Air America Radio
(commonly abbreviated to AAR
) is an American radio network
specializing in politically liberal talk programming
. The network started programming on March 31, 2004 and features discussion and information programs with hosts reflecting progressive
points of view. The network specializes in presentations and monologues by on-air personalities, guest interviews, calls by listeners, and news reports. Air America's most popular hosts, Thom Hartmann and Lionel, are estimated to each have over 1.5 million unique listeners a week. On October 13, 2006 Air America Radio filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy
. The company was bought by Green Family Media, made up of New York real estate investor Stephen L. Green
and his brother Mark J. Green
, who closed on the purchase of the network on March 6, 2007 for US$
Air America Radio's liberal talk radio programming
and radio shows consist primarily of news, talk, comedy, interviews, guest editorials, and listeners' telephone calls. The talk portions feature some extended host monologues
in the classic talk radio format. Live and pre-recorded comedy routines
, featuring various comedians, are also aired. As with most syndicated
broadcast networks, local affiliate stations are able to choose which programs to air subject to contractual arrangements.
The shows follow a half hour format from six minutes past the hour to 28 minutes after the hour followed by a hard break
for six minutes until 34 minutes past the hour. The final hard break occurs at 58 minutes past the hour leading into the news at the top of the hour.
Before June 29, 2007, Air America featured their own news summary breaks at the top of each hour, with content from wire services such as the Associated Press
(AP) and United Press International
(UPI). Newscasters included Bill Crowley
, Wayne Gillman, Mike Piazza, and Mark Scheerer. Some affiliates use other news services or run their own newscasts during the six minute "news hole" at the top of the hour. AAR later switched to AP Radio Network
News, and more recently Free Speech Radio News
Public affairs and editorials
The public affairs
programs tend to closely follow current happenings in the news, with monologues and reflections offered by the hosts and their guests. Listener comments by phone or the Internet are worked into these segments along with the interviews.
Although better known for its political shows, Air America also features a couple of music oriented shows on weekends. On The Real
featuring Chuck D
has a strong music focus. The Steve Earle Show
(which ended in 2007 with Earle moving to Sirius Satellite Radio
) mixed music with political commentary. Also, most of the talk shows have their own theme songs, use bumper music
to segue between commercials and segments, and play political novelty songs. Theme songs and bumper music are generally commercially released rock music.
Air America produces twenty one hours of weekday network programming. The entire schedule is carried on the network's Internet stream
, and affiliates may carry some, most or all shows.
The network's current schedule, as of October 2008, consists of:
- The Lionel Show (three hours 9 a.m-12 p.m. ET), debut: May 14, 2007
- The Thom Hartmann Program (three hours: 12-3 p.m. ET)
- Doin' Time with Ron Kuby (three hours: 3-6 p.m. ET)
- The Rachel Maddow Show (two hours 6-8 p.m. ET), debut: April 14, 2005, moved from early mornings effective September 18, 2006, extended to third hour effective March 10, 2008, reduced to two hours effective September 8, 2008.
- The Ron Reagan Show (one hour 8-9 p.m. ET), debut: September 8, 2008.
- Clout (two hours 9 p.m.-11 p.m. ET) with Richard Greene, moved from weekends effective September 4
- This Is America with Jon Elliott (two hours 11 p.m.-1 a.m. ET), initially aired on an interim basis, following the departure of Mike Malloy, then became permanent host (Detroit-based host Peter Werbe was another interim host).
- The Lionel Show rebroadcast (two hours 1-3 a.m. ET)
- The Thom Hartmann Program rebroadcast (three hours 3-6 a.m. ET)
- Doin' Time with Ron Kuby rebroadcast (three hours 6-9 a.m. ET)
On many Air America affiliates, weekends feature repeats and highlights from the network's weekday shows, combined with new original programming and some syndicated shows produced independently.
Original network programming for weekends includes:
- The Al Franken Show (three hours: 12-3 PM ET) (Aired March 31, 2004-February 14, 2007). Originally The O'Franken Factor,. Franken left the show in order to run for the U.S. Senate from Minnesota.
- The Randi Rhodes Show (four hours: 3-7 p.m. ET, later shortened to 3-6 p.m. ET) March 31, 2004-April 3, 2008. After being suspended by Air America management for derogatory remarks toward Geraldine Ferraro and Hillary Clinton while off the air, Rhodes quit the network on April 9, citing a contract dispute. Rhodes moved to Nova M Radio the next day.
- So What Else is News? with Marty Kaplan (first daily for one hour; later weekends for two hours)
- Liberal Arts with Katherine Lanpher (one hour)
- The Kyle Jason Show (two hours)
- Morning Sedition with Marc Maron, Sue Ellicott, and Mark Riley (three hours: 6–9 AM ET) (Aired April 1 2004-December 16, 2005)
- Unfiltered with Chuck D, Lizz Winstead, and Rachel Maddow (three hours: 9 AM–12 PM ET) (Aired April 1 2004-April 1 2005)
- The Marc Maron Show (two hours: 1AM–3AM ET) (Aired February 28, 2006–July 14 2006 on KTLK)
- The Mike Malloy Show (three hours: 10–1 AM ET), August 2, 2004-August 30, 2006. Moved to Nova M Radio on October 30, 2006.
- The Majority Report with Sam Seder (Janeane Garofalo cohosted with Seder until July 2006) (three hours: 7-10 PM ET). Seder moved to a new time slot, and the show was renamed. Aired March 31, 2004-September 15, 2006
- Springer on the Radio with Jerry Springer (three hours: 9-12 PM ET), first aired April 1, 2005. Moved from regular schedule on September 18, 2006 to Air America Syndicaton. The last live broadcast of the show was on December 5, 2006 with reruns airing until December 8.
- Mother Jones Radio with Angie Coiro (one hour)
- The Mark Riley Show (one hour: 5-6 AM ET), combined with Politically Direct into The Air Americans.
- Politically Direct with David Bender (one hour 8-9 PM ET), the show moved from the weekends to weeknights effective September 18, 2006, combined with The Mark Riley Show into The Air Americans.
- EcoTalk with Betsy Rosenberg (one hour 9-10 PM ET), the show moved from the weekends to weeknights effective September 18, 2006. Show removed from weekday schedule May 18, 2007, and may resurface eventually on Sunday mornings.
- The Time is Now with Rev. Dr. James Forbes
- The Young Turks with Cenk Uygur (three hours 6-9 a.m. ET), debut: September 18, 2006 (final airing: January 15, 2008)
- American Afternoon, featuring revolving celebrity guest hosts such as Richard Belzer, Joy Behar, Ron Reagan, and Roseanne. (three hours: 3-6 p.m. ET) (April-June, 2008)
On September 8, 2005 Air America Radio formed a separate syndication division, designed to offer additional programming and services to both progressive talk and other talk/music formats. Air America Syndication was used to syndicate Thom Hartmann
, and later Springer on the Radio
which aired at the same time as The Al Franken Show
and The Sam Seder Show
respectively on the regular network lineup. Springer ended his show on December 5, 2006 and Franken's ended on February 14, 2007. On January 29, 2007, Air America announced that Hartmann would replace Franken on the regular network lineup. There currently are no programs syndicated as a part of Air America Syndication.
In late 2002 Chicago entrepreneurs Sheldon Drobny
and Anita Drobny
, angered at the firing of their favorite radio host, Mike Malloy
, decided to try to get Malloy syndicated nationally. At Mike's behest they called Atlanta-based radio executive Jon Sinton and requested a national berth for Malloy. The Drobnys hired Sinton as CEO of AnShell Media, and the three went about raising money. The first official fundraiser was in October, 2002 at the home of Arianna Huffington
. The gathering was enthusiastically attended by many Hollywood notables. Sinton's brother, broadcaster Carey Bruce Sinton, suggested calling the venture Central Air, a name that stuck until just before launch.
AnShell announced its intentions publicly in a New York Times article in February 2003 in which writer Jim Rutenburg interviewed Jon Sinton about the need for a balanced national discussion. Sinton, the Drobnys and their associate, Javier Saade, a Harvard Business School grad and venture capitalist, continued to raise awareness and money throughout 2003 by spending time in New York, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles. Sinton met repeatedly with Al Franken to convince him to become the network's anchor talent.
After mentioning actress and activist Janeane Garofalo during an appearance on Judy Woodruff's Politics Today show on CNN, Sinton received a call from Garofalo stating her interest in hosting a show. On a fundraising trip to Los Angeles, Sinton, at the suggestion of Al Franken, met with Daily Show co-creator Lizz Winstead and convinced her to come along as vice president of entertainment programming. Around the same time, he talked former associate Shelley Lewis into leaving her job producing American Morning for CNN to come aboard as vice president of new programming. In November 2003, Sinton's brother Steve Sinton left Clear Channel's talk radio division to join AAR as vice president of programming and operations.
Meanwhile, fundraising was difficult. During a trip to Washington D.C., former Clinton Chief of Staff John Podesta suggested a young lawyer, David Goodfriend, who introduced the Drobnys and Sinton to his former college roommate, Evan Montvel Cohen, who had profited from advertising and research companies in the Pacific Rim. Having taken the idea as far as they could, the principals sold AnShell Media to Cohen and his partner, Rex Sorensen, a broadcaster from Guam, who formed Progress Media, with Cohen as chairman, and Mark Walsh as CEO; Sinton remained as President.
In early 2004, talent, engineers and producers were hired, a lease was signed with New York's WLIB creating a New York home and affiliate, and, at noon Eastern time on March 31st, the newly re-named Air America Radio Network was launched.
At that point, Air America Radio was the only all-progressive talk radio network. A predecessor, the UAW's I.E. America Radio Network, which was home to hosts such as Thom Hartmann, Peter Werbe, and Mike Malloy, never gained national attention. Its last day on the air was February 27, 2004, only weeks before Air America took to the airwaves.
AAR became the fastest growing network in modern radio history as Sinton was able to assemble a national network of 100 stations, including 18 of the top twenty markets, in just six months.
Difficulties and turnover
At the time it started Air America Radio, Progress Media
stated it had secured US$30 million in venture capital
before its debut. The amount was later estimated by the Wall Street Journal to be closer to US$6 million; Sorensen said that an investor had backed out at the last minute.
Two weeks after the on-air debut of Air America Radio, programming was withdrawn in two key markets due to contract disputes. Multicultural Radio owned two stations contracted to carry Air America programming, in Chicago and Santa Monica, California. Air America alleged that Multicultural Radio had sold time on its Los Angeles station to both Air America and another party, and said that that was why it stopped payment on checks due to Multicultural while Air America investigated. Multicultural Radio argued that Air America had bounced a check and claimed it was owed in excess of US$1 million. Air America Radio filed a complaint in New York Supreme Court, charging breach of contract and was briefly granted an injunction to restore the network on WNTD-AM in Chicago. On April 20, 2004, the network announced the dispute had been settled, and Air America's last day of broadcast on WNTD was April 30, 2004. The New York Supreme Court ultimately concluded that the injunction was improvidently entered and that Air America Radio's court action was without merit, dismissing Air America's complaint and awarding over US$250,000 in damages and attorneys' fees to Multicultural. According to a subsequent lawsuit filed by Multicultural, Air America Radio never paid the sums ordered by the court.
Four weeks after Air America's debut, its CEO, Mark Walsh, and executive vice president for programming, Dave Logan, left the network. One week after those departures, its chairman and vice chairman, Evan Cohen and his investment partner Rex Sorensen, were forced out by the remaining investors who asked Sinton and the network's executive producer, Carl Ginsburg, a lawyer and experienced newsman, to operate the company.
As part of a reorganization, the Progress Media board of directors bought the assets of that company, creating a new company, Piquant LLC; at around the same time, the company decided to stop trying to buy radio stations and lease air time, and to allow affiliates to carry programming outside of the network's offerings.
On February 28, 2005, a new CEO, Danny Goldberg, was named, and in April 2005, Gary Krantz was named president of the network. Ginsburg and Sinton were named co-COOs with Ginsburg in charge of operations and Sinton running programming and affiliate relations.
In December 2005, over Sinton's objections, CEO Danny Goldberg broke up the network's morning drive-time show Morning Sedition, and let comedian and co-host Marc Maron's contract lapse. While the increased overhead for the show's heavily produced format may have been a factor in the show's demise, Maron claimed that Goldberg did not "get" or agree with the comedy on the show. Maron exacerbated the conflict by calling attention to his situation during the show for several weeks, prompting a petition drive that garnered over 5,000 signatures. This was to no avail, as Maron announced on November 28 that his last show would be December 16, 2005. Maron was offered an evening show, which ran briefly on affiliate KTLK in Los Angeles, but Air America never followed through with promised national syndication and the show was cancelled in July 2006.
Goldberg announced his resignation on April 6, 2006, after a little more than a year on the job.
Janeane Garofalo's last day as co-host of The Majority Report was on July 14, 2006. Although several reasons for her departure were cited (including her outside acting responsibilities), rumors claimed the relationship between Garofalo and co-host Sam Seder had become increasingly strained.
By the late summer of 2006 Sinton and Ginsburg's influence was marginalized (both would leave in short order), and the network began to fray. On August 30, 2006, nighttime host Mike Malloy was fired from the network. In the two weeks before the firing, Malloy had announced an impending multi-year deal for him to stay with Air America (and to return on the air in New York City), and so far the firing has not been explained. Rumours persist that Malloy's criticism of Israel during their bombardment of Lebanon in the summer of 2006 may have played a role. News of his termination was conveyed via a short statement on the homepage of Malloy's website, posted by his wife/producer Kathy Bay Malloy. His final show was on August 29, 2006, filling in for Randi Rhodes. No mention of his firing was made during the broadcast. Malloy's firing drew criticism from Air America on-air talent, including The Majority Report's Sam Seder and Randi Rhodes. It also began a massive online campaign, including a petition that has over 17,000 signatures as of October 2006. On October 30, 2006, Malloy resumed his show on a newly created progressive radio network, Nova M Radio.
In 2008 Rhodes herself was suspended from the network, prompting her to leave Air America Radio and join Malloy at Nova M Radio, taking much of her audience for the time slot with her. The show continues to be aired in its former time slot on the Air America channel on XM Satellite Radio, pre-empting the Ron Kuby program that replaced Rhodes.
Gloria Wise controversy
In July 2005, the Bronx News
reported that the Gloria Wise Boys and Girls Club
of Co-op City
, a non-profit organization providing services for children and seniors in the Bronx
, loaned US$480,000 to Progress Media, then owner of Air America Radio. It later turned out that there had been four separate transfers from Gloria Wise, of $80,000; $87,000; $218,000; and $490,000; between October 2, 2003, and March 14, 2004, totalling $875,000, and that no interest was to be paid on these loans.
Since then, the city has suspended further funding of the agency, and Boys and Girls Clubs of America has revoked the group's right to use their name, likeness or logo. At the time the funds were to have been transferred, Evan Cohen, former chairman of the now-defunct Progress Media, was also Director of Development for Gloria Wise.
In response to this report, Air America Radio's owners at the time, Piquant LLC, issued a press release stating Piquant had "no obligation to Progress Media's business activities", and Piquant, as previously agreed, would "fully compensate" the Gloria Wise Boys & Girls Club. While Gloria Wise remains under investigation, Air America has since repaid the loan. On May, 28, 2008, Evan was arrested at Guam International Airport for a warrant from the State of Hawaii. He is indicted in Hawaii for money laundering and stealing over $60,000 from a Honolulu-based landscaping company.
Bankruptcy filing under Chapter 11
On October 13, 2006, Air America filed for bankruptcy
protection under Chapter 11
, at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court
for the Southern District of New York
. Air America continued broadcasting while the finances were worked out with the creditors. The company had US$4,331,265.30 in assets and US$20,266,056.23 in liabilities. Al Franken
alone was owed US$360,749.98 and Rob Glaser
, founder of Real Networks
, was owed the most at US$9.8 million. The filing had over 25 pages of creditors and showed that the company lost US$9.1 million in 2004, US$19.6 million in 2005 and an additional US$13.1 million by mid-October in 2006.
Air America sold to Green Family Media
On January 29, 2007, Air America "signed a letter of intent to sell its business to SLG Radio LLC, an entity controlled by Stephen L. Green
, the founder and chairman of SL Green Realty Corp, a company that controls 27 million square feet with a market capitalization of US$12 billion". Air America CEO Scott Elberg said of Air America's sale, "We are extremely pleased to have reached this agreement with Mr. Green, which will solidify Air America’s future.
The sale was completed on March 6, 2007 to Green Family Media, a new company created by Stephen Green and his brother Mark J. Green. Stephen became the network's chairman, and Mark became president of Air America, with a hands-on role. Former chief executive Scott Elberg remained as chief operating officer.
Mark Green announced on Thursday, April 25, 2007 that Westwood One would take over the handling of Air America's ad sales from Jones Radio Networks. In addition, a new lineup was unveiled for the radio network. The top four weekday shows were kept, but extensive changes were made to the rest of the lineup. Green also announced a major redesign for the network's website, in addition to a new logo.
On March 14, 2007, the new owners of Air America announced the hiring of long time radio veteran David Bernstein to be the new Vice President of Programming. Prior to joining Air America, he was best known as the program director at New York radio station WOR from 1995 to 2002.. In an interview with the New York Daily News, Mr. Bernstein explained his vision of Air America's future as "I don't see our purpose as 'answering' conservative radio or Rush Limbaugh. There's no clear majority in this country today. We want to talk to everyone and help everyone make the right choice." On November 15th, 2007, industry news site Radio Online reported that Mr. Bernstein is exiting Air America.
's Winter 2008 ratings book, Air America stations carrying a majority AAR programming and in markets for which Arbitron reports results four times a year averaged a 1.2 share
. The highest rated Air America affiliates were KPOJ
in Portland, Oregon (3.7 share), WXXM
in Madison, Wisconsin (3.5), and KABQ
in Albuquerque, New Mexico (2.6). The lowest rated affiliates were WDTW
in Detroit, Michigan (unmeasurable), WOIC
in Columbia, South Carolina (0.4), WTKG
in Grand Rapids, Michigan (0.5), and flagship station WWRL
in New York City (0.5).
WXXM in Madison had announced in November 2006 that it would switch to all sports programming by the end of the year. Following a very vocal backlash from the station's listeners and syndicated hosts, Clear Channel in Madison later backtracked, deciding to leave the progressive talk format on the station.
WWRL in New York recently dropped Thom Hartmann and now gets less than half of its programming from Air America.
As of April 4, 2008, Air America programming was carried on 60 terrestrial broadcast stations in 47 markets. Thirty-one of these stations broadcast a majority AAR programming. During the 4 1/2 years of the network's existence, Air America has lost 57 affiliates to other programming or formats. Air America counts any station that carries any of their programming as an affiliate, similar to radio networks such as ESPN Radio
Air America programming can also be heard on XM Satellite Radio channel 167, "America Left". About half the shows on XM167 are from Air America. Interestingly, many of the other shows are hosted by former Air Americans: Mike Malloy, Randi Rhodes, The Young Turks, and Bill Press.
Air America fan sites
Air America critics