Video: Liberal talk radio hits the airwaves

By Anchor
NBC News
updated 3/31/2004 7:24:24 PM ET 2004-04-01T00:24:24

They say they're angry, disaffected by a conservative White House and tired of listening to talk-radio dominated by the political right.

Today, they had  their chance to be on the air.
       
Comedian Al Franken and others - including comics Jeanne Garofalo and rapper Chuck D - launched "Air America," a new, liberal talk-radio network broadcasting on half a dozen stations from New York to Los Angeles.

Their mission: to rally Democrats ahead of a contentious election season, and to take aim at conservative commentators who have ruled the airwaves for years: Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, and Sean Hannity.

"The mission of the show and the network is to get a foothold of the terrain that's been controlled by conservative talk radio," said Franken. "And it's about time we fought back and answered them. They do it by lying and distorting and bluster and bile. We're going to do it by telling the truth and maybe doing a little bit of entertaining along the way."

The network launch is the latest indication of a tug-of-war in American political media. While conservative shows like Fox News Channel's "The O'Reilly Factor" draw some of cable television's biggest audiences, some liberal books - like Franken's book "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right" - have also done well on best-seller lists.

Air America seeks to fight what Franken calls 'misinformation' put forth by hosts like Limbaugh on a daily basis. With his show, "The O'Franken Factor", a mix of comedy routines and interviews, he skewers the political right from noon to 3 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

Conservative radio dominates the dial
In the 1980s, talk-radio was largely considered politically moderate. But that changed during the Monica Lewinsky scandal of the Clinton White House: Rush Limbaugh's fledgling radio show energized right-wing conservatives who'd become frustrated with Clinton and the Democratic-controlled Congress.

"Many people who were of a conservative mindset thought, ‘Hey, the whole deck is stacked against us,'" said Michael Harrison of Talkers Magazine, a radio-industry publication. “’This form of radio is the only place we can go to get our point of view.'"

But whether liberals can have as much success with radio as conservatives have had is uncertain. Democrats like former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and former California Gov. Jerry Brown have had short-lived radio shows.

Michael Reagan, a conservative radio talk-show host, says liberals make poor media personalities because their views are too nuanced to be provocative to listeners. “They listen to us because we're not boring," he said. "And liberal radio has a tendency to be boring."

Challenges for the fledging station
Air America has its challenges ahead: it runs on a bare-bones staff and shares cluttered studio space with a New York R&B station in a midtown Manhattan office building.

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What's more, it will be heard on only five stations, with a sixth expected to be added in April. Limbaugh's show, by contrast, runs on nearly 600 stations. (Air Americawill be heard on XM Satellite Radio, as well as on-line at www.airamericaradio.com.)

Air America's executives say they're not worried. The company is financed with $65 million in capital, they say, and has more than $1 million in advertising commitments. Their current expectation is that Air America can operate without having to make a profit for several years.

"You can drive a truck through the opportunity in this radio market," said Mark Walsh, Air America's chief executive officer. "There's literally single-digit hours per week of liberal talk radio."

Evan Cohen, Air America's chairman, added: "Political talk radio for the last 25 years has been a very strong and viable economic business. And we're just tweaking the model a little bit."

Air America Stations
- New York - WLIB AM 1190
- Los Angeles -- KBLA AM 1580
- Chicago -- WNTD AM 950
- Portland, OR -- KPOJ AM 620
- Riverside, CA -- KCAA AM 1050

- XM Satellite Radio

Carl Quintanilla is an NBC News Correspondent.

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