Friday, April 02, 2004

Air America Radio

I've been listening to Air America Radio at various times since it began. In case you hadn't heard Air America is the new privately funded liberal radio network that is meant to compete with all the right wing talk shows. It's on radio stations in five cities, as well as XM radio. I live in Austin, TX, which is not in one of the sweet spots, so I have to go listen to it via RealAudio on their web site. Al Franken, former Saturday Night Live Veteran and author of Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, is host of "The O'Franken Factor" at 11:00 (noon eastern time), a title intended solely to piss of arch-rival Bill O'Reilly. I try never to miss an episode of O'Franken when I'm at work, and I occasionally catch bit of other shows, particularly The Majority Report with my favorite underrated movie babe, Janeane Garofalo.

Quite honestly I think Al started a bit weak but ramped up very quickly. On day 1 he felt a lot like he was relying too much on rehearsed material and an awfully large percentage of his jokes fell flat. (Except when he brought in Bebe Neuwirth -- "Lilith" from the show Cheers -- to play Ann Coulter. That was a riot.) But each day has been exponentially better than the last, and I know that Al will make a great host in the long run.

I'm happy to have a real liberal media for a change. I hope a station will open in Austin soon. Years ago when I first moved here, there was a fun, witty, slightly left of center host named Shannon Burke (a guy) on one of the local AM stations, sandwiched between Dr. Laura and G. Gordon Liddy. One day without warning, the whole station got shut down and changed overnight into a crummy oldies station. As far as I know, the poor guy just showed up for work one day and they told him, "This station doesn't exist. Go home."

One thing that has been a real downer for me is trying to find a place to discuss the show. When I like something, I want to get together with like minded people and just chat about it. However, finding a place to discuss the show on the net has been tricky, because every conversation quickly gets loudly commandeered by conservatives presenting such deep and well-thought out arguments as:

  1. He sucks.
  2. He's not funny.
  3. Ha ha, liberals don't get it.
  4. I give it six months, tops.
  5. It will be so sweet when George Soros loses all his money.
  6. U suck.

Of course I expect a certain amount of discussion on this level. It's the internet. But in this case, the focus of right wingers is so strident that you'd think it was the Second Coming of Clinton or something.

I'm a long time member of the Motley Fool message boards. The main place where people talk about Air America is on the appropriately named "Political Asylum" board, where half the contributors are screaming raving Bushies to begin with. And a quick search for "o'franken" on Google Groups will quickly reveal that the place where Al discussions are MOST popular is Nuff said, right?

I know this is how modern conservatives operate. As Michael Moore, Tim Robbins, the Dixie Chicks, and Valerie Plame will be the first to tell you, ever since Bush took office the first order of business for dissenters is to shout them down. It's not "I respectfully disagree with your opinions," it's "HOW DARE YOU talk back to me when I'm telling you the way things are?!?"

The comical thing about all this is that after years of angry blowhards on talk radio, the number one comment you hear about Air America hosts is "They're SO NEGATIVE!"

A close second is "What these lefties just don't get is that you can't just have a popular radio show for your agenda... you have to be ENTERTAINING." This bit of brilliant advice is usually delivered by competing radio hosts in a wise tone of voice that indicates they've just revealed to you the meaning of life. Yeah guys, no shit!!! And here I thought that Air America just got on the air so they could broadcast policy discussions on tobacco imports from Zimbabwe.

There's actually two funny things about this claim when it comes from conservative talk show hosts. The first is that people like Limbaugh, Hannity, and O'Reilly are RARELY funny to anyone who doesn't already agree with them. Their idea of highbrow humor is "liberals suck", followed closely by pointing out that some liberal woman is not terribly attractive, if you know what I mean. Most consistently unfunny comic strip? Mallard Fillmore. When you think of the comedy greats, who generally pops to mind first? Monty Python? Lenny Bruce? George Carlin? One key element of comedy is a certain irreverence for society's sacred cows. That DEFINITELY does not mesh well with right wing ideology.

The other silly thing about the claim that "You can't set up a radio network just because you have an agenda" is that this is EXACTLY what conservatives did when they set up their media empire. Rupert Murdoch didn't just wake up one day and say "Hey, I'll start buying up a whole lot of TV and radio stations and newspapers, and maybe a few of them will just happen to promote a right wing message." Limbaugh was nothing before he started getting backing from political groups like Capital Cities and ex-Bush adviser Roger Ailes. So I just don't buy it.

Nevertheless, it's hard to listen to all the slams on Al and Air America and not get a little pessimistic. I want this station to do well. I want to be able to turn on my radio and be able to hear something that is neither Rush nor a RushClone. It worries me that this effort will actually fizzle for whatever reason, and it will be even harder for anyone else to ever attempt such a thing again.

And finally, I don't believe any of the other stereotypes about liberals that are suddenly popping up in the wake of Air America's launch. You know... liberals are too policy oriented, and they don't care about entertainment. Liberals are a bad target market. Liberals don't listen to talk radio.

If I myself am any indication, liberals like to laugh. And we DO have an interest in talk radio. It's just that we've been listening to Limbaugh and Hannity for years -- in small doses -- because there's NOTHING ELSE ON. Sometimes I do, in fact, listen to the above just to get myself irritated. But don't think for a moment that this means I wouldn't rather listen to somebody who's right. Nevertheless, I will not be at all surprised to find that a large part of Air America's demographic is conservatives, for the same reason that I listen to Limbaugh (when I can stand it).

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