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Thursday, January 28, 2010

So Long Air America Radio...
Posted by Melina | 11:38 AM

There was a time when I listened to AAR all day. The early programming was that good, and with the exception of the grating Randi Rhodes who I sometimes couldn't take, it was my touchstone of sanity at a dark time in American politics. At some point I realized that I was keeping the radio on all day as I went through my schedule, often stopping to write things down and look them up, always feeling like there was some small ray of hope in what had become a real national nightmare.

For AAR, still considered fledgling, its been a rough go of investors and owners who wanted to see a profit in a business that is guaranteed to not show a profit for years. The lack of patience that each management team has shown was uniquely American, causing the loss of its best shows, tinkering all the time rather than allowing momentum to grow, and missing chances to build on the incredible well of talent that had been assembled from the beginning. Someone was sleeping in Broadcasting 101, unless this was just another corporate fuck, with the attitude of 'how much can we get out of this sucker?' and leave the drained carcass to die. The teams that came and went certainly talked a good game aboutAAR being more than just a station; yeah, really, "a movement!!" but the problem is bigger than just that; Americans want their profit and their big screen TV yesterday. We haven't yet lined up our Rupert Murdoch, willing to lose billions of dollars in service to a message. The visionary part of that for theneocon very rich is the long run, where an administration like Bushco actually pays them and their friends back tenfold in contracts and breaks. Im not so sure that the very rich liberals are that tied in to the military complex or visionary enough in the same sort of cut throat take over the world vision.

The day that Ronald Reagan did away with the fairness doctrine which protected our airwaves from the likes of the sort of big business machine that has come to rule them, was the day that this all began. The airwaves belong to the American people and the push of capitalism to take over and privatize everything is uniquely ...um...neocon. Privatization with regulations cut, and batty uncle Ronny saying "why do we need regulations? Old Mr Floyd from the hardware store down the street is perfectly willing to police himself...? Right?" Of course, the legacy of that deregulation has come to fruition now in the Supreme Court ruling that corporations have seemingly endless rights...forget it, we're fucked...

So long AAR; it went into reruns last Thursday and no one even noticed. The New York Times had a piece the other day about how liberal radio has to be more business-like and in these troubling financial times it was a bad business proposition,yada, yada, yada....
OK, was anyone gonna get rich on this? They were fools if they thought so. The new corporate model of a quick payout doesn't work in this medium, and trying to force that made the thing messy and embarrassing by the end, with the likes of the well hated, smarmy, Mark Green and his infomercials and continual failed bids at being a political player..."hey, wanna go on a cruise?"...yuck!

AAR was a mad experiment cast by the minds that brought us the likes of the Daily Show, it had a different tone, and it expected more of the audience than to just sit back and absorb the lies; the early Air America challenged us to think, reason, and take control of our lives using the tool of truth. The entire weekday lineup was challenging and at a time where the government was spewing lies at us, echoed by the main stream media news outlets, so, it followed that this programming would take all the more time to find its audience and create the foundation upon which to grow. We sounded like conspiracy theorists beforeAAR came along and we had Al Franken fact checking everything thoroughly...to the point that no matter what anyone said about him and how ne presented things, they coulldnt say that what he said wasnt true. This was a revelation for me; you could hate Al and his persona, you could say "youre gonna believe that guy?" but you couldnt ever say that his facts were incorrect.
It did find an audience, in that the numbers were growing with the kind of fans that are loyal and long-term. The problem was to maintain an already screwed up business situation and for that they brought in the wrong person.

Danny Goldberg, CEO/investor/good friend of Don Imus, and a music industry "big shot", seemed to think that with Don's input he could program a radio station like he was rearranging the songs on a record or the members of a band. Coming into a situation midstream must have been difficult for him, and the pressure of the board and stockholders was an issue but really, what was needed was a firm hand in assuring everyone that tinkering too much would dislodge the invaluable hardcore fans in the service of passing numbers. According to Goldberg, he turned himself inside out fighting The Man, saving RachelMaddow from obscurity, and if not for the stockholders and capitalism in general, he was going to save radio from itself.
This guy thought that his gut could somehow turn AAR into a profitable business, way ahead of schedule, and on top of that he would tinker with a lineup with steadily growing numbers to try to create a magic that he knew nothing about. If he thought he could show a profit at that point and presented himself in that light, he was full of shit. No programming, much less a new station which is building an audience could be profitable in that amount of time. In a way it was folly to put a non-radio guy in that job in the first place, but perhaps that was the only way that the investors could hear what they wanted to; that this thing wasn't going to hemorrhage money for 4 or 5 years at least. Goldberg quickly ushered in the beginning of the end of AAR and as much as I understand that he viewed this as production pre-release, he was unprepared for what would happen when he messed with what was a good lineup. His claims that he was hired to raise money fall on deaf ears here, because he clearly was rearranging the lineup more than he was out raising money. This was not the job for him.

Yesterday Goldberg wrote what I'm sure he thinks is the definitive obit of AAR at Down With Tyranny , (and then much more in comments,) alot of pap about how he struggled under the finger of the money people, and how they stopped him from raising funds because of their feelings of asking for funds being unseemly...huh?...He said that maybe he was an asshole sometimes...he had such a hard time...etc...feel sorry for him?...No! He walked out of there with a big payout at a time when the station was foundering, and was one person who did OK in the situation; he didn't take a bath the way others did and he took his payout while others, like talent whodidnt come into this rich, were owed money. Its not our problem that he accepted a job for less money than he normally makes; he did OK for doing not much that was helpful andalot that was destructive.

What I know from the inside and as the spawn of a radio family, is that you don't treat people, much less the working talent, like shit, especially in their last weeks. Goldberg might have made the mistake of his life by trying to "saveAAR" instead of staying in the music business "where he belongs," but during his time at AAR he certainly tried to cut a bold swath of change, relegating the same Maddow that he supposedly saved from obscurity, FROM the 9AM-noon slot in the fantastic Unfiltered show, TO the dead 5AM slot. He then set about deconstructing Morning Sedition, which was one of the best shows on radio, period. He didn't likeMaron and he didn't get the comedy. He didn't make a secret of that either, and to say that it was purely a business decision forced on him by the stockholders and other bosses is disingenuous at best.

Goldberg knows the truth, and regardless of the depths of his depression, which may have had him playing solitaire on his computer for hours on end in his office, rather than raising funds or whatever it was that he was supposed to be doing, he isn't going to be able to escape what happened and his part in it. Tying himself to the coat tails ofMaddow is not going to change history either; sorry. The advice of Don Imus was wrong; Goldberg had no talent in programming and tinkering, and every move he made was to render the programming into a more and more dumbed down,happy, format. It did whatAAR had never done, which was to pander to the audience. By the time he had alienated the base, what was left?

The Mark Riley Show was what Goldberg wanted, and it was junk....totally junk. It reminded me of the Whoopie Goldberg Feel Good Show, which was not what the base was tuning in for. Riley was a pawn in all of that, and his show was painful to listen to. What could he follow up that sort of brilliance with? The Riley Show was what Goldberg thought was good radio. Regardless of the corporate structure or the financial situation, this guy came into a tanking situation and instead of trying to shore up what was there and growing he decided to scramble it all up and put the best talent either out of a job or in the boondocks. Even with star power, had any been there beyond those with a strong following, it would have been starting over. I havealot of trouble with Goldbergs's line about firing Maron to save Maddow. I just don't think that's true at all...and I am sure that Rachel is not thanking Goldberg for her great career.

Rachel had star power when she started Unfiltered, and continued to be herself on the same intense level straight through to Olbermann regardless of and in spite of Goldberg. The first thing he did was to cancel her show!! Those who got put at 5AM or on Sundays were those with contracts still in effect as opposed to those who's contracts were up.

What became of those talented players? Check out Maron's fantastic WTF Podcast and of course the Rachel Maddow show, which is a must watch every night of the week on MSNBC. I am assuming that Maddow's radio show is no longer available anywhere.
For background on that one particularly brilliant show and its comedy bits, check out Sedition Radio for which we owe PJ Sauter a huge debt of gratitude. The rest is out there if you look for it: Unfiltered, Sam Seder, Janeane Garafolo, even Al and Randi who had their ups and downs, but still are sorely missed around here... Lizz Winstead deserves a shout for putting alot of it together; Its over for good.

AAR as it was in the beginning, brought me laughter, joy, relief, and a kind of deep misery at its loss, that I couldn't have expected. I always though that this was so much more than a radio station and should be funded by a Rupert Murdoch type of deep pocket investor, but for whatever reasons it was set up wrong, by the wrong business folks and that doomed it from the start. Its all about the money in the end, and the money wasn't there...but it should have been, considering how much money is out there in liberal land. Showing a growing audience of loyal listeners and tapping those listeners for funding would surely have gone further towards interesting investors than dismantling what they had back to zero.

What of the Fairness Doctrine? These are our airwaves and just because Rush Limbaugh is a huge corporate force barreling through all sense and reason, doesn't mean that this outlet shouldn't be regulated by the government so that one corporation can exert too much influence on people because of money...um...oh yeah...never mind; corporations are now individuals with rights. As it stands our free airwaves are being used to misinform the people of this country, leaving the Fairness Doctrine as perhaps the most important political issue to address because of the way it touches all other issues; voting on issues that you have been lied to about comes to mind.

It was an idea and a dream, and much like Obama not being a corporatist or Edwards telling even the most basic truth, its all gone now. Rush andO'Reilly can breathe a sign of relief because there is really only Sirius Left, for those who have the subscription money; Internet radio shows for those who can afford the Internet ...the rabble will never hear a bit of truth. Maybe its when things are really bad and there is no hope left, that some sort of movement will begin that will rise up and again give voice to the progressive agenda. Heaven knows we're out here in Internet-land shouting into the black hole and hoping someone hears. But there is too much noise, and we need more than just one Rachel Maddow to move this thing forward.

Its kind of sad to let those dreams go. But somewhere out there in podcasts or blogtalkradio format the message still lives, and in that there is hope, even if its sketchy....
godspeed to our kids, that's all I can say...this is a very different country than any of us could have imagined.

c/p RIP Coco

(UPDATE: From the comments, former Morning Sedition producer and current producer of WTF Brendan McDonald (who was there at the time) debunks Danny Goldberg's Variations.

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Anonymous Brendan McDonald said...
My response to Danny's delusional screed can be found here:


Blogger Jill said...
Hey, Brendan, thanks for stopping by. I'm going to put your link into Melina's post. You are doing a great job with WTF. Thanks for keeping fighting the good fight. We appreciate it out here.

Blogger Melina said...
Brendan...thanks for reading! And thanks especially for your response to Goldberg.
We love WTF...my son especially, tho he wants to listen to the porn episode and I'm not sure if I should let him. Maybe I should have him write and ask the host;-)
...another lost 16 year old, but this one used to refuse to leave the car to go into school until he heard the Faxed marching orders from the Streisand compound. Funny how things like that weave their way into your consciousness and become a fond memory.

I'm happy that at least we got some of the truth out there. I don't know if anyone cares, but its the truth and that means alot to me and the folks I know....

Take care and keep up the good work.