Air America to go silent

by Chris McGreal, The Guardian

First Massachusetts, now Air America.

One of the US's leading liberal radio networks, launched six years ago with the comedian Al Franken among its presenters to challenge the domination of Rush Limbaugh and other conservatives, has declared bankruptcy and will go off air on Monday.

Air America made a name for itself with Franken, until he left to win a seat in the Senate, who pulled in a sizeable part of its audience on 100 radio stations across the country. Other presenters included Ron Reagan, son of President Ronald Reagan.

Arianna Huffington hosted the first fundraiser to get the station on air. At times Air America was embroiled in controversy, such as when one of its hosts, Mike Malloy, was sacked in 2006 for referring to then President George Bush and his father as the "Bush crime family" and calling rightwingers "rat bastards". Malloy was also very critical of Israel. His dismissal drew criticism from some liberals.

Another presenter, Randi Rhodes, who at one time had the station's highest ratings, was forced out after off air comments calling Hillary Clinton "a big fucking whore" two years ago. She made similar remarks about Geraldine Ferraro, the former Democratic party vice presidential candidate. Rhodes later said the fuss over her comments was a pretext to get rid of her because of a contract dispute.

Air America's most popular programme, the Lionel Show, pulled in 1.75 million listeners a week but that was a fraction of those listening to Limbaugh and the station could never match the pulling power of its conservative rivals.

It was racked by financial turmoil and regular changes of management. It survived bankruptcy in 2006, and was sold for $4.25 a year later to a New York property magnate and his brother.

In a statement on the station's website, the owners said they searched in vain for new investors but could find none amid a drastic fall off in advertising and the encroaching impact of new media.

"Air America helped build a new sense of purpose and determination among American progressives. With this revival, the progressive movement made major gains in the 2006 mid-term elections and, more recently, in the election of President Barack Obama and a strongly Democratic Congress," it said. "Laws have changed for the better thanks to this revival.....but all the same our company cannot escape the laws of economics."

"This past year has seen a 'perfect storm' in the media industry generally. National and local advertising revenues have fallen drastically, causing many media companies nationwide to fold or seek bankruptcy protection," the company said.

After declaring that it could no longer stay in business on Thursday, the station began airing reruns and will shut down completely on Monday.

Fewer than 100 commercial radio stations in the US broadcast liberal talk shows. Limbaugh is carried on about 600.

article originally published at The Guardian.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey