Not The Air America with Robert Downey Jr. and Mel Gibson.
January 24, 2010 9:13 PM   Subscribe

Looking for articles that explain why Air America failed while conservative talk radio continues to flourish.

Specifically, i'm looking for articles on this disparity. I am looking to an interesting body of evidence about the folliwing:

1.) Why did Air America specifically fail? Was it organizational issues, or could they simply not attract listenership?

2.) Is there a significant syndicated liberal talk radio presence in the United States that exists as a counterpoint to the Rush Limbaughs of the world?

Again, any articles you could point me to about this would be very helpful.

posted by orville sash to Grab Bag (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
There was some discussion about this on the blue, in case you haven't seen it, which links to a bare-bones news article. I'm not sure how credible those jokers in the comments are, though.
posted by SpringAquifer at 9:46 PM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

RNeuroscience may offer an explanation as to why confirming information (that's structured, unambiguous, unnuanced, habitual, etc.) is less appealing to radicals than it is to reactionaries: Neurocognitive Correlates of Liberalism and Conservatism.
posted by glibhamdreck at 9:53 PM on January 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've seen this in commentary from both sides of the aisle: left leaning, or "liberal" folks (like me!) overwhelmingly listen to to NPR. Air America tried too hard to mimic the shrill, populist tone of red state radio, and it just didn't work. Liberals aren't as mad as the kooks calling in to Hannity, or if they are, they're taking that rage to smarter venues, like Daily Kos. That, coupled with the same moronic gold investment commercials as all the other AM stations every 7 minutes made it pretty much unlistenable.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 9:56 PM on January 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

The thread in the blue goes into this to some extent, but Air America itself was always likely to end up as a kind of self-sacrificing lamb, or a first-wave casualty, or use your own metaphor for taking one for the cause/team.

In order to get on the air, it had to persuade station owners to switch formats -- so "AM 960 Light 80s Classics" would become "AM 960 Liberal Talk". To do that, it had to offer a full schedule of daytime programming, unlike "AM 690 Conservative Talk", the long-established hypothetical local equivalent, which could pick and choose from a large menu of syndicated shows.

After a while, those liberal talk stations were in a position to syndicate shows that weren't part of the Air America network lineup -- Stephanie Miller, Ed Schultz -- while some of its original talent either moved onwards and upwards (Al Franken, Rachel Maddow) or departed to other syndicators. And from all accounts, AA was shockingly managed, made some very stupid personnel decisions, and was good at pissing off loyal listeners.

Brian Stelter's piece in the NYT fills this out a bit more, but the basic point is that there are lots of AM liberal talk stations with decent enough ratings to stay in that format, but which stopped taking the majority of their content from Air America a while ago. Were it not for Air America's full lineup launc, those format switches probably wouldn't have happened.

I'd class most liberal talk as "haranguing", NPR as "Nice Polite Republicans", Pacifica/Democracy Now! as "overbearingly preachy sparts"; I listen to the BBC World Service and CBC.
posted by holgate at 12:40 AM on January 25, 2010

Here's a pretty informative article which makes the case that it was not just politics, but timing, the shifting realities of the radio business, and poor management, that did Air America in.
posted by visual mechanic at 2:05 AM on January 25, 2010

All those folks blaming it on some liberal thing are full of shit. Air America's problem was simply that it was run by people that had not a single clue how to run radio. Nothing more, nothing less. They just didn't know how to it's done.

Also, they struggled with some editorial policy that was political in nature. Same-ol' same-ol'. Some topics were taboo. Some of their best talent disagreed. They thought their policies were more important than the talent. They were wrong. Sometimes it was progressive vs. Democrats, sometimes more like left vs. DLC.

Plus, of course, the simple matter of trying to sell their shows to stations, in a market dominated by Clear Channel. Oops. Very difficult.

I have heard much said on the topic, from listening to Mike Malloy regularly (after Air America canned him) and Randi Rhodes (who was canned, then returned). Mike's been doing radio for quite some years, and seems to know what he's talking about. (I've grown bored with him, as I mentioned in the above-linked discussion in the Blue).
posted by Goofyy at 4:25 AM on January 25, 2010

While NPR may have gotten your latte-sipping contingent (liberal analog of, say, the Wall Street Journal op ed pages), for your more fire-breathers don't forget about Pacifica. It was always going to be hard for Air America to make an impact when you had 40 years of Pacifica built-in listenership in LA, the Bay Area, NYC and DC.
posted by MattD at 6:36 AM on January 25, 2010

All those folks blaming it on some liberal thing are full of shit. Air America's problem was simply that it was run by people that had not a single clue how to run radio. Nothing more, nothing less.

I'd buy this. It sounds kind of like it was conceived for much the same reason that Star Spangled Ice Cream was conceived -- in the sense that the focus was more so on its politics than its product. Star Spangled Ice Cream is the "conservative" alternative to Ben & Jerry's, and it touts this fact on its web site; its entire purpose is to provide an alternative to premium ice cream lovers who don't want their ice cream brand to be donating to "liberal causes," the way Ben & Jerry's does. So instead, here's an ice cream that donates a portion of its profits to conservative causes. Hah!

The thing is, though, that Ben and Jerry didn't set out TO become a liberal-cause charity. It's not like they initially said, "We want to raise money for Food Not Bombs...I know, let's go into business, and we'll be able to donate our profits! if we're really really lucky, that is!" No -- their main focus was "we just want to make ice cream." Period. And they got damn good at it, and their ability to make corporate donations is just gravy. With SSIC, though, the conservativism IS its focus.

It sounds like Air America fell into the same trap. The Limbaughs and the Becks and the etc. of this world just wanted to do radio, and....they got good at it. With Air America, it sounds like the focus wasn't on "let's do good radio," it was instead on "let's be The Official Liberal Alternative." And...that often doesn't work well when you make that the leading priority.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:33 AM on January 25, 2010 [4 favorites]

I think that the type of people who would listen to Air America are much more likely to be serious readers than the people who listen to the right wing shows.
posted by mareli at 10:32 AM on January 25, 2010

Anecdata: I stopped listening because it was shrill.
posted by Knowyournuts at 11:03 AM on January 25, 2010

Article in the L.A. Times
posted by ilana at 7:14 PM on January 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

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