In the “Not So Much News” department, in case you hadn’t heard, Air America, the progressive talk radio network recently went silent. Having listened to it until recently, through two poorly-funded AM stations in Central Ohio that failed and having worked for a short period for one of them, it was obvious to me that the network was poorly run.
An idealistic endeavor, it launched with prominent personalities like Al Franken and the then lesser-known Rachel Maddow. Even though some of its programs outperformed right-wing talkers in certain markets, Air America never represented a serious threat to the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity. Maddow, of course, went on to become an MSNBC commentator, as did Jones Network’s Al Schultz, both of whom were popular on Air America. Thom Hartmann left the network over a year ago to syndicate his program and Randi Rhodes, who left in a storm of controversy after uttering disparaging remarks about Hillary Clinton during the `08 primary election, returned to Clear Channel, which also employs Rush Limbaugh.
Other Air America personalities were long-gone–only a few remained at its end. At its peak, Air America offered an alternative to what has become the institution of right-wing talk radio. It failed to take root, however, due to poor management, bad financial conditions and programming that over time, had become hard to listen to. I used to hate the commercial music library music used far too prominently by certain of its hosts. Engineering could be spotty. To me, the network never quite developed. It seemed to be in utero or perhaps prematurely born. While some of its programming shined, some of the best of it wasn’t actually theirs (Stephanie Miller, Ed Schultz and later, Thom Hartmann). Air America walked away from strong offerings like The Young Turks (Cenk Uygur), Marc Maron, Sam Seder, and love or hate her, Randi Rhodes. They also failed to secure strong affiliates in major markets. For many listeners, satellite radio was the only portal to Air America. Ultimately, in my opinion its product suffered. Once a loyal listener, I’d grown tired of it.
While I hate to see it go silent, it will take time for me to realize that I miss it. Although I feel the nation needs strong, viable alternatives to right wing talk, I’d also like to see a progressive format that dabbles a bit in lifestyle offerings: art, music and culture. Air America had become one dimensional to me. It’s a pity. Liberals need a voice. Unfortunately for us, Air America missed its opportunity to be that.