U.S. liberals took their anti-Bush battle to the airwaves Wednesday as comedian Al Franken launched the Air America Radio Network to counter the right-wing hosts who dominate daytime talk radio.
With presidential candidates coming out swinging and Democrats’ anger at Republican President Bush at fever pitch, Air America began broadcasting in six major U.S. markets.
Franken directed repeated jabs at Bush, including this reference to the 2.2 million jobs lost since he took office, as well as economic woes when his father was president:
“Put him and his father together, that’s seven years of being president, without creating one new net job. If they had been president since the beginning of the country, we’d all be hunter-gatherers,” Franken said.
The launch came on radio stations in New York; Los Angeles; Chicago; San Bernadino, California; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Portland, Oregon, as well as on satellite radio and on the Internet.
That modest beginning will only make a small dent against the 600 stations carrying nationally syndicated right-wing hosts like Rush Limbaugh, known for his outspoken take on the ”bleeding heart” Democratic point of view.
Right-leaning radio has grown in popularity in a nation politically polarized since President Bill Clinton’s impeachment battle and the 2000 election, in which Bush beat Democrat Al Gore despite winning fewer votes.
Franken’s three-hour program featured interviews with former Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska — a member of the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks — and documentary filmmaker Michael Moore; a satirical piece on airport security in London, and call-ins from listeners, including Gore.
“I think it went great,” Franken told Reuters after the broadcast. “I’m very happy with it.”
Air America’s chief executive, Mark Walsh, said the goal was to boldly present a liberal voice missing on the airwaves and “to make you laugh”.
“You will giggle when you listen although we will be tackling serious subjects.”
The hugely popular U.S. right-wing talk shows tend to reflect the views and personalities of their hosts, rather than trying to present opposing views.
The other side of the divide is National Public Radio, which conservatives have accused of being liberally biased, even though the non-profit network follows journalistic traditions of presenting both sides of arguments.
Air America makes no bones about its stance. “We clearly have a political tilt,” Walsh told Reuters. “It’s obvious we are in direct philosophical conflict with virtually every other talk show host today.”
Still, Walsh said the aim of the network was not simply to derail Bush’s re-election bid and back Democratic challenger John Kerry.
“We’re not regime change radio,” Walsh said. “We do want to make a buck. We expect to go profitable in year three.”
Air America has $30 million in investor cash and a $30 million credit line being used to lease AM stations. It will be hard put to approach revenues generated by Limbaugh’s show, which can command $16,000 for a one-minute advertisement.
Walsh is optimistic. “I think what you’ll see in a short time, is that we will close deals with traditional consumer goods companies,” he said. “Liberals buy beer, they drive trucks, they take vacations, they have arthritis. We’re also consumers.”
Besides Franken, a former comedy writer and performer on ”Saturday Night Live” and the author of the bestselling, “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot” and “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right,” the network will also feature hosts such as actress Janeane Garofalo, rapper Chuck D, and Robert Kennedy Jr.
Walsh said other stations would be added soon, with San Francisco joining on April 15.