The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

11 January 2007

Rob Glaser, Air America Investment Losses


In AAR 'Investment', RealNetworks CEO Lost Shirt

(Note: many new updates at

Though he's lost more on failed Air America Radio investments than anyone else by far, RealNetworks CEO Rob Glaser has so far generally been able to avoid much public attention over the matter. Beyond the O'Reilly Factor, The Smoking Gun and your Radio Equalizer, we can't think of too many places where Glaser's amazing libtalk losses have been highlighted.

With a lengthy new feature story in the Seattle Weekly, however, Glaser's finding unwelcome attention focused on his crazy cash infusions and even worse, in his own hometown.

Not surprisingly, Glaser refused to even speak to a Weekly reporter, even though the paper has a very liberal reputation:

He Wuz Rob-bed

For Seattle's biggest-spending liberal benefactor, bankrupt Air America was a costly flyer. By Rick Anderson

Deep-pocketed political donor Rob Glaser undertook his biggest-ever political investment in 2004 when he handed over $10 million to prop up lefty talk-show network Air America Radio, giving him 36.7 percent ownership. But while the founder and CEO of Seattle-based RealNetworks Inc. successfully helped fund the 2006 Democratic revolt in Congress, he has been bloodied attempting a similar revolution in progressive talk radio.

The network's challenge to Rush Limbaugh and other conservative talkers for the nation's hearts, minds, and ad revenues has ended up in bankruptcy, and Glaser, chair of the Air America board the past two years, faces millions in personal losses.

He had already surrendered his network chairmanship by the time Air America Radio (AAR) and its parent corporation, Piquant LLC—Glazer's investment group—filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in October hoping to stay on the air while it reorganized and worked out a deal with its creditors, the biggest of which is Glaser. According to federal court records in New York, the network has $20.2 million in liabilities and $4.3 million in assets.

Glaser's invest- ment share is listed at $9.8 million, which he most likely will lose, in addition to $475,000 he loaned the company — albeit small change to Glaser, whose personal worth is estimated by Fortune at close to $1 billion.

His company, RealNetworks, is also owed $85,000, and former RealNetworks exec Eileen Quigley of Seattle is owed $29,000 in back wages and compensation, according to the filings.

But even new ownership will have a struggle to keep the network together. Aside from the financial hole it has dug—including more than $300,000 in back rent on its New York studios, according to court filings—its talk headliner, comedian and author Al Franken, is expected to resign this year and run for the U.S. Senate from Minnesota. (He's also listed in the 25 pages of network creditors as seeking more than $360,000 in back pay).

As the network's chief moneybags, Glaser could have a more direct role in progressive politicking compared to the supporter role he'd played as campaign donor. Based on a review of public disclosure reports, Glaser has been the largest single local donor to national political campaigns and causes in recent years—$2.4 million since 2003, almost exclusively to Democrats.

That includes $1.9 million to America Coming Together, a Democratic get-out-the-vote drive, and $250,000 to America Votes, a progressive grassroots voter effort. He gave thousands as well to presidential campaigners Ralph Nader, John Kerry, and John Edwards and to a host of Democratic U.S. senators including Patty Murray and former RealNetworks exec Maria Cantwell.

Glaser doesn't want to discuss his Air America role. "Rob has not been conducting interviews on this topic," says RealNetworks spokesperson Bill Hankes. But Glaser, 44, is sensitive to the drawbacks of mixing politics and business: When the former Microsoft executive launched RealNetworks in 1993, he initially dubbed it Progressive Networks, planning to deliver some sort of "socially conscious" content, as he called it, over the Internet, then had second thoughts when customers became more interested in the company's technology.

In 1995, Glaser and partner David Halperin broadcast the first live event on the Internet: a socially progressive Mariners-Yankees baseball game. (Glaser is a part-owner of the M's.) Real's steady success has been pegged to its RealPlayer media-streaming software, though Glaser has recently introduced gaming and MP3 technology ("celestial jukeboxes" in Glaser's words) to its product line. In November, Real announced record third-quarter revenue of $94 million and profit of $42 million.

Always interesting to see the left's perspective on this, isn't it? To them, Glaser's real crime is that money wasted on Air America could have instead gone to fund so- called "progressive" candidates.

Perhaps Air America really was a right- wing plot all along: a way to separate wealthy "progressives" from their potential campaign contributions.

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  • thank God you posted this. Glaser is probably the first person in history to ever lose money on an investment that he believed in. oh wait.....

    By Blogger hardcore conservative genious, at 11 January, 2007 13:55  

  • I like Air America but I am left to wonder: why would a national RADIO show, which was worried about its financial survival, be based in New York?

    Why not Altoona, PA? For $300,000 they could have bought a whole damn block and rented out apartments to pay for the damn station.

    By Blogger Robert P, at 11 January, 2007 14:16  

  • not a bad point, Robert. not to mention the fact that cost of living in New York is a lot higher, which results in higher salaries. too bad they didn't think of it.

    By Blogger hardcore conservative genious, at 11 January, 2007 16:36  

  • Robert and Hardcore:

    Your comments remind me of when I used to subscribe to Consumer Reports in the 80's. They relocated their offices and testing labs to Westchester county, New York.

    Then, they had special pleas for more money from subscribers, because everything is soooooo expensive in Westchester.

    All I could think of was, oh, you poor babes. You put out a magazine that supposedly tells consumers how to get the most for their money, but when it comes to spending your own money......

    Remember the stuff about Air America moving to news super expensive studios, to prove to us that they were in great financial shape? And their super expensive initial party?

    By Blogger Chromium, at 11 January, 2007 20:17  

  • Hey, when are you going to post something on the KSFO catastrophe? ABC tried to shut down the blogger Spocko only because he was offering on his blog audio of their evil right-wingers saying the most loathsome stuff.

    The public needs to know this stuff!

    By Blogger John, at 11 January, 2007 22:51  

  • Met - what Spocko was doing was sending audio clips (usually out of context) to KSFO advertisers and trying to mau-mau them into dropping their spots from KSFO and/or KGO. And he has been meeting with minimal, but tangible, success (the Michigan development commission for one, paid for and run by Donk governor Granholm).

    And now the Kossacks have taken up the charge. But, instead of boosting the ratings of their progressive brethren at KQKE or KPFA, they have instead decided that the hosts of KSFO must be silenced at all costs.

    KSFO, with its relatively weak signal, is currently the #2 Talker and #4 Station in the San Francisco market, behind KGO-AM (talk), KCBS-AM (news 24/7) and KOIT-FM (plant music), according to the Fall '06 R&R book.

    They can bang their bongos all they want, but as long as Lee and Melanie are on the air, KSFO gets ratings. It's kinda like "The View," but sane.

    By Blogger SierraSpartan, at 11 January, 2007 23:34  

  • I'm not ignoring the KSFO issue, I plan on covering it sometime late Friday.

    By Blogger Brian Maloney, at 11 January, 2007 23:54  

  • I sometimes wish the leftwing nuts got a taste of their own medicine with organized drives to shutdown their stations and hosts. Tolerant the left isn't, and very hypocritical, too.

    By Blogger PCD, at 12 January, 2007 08:03  

  • What about your relentless torture of Air America and the few civilized American (meaning liberal) outlets left?

    Why do you hate America so, Dan??

    By Blogger hashfanatic, at 12 January, 2007 08:58  

  • Hash, I hate you Hash inspired delusion of what you think America should be. You are a slavemaster without slaves.

    (Sc)Air America is as scam that ran it course. It is time for the people behind it to go to jail.

    By Blogger PCD, at 12 January, 2007 09:40  

  • Keep dreamin', dog boy.

    Clean up your own backyard.

    By Blogger hashfanatic, at 12 January, 2007 11:01  

  • When I clean the Democrass out, the racists, like the Minister of Poop, and you, then I'll have a clean backyard.

    By Blogger PCD, at 12 January, 2007 14:03  

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