Was Air America Doomed From the Beginning?


(January 22, 2010) Air America Media, the Progressive Radio or liberal talk radio network, shut down yesterday. The local “Progressive” station, KTLK (1150AM), has a combination of Air America programs, Ron Reagan, Richard Greene, Rachel Maddow and a slew of weekend programming. This cataclysmic shift will give management an opportunity to reassess whether they will go with another full slate of liberal talkers or change format.

The network was born in the spring of 2004. The key to a successful syndication operation is to have station affiliations in the major cities. Air America needed Los Angeles for national sales. The 1150 frequency was the Dodger station for a time and XTRA Sports 1150. A strong deficiency in signal strength prevents the station from being heard throughout the Southland, which became the kiss of death in a PPM world.

AM stations, save the enormous success of KFI and to a lesser degree, KNX, which has  listenership that has moved mostly to the fm dial. But back in 2004, Air America waved a million dollar check in front of the execs at Clear Channel to take on the programming.

Don Martin was the program director at the time, in addition to being in charge at all-Sports KLAC.

When the programming option was presented, Martin said he took the Air America programming with the option of taking Ed Schultz and Stephanie Miller (liberal talkers not with Air America). “When you put a station together,” Don said by phone Wednesday, “in a city of this magnitude, you always want to clear one of the drives locally, if you can. In the beginning there just wasn’t enough money [advertising dollars] to put together a local show.”

By September of 2004, Don flipped the mornings from Air America (The Morning Sedition) to Stephanie Miller. “She was a better show. Stephanie and Randi Rhodes in the afternoon were a tremendous one-two punch. The station got to a 2 share 12+ a couple of times,” said Martin. “We felt pretty good about that and the addition of Ed Schultz was a nice anchor in middays.”

martindonblueshirt“Does it shock me that Air America went away?” Don (l) asked rhetorically. “It was teetering back and forth for the whole time. There were money problems any number of times. Then they would find money. They changed presidents of the company at least three or four times. And with the chance that Obama might win, they kept finding money to stay in it because they honestly thought they could skew the election. To their credit they kept it going.”

Martin thought the company would go away after the election. “To go another full calendar year is a true testament to what they were trying to do. The majority of the big ‘Progressive’ talk show hosts are no longer with Air America and I think that’s what happened. Stephanie, Shultz, Randi and Thom Hartmann are not Air America shows. They are Dial-Global and Clear Channel. I think that’s what put them to bed.”

“The biggest problem that Air America had was they thought they could put on a network that was Rush Limbaugh to the left twenty four hours a day. Too much of anything is bad,” insisted Don. “They beat the same horse every hour. All they did was change the talking head using the same topics and the same sound bites. America is not going to swallow that. To me it was just not good radio.”

Don felt that calling the station ‘Progressive Radio’ was a huge mistake. “I was behind it and did it. I look back and it was the biggest mistake. It should have been ‘L.A.’s Talk Station’ or just ‘K-TALK.’ Successful stations don’t paint themselves to either side.”

Charlie Kireker, chairman of Air America Media issued this statement to employees and the press yesterday:

“It is with the greatest regret, on behalf of our Board, that we must announce that Air America Media is ceasing its live programming operations as of this afternoon, and that the Company will file soon under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code to carry out an orderly winding-down of the business.

The very difficult economic environment has had a significant impact on Air America's business. This past year has seen a ‘perfect storm’ in the media industry generally.

National and local advertising revenues have fallen drastically, causing many media companies nationwide to fold or seek bankruptcy protection. From large to small, recent bankruptcies like Citadel Broadcasting and closures like that of the industry's long-time trade publication Radio and Records have signaled that these are very difficult and rapidly changing times.

Those companies that remain are facing audience fragmentation as a result of new media technologies, are often saddled with crushing debt, and have generally found it difficult to obtain operating or investment capital from traditional sources of funding. In this climate, our painstaking search for new investors has come close several times right up into this week, but ultimately fell short of success.

With radio industry ad revenues down for 10 consecutive quarters, and reportedly off 21% in 2009, signs of improvement have consisted of hoping things will be less bad.

And though Internet/new media revenues are projected to grow, our expanding online efforts face the same monetization and profitability challenges in the short term confronting the Web operations of most media companies.

When Air America Radio launched in April 2004 with already-known personalities like Al Franken and then-unknown future stars like Rachel Maddow, it was the only full-time progressive voice in the mainstream broadcast media world. At a critical time in our nation’s history - when dissent on issues such as the Iraq war were often denounced as ‘un-American’ - Air America and its talented team helped millions of Americans remember the importance of compelling discussion about the most pivotal events and decisions of our generation.  

Through some 100 radio outlets nationwide, Air America helped build a new sense of purpose and determination among American progressives. With this revival, the progressive movement made major gains in the 2006 mid-term elections and, more recently, in the election of President Barack Obama and a strongly Democratic Congress.

Laws have changed for the better thanks to this revival.....but all the same our company  cannot escape the laws of economics. So we intend a rapid, orderly closure over the next few days. All current employees will be paid through today, January 21. A severance package will be offered tomorrow to full-time current employees with more than six months of tenure. 

We will strive to assist affiliates and partners in achieving a smooth transition. Starting at 3 p.m. today, we will provide our affiliates, listeners and users a selection of encore programming until 6 p.m. on Monday, January 25, at which time Air America programming will end.  

We are proud that Air America’s mission lives on through the words and actions of so many former radio hosts who are active today in progressive causes and media nationwide. In the years ahead, as we look back, we should all be proud of our passionate determination to assure that our nation’s progressive voice would be heard loud and clear. Through the hard work and dedication of current staff, and those who preceded you, a lasting legacy was forged which will now continue through other voices and venues. 

Thank you.”

Charlie Kireker

New Women in the Land of LARP

howelldeborah(January 21, 2010) With the start of the New Year, a number of new women have joined the ranks of Los Angeles Radio People (LARP) within the past year. We’ll go in alphabetical order to avoid bruising any delicate egos.

Deborah Howell is part of KTWV’s WAVE weekends and fill-in. Born in Minneapolis, she worked at several big-time stations: WNUR-Chicago, KTWN and WLOL-Minneapolis, and in New York at ‘HOT 97,’ KISS/fm and CD101.9.

A golfer, Deborah has vacationed at the Phinda Private Game Reserve, South Africa. When asked her favorite thing about working at the WAVE: “It’s like driving a Lamborghini…a lush and sensual ride, with excellent people riding with you and the best audience in the world!”

murphykimberKimber Murphy works middays at KGIL, “Retro 1260.” She has hosted and programmed radio for nearly 20 years. She's versed in multiple formats including Smooth Jazz, beginning at KOAI-Dallas. As operations manager and morning host for Smooth FM at SW Networks, Kimber was heard in 16 markets nationwide.

Later, Kimber hosted Alternative Rock and Soft Rock at WDBZ and WNSR-New York.  In 1998, she joined the #1 station in New York, WLTW, where she was named Billboard's Adult Contemporary Music Director of the Year in 2000.  Kimber also spent six years managing several channels for the AC Division at Sirius Radio.

Currently, in addition to her midday show at Retro 1260, she now also hosts a channel for Delta Airlines and is an active voiceover talent.

Melissa Teper works weekends at Classic Rock KLOS. Her journey was written as an odyssey.

tepermelissaklos“Once upon a time, in a far away land filled with strip malls and big hair, there lived a little girl. The land was called ‘Longuyland’ and the little girl was known as ‘Missy.’

Missy dreamed she would one day grow up and become a famous drummer in a rock band [like a female Keith Moon, only alive and without a drug problem]. However, when Missy started school she met an evil, calorically challenged, sexist pig music teacher, who told her drums were for boys, and forced her to play the clarinet and join chorus. With a lip full of splinters and a broken heart, Missy practiced the clarinet and sang.

Until one day, in an ugly cafeteria incident, which she is still in therapy for, it was brought to Missy's attention that she couldn't carry a tune, and the clarinet case she carried was ‘geeky.’ Dejected, rejected, and with pieces of cheese sticks in her pig-tailed hair she wondered, ‘How, oh how, will I ever be on the radio and get backstage at concerts if I'm not in a band?’

Then one day a fairy godmother appeared, disguised as the head of the school audio/visual squad, and told Missy there was an opening for a ‘morning announcement’ person. The person who took this job would be in charge of making important announcements, like assemblies, plus get out of homeroom. Missy knew, deep down, this was her destiny. After a few more years of microphone practice, thanks to a drive-through window at a local quality fast food establishment, which did not serve cheese sticks, dj Melissa was born.

Fast Forward to a time when schools no longer served cheese sticks because they are bad for you. After studying tv/ radio broadcasting in college and several jobs in radio markets with 90 or 91 listeners. Melissa moved to Boston and got her first major market job at WBCN where she stayed for 10 years. She then moved to Los Angeles and was the executive producer, writer and VJ for the first made-for-mobile rock video channel. Melissa now finds herself at the legendary KLOS and pinches herself daily [pinches - not gooses] that she gets to work with some of the most legendary air personalities in the country!”

Steve Harvey Starts a Family Feud

harveyophrahbook(January 21, 2010 - 6:49 a.m.) KJLH' syndicated morning man Steve Harvey is the new host of the Family Feud. He takes over next fall from John O'Hurley. The production company said Harvey was chosen for his ability to connect with viewers and his "one-of-a-kind" personality.

Harvey has made a concerted effort to enlarge his base of influence in the past 18 months. The syndicated radio show, which is estimated to bring him $6 million a year, is only part of his empire. Last year the release of his book, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, resulted in a full hour on the Oprah Show, elevated him to an even broader audience. He is perceived as a relationship expert and Steve appeared on numerous show dispensing his home-grown advice on how to behave in relationships.


Dees Set to Debut


(January 20 - 5:14 p.m.) Debut Broadcasting Corporation, a media and entertainment company, has joined with Rick Dees to launch terrestrial radio and new media content in national syndication. Debut’s national radio syndication subsidiary, Impact Radio Networks, will distribute the existing archive of Rick Dees Weekly Top 40 programs from the '80s and '90s, and a new weekly countdown featuring Dees' son, Kevin Dees, called the Teen Top Twenty. The agreement also incorporates new media content for radio station Web sites, including on-line music channels, mobile phone applications, and on-demand podcasts.

Angels Relief Good News

threeangelslogo(January 20 - 10:57 a.m.) Gary Hoffmann is part of the KFI morning show with Bill Handel. His wife is involved with an organization called Three Angels Children’s Relief, which encompasses an orphanage, a school, and a medical clinic. “There were 26 kids in the orphanage at the time of the earthquake and they were in Pétionville, which is sort of a suburb of Port au Prince. All 26 kids somehow got out without so much as a scratch. The building is damaged to the point where they can’t move back into it.”

And they moved the kids out of the country. “We got an organization called Missionary Flights International that had a plane leaving Port au Prince to go back to Florida. The best news is that all 26 of those kids are now in the United States.”

The news is not all good. “The Department of Family Services for the wonderful state of Florida has come and parked a van outside the St Lucie Airport and has threatened to take all 26 of those kids unless the adoptive parents can get there, which is fine but we have parents flying from California, Idaho, Indiana, Arizona and all over to get to the St Lucie airport to get these kids," said Gary. "And we don’t know what kind of timeline the Department of Family Services has in mind in terms of when they will let these kids go.”

The kids range in age from four months to eight years. They are all in various levels in the adoption process.