Air America and Lessons Learned

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NOTE: Politics themselves will NOT be discussed in the comments. All violating comments will be summarily deleted. Radio2020 is a non-partisan effort with a focus on radio as a whole. This post is an examination of Air America‘s history with a look at its relevance for the industry as a whole.

Air America, the progressive radio network, will be going off the air tonight after transmitting since 2004. Richard Corliss of Time Magazine shares the announcement in a recent article:

“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,” the network announced on its website on Jan. 21, “and that the Company will file soon under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code to carry out an orderly winding-down of the business.” Live programming ended that day at 6 p.m.; reruns will continue, the statement read, “until 9 p.m. EST on Monday, January 25, at which time Air America programming will end.”

So, in six years, we have watched the rise and fall of a non-conservative talk radio network. There are a number of factors that have contributed to this state of affairs and I think it behooves us as an industry to take a look at them. David Hinckley, also at Time, offers a cogent analysis in his own column. In it, he hits on a few particular missteps taken that impaired the network’s ability to compete.

The first he mentions is one that I wholeheartedly agree with: radio is entertainment. While Air America understood that and tried to embrace it by kicking off with names like Al Franken and Janeane Garofalo, the error was in picking people without a radio background. Maintaining a three-hour radio show is vastly different from learning a script or delivering a well-practiced monologue. This, to me, is a critical point. Each medium has its own rhythm as well as its own strengths and weaknesses. Even paired with radio veterans, the pacing and tempo of the shows was often perceived as somewhat clumsy.

Additional factors included that they have recently been left with little to oppose, and opposition is integral to most political talk radio. Once President Obama took the White House and the Dems wrested control of the legislative branch, it became much harder to find topics to cover. This at the same time that political radio on the right was experiencing the exact opposite. Now on the minority side of the fence, they found no lack of potential content.

These two and the failure to embrace the Internet are the most important aspects to be examined. As “late to the table” as they were in the realm of cyberspace, the prime progressive “go to” spots had already been established: MoveOn.org and The Huffington Post. This left Air America effectively sidelined.

It is always important to understand the failures in our industry as to not repeat those errors. With that in mind, I’d suggest checking out both of the Time articles linked and quoted above. There is some fine analysis done by Messrs. Corliss and Hinckley.

Image: Air America Logo / Fair Use: Reporting

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