Air America $20 million in debt

Dan Strassberg
Sat Oct 14 16:56:20 EDT 2006

Absolutely, a radio talk host has to be entertaining. No argument there. But
for a talk show that is centered on current events and that carries a heavy
dose of politics, ENTERTAINING IS NOT SUFFICIENT!!! The host must be WAY
more knowledgable about the subject matter than the average listener. I also
think being passionate about his/her viewpoints adds to the entertainment
value IF the passion is not carried to extremes. Randi Rhodes absolutely
carries the passion to unreasonable extremes. Rachel Maddow, on the other
hand, though just as passionate, does not go overboard. On paper, Franken is
a great host. He is knowledgeable and passionate. But, alas, despite his
background as standup comic and a writer and performer for TV's Saturday
Night Live, he just doesn't have the chops for radio.

An interesting question is whether Marc Maron, former co-host of AAR's now
departed Morning Sedition does or does not have those chops. He is a standup
comic, but unlike Franken, his on-air persona and performance were quite
polished. And he and the other comics he brought in to do bits on the show
obviously labored mightily on the on-air product. When the bits were "on"
(maybe 1/3 of the time), they could be absolutely riotous. When they were
not on, they really laid an egg. But to me, Maron's biggest flaw was that,
without co-host Mark Riley, no standup comic, but a radio guy
through-and-through with a strong knowledge of current events, Maron was
simply not knowledgeable enough. Riley was able to step in and straighten
Maron out when he started to get in over his head, but it was quite obvious
what was going on--and I think it left a bad impression with a lot of
listeners. It did with me, anyhow.

Maybe the point is that it's a lot harder to be a liberal talk-show host
than to be a rightie talk-show host. By and large, when rightie hosts make
absurd statements on the air--which is the case with probably 80% of what
rightie hosts, as a group, have to say, nobody challenges them. On the other
hand, even when they are completely accurate, liberal hosts get challenged
immediately and get cut to shreds by rightie listeners unless they defend
themselves vigorously. This puts the rightie vigilante listeners in control
of the liberal shows' on-air product. The result is Randi Rhodes-style
shouting matches, which are tolerable for maybe 90 seconds in each 24-hour
period. Schultz seems to largely avoid that sort of controversy by being a
middle-of-the-roader--not a liberal. Though pro-union, he is actually quite
conservtive on many liberal hot-button issues, such as gun control (he's
against it). He also opposes reproductive choice--a subject he mostly avoids
because his views antagonize his listener base.

Dan Strassberg,
eFax 707-215-6367

----- Original Message -----
From: <>
To: "Bob Nelson" <>; ""
<>; <>;
"Donna Halper" <>
Sent: Saturday, October 14, 2006 11:10 AM
Subject: Re: Air America $20 million in debt

> The first job of a radio talk show host is to entertain.  The second job
> to entertain.  The third job is to entertain.  Therefore, the first job of
> the people who are putting a talk radio network together is to HIRE
> ENTERTAINING PEOPLE.  Ed Schulz is a case in point.  He is entertaining to
> listen to, therefore, he gathers an audience, therefore, his show makes
> money.  Ted O'Brien was entertaining when paired with Janet Jeghelian, as
> solo act, not so much.  The list goes on.  As Donna has said, Air America
> made numerous poor business decisions, but the first, in my estimation,
> hiring a set of hosts primarily for their Progressive credentials, rather
> than their ability to put on an entertaining talk radio show.  This is a
> mistake, of course, that happens all across the business.  Witness the
> number of stations and networks that have hired people who are celebrities
> in other fields who turn out to be complete busts on the air.
> I still believe there is nothing intrinsically wrong with hiring people
> a left-of-center viewpoint to host radio talk shows, even on stations
> dominated by right-of -center hosts.  They must be entertaining people who
> engage their audience so that they can either build a large enough
> of like-minded folks to make the show profitable, or, even better, they
> build an audience of people across the ideological spectrum who tune in to
> be entertained, even when the host's views drive them crazy.
> Dan Pierce
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Donna Halper" <>
> To: "Bob Nelson" <>; ""
> <>; <>
> Sent: Friday, October 13, 2006 2:23 PM
> Subject: Re: Air America $20 million in debt
> > At 12:27 PM 10/13/2006, Bob Nelson wrote:
> >>The network declared Ch. 11 bankruptcy today (ability to stay on air
> >>while they reorganize and pay off debt). The Smoking Gun has details;
> >>they owe $20 million (assets of $4 million)
> >>including almost $10 million to Rob Glaser of Real Networks and $360,000
> >>to
> >>Al Franken.
> >
> > My well-informed sources (people inside Air America Radio) say that a
> > large chunk of the money Al is owed is money HE lent Air America during
> > some times of financial crisis, just to keep it on the air.  And one
> > well-informed source who is with a competitor tells me Al is quietly
> > shopping his show around to see if he can place it elsewhere, in the
> > AAR doesn't get back on firm financial ground.  There was a myth from
> > O'Lie-ly that Al was being paid 500,000 a year or something-- I've seen
> > some of the financials, and no he wasn't paid anything close to that.
> > Like him or not, Al really believes in progressive radio, and while AAR
> > has been run by some pretty inept people (including the dishonest
> > founder, Evan Cohen, who incidentally was a long-time Republican and
> > supporter of Bush the Daddy... I only mention that because some of those
> > who are gloating on the right are ignoring that a rightie is one of
> > who started this entire set of problems, which AAR then compounded with
> > some incredibly bad management decisions.)
> >
> > Interestingly, if it's "liberal talk" that is a failure, why are the Ed
> > Schultz Show and the Stephanie Miller Show, both syndicated by the Jones
> > Radio Network, either breaking even (Stephanie) or making a profit
> > AAR's problems are more complicated than "oh progressive talk can't
> > We've discussed this before, and I don't wanna beat a dead horese, so
> > just remind everyone from the right that it took Limbaugh SEVEN YEARS to
> > become a successful talker, and sponsors were hesitant about being on
> > show then, just like many are hesitant to start off with progressive
> > now.  But when talk shows are interesting and are on stations where you
> > can actually hear their signal, and when there is a promotion budget to
> > support some outside events to bring in new cume, there are a number of
> > markets where progressive hosts are getting very good numbers.  The
> > is just 2 years old-- let's not write it off because AAR has never
> > out how to run their business cost-effectively...
> >

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