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Rep. Major R. Owens Headshot

A Neglected Slice Of Constituents For Air America?

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Stuff would happen when Air America came to New York. White progressives knew it was coming and expected positive communication actions. Black New Yorkers were not in the loop and thus experienced great shock when they woke up one morning and found that WLIB, the premiere African American talk radio institution, was no longer on the air. Bad stuff had happened was the first conclusion reached. But then hope struck like lighting and assumptions were made that Air America would be wise enough to recognize the obvious compatibility of its ideology and philosophy, its message, with New York's Black radio audience. After all, more than ninety percent of Blacks have consistently voted Democratic for the last fifty years. With a minimum of hesitation and in harmony with almost all of their elected officials Black New Yorkers have stood against the war in Iraq. In numerous other ways the Air America owners, producers, investors, commentators, etc. are natural "soul brothers and sisters" with the New York Black leadership.
The critical and painful question is why didn't good stuff happen here. Why wasn't the marriage blessed by the angels in progressive heaven consummated? Black power hostility? White liberal insensitivity? Contempt for local news even if it is local news in the nation's media capital? A liberal cocktail party orientation? Ego myopia? Programming incompetence? Inexperienced leadership? Please pardon my inability to answer these questions. This constructive outburst is a plea for an internal review. At this point I deem myself not qualified to offer answers.
Is Air America a toy for bored, liberal and progressive intellectuals; or is it a medium with a mission to contribute to the process of expanding the base of progressive power in America? Originally, did it not offer to construct a countervailing force to Rush Limbaugh and his loud henchmen? Is it oversimplifying the purpose to conclude that there are two priorities: To broaden and deepen the understanding of a constituency already sympathetic to a progressive public policy; and to convert as many as possible among that vast body (nearly fifty percent of the electorate) of non-political, non-voting, apathetic, despairing and bewildered Americans. Indeed, this constitutes ambitious targeting. But didn't the original founders and investors conceive Air America to be a bold challenge as well as a noble challenge where the stakes are indeed very high?

Some additional disturbing observations:
• Rush Limbaugh is usually rabidly wrong but he almost always sounds impressively profound.
• The Air America style is too often chatty, humorous and straining to be entertaining even when the substance on the agenda is a very serious matter.
• Among that vast new audience with potential for conversion are many progressives with church values who are turned off by the constant repetition of the word "fricking." Most adults know that this word means the same as boning, humping, screwing, etc. Only the FCC is too stupid to understand the emptiness and futility of their language regulatory policies.
• News of concern to the Black community frequently overlaps with national and international issues; however, Air America's scripts seem unaware of such connections.
• Recent local political events with great national significance have been ignored by Air America: A white Democratic liberal invested more than a million dollars attempting to take advantage of a multiple candidate race within a Voting Rights District; however, Air America showed little interest. In a similar situation in Tennessee, a white liberal won the Democratic nomination. Is this pattern of events likely to have an impact on solidarity within the Democratic Party base?
• Air America did retain a few personnel of the former Black radio station--why weren't they given a greater role in programming?

Recent information, not available at the time this statement was begun, indicates that Air America must meet an important bankruptcy court deadline within the next twenty days. Count me among those souls fervently hoping that this noble experiment will survive. And beyond that pivotal point I look forward to some evidence of consultation, cooperation, collaboration, etc. with the New York and national Black community.

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