If a liberal tree falls in the forest, is anybody listening (other than the environmental activist who’s chained to it)?
First off, I have to admit to being wrong. When the idea for Air America was announced, I was skeptical that it would make it a year and a half, as it has. But, then again, a decade ago, who would have guessed that Bill and Hillary would ever stay together long enough to celebrate their 30th anniversary, as they did earlier this month?
One of the goals of Air America, since its inception, was to be an entertaining liberal alternative to all the conservative radio out there. This would be accomplished by engaging personalities, news and, most importantly, humor. So far the jokes have been flying, but in many cases you have to wait until the ratings books come out for the punchlines.
The new radio ratings book is in, and in the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., Air America has no measurable audience. It hasn’t been this bad since Phil Donohue’s show on MSNBC was beaten in the ratings by a test pattern on Channel 371.
Liberal radio’s inability to find an audience in D.C. is like a fox going into the henhouse and still coming out hungry. In New York City, the fox emerges with an appetizer, but not the full course meal you’d expect from a city as liberal as the Big Apple. There are many reasons, but the message is clear: NPR with commercials is a tough sell, no matter where it is.
If Air America’s ratings continue to sink, Arbitron will have to hire Robert Ballard to go down to retrieve them.
Three years ago, when the idea of a liberal radio network was first proposed, this was one potential disaster that wasn’t difficult to spot. Investors, noticing that there was no liberal competition to Limbaugh, Hannity, et al, saw an unfilled market niche and ordered their ship “full speed ahead.” That niche may turn out to be an iceberg.
The hatchling network stepped out of the nest without fully developed wings, and the listeners they do have may be about to hear it go “splat” on the pavement. I certainly hope not, because Air America’s existence could be the difference between free market radio at its finest, or some boneheaded politician rehashing “fairness doctrine” drivel simply because free market radio operated at its finest.
So, who is listening to Air America? The obvious answer for the network is, “not nearly enough.”
In pockets of New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Boston and others, Air America finds some listeners who have some free time between “international conflict resolution” courses at college and mocha lattes at “Asbury Perk,” but not anywhere near an audience the size needed to support a national radio network. The left’s foray into radio has so far been a directionless disaster, the likes of which haven’t been seen since Fred Noonan turned to Amelia Earhart and said, “I thought you brought the map.”
The problem for wannabe radio talk entertainers on the left is that their ideas – when there are any – are visually oriented. Liberalism is “The Three Stooges” of political philosophies. It’s a slapstick ideology, and therefore must be seen to be appreciated and laughed at. Naked bodies lying side by side spelling out the word “peace” must be seen for the full effect. Spray painting fur coats is boring to only listen to. Someone chained to a California Redwood to protest logging while chanting “who speaks for the trees” has some bark visually, but no bite on radio.
Liberals who want a radio show: Consider yourselves forewarned – you can’t draw a Hitler mustache on a picture of George W. Bush, perform an effective skit about an NRA member accidentally shooting his foot off, or whine about gas-guzzling SUVs from the back seat of your limo in an effective fashion on the radio.
Could Air America end up surviving? Maybe, but only if some Berkeley researchers are successful in making a composite clone of Limbaugh, Hannity, Boortz, etc., inject novocaine into the left-brain at the correct point in gestation, put the baby in a basket on Nina Totenberg’s front porch, knock on the door, and run away. In a mere 40 years, they might – emphasize might – have a viable radio talk-show host.
Air America’s ratings prove that liberals need to stick to what they’re good at, which is … well, not non-federally funded radio.