Friday, April 02, 2004

Department of New Networks I Hope Work

Day before yesterday, Air America Radio, a new, progressive radio network, took to the air for the first time, with a show hosted by Al Franken, called "The O'Franken Factor."

The New York Times wrote about it, of course, dubbing the network "liberal," which as we all know, is a "dirty word" these days.

The Times points out that the founders of the network had originally planned to buy five stations outright, to have a permanent home for their shows, but failed. "Instead Air America has bought programming time on stations with moderately strong signals, but previously low ratings: WLIB-AM in New York, WNTD-AM in Chicago, KBLA-AM in Los Angeles, KCAA-AM in Riverside and San Bernadino, Calif., and KPOJ-AM in Portland, Ore. A San Francisco station is expected to be announced in early April."

AAR has also purchased broadcast time, according to the Times, "in Ohio, Florida and other states considered battlegrounds in the presidential election."

Jacques Steinberg, who covers the media for the Times, writes that "there is the question in radio and conservative circles whether liberals can be entertaining enough for talk radio." To bolster this idea, he includes two quotes, one saying that liberals "sometimes . . . just sound so grim" and another, from AAR's president, Jon Sinton, who says, "The problem with really wonkish policy discussion is that it does not attract or hold a mass audience."

Not to worry. At least, not so far. I have yet to hear anything approaching wonkishness on any of the shows. Al Franken was *hilarious* in his opening salvo on Wednesday. One of his running gags was a skit in which Ann Coulter was locked in the green room, and Al would "go over there" every once in a while "to check up on Ann." (I'm not going to bother writing out the script; it wouldn't be nearly as funny as if you had listened to it. Though not available yet, Franken claimed that shows will be archived.)

One of the things I like most about AAR so far is the uncanny way it mimics most of the tropes of right-wing talk. Randi Rhodes, for instance, is obnoxious as hell, cutting off her listeners, insisting she knows best -- all of that stuff. The kind of crap that bothers me. But you know what? That's a *good* thing. Why? Because these shows need to reach the kind of people who *like* obnoxious talk radio. *Then* the network may actually begin to change minds. That's what I believe, anyway.

And I love listening to Chuck D in the morning!

There are many other minor touches about the network that have pleased me so far, but the real point of all this is simply to get you to listen. Since the flagship station -- WLIB, 1190 AM -- is here in New York, I listen to it on a "flesh-and-bones" radio, but anyone reading this can listen, because it's also aired on the Internet, via Real Player.

Go ahead. Click here and listen to it. Now.