Friday, July 31, 2009

A farewell to Air America Radio

Last week, despite deep regret, I canceled my subscription to Air America Radio. I have been a paying customer for many years now, giving about $11 each month for the privilege of downloading my favorite shows as podcasts. I finally decided that Air America no longer carries anything I want to listen to.

I think I heard nearly every episode of the Al Franken Show (previous "The O'Franken Factor" for a year) without missing any. I occasionally caught up on the Majority Report because I was a fan of Janeane Garofalo, and I subscribed to Randi Rhodes as well although she never fully clicked for me.

They've made a number of changes to their content over the years, some of them bad decisions and some of them not really their fault. First Franken quit to run for Senate (congratulations again, Al!), and I had to pick a replacement for my most listened-to show. I settled on listening to the Majority Report more. Even though Janeane quit to go back into acting, I discovered that Sam Seder had a bigger talent for commentary anyway. I listened faithfully to Sam until the AAR management decided he wasn't worthy to have a daily show. First they relegated him to a weekly show, and then they eventually dropped him for a while.

So I reluctantly switched to Randi Rhodes, even though she's generally too screechy and not thoughtful enough for my taste. As a bonus, Sam Seder often filled her shoes when she was on vacation. During this period I also added Thom Hartmann to my rotation, as well as Rachel Maddow, who was doing weekly news updates.

Randi Rhodes threw a temper tantrum at Air America and they fired her. Thom Hartmann took the prime time slot. Rachel Maddow got picked up for daily episodes. I listened to both on a semi-regular basis until Hartmann decided to leave AAR for unspecified reasons. Rachel became my main show, until she started dividing her time between radio and her new MSNBC show, which I also love.

At this point, I've found that I can get Thom Hartmann for free, as well as the audio of Rachel's TV show. There's simply no one else left on Air America that I really care to listen to. So, while I didn't mind spending money to support entertainment and politics that I like, I've dropped my subscription.

I remember when Air America launched, conservatives predicted immediate failure. Air America has not exactly failed, but I do think it has sort of petered out. At the same time, however, I think you could also call them a massive success based on the tangible accomplishments that they contributed to. Let me list them.

  1. Al Franken winning the senate by the skin of his teeth. There is no question in my mind that his popularity and name recognition were mostly due to his tenure as radio host. Thanks to that, we now have not only one more liberal Senator, but a really sincere and passionate liberal. That's notable.
  2. Liberal commentators on TV. Rachel Maddow, who has long been my favorite current AAR host, obviously gets to have her hour on TV thanks to her very excellent radio hosting creds. To a lesser extent, I think Keith Olbermann owes a great debt to Air America for blazing the trail and legitimizing liberal voices on talk radio.
  3. The 2006 election. Credit goes to a lot of people for flipping the house and senate, but I think Air America played no small part. Basically, I think that the political shift happened in large part thanks to grassroots donations encouraged by Daily Kos, and liberal outrage that was voiced regularly on the radio. In effect, hearing similar opinions helps to give liberals a better feeling of moral authority, which was lost temporarily when Bush went on his rampage after 9/11.
  4. While we're at it, let's remember that this trend continued and bolstered Obama's overwhelming electoral college numbers.
On the whole, I feel like Air America Radio has been a valuable asset with a limited lifespan. They blazed a trail that needed some blazing when it launched in 2003. Now perhaps it's no longer necessary for an all-liberal radio station to exist, as many of the authors, columnists, and hosts that I associated with AAR have gone mainstream. That's a track record to be proud of.


  1. Anonymous8:24 PM

    They canceled Break Room Live last week and I canceled them.
    The suits moved in a shit all over it.

  2. Anonymous7:42 AM

    Thanks Kazim- too bad you echo lots of folks with this

    Dallas Air America
    North Texas Progressive

  3. I remember trying to listen to Air America at one point, but I found Randi Rhodes so annoying that I couldn't stick with it. What I find most depressing is not their slow demise but the fact that even today conservative talk radio can be found virtually anywhere while liberal talk radio remains a rarity.

  4. I listen to Freethought on Air America, but you can get their podcast free through I-tunes.