Sunday, October 15, 2006

Das Vidanya, Air Amerika

It will come as no surprise to those of you who understand the basic concepts of supply and demand why this happened.

According to the Associated Press, Air Amerika, the belabored liberal radio talk show network, officially filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Friday, which (as the AP also noted) was contrary to what the network had claimed was in the offing as little as one month ago. The AP went on to say that a network spokesperson confirmed that Air Amerika’s most recent attempts to secure additional funding from a creditor had fallen through, prompting the present filing. It is unclear how long Air Amerika will remain on the air, or if it will be able to remain on the air at all.

None of this should be at all surprising. Air Amerika was founded with one simple goal (by its founders’ and supporters’ own admissions): to become the radio industry’s counterweight to what is generally regarded as the conservative talk radio revolution. The prevailing view among leftists in the mass media was that conservative talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and a whole host of others were having undue influence on voters (perish the thought – a competing ideology?), which was causing untold damage to liberal issues and Democrats’ chances. It was theorized that countering that conservative heft with liberal hosts was just the solution.

Air Amerika took to the air in March 2004, right about the same time that John “Hey, did you know I was a Vietnam Veteran? I have a plan to let you know that” Kerry’s (D-Denial) presidential campaign was getting into half swing. As Wikipedia reports, however, hopes may have been high for the network, but very little else about it was (with the possible exception of Al Franken):
Air America was started by a group called Progress Media, which said it had amassed $30 million in venture capital prior to its debut, a claim which later turned out to be untrue (only $6 million was initially collected). Two individuals from Guam, Rex Sorensen and Evan Montvel Cohen, were involved in raising the capital but denied any wrongdoing. Cohen has since been implicated in indictments against employees of a children’s charity for the misuse of the charity’s funds including Cohen’s use of $825,000 of the charity’s money to fund Air America.

Two weeks after its debut, Air America Radio [AAR] was pulled off the air in two key markets due to a contract dispute. Multicultural Radio owned two stations contracted to carry the AAR signal, in Chicago and Santa Monica, California. Air America alleged that Multicultural Radio had sold time on their Los Angeles station to both AAR and another party, and claimed that that was why they stopped payment on checks due to Multicultural while AAR investigated.

Multicultural Radio noted that Air America bounced a check and claimed they were owed in excess of $1 million. Air America Radio filed a complaint in New York Supreme Court, charging breach of contract and was briefly granted an injunction to restore the network on WNTD-AM in Chicago. On April 20, the network announced the dispute had been settled, and Air America’s last day of broadcast on WNTD was April 30. The New York Supreme Court ultimately concluded that the injunction was improvidently entered and that Air America Radio’s court action was without merit, dismissing Air America’s complaint and awarding over $250,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees to Multicultural. According to a subsequent lawsuit filed by Multicultural, Air America Radio never paid the sums ordered by the court.

Four weeks after Air America’s debut, its CEO, Mark Walsh, and executive vice president for programming, Dave Logan, left the network. One week after those departures, its chairman and vice chairman, Evan Cohen and his investment partner Rex Sorensen, also left. Some attributed Cohen’s departure to investor unhappiness with how he handled the dispute with Multicultural Radio Broadcasting.
(These are just some of the problems that plagued Air Amerika right up until Friday’s bankruptcy filing. In the interests of brevity, I did not include them all, but you can read about them until your heart’s content on Wikipedia, or other news sources, such as this one.)

Why did Air Amerika fail? The overall answer is simple: no one ever really wanted to listen to it.

For all of their hatred for the likes of Rush Limbaugh (who deserves credit for being the guy who put talk radio, of whatever political bent, on the map) and others who have followed in his footsteps, Air Amerika’s founders and supporters never quite grasped that their popularity and successes were due to the fact that people actually wanted to listen to them. Rush almost single-handedly forged a previously unknown medium: a radio talk show that combined current events and political insight with humor and entertainment. We take such programs for granted these days, given their ubiquity, but Rush truly did something novel that did not take long to catch on.

Whereas Rush built his program (and his success) from the bottom up, going from a handful of affiliates to nationwide syndication and what amounts to his own media empire, Air Amerika has adopted a supply-side approach (which is ironic, given their unending derision of the supply-side concept), which is that they started an entire network without any demonstration whatsoever that people actually wanted to listen to a liberal talk show network in the first place. Rather than building liberal or progressive talk show programs from the ground up on different radio stations across the country, and slowly shifting them to syndication after they hit their stride, Air Amerika went out and secured funding (from legitimate and illegitimate sources) to fund a product that no one was buying. Without a dedicated listening audience, advertisers did not stick around long enough to provide the network with revenue, which meant that Air Amerika could not sustain itself once its startup capital was spent. Hence, we have what happened Friday.

Why was no one buying what they were selling? That is, of course, a tougher question. Having never listened to Air Amerika myself, I can only speculate. If I had to take a stab at it, however, I would guess that it has less to do with any sort of political bias of potential audience members (although I do think this country is more conservative than not – but that is a discussion for another day) and more to do with the fact that liberals are not very entertaining or optimistic people. Love ’em or hate ’em, the conservative hosts that I have heard offer their audiences political discussion with an optimistic view of our nation and entertaining twists throughout. Humor, news, and good cheer coexist in the talk radio format in a way that occurs nowhere else, and the hosts (even the conservative ones) that cannot combine the above factors eventually disappear.

Liberals (please note that I am referring to the few liberals I have heard on the air, not liberals in general; most of my liberal friends crack me up; maybe Air Amerika should have signed them up) tend to be dour, unpleasant, pessimistic types. I don’t think this is so much because these liberals are incapable of humor – quite the opposite. I think the failure can be attributed to liberalism itself, as liberalism is an ideology that perpetually focuses on all that is wrong with society. It therefore is not such a mystery why shows that preach nothing but doom and gloom cannot compete with shows that both educate and entertain their audiences.

Das vidanya, Air Amerika. But cheer up: at least you still have the MSM to force the liberal viewpoint down American throats.

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