Wednesday, May 11, 2005

According to Garrison Keillor, Rush Limbaugh and his ilk are, "evil, lying, cynical bastards who are out to destroy the country I love and turn it into a banana republic, but hey, nobody's perfect." Unfortunately, these less than perfect windbags are spewing about 40,000 hours of misinformation and hate on air every week to our 3,000 hours of liberal talk. A forty to three ratio? Ouch.
But the times, they are a-changin'. The May 23 issue of The Nation is devoted to progressive talk radio. "Calling Air America" describes the two major progressive competitors: Air America and Democracy Radio. They were originally one group in the fall of 2002, but they split in a disagreement about two organizational issues.
The first is whether it makes more sense to be a network like Air America or a syndicator like Democracy Radio. Both are alike in that they supply "the programming in return for which a station allots [them] a certain amount of air time for broadcasting whatever ads it can sell." The difference is that a network sells a whole package. That might include lots of top-notch programming, but it has a downside: it's a lot easier to sell a station one or two programs than nineteen straight hours of programs.
The other major difference between them is that Air America counted on making a big splash with celebrities like Al Franken and Janeane Garofalo. Democracy Radio prefers to go with experienced broadcasters. For example, D.R. recently brought Nancy Skinner back from her radio show in Chicago to her native Detroit for a morning drive-time show. She'll be expected to develop a fiercely loyal following there. A score of other experienced, local A.M. talkers are slated to be dropped into slots in major cities.
Vying for the lead in liberal talk radio are two men who are a study in contrasts:
Democracy Radio's Ed Schultz, a side o' beef radio personality out of Fargo, North Dakota, and Air America's Franken. Schultz [on ninety stations] is a boomer, a fast-talking, ham-fisted, quick-paced table banger with years of radio experience and a perfected technique. Franken [on fifty stations] is an accomplished comedian, a famous writer and liberal headliner who puts on a friendly, slow, NPR-paced radio performance that stamps him as someone who has either not yet learned to be an AM talker or has decided to succeed by being a different kind of talker. ... It remains to be seen if the cerebral Franken, with his cerebral guests ambling cerebrally up the high road, will make it in the long run.

Not that Air America doesn't have its share of high-decibel, pot-banging personalities. Randi Rhodes drove Ralph Nader right out of the studio with a verbal barrage against his candidacy. Mark Maron is wont to rant about the Christo-fascists and Janeane Garofalo behaves "like a confused avenging liberal angel or venomous pixie, depending on your tastes and politics."
I'm more of an NPR, Al Franken cerebral type myself, but I'm grateful for Randi Rhodes and Ed Schultz for reaching out with a rawer, less well-bred message. And by the way, I don't mean to slight Amy Goodman,who's been producing top-notch on-air journalism for twenty years. She has an article in this issue all to herself. We need every talent we can muster to reach the whole population.

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