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Air America bounces back with Bush win

Al Franken’s radio network gets a boost from frustrated voters
/ Source: Reuters

Comedian and political provocateur Al Franken says the re-election of President Bush was bad for the country but good for his fledgling liberal radio network, Air America, as it strives to rebound from a rocky start.

Much as conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh grew in popularity as he railed for eight years against Democrat Bill Clinton, Franken sees Bush as the perfect foil in his mission to amplify the voice of the political left on daytime talk radio.

In an interview with Reuters ahead of this week’s return of Air America to Los Angeles, the second largest U.S. city, Franken said he was as disappointed as any lefty by Bush’s victory over Democratic challenger John Kerry.

But in his view, Kerry’s loss was Air America’s gain.

“Obviously, it’s more fun to go after Bush’s terrible ideas and programs than to defend Kerry’s not-quite-exactly-what-we-want plans,” said Franken, 53, whose New York-based show and the rest of Air America’s lineup will begin airing on KTLK-AM in Los Angeles Thursday, the day after Bush’s State of the Union address.

By the end of the month, the network that began in just six cities on March 31, 2004, then nearly collapsed weeks later amid financial woes, will have spread to 50 stations nationwide, including outlets in 15 of the top 20 markets, among them New York, Washington, D.C., Miami, Boston, Atlanta and Philadelphia.

It will even venture into Bush’s home state of Texas with a launch on a Corpus Christi station later this month.

The network’s programming, which includes shows hosted by actress Janeane Garofalo and commentator Randi Rhodes, also airs on satellite radio and the Internet on (

With a new team of executives in charge and investors committing additional capital, Air America President Jon Sinton predicted the network could reach profitability by year’s end.

“We are as far as I can determine the fastest-growing network in the history of this industry,” Sinton said, adding that its cumulative national audience ranges from 2.5 million to 3 million listeners per week.

That pales in comparison to the 20 million so-called “ditto heads” who tune in weekly to hear Limbaugh on nearly 600 stations nationwide, but Sinton noted that the conservative commentator has a 15-year jump on Air America.

The KTLK launch marks a key turning point after the network was unceremoniously dumped from another Los Angeles station last spring due to a cash crunch.

Ironically, some of the network’s biggest successes have come on stations owned by Clear Channel Communications Inc. , the media giant seen by liberals as a tool of the right and whose subsidiary, Premiere Radio Networks, syndicates Limbaugh’s show.

But Sinton said it should come as no surprise “when businesses behave in ways that will enhance their bottom line.” As one industry insider who spoke on condition of anonymity put it, “If Franken can deliver an audience, they’ll run to Franken. They don’t care about his politics.”