy a station?
    convince someone to run it?) and they're even appealing to rich donors (hello Mr. and Mrs. Kerry?)
    to buy them a station. Word about the poss. loss of AAR in Boston started to filter on the Net about 3 weeks before it actually happened but they didn't get their effort going till the afternoon that Rumba

    Unless one or two shows gets picked up by a WRKO or a WTKK, I can't
    see it coming back in Boston unless
    a station like WILD (daytime only)
    or Paul Allen's WWZN (weak signal)
    is bought by them. I can't picture
    Entercom, Greater Media, CBS,
    or Salem (definitely not Salem!)
    picking up on the loss of Air least in terms of
    an entire station. One show, most.

    By Blogger raccoonradio, at 26 December, 2006 10:51  

  • Maybe a better, stronger group with true liberals will save the day...

    Of course, there's always George Soros (giggle)...

    By Blogger hashfanatic, at 26 December, 2006 11:36  

  • Hey, Salem has some good shows to give Boston some diversity on the air. How about "Duffy & Co., Live from LA"? Better still, "The Hugh Hewitt show".

    At least they wouldn't have to seek intellectual entertainment by keeping a professional drunk and a professional gigolo in office.

    By Blogger PCD, at 26 December, 2006 11:38  

  • With this reporting, the New York Times has made it clear it subscribes to the theory that libtalk's content isn't its problem, it's instead the managers behind Air America's programming (with Madison's local station as a rare example of enlightenment).

    As an excuse to explain away "progressive" radio's poor performance, we've seen this one thrown about quite a bit recently. Too bad the Times can't come up with something a bit more original or convincing.

    It rather amazes me that anybody at the New York Times would think themselves capable of recognizing *good* management - they themselves certainly don't have it.

    By Blogger Ironman, at 26 December, 2006 11:41  

  • Well, I think a liberal talk radio station could do well in Boston. It isn't 100% honest to say that stations around the country are dumping the liberal talk format, as if a large group of rats had independently decided to jump ship. So many of the stations are Clear Channel, which in itself is large enough to create a "trend". Liberal Talk could do well on a station with a decent signal, strong promotion, and a well picked line up including local programming.

    Three were three problems with WKOX/WXKS: (1) Air America, (2) signal, and (3) program consistency.

    WKOX/WXKS wasn't a station that made any effort to provide its own content. It was for practical purposes 100% turnkey ("canned"), other than an occasional promo spot. Being so dependent on an cash strapped AA was an especially bad thing for them. AAs problems put nearly all their programming at risk.

    The Clear Channel business model for the station was pure Wal-Mart: keep supply costs cut to the bone. Sometimes there were problems with the program feeds that just went on and on with no acknowledgement of technical difficulties until the problem was suddenly fixed. I wonder if anybody was watching the station equipment at all. The marketing of the station was likewise on the cheap. I never saw a single advertisement in all the time the station had the liberal talk format. Virtually nobody I knew had even heard of the stations. Given the poor signal consistency of the stations, it's surprising they did as well as the did.

    Denials to the contrary, there is absolutely no question that AM1430/1200's signal was a big issue for listeners. I can attest to this personally.

    I live less than three miles from AM1430 tower. My home stereo gets WXKS fine, but it's the only radio in my house that does all the time. There's no chance of getting the station on a portable music player's FM tuner.

    It's important to take into consideration that WXKS's biggest signal problem is intereference from a much more powerful Cape Cod sports talk station. You could have a good signal in your car, drive a quarter mile and have nothing but static or be getting the Cape Cod station. A hill here and there made all the difference. North of Boston, at night, the Medford signal is swamped even though the Cape Co station is fifty or sixty miles more distant. People will say they get AM1430 fine, but you have to take this with a grain of salt. Driving around Boston, the signal cuts in and out, even during the day. The bottom line is that you couldn't leave your car radio tuned to AM1430 for your commute, unless you wanted to be greeted with a burst of static when you start your car.

    If there was no question of signal quality, then why is Clear Channel planning such a major upgrade for Rumba? Don't get me wrong. I think Rumba is a great idea. The upgrade the stations are getting for that Latino format shows that there is a greater commitment by the owners to that format than the liberal talk format.

    Finally, there is the question of consistency in liberal talk's programming. Liberal talk is a mixed bag. It's a lot more diverse than conservative talk, which seems to me to follow the same proven Rush Limbaugh formula, but with varying degrees of success. Liberal talk has a variety of formulas, executed with varying degrees of success.

    I never thought that Al Franken was very good on the radio. He's a funny man, but he's just not funny on the radio. I think he's actually best when he's not trying to be funny. He'd have more success if he didn't try to be as funny as he is in his books.

    Stephanie Miller and Randi Rhodes seem to know how to be entertaining, but my wife (for example) can't stand Miller's political incorrectness, and I find Rhode's white hot anger offputting.

    Ed Shultz is entertaining, and I think that taking unscreened calls makes the show fresh. But he's not really a liberal. He's more of a moderate, which we'll see as the Democratic Congress gets to work. However, this puts him at the liberal end of the spectrum.

    I can't speak for other parts of the country, but how could there not be a market for a well run non-conservative talk radio station in Boston? We have an affluent population with a variety of policical views -- not just straight down the line liberal -- that aren't being served by radio. There's only so many times you really need to listen to NPR produced news a day. The question is whether you can get these people before they go XM or Sirius. So many of the more affluent people I know are going that way because they feel that terrestrial radio has nothing to offer them.

    By Blogger Matt Leo, at 26 December, 2006 14:11  

  • The last post is way too thoughtful and thorough for this board. You seem to miss the point that these are right wing disinformation operatives pumping out agitprop to keep control of their 20-50 million ignorant AM radio dupes. Even tiny flimsy Air America representing such a threat to them that several websites including this one were founded just to topple it, since having any truth spoken to the power of the AM rightist juggernaut threatens the lying house of cards it is.

    Congress needs to call the heads of these major corporations like ABC, Fox, Clear Channel, etc. in and put them under oath to explain why they would turn over publicly owned airwaves to right wing extremists and allow them to lie unchallenged 24 hours a day for 15 years, taking over the country and wrecking it. If Dems don't do this quickly, the right wing steamroller will quash any plans they have in the interest of the people.

    In particular, I want to see the Waddlin Pasty Pudge sworn in and asked who finances his full time effort here to undermine the only radio voice of balance. Congressional investigators should familarize him and the other rightist dirty tricksters to the extent that their testimony is combed for perjury (Pudge: "No advertisers will advertise on Air America." Truth: KTLK Los Angeles is so loaded with Audi commercials that listeners are complaining.) Do you hear that we want you in prison, Brian?

    By Blogger gregrocker, at 26 December, 2006 17:20  

  • It is not a conspiracy, it’s the marketplace.
    The traditional method to success in radio is to start small and build. When you first go into syndication you are on the small 1000 watt day/ 250 watt night radio stations. Then as your ratings grow and the ad sales increase the bigger stations buy the rights at renewal time, then more stations in more markets buy the program and if you are very successful you end up on many large stations with great signals throughout the country. This is how Rush started out, along with most top talkers. I first heard Rush on one of the smallest stations in the market with a signal that barely could be picked up. Within a year a stronger station picked him up and then later an even stronger station bought the show.
    This has been the problem with Air America and many other attempts at progressive radio. Many went national before they proved their viability. For the most part they selected on-air talent that had not been tested and let them learn on the job. They even were helped by major station chains putting them on without any track record, though on their weaker stations. But while they were learning they were draining the start up funding with outrageous salaries. The ratings never materialized in many markets so they could not move down the dial to stronger stations with better signals.
    The cycle works the other way too. Paul Harvey was the king of radio before Rush. Now his show continues to move to weaker stations as his popularity fades. Again this is what happened to Air America. When the ratings and revenues weren’t there, at renewal time they went to stations with weaker signals.
    Every radio station manager wants to generate revenue (other than NPR). That is how they keep their job.
    Air America was just a bad business plan done by people to drive an agenda, not develop a product. If they had taken the time to find those progressive talk show hosts who are already on the air with a proven track record, then grown the product and only then paid the high salaries they might have made it.
    It is not a conspiracy, it’s the marketplace.

    By Blogger Will Hansen, at 26 December, 2006 19:37  

  • Yeah, but soon there will BE no terrestrial AM marketplace....

    Mike Malloy is doing fantastically on NovaM....he's even up on Sirius! NovaM isn't dependent on Clear Channel-type cabals for crumbs...Randi would be picked up in two seconds! Why?

    Because they'll tackle "politically incorrect" topics that no one else will tackle....reemergence of left gatekeepers, pro-Israel terrorist lobby, 9/11 truth.....the so-called "new generation" of neocon talk radio can't hold a candle to them...they are not ALLOWED! HA!

    I am reminded of album-oriented rock and the record oligarchs' attitudes toward the advent of punk rock in the late 70s....

    If you wanna be Peter Frampton, fine by me....we'll see what the "marketplace" decides to keep in the final analysis!

    By Blogger hashfanatic, at 27 December, 2006 00:10  

  • Has Franken returned from his 4th tour of Iraq yet? If you take Hannity (which we paid for, the taxpayers!), O'Reilly, and Imgraham's trips to Iraq and add up the days all together, that still doesn't match how many days Franken has been there just this time. Damn, Al Franken must really hate the troops and hate America.

    By Blogger Iraq War Veteran, at 27 December, 2006 14:40  

  • Ingraham actually whined about her "time" spent in Iraq, and a veteran journalist actually denounced her for it, asking how many days she bothered to spend there?

    Then again, Ingraham is the same foul bitch that claimed no one was reporting on the "good" stuff, yet concocted false personal health scares to boost her popularity....

    And interfered with our election process.

    What a patriot!


    By Blogger hashfanatic, at 27 December, 2006 21:26  

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