IS CLEAR CHANNEL SABOTAGING AIR AMERICA?
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...