After years of keeping it alive on life-support, investors have finally pulled the plug on Air America. What difference will that make on progressive talk radio nationwide? Zero.
The truth is that Air America, which launched on March 31, 2004, died at least twice before. First, when it declared for bankruptcy in 2006. The second time, when Al Franken left the network to run for U.S. Senate. And it's moribund ever since.
In the future, business majors will study Air America as the textbook case of a great idea, but lousy execution. The plan was to create a progressive talk radio network to compete with the army of right-wing talk show hosts. Given that 50 percent of the country did not vote for George W. Bush and are therefore not served by talk radio, that idea was, and remains, a solid business proposition. But there were two problems.
The first was that Air America was not properly funded from the beginning. Even before its launch, it was taken over by a con artist who was later convicted on un-related charges of business fraud. Managers spent money lavishly on talent and studios, while generating little advertising income. At one point, staff went without pay checks while Al Franken hustled money from new investors. New owners took over, but the operation continued to bleed cash until the latest owner finally said: Enough!
The other problem was that, in the beginning, Air America filled its ranks with people who were long on political ideology, but short on business or talk radio experience. Except for Randi Rhodes, few of their talk show hosts had ever been behind the microphone. Except for Jon Sinton, few of their executives had ever worked in talk radio. In many ways, it was amateur hour from the beginning.
So the surprise is not that Air America died. The surprise is what took it so long. For the last few years, Air America has existed in name only. Which is why, in the thriving and expanding world of progressive talk radio, the absence of Air America will hardly be noticed.
Most of today's nationally-syndicated, progressive talk show hosts - Ed Schultz, Stephanie Miller, Thom Hartmann, Mike Malloy, Randi Rhodes, and yours truly - have never been, or are no longer, Air America hosts. Our programs will carry on, without interruption or change. And, in every market where we are heard on the air, we will continue to match or beat our conservative competition in both ratings and revenue.
So, no matter what conservative talk show hosts may claim, fear not. The demise of Air America does not mean there is anything wrong with progressive talk radio today.
Air America, the company, may be dead. But progressive radio, the new force in talk radio, lives on - louder and stronger than ever.