Thursday, January 21, 2010

Bye-Bye Air America

RIP, Air America. "The company, which was founded in 2004, never found a substantial audience or sound financial footing," explained an article in the New York Times. "It filed for bankruptcy protection in 2006, but managed to stay on the air at that time. The network churned through several owners and several attempted reinventions, with little to show for it."

Why is it that the one liberal--pardon me, that word has been replaced--progressive attempt at talk radio syndication struggled for its six years, yet even after the economic meltdown depressed advertising, several conservative radio networks continue to thrive?  Air America, in its final hurrah, had at most 100 outlets nationally, while in many markets two or more conservative talk stations coexist and profit, side-by-side.  Rush Limbaugh, whose program began in 1988, has about 590 stations according to Wikipedia.

Why is it that "progressive" talk couldn't muster support, while conservative talkers command loyalty?  My fave host consistently ranks at or near the top of our local ratings, even when measured by the new electronic "people meters" that replaced the old Arbitron listener logs.  Why should right-leaning talk boast dozens of radio stars and the only left-leaning network collapse within just a few years?

I think it's because the vast majority of print and television media already offer liberals, uh, progressives, their perspective.  You don't need to tune in to radio when you can hear pro big-government TV reporters on evening newscasts, and read liberal editorials in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post.  The Hollywood establishment was the source of the term "politically correct," because it's almost laughable how uniformly America-critical actors, producers and scripters are.  Eighteen months ago, if you said the words "George Bush" in certain LA restaurants, you'd hear a simultaneous hiss from everywhere in the room.  These are the moviemakers, the TV network brass, the faces you see in tabloids, and they're so surrounded by like-minded friends that they assume you, too--out there in TVland and theater audiences and reading your paper in Starbucks--you, too, must agree.

The only escape has been talk radio.

So, there's no need for "progressive" Air America because television airwaves and internet cables and movie theatres near you are already ringing with its message.  "Avatar" is going to beat "Titanic" as the most profitable film ever, for its stunning effects and action-packed plot, but what it teaches is that the Na'vi, living in harmony with nature, are superior to the greedy villainy of capitalism and technology. Going to see the film may be a great experience (I wouldn't know; I can't take violence so will never view it) but inserted in the enjoyment is a "progressive" message.  That's fine, but few movies offer the other side.  That's why we need talk radio.

My fave talk host relishes debate and discussion; he enjoys persuading disagreeing callers of his viewpoint, using logic and patience.  Other talk hosts blare and rant, sometimes ridiculously, but the medium, with the immediacy of callers' questions and responses, is always engaging.

That Air America sought to add its voice to the fray was never a threat, never a problem for conservative talkers; in a way it's a pity it failed.  But it failed not because its perspective was unwanted or unwelcome--in our great land open discussion is celebrated.  No, Air America flopped because it was redundant and unnecessary.  The beauty of capitalism is that entrepreneurs profit when they provide something unique that other people want to pay for; Air America just wasn't fresh enough, so it spoiled.


  1. Oh dear, I weep. I could never figure out how such a network of sleaze survived as it did. I can recall hearing things on their shows that were simply too gross to believe. Mind you, there is plenty of brainlessness on right wing radio, but *usually* it is not so vile I would send children out of the room. I constantly wondered if the hosts of the shows had been raised past age thirteen with their speech. This says nothing of politics, all of civilized behavior. You wouldn't put up with this on a public bus. I can't say how glad I am that they're gone, at least as an organized AM presence. They'll always (ALWAYS) have NPR.

  2. NPR may be too snooty for its shoes, but sometimes they have interesting stories. I didn't listen to Air America because of what I wrote in my post--their shows were obnoxious and their position ubiquitous.

  3. Initially, I was overjoyed at the news that Air America had finally succumbed to the realities of the marketplace. On some reflection, I decided that our political discourse is healthiest when we can all avail ourselves of many different voices with varying points of view. While I found the commentary on AA to be incredibly coarse and far too often given over to mere character assassination, maybe we'd all be better off if the awful stuff remained on the air. Just a thought.

  4. Diane,

    Love your thoughts on Air America. However, I couldn't disagree more about Avatar. Since reading your post, I've inquired of several friends whether they share your sentiment about the movie. Not a single one has agreed.

    I think sometimes we're so bent on seeing the liberal skew that it appears in places it actually doesn't exist.

    Avatar condemned the kind of greed that levies heartless judgments against groups different from or in opposition to the dominating power while emphasizing the deep and real connection between people and the world around. There was no environmentalist underlay here. I think you should see it, you'll pleasantly surprised.