Air America’s Al Franken
Air America, the liberal radio answer to Rush Limbaugh, is now asking its listeners to send in money, leading some analysts to say the network is “crumbling.”
The network, featuring voices including Al Franken and Janeane Garofalo, has developed a program where people become “associate” members by contributing cash.
On its website, Air America lists the benefits of membership, stating, “In return for your help, we’ll send you a monthly Associates insider e-mail with the backstage news from our shows and our headquarters. When we take Air America Radio on the road, we’ll invite you to meet our hosts and progressive leaders in your community. And for gifts of $50 and up, we’ve got free stuff to send you.”
Among the “free stuff,” Air America is giving contributors three bumper stickers to help spread word about the programming. Gifts of $100 or more entitle listeners to “a stylin’ yet functional tote bag,” and for those donating at least $250, “our hosts and staff will personally thank you at this level of giving on AirAmericaRadio.com and on the air.”
“We know we can’t achieve this next stage of growth without significant help from you, our loyal listeners,” said the network in an e-mail to supporters, according to Mediaweek, which said the “unusual move for commercial radio” was “more common to noncommercial stations and political action committees.”
The problems at Air America were the subject of a segment tonight on “The O’Reilly Factor” on the Fox News Channel.
“It is really almost comical that they’re putting on these sort of panhandling pleas to their audience members,” WorldNetDaily columnist Michelle Malkin told Bill O’Reilly, saying bad content was key to the demise. “They’ve got a trail of debts, a trail of creditors. There’s two stories really here. The crumbling of Air America, and the failure and the refusal of the rest of the mainstream media to cover it as a financial, political and entertainment media story.”
Malkin was among the first writers to document a scandal at the network, involving hundreds of thousands of dollars reportedly diverted from the Gloria Wise Boys & Girls Club in New York to Air America. The network recently repaid the club $875,000 after the word of the diversion seeped into the national media.
Radio analyst Brian Maloney told O’Reilly, who also hosts a radio talk show, the company clearly had a bad business model, and he’s not sure it can survive.
“As things stand now, they may be down to their last couple of months,” Maloney said, “but that could change at any moment if [George] Soros or one of the other big guns comes in, steps to the plate and puts up some cash. But otherwise, I think things are looking bleak. They’re overpaying the air talent, they’re fending off lawsuits, they’re overspending. They just put a brand new studio facility in. They didn’t need that. That was at Franken’s insistence and now he’s not even going to use it. He’s moving to Minnesota. So they’re wasting money, they’re not bringing it in. It’s a mess.”
But some, like media instructor Donna Halper at Emerson College in Boston, are not so sure the network’s obituary should be written just yet.
“The early stumbles of a new network like Air America prove nothing,” Halper, a radio consultant for 25 years, told WND. “The fact is that most talk-show hosts, no matter what their politics, have to build an audience and a commercial base slowly. Some will succeed, others will vanish.”
As WND recently reported, a California radio station pleaded for advertisers to sponsor the liberal programming of Air America shows it broadcasts, claiming it could not get a single ad.
Limbaugh reacted to that news, saying, “I think this is the lesson for all of you who wish to show some sort of financial revenue income by carrying liberal radio. You have to orient yourself to fund-raising, not commerce. Commerce has never been part of the recipe here. … You are doing something good for the cause.”