Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Left of the Dial

If you missed the news yesterday, liberal talk radio talk network Air America was sold to the brother of longtime Naderite activist Mark Green. Buyer Stephen Green and brother Mark will try to lead the network in new directions:

    “In this digital era, the tech changes by the day, and Air America Radio has to become something of a new-media company,” Mark Green said. “We look forward to an A.A.R. 2.0 that has sharp, smart content better distributed over a variety of platforms. And what better time to try this than with progressive and democratic values obviously on the rise?”
Wherever they go, it will be without the best horse in their stable. Headliner Al Franken announced his intent to leave Feb 14 once the sale was announced. Apparently he had been hanging on the aid the transition to new ownership. You can hear audio of Al’s announcement on yesterday’s show at his website. At the time, Franken said he was close to deciding whether to take a run at Minnesota Republican Senator Norm Coleman -- a decision he has now finalized. For his part, Coleman wasn't waiting around to find out.

All this comes on the heels of protests in Columbus, aided and publicized by our friends at ProgressOhio and responding to the decision by ClearChannel to clear the decks of all liberal talk programming. That effort seems to be taking a new – and more efficacious – tack, reaching out to potential advertisers.

That gets closer to the crux of the matter. Liberal talk stations are failing as businesses. I haven’t seen any credible evidence to the contrary and, as dodgy as ClearChannel is politically, it’s hard to believe they wouldn’t stay in that market segment if there was money to be made.

As to why, I think its a few different factors. It hasn’t helped that Air America as a company has been horribly run. At the outset industry watchers were scratching their heads over the decision to launch an entire network with a day’s worth of programming all at once. No one runs a radio network any more – they pretty much died out at the dawn of television. Plenty of other missteps followed, arcane to us civilians but patent to the likes of Ohio Media Watch.

Another factor may be that there are just few liberals than conservatives. Not to say that conservatives dominate – polls I’ve seen put numbers just below 20% identifying as liberal and somewhere in the low thirties as conservative. Most folks identify as moderate. Still, a bigger audience is a bigger audience.

But I also wonder how much is because liberals simply consume news differently. Liberalism is dedicated – to an annoying and paralyzing degree at times – to the proposition that all sides should be heard, that one should consider the full breadth of evidence and that any point of view has potential merit. One pet theory of mine is that conservatives see liberal bias in the media because any sort of balance – any suggestion that there may not be one absolute truth – is in itself a liberal proposition, inconsistent with conservatism.

Or as Al Franken himself somewhat portentously put it during the run-up to the Air Am launch, “Liberals look for information; conservatives look for ammunition.” Air America attempted to be the left’s ammo dump and a lot of liberals declined to load up.


Village Green said...

And yet I really enjoy listening to 1350 AM, which seems to me has been picking up more and more advertising over the past few months.

Jeff said...

That's a very elegant idea - that the notion of balance is an inherently liberal notion. However, I'm inclined to think that the problem is simply that liberals spend less time listening to the radio!

Liberals tend to listen while driving (in their Volvos!), at best, while I think of conservatives as having their AM radios buzzing in the background all day long at work, and all evening as they oil their collection of assault rifles. Perhaps they need the continual infusion of anger much like I need late morning coffee ... afternoon coffee ... late afternoon coffee ...

Think I'll go get some right now.