Sunday, December 10, 2006

Farewell to Franken . . ?

Friday I listened to the last Al Franken show on Radio Free Ohio and what may be his last live show ever. As Ohio Media Watch first reported, the signs of this have been mounting. First of course there was the Air America bankruptcy filing. Then Jones Broadcasting announced that drivetime talker Ed Schultz was moving to Franken’s noon the three. Then Air America announced it was dropping Franken and airing Schultz live, starting at noon.

As it turns out, Al is heading out to the Mideast for a USO tour this weekend, so Friday's show was officially the last of the season. But speculation abounds that Al won’t be back. What we know is that Air America may be sold soon to a “small company” that is unlikely to afford Al along with the other AirAm personalities.

Al’s official word is – Not tellin’. At this point I’m not sure if he knows what the future holds. Certainly this week has had the feel of a semi-farewell. Earlier this week Melanie Sloan from CREW did a tribute/thank you thing because he’s “going away for a while.” Yesterday he spoke to his on-air sidekick about their plans for fill-in programming and joked that it may be “a way forward.”

Then Friday's show wasn’t billed as a farewell, but it was certainly the farewell show Al would choose. He aired from Brave New Workshop, the theatre in Minneapolis where he and Tom Davis debuted as a comedy team when they were in high school. His original AirAm co-host, Katherine Lampher, joined to reprise “The Oy Oy Oy Show.” He even interviewed a WWII vet who had been on the first show as “A Liberal who hates America.”

So I will miss the show in any event, given that Al won’t air in Akron any longer, and may not even be able to stream him off the website.

Which is a shame. I’ll really miss Al. He’s not hugely popular even among liberals, but I’m a fan. First and foremost, I’m a Franken fan because he was one of the first to tell Democrats to grow a pair in the Nineties. Before he published Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations, the Left’s prevailing response to Limbaugh was to wring hands and wonder why he’s so mean. Al showed it was OK to hit back.

His show is a mixed bag. I understand why some people don’t get it. The humor bits are decidedly uneven. Where he really shines is in his choice of guests and his rapport with them. While make-do replacement Schultz favors interviews with pols, Al leans toward authors, activists and wonks. His regulars include Sloan, former Senate staffer and West Wing producer Lawrence O’Donnell, columnist emeritus Tom Oliphant and Salon columnist Joe Conason. The format was information plus snark and for me it worked. Something like an NPR show with a less abashed point of view.

And it may be at the end. The why of it will wait for another day. For now, a final gift for any fellow Franken fans who may feel the same. I recorded his appearance in Akron, but didn’t get it edited in time to post it when it made sense to. Al wasn’t at top of the game that day. We remarked afterwards about how he seemed a little low key. I attributed it to the travel schedule at the time, but then discovered that night that Air America had filed. The sour look on his face was the look of a man holding a $300 thousand unsecured debt from a bankrupt estate. But he got in the game when he needed to and busted of a few good bits. Much of it is The Best of Al Franken, but he brought some material specific to the event, particularly in support of Jennifer Brunner.

Just press play.


Village Green said...

Wow -- I was out of town and away from radio Friday and Saturday -- didn't know this was going on until I read it here.

I have loved Al Franken's work since I first saw him on Saturday Night Live when he was did the act with Tom Davis. I especially enjoyed his personification of the "Me" generation. Unfortunately, I never got to hear enough of his radio show as I would like. Hope he runs for political office in Minnesota.

Jill said...

Thanks for this review, Scott. I definitely call into that category that's never been enamored of Franken but I'm glad he does what he does - I just don't always get it. I'm certain he'll be back somewhere in some form to keep on doing what he does.

Anonymous said...

There clearly in no market for lefty radio. The free market system has spoken.

Bill Callahan said...

A little more information on just how the "free market" made its views on Air America known...