Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Radio Free America

Chicago Tribune (requires registration, sigh) | Liberal talk radio must find new Chicago station
It was on, then it was off, then it was on again, and now it will be off again.

Air America Radio, the recently launched liberal talk-radio network that became embroiled last week in a financial dispute with the owner of its Chicago and Los Angeles stations, will broadcast over WNTD-950 AM in Chicago for the last time on April 30, the network said today.

The network also said it will remain off the air for the time being in Los Angeles, where it was yanked off its station there, KBLA-1580, last week by owner Multicultural News Radio.

The announcement settles an acrimonious legal and public relations battle between Air America and Multicultural. It also means that Air America must seek new homes in the nation's second and third-largest markets less than three weeks into its short life.

"We are pleased that we reached a negotiated settlement," said David Goodfriend, executive vice president and general counsel of Air America, in a terse statement. No Air America executives would comment further.
I'll bet.

Well. That was fast. (See the Smoking Gun for details of the lawsuit they're no longer pursuing.)

There are three ways to get a radio show on the air. One is to convince your affiliates to pay you for it. That's extremely difficult to pull off, and generally requires a track record. Only the biggest names are in enough demand to get away with it.

The second is a barter system, where the syndicator provide the station with programming for a share of the advertising time: The station sells their minutes, the syndicator sells theirs, and each keeps their money. That's how ARTC did it, in the good old days of the "Atlanta Radio Theatre Hour" on WGST.

The third way is for the program provider to just flat-out buy the whole hour (or three) from the station. The syndicator gets to keep all the advertising revenue...if they manage to sell any. It's a great way to lose your shirt if your sponsors let you down (which, faced with the dearth of information coming from Air America, I can only assume is what happened).
SmartMoney | Liberal Radio Network Yanked
Arthur Liu, owner of Multicultural Radio Broadcasting Inc. (MCRBI.XX), which owns Air America affiliates WNTD-950 AM in Chicago and KBLA-1580 AM in Los Angeles, said Air America bounced a check and owes him more than $1 million, the paper reported.

According to the Tribune, Liu said his company had entered into an agreement with Air America in which the network essentially was renting Multicultural's airtime.

Liu declined to say how much Multicultural is owed but did say he is holding $1 million checks that Air America has asked him not to cash, according to the report.

Air America Chairman Evan Cohen was quoted as saying the allegations are an "outright lie."
... The network used its other radio stations as platforms to attack Liu, the paper said.

According to the Tribune, Air America Vice President and General Counsel David Goodfriend appeared on the network to accuse Liu of essentially stealing from Air America by reselling airtime on KBLA to third parties that the network had already purchased.

Goodfriend was quoted as saying that he learned last week that Liu and Multicultural had been "double-dipping," selling the same airtime to others. As a result, the Tribune reported, the network declined to make payments for KBLA unless Multicultural credited Air America for the extra money Multicultural made. Goodfriend was quoted as saying that Air America didn't bounce any checks.
The key to Air America's problems, I think, lie in Smartmoney's description of the organization as a "start-up network." The Demon Limbaugh, the Anti-Christ Hannity, and the rest of the hated conservative voices on national talk radio didn't just happen: They had plenty of experience running talk shows in local markets (Limbaugh makes no secret of his Sacramento roots and his Missouri home: Hannity, in fact, used to be here in Atlanta), getting a feel for what people like to listen to and how they like to be treated, before WABC offered them to a national audience. There's a lot more to it than being able to talk for three hours straight.

Please note that I'm not criticizing the content. I can't: I haven't heard it. They're not on the air here. Franken and Garafalo are not idiots. (Well, not usually. Taking this gig wasn't one of their smarter moves.) Had Air America gone about it a little differently--say, focused on a single three-hour show, co-hosted by Franken and Garafalo (the network's most recognizable names), with the other hosts as daily or occasional correspondents--they could have produced something unlike anything else on the dial. What I'm thinking of is sort-of a talk radio version of Comedy Central's "Daily Show". Heck, I might have listened to that. Get Paula Poundstone to do the occasional interview with a newsmaker or two and I definitely would have.

But somebody in this organization decided that being a modest success with room to grow wasn't enough.

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