Why Air (Head) America Sucks

As a talk radio pro who defends and cherishes free speech, it’s time for me to weigh in on why Air America sucks.  It’s not that I want them to fail – they already have once.  As a free speech advocate, I cheer for their success – unlike what many liberals hope for conservative talk which I helped establish in America.  But, since its inception, Air America has been a failure.  After its first financial disastor, it is attempting to make a comeback and has new and credible leadership in industry veternans Bennett Zier and Bill Hess.  But, it’s a long climb out of a deep hole. 

Air America’s newest ace is none other than former TV huckster Montel Williams.  He follows Jerry Springer who followed none other than…..Al Franken.  Now, there is some name value in all three, but the first two failed in radio.  Franken was an absolute disastor.  As I wrote in my upcoming book CENSORSHIP:  THE THREAT TO SILENCE TALK RADIO, Franken didn’t know he had to have something between the ears to do a three-hour radio talk show each day.  And, that’s what so many of these non-radio personalities don’t get.  Doing a three-hour radio talk show takes hours of prep time.  Most hosts spend about 3 hours of prep time for each hour of on-air time.  These guys just walked into the studio and thought it would happen automatically.  Listeners would flock to them….they were superstars – not!  There are no telepromters in radio!  Franken was so embarrasing when I watched him accept at award in New York before a gathering of radio executives a few years ago I almost puked.  We were ready for a 5-10 minute acceptance speech, but what we got was a 30-40 minute rant against Bush.  Nothing but whining.  And, this was at a cocktail party gathering.  Totally inappropriate.  Well….we all walked out.  He was left droning to a handful of followers while the rest of us walked out to the lobby and kept partying.  Franken was a horrible embarrassment to us.  Springer didn’t do any better.  So, why aren’t liberals having success in radio?

Some are – and they don’t have an association with the taint of Air America.  Some stations have a liberal leaning and work in markets like San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle.  Stephanie Miller, Ed Schultz, and Thom Hartmann have gained some traction independent of Air America.   But, ratings nationwide are next to nothing for Air America stations – and I watch them closely because for decades it was my job to generate ratings.  My job depended on it.  I placed the Air America format on two radio stations against my conservative talk stations and they failed miserably.  There are many reasons why Air America has so far failed to gain traction with listeners.

One is because most of the media is already liberal and it’s questionable whether there is more room for more liberalism in the media today.  They already dominate most of the media.  Look at NPR as one example.  It’s ratings are at an all-time high – so why many liberals are calling for a return of “fairness” regulations is beyond any normal logic.  But, we are not talking about logical people.  The reason Air America is not succeeding is because the vast majority of all media is liberal and there just isn’t a demand for more whiners.  That leads me to the second point. 

When Air America first began, it was comprised of a bunch of non-professional whiners.  They put ideology ahead of entertainment value.  None were a match for Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Mark Levin, Lars Larson, and any number of radio professionals who were entertaining as well as informative.  Air America was not entertaining.  It was “acid reflux” in our speakers.  Who wants to digest that?  They had nothing positive to say about anything.  Meantime, conservative talkers have always been more positive, happy, and genuine and it resonates with America.  It’s at the core value of what conservatives believe.  Traditionally, we are an optimistic group of people and we believe in the goodness of the individual.  Air America sounded the complete opposite and so American ears turned away.   

Air America also fails to resonate in the heartland.  Most decent people still believe in an old fashioned handshake as their bond.  There was no handshake coming from Air America.  There was from Rush and always has been.  Air America is also having trouble generating revenue because most people who listen to talk radio are entrepreneurs and hard-working business people and when they spend money on radio advertising, they believe in spending it conservatively…..and with conservatives.  They support their core values with their core dollars.  Flat out – most talk radio advertisers today are conservatives who don’t depend on government to provide them with a paycheck.  Air America just doesn’t have as many sources of revenue due to socio-economic values in America.  As an example, conservative radio in Portland, Oregon does 4 times as much revenue as the liberal station, according to my long time sales sources in the market.  The reason is as mentioned above.

And, the reason conservative talk has done so well is because for decades most media was liberal.  When the Fairness Doctrine was lifted in 1987, conservatives could come out and voice an opinion on the radio without fear of government retribution.  There was so much pent up demand that it took off like wildfire.  There just isn’t that same pent up demand for liberal talk because it is everywhere to begin with.  It’s the law of supply and demand.  And, of course liberals don’t understand that. 

So, back to Montel Williams.  Good luck.