Air (most of) America

Posted by Mitchell - January 4, 2005 (entry 269)

Published in the January 2005 issue of Conscious Choice magazine

AIR (most of) AMERICA by Barbara Iverson

Air America Radio, an in-your-face liberal talk network, blasted onto AM radio in March 2004, in a handful of cities across the nation. Hosts included comedian-turned- political commentator Al Franken, nationally syndicated liberal talkshow host Randi Rhodes, rapper Chuck D (of Public Enemy) and actress/ political activist Janeane Garofalo.

It arrived in Chicago at WNTD-AM (950) in April and lasted only a few weeks before it was yanked off the air by station owner Albert Lui during a financial dispute. Lui replaced Air America with Korean- and Spanish-language shows in Chicago and also silenced the program on his Los Angeles station.

The quick disappearance of the show from local radio was ironic since Chicago-area venture capitalists Sheldon and Anita Drobny hatched the idea of the liberal radio network and put up some of the initial cash. At the time, industry analysts predicted doom for the fledgling network. But since then Air America has reorganized, refinanced, and evolved into a leaner and meaner operation. And its popularity has even caught the attention of media giant Clear Channel.

Clear Channel has added new liberal talk stations that carry Air America in Miami, Seattle, San Diego, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Boulder-Denver; Albuquerque, N.M.; Portland, Ore.; Santa Barbara, Cal. and Ann Arbor, Mich. One third of the 32 stations that broadcast Air America’s programming are now owned by Clear Channel.

Chicago Sun-Times television and radio columnist Robert Feder attributed this to “heightened” interest in liberal politics after the Florida vote-counting controversy that followed the 2000 presidential election.

So will Chicagoans be able to tune in to Air America again? Ironically, in this political city, the answer is still “sort of.” Listeners can tune-in on the Internet or subscribe to satellite radio, but Feder says “The election season should have been a springboard for Air America” but in Chicago, “they haven’t been able to make a dent” and he knows of no plans for Air America to return to Chicago’s airwaves any time soon. — Barbara K. Iverson

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