March 31, 2004

"Air America"--New Talk Radio Goes On-Air

got this from a list-member:

Liberal talk radio goes on the air
'O'Franken Factor' kicks off Air America

Wednesday, March 31, 2004 Posted: 1:39 PM EST (1839 GMT)

CHICAGO, Illinois (Reuters) -- The gloves are coming off on talk radio.

Comedian-provocateur Al Franken is anchoring Wednesday's launch of a new liberal radio network -- Air America -- that promises irreverent voices from the opposite end of the political spectrum to conservatives like Rush Limbaugh who dominate talk radio.

"We're going to listen to (Limbaugh's) show and hold him up to scorn and ridicule," Franken said in a telephone interview.

The debut is auspiciously timed: the presidential candidates have come out swinging and liberal anger at Republican President Bush is at a fever pitch.

Network chief executive Mark Walsh said the goal was to skewer "pomposity" in high places regardless of political affiliation. "We're not in regime change radio," he said.

Walsh said his most recent job was as "the Internet guy" for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry. Franken also knows Kerry, who along with filmmaker Michael Moore is a likely Air America guest.

The network will also feature other radio neophytes such as actress Janeane Garofalo, rapper Chuck D and activist Robert Kennedy Jr. Each will be paired with a radio veteran.

Franken has kicked off with a three-hour midday show, "The O'Franken Factor," a mocking tribute to his broadcasting foe Bill O'Reilly's show on Fox News.

A former writer on NBC-TV's "Saturday Night Live", Franken wrote the best-selling comic diatribes "Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot" and last year's "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right." The latter triggered a short-lived lawsuit from Fox News.

Wine and cheese, or red meat?
A onetime high school wrestler, the 52-year-old Franken's recent antics have earned him the label of comic brawler: he tackled a heckler at a political event and offered to fight a magazine editor who said Democrats had "sissified" politics.

Franken turns serious when discussing Bush.

"This is a president who ran as a uniter not a divider and he's the most divisive president that I can remember," Franken said. "He had an opportunity to lead us in a new American century united in purpose and sacrifice and blew it completely. He wanted for some reason very, very, very badly to attack Iraq ... (which) I think has damaged the war on terror."

Limbaugh and other conservative radio figures such as Sean Hannity and Michael Savage -- whose dominance of talk radio balances what some see as mainstream media's liberal bias -- have already begun mocking the upstart network.

"They're saying we're a bunch of wine-swilling cheese-eating liberal idiots; that it'll never work; that liberals don't listen to the radio; that all we did was hire a bunch of comics and not anybody that knows anything about radio," Walsh said.

Franken admitted he drinks wine occasionally but doesn't know the difference between labels. "I do eat cheese; they're more accurate than usual there."

Observers are unsure about Air America's chances of success but it has drawn an avalanche of publicity as the first liberal-minded radio network.

In truth, the serious-minded Pacifica network and segments of National Public Radio have already staked out liberal positions.

"If these guys succeed, you know who's going to be banging down their doors to get them on? All the guys running conservative talk radio. Radio's not a political business. Politics is just a product ... a prop," said Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers, a magazine that covers the industry.

Air America is armed with $30 million in investor cash and a $30 million credit line being used to lease AM stations in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco, with more stations promised.


Posted by shereen at March 31, 2004 05:13 PM