Wednesday, February 07, 2007

IS CLEAR CHANNEL SABOTAGING AIR AMERICA?

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Air America had a huge role in the Democratic victories in November. That's not based on empirical evidence. It's based on something better: my experience and my gut. And I feel very uneasy with that bit of the progressive arsenal under the complete control of our sworn enemies: Clear Channel. Sure, as has been endlessly argued, capitalists will sell their own hangmen the rope to make a profit... sometimes. This isn't one of those times. Clear Channel has been killing Air America stations off. For a few weeks now I've been meaning to write about my observations of KTLK, L.A.'s Progressive Talk (AM 1150). An e-mail from Tom Tomorrow spurred me into finally doing it.

Tom was warning me about Clear Channel pulling the plug on the Air America affiliate in New Haven, WELI. "They didn't even wait for Al Franken to go off the air. Clear Channel Communications, which owns the local radio stations (like WELI) that
once upon a time reported local news with local humans, announced that it has pulled the plug on 'The Voice,' its low-watt syndicated liberal talk-radio station at 1300 AM. It has replaced it with ESPN. WELI retains its Cro-Magnon right-wing syndicated hate-talk line-up.

The L.A. situation is more subtle. Most of the listeners hear Air America's Al Franken in the morning, followed by the Jones' Network's Ed Schultz, followed by Air America's Randi Rhodes. So from 9AM 'til 6PM it's a relatively normally-functioning professional-sounding radio station, albeit one with no promotion whatsoever.


The dangerously effective Sam Seder is no longer on and the rest of the schedule is scrambled and interspersed with tons or sports and blocks of time sold to infomercials. The station is unlistenable. In fact, I've been told by people who work there that the program director hates the station so much that he never listens to it. It sounds like he never listens to it. Sometimes, especially in the evenings, it just goes off the air because the board operators either fall asleep or die and there are gigantic blocks of dead air. Every rule of successful radio is broken to aggressively drive listeners away. Oh, things like this can happen at the best and most professionally run station-- on rare occasion. At KTLK it never ceases. It's the technically worst sounding radio station I've ever heard-- and I started as a dj in 1968. I have never heard a college radio station that was this inept.

It led me to ask myself if there was someone there actually trying to sabotage the station. I don't know the answer. I can only guess. But whether someone is doing it intentionally or not, the effect is the same. I do know I've been listening to a lot more NPR lately. My guess is that when they take it off the air, the excuse will be that there weren't enough listeners. How could there be with it sounding like an aural junkyard?


UPDATE: BUMPED FROM "COMMENTS"

My old pal Milt Shook, author of Talk on Loan, a wonderful political novel I read while I was traveling in Argentina, left a comments about Air America in the comments section. I decided to move it up to the front page-- a first (hey, but I feel good; we passed the millionth page view today)-- so more people would see it. Milt:

When Clear Channel started picking up progressive programming, I warned everyone to watch out, because something was up. Everyone else was all atwitter because CC was picking up progressive programming; I was suspicious.

Now, I'm one who believes that you could get Rupert Murdoch to run anti-Fox News programming if he made enough money on it. The problem is, progressive talk is in its infancy, and it's not going to make as much money as Limbaugh or Hannity for quite a few years.

But what CC was doing when they started talk radio stations had me worried. First of all, they put the programming on the shittiest frequency they owned in most of the markets they adopted it. Second, while they were selling ad packages for most of their other stations in a given market, they were (are) operating the progressive talk stations as stand-alones of sorts. In other words, they would sell many ads for several other stations simultaneously; for, say $500, you could buy a 30-second spot on their top 40, sports talk and country station, thus increasing the value of the ad. But not with the progressive stations.

See, they were sabotaging progressive talk in several ways. First off, if they run the programming on their shittiest frequency with the least power, no one else in that market can run it. Second, by not bundling it with other programming, they were reducing the value of their ad sales, and creating a major burden for their sales force. And third, many of the operations were run by people who couldn't care less about progressive talk, which is what you're experiencing in LA. (I know, because I usually listen to their stream... it's pretty sad...)

In Madison, CC planned to pull the plug on The Mic, a progressive talk station on a good frequency with really high ratings. It was the second-rated talk station in the market. They were going to replace it with sports -- they specifically mentioned high school volleyball, believe it or not. The funny thing is, their other sports talker has ratings that were fully 50% LOWER than The Mic. They cited -- are you ready for this? -- an inability to sell advertisers on progressive talk.

Strangely, though, people banded together and raised enough of a stink that CC backed off the planned change, and it was ADVERTISERS who led the charge. ADVERTISERS saved the station.

In addition, CC has pulled the plug on progressive talk in Columbus, Ohio, replacing it with wingnuts and Jim Rome. In Boston, they replaced progressive talk with Spanish music, despite the fact that the Hispanic population in Boston is miniscule.

This is what they planned all along; put the shows on shitty stations, do everything possible to NOT sell advertising, and then claim low ratings and an inability to sell ads to not only to rationalize their getting rid of the programs, but to poison the water for other station owners, who might be thinking about picking up the programming, but can't afford to lose money.

I'm in the middle of writing a really long article with more details on my site. If I can get away from work long enough, I should have it up in a few days...

13 Comments:

At 12:48 PM, Blogger ltr said...

Sounds like a typical CC station. Everything is run by computer (save for local shows like Stephanie Miller, Harrison on the Edge and the weekend fare. Often, when CC's preferred automation software runs a station (and it works horribly for talk radio), you'll hear dead air, shows running simultaneously, wrong shows aired, etc.

I heard it often on the Cincinnati station. I don't think CC has a vendetta against the format. In fact, CC is doing well with it in a few markets, including San Diego and Portland. But this is the way CC runs all their talk and sports stations. Out of a closet and via a computer that is not up to doing the job.

As for infomercials and sports, I'll let it slide. They run that stuff on their conservative talk stations as well, and often keep the infomercials confined to weekends where lsitenership is down.

All in all, the better CC progressive talk stations are run about the same as their other automated talk stations across the country. As cheaply as possible. If only they'd get the engineer to update the software or get the bugs out. But managers tend to be pretty stubborn about this sort of thing. Too many egos in radio.

LTR
The Liberal Talk Radio Blog

 
At 1:50 PM, Anonymous Doug in SF said...

In San Francisco, which is CC owned, the Air America affiliate really isn't anymore, but they've retained the liberal talk format. Malloy, Miller and Maddow are all on, LIVE. It's great. The only bad thing is that Miller is on opposite Seder on XM. The CC station here plays Rhodes at 10pm taped.

 
At 3:02 PM, Blogger Milt Shook said...

Well, let me put it this way, Howie...

When CC started picking up progressive programming, I warned everyone to watch out, because something was up. Everyone else was all atwitter because CC was picking up progressive programming; I was suspicious.

Now, I'm one who believes that you could get Rupert Murdoch to run anti-Fox News programming if he made enough money on it. The problem is, progressive talk is in its infancy, and it's not going to make as much money as Limbaugh or Hannity for quite a few years.

But what CC was doing when they started talk radio stations had me worried. First of all, they put the programming on the shittiest frequency they owned in most of the markets they adopted it. Second, while they were selling ad packages for most of their other stations in a given market, they were (are) operating the progressive talk stations as stand-alones of sorts. In other words, they would sell many ads for several other stations simultaneously; for, say $500, you could buy a 30-second spot on their top 40, sports talk and country station, thus increasing the value of the ad. But not with the progressive stations.

See, they were sabotaging progressive talk in several ways. First off, if they run the programming on their shittiest frequency with the least power, no one else in that market can run it. Second, by not bundling it with other programming, they were reducing the value of their ad sales, and creating a major burden for their sales force. And third, many of the operations were run by people who couldn't care less about progressive talk, which is what you're experiencing in LA. (I know, because I usually listen to their stream... it's pretty sad...)

In Madison, CC planned to pull the plug on The Mic, a progressive talk station on a good frequency with really high ratings. It was the second-rated talk station in the market. They were going to replace it with sports -- they specifically mentioned high school volleyball, believe it or not. The funny thing is, their other sports talker has ratings that were fully 50% LOWER than The Mic. They cited -- are you ready for this? -- an inability to sell advertisers on progressive talk.

Strangely, though, people banded together and raised enough of a stink that CC backed off the planned change, and it was ADVERTISERS who led the charge. ADVERTISERS saved the station.

In addition, CC has pulled the plug on progressive talk in Columbus, Ohio, replacing it with wingnuts and Jim Rome. In Boston, they replaced progressive talk with Spanish music, despite the fact that the Hispanic population in Boston is miniscule.

This is what they planned all along; put the shows on shitty stations, do everything possible to NOT sell advertising, and then claim low ratings and an inability to sell ads to not only to rationalize their getting rid of the programs, but to poison the water for other station owners, who might be thinking about picking up the programming, but can't afford to lose money.

I'm in the middle of writing a really long article with more details on my site. If I can get away from work long enough, I should have it up in a few days...

Milt
http://miltshook.com

 
At 4:20 PM, Anonymous teach said...

I listen to Nova M radio these days. They are out of Phoenix, and they run lots of AAR programming.

I am still disappointed, though not surprised that big Dems did not pony up on the whole media thing.

I think Bob Kincade (sp)explained it best, he said that politicos will not support stations that do not hawk their own special take on policy, etc.

 
At 8:37 PM, Blogger gregrocker said...

Since I"d experienced Clear Channel's dumbing down before, I also thought KTLK was victim of haywire automation. That was until Cyndi Sheehan was being interviewed by Laura Flanders one night and after every one of Laura's questions, Cyndi's answer was bleeped out by KTLK station breaks. Every one, and just the answers. I strongly suspect it was KFI's rightie board op who doubles on KTLK.

I also strongly suspected dirty tricks when CC stepped in to fill out the AAR network. They had been W's career sponsor, even funded their startup with stock gains made when W hookwinked Arlington County taxpayers into building his Rangers a new stadium. But business columnists felt that it was CC covering their butt in case Dems came back to power. This doesn't explain why they started shutting down stations on false pretenses right after an election which put the Dems back in power. A call from Rove is more likely.

There is one way to stop this hemorraging and to address the whole takeover of the AM dial by rightist dirty tricksters who are allowed by media corps to lie without challenge or balance 24/7 for 15 years now: high profile Congressonal hearings. Whether they could achieve a return of the Fairness Doctrine is secondary to the education it would give the public on how our politics got so false and nasty, exactly how much they have been lied to, and the pressure it would put on these corps to add some balance - since they apprently don't intend to budge otherwise.

The chief witness for Kucinich's promised hearings could be Kathleen Hall Jameson of the Annenberg School of Communication at Penn (funded by the conservative TV Guide Fortune) who has studied the "false certainty" created by AM talk radio which has infected millions and swung the past 5 of 6 elections.

Also called should be Dem eminence/statesman George Mitchell who as chair of ABC allowed his entire radio station network to be handed over to right wing operatives who took over and destroyed the reputaton of the US government. He should pay for this with his reputation at a minimum. If he tries to say he was unawares, then ask why his top execs bragged about it in negotiations to the end the religious right's boycott of Disney, since that alone got the boycott called off.

You could have some fun calling in the Fox bully boys and daring them to repeat their biggest lies (shown on giant screens) under oath. "Fair, balanced and taking the Fifth?"

Absent this, the temporarily-demoralized right wing radio juggernaut will quickly reinflate over Dem issues (reactionary) and quash every one. They hold the balance of power in this country with a direct line to 50 million dupes. Tiny fledgling Air America struggles to speak truth to power yet Howard Dean himself gives them credit with mobilizing voters in a dozen House changeovers. Now is the moment for the Dem Congress to hit hard and not stop until we get some balance. It is the least we should ask for the airwaves which belong to us but make them profit.

 
At 10:21 PM, Blogger WHT said...

No wonder Marc Maron didn't stand a chance at KTLK with his brief run earlier this year. Great show which was infected by radio termites. Way too many commercials and routine delays due to Clippers games and weird abrupt editing as gregrocker describes. We still streamed it though.

Peaches.

 
At 7:21 PM, Blogger Timcanhear said...

I know what happened to AAR in Cincinnati, I worked there. There were zero dollars spent on marketing, aside from the trade-out ads that I personally set in the market. Of course, they wouldn't allow ME to write the copy for the print ads in the city's "alternative" newspaper where I had set up trade. The ads they created were meant to remind people of their right wing talk whores, hannity and liebaugh. Copy like, no sean, no rush. Listen to Jerry Springer on 1530 wcky. The newspaper said no way. "We don't want those names even mentioned in our pages." And of course, it made sense.
They made it appear that they wanted it but did nothing to make it happen, then said ratings sucked and there you have it. AAR went off the air in Cincinnati and the station began playing rebroadcasts of their "how to" shows along with a new edition, that creepy right wing son of a whore from Atlanta.
I was told in meetings that clear channel never spent money to market any of their stations outside of the medium. Well wait, there was the time they spent a lot to promote their already popular mid day personality on am powerhouse WLW. Oh, and when Whoopi Goldberg was signed on to the female hot ac station, they spent mucho dolero's on that. WEBN, the oldest sounding piece of shit rock station in the world...they spend hundreds of thousands in outdoor advertising.
C.C. was, until a month ago, owned by the Mays boys. Down home creeps from Texas who lick George Bush's cock for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They still run the piece of shit. They still want to own all of the media and they want it all right wing.
Make NO MISTAKE about it, CC is as right wing as it gets and they will do whatever they can to silence half of America.

 
At 2:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe the programming just sucked. It did. Just a lot of people calling to say how much they hated everybody else and the on air personalities agreeing.

No humor. No facts.

 
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