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Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Greening of Air America Radio
Posted by Jill | 8:08 AM
You may have thought that there wasn't on the face of the earth a bigger booster of Air America Radio than Your Humble Blogger, but that's only because you don't know Melina. She is the gal I go to for all the latest scoop, and this week she posted her thoughts on the sale of AAR to Stephen and Mark Green and a link to this at best pointless and at worst ominous article from the New York Observer about the new owners, for yesterday, the hopefully not clairvoyantly named bankruptcy court judge, Robert Drain approved the sale.

For a rather small but vocal, persistent, and some might say pathologically loyal army, Air America's future is about three things: Marc Maron, Marc Maron, and Marc Maron. Some believe that the sale is a Harbinger of Healing for those of us who had the proverbial rug yanked out from under us when Danny Goldberg, a.k.a. The Man Who Destroyed AAR For Good, cancelled Morning Sedition. I am somewhat less sanguine about the whole thing, partially because Goldberg, a man who wrote a book called "How the Left Lost Teen Spirit" and then cancelled the show with the potential to harvest the young demographic with the departure of Howard Stern for Sirius, is a good friend of Mark Green, who is going to be running the network; but also because, well, Mark Green is going to be running the network.

In the 1980's, Nelson Doubleday of the New York Mets organization knew that the way to build a winning team is to hire good smart baseball people, give them the money they needed to work with, and leave them alone. When Doubleday was bought out by the Wilpon family, Fred Wilpon essentially gave the team to his son as a plaything, and the latter brought us Vince Coleman, Eddie Murray, and a flock of forgettables that very nearly made 1962 look like the good old days. Finally, the Wilpons got smart and returned to the Doubleday Philosophy, hired Omar Minaya, and have mostly left him alone to build a winning team.

Particularly with Air America's checkered history, it's important for the network to bring in good radio people and then leave them alone. The company's initial instincts in terms of talent were mostly correct, aside from the fish-out-of-water Sue Ellicott, Lizz Winstead, whose form of humor doesn't really work well on radio, and Janeane Garofalo, who may have been the marquee name, but never really took to the medium. But because AAR has been largely run as "Hey, kids, let's put on a radio network", one mistake after another has been made, culminating with the Era of Disastrous Danny, whose idea of improving the product was to cancel Morning Sedition and give the woefully uninspired without his cohorts Mark Riley two solo hours in the morning, cancel Unfiltered and replace it with Jerry Springer, and replace Mike Malloy in New York with the offensively bourgeois Satellite Sisters. If you want to identify the point at which Air America went on life support, it was the day some suit with some money invested decided Danny Goldberg, a record company executive, knew anything about radio. For that matter, I'd like to know who decided that Danny Goldberg knew anything about anything. Here's a sample of Danny Goldberg about John Kerry, from 2004:

Many of my progressive friends want to prod John Kerry . I agree that he needs to more clearly differentiate himself from Bush and he must not take for granted the votes of veryone fed up with the current regime. Young people and other undecided voters particularly need clarity or else they will be tempted not to vote or to vote for Nader.

However I cant help bt be optimisitc (sic) about Kerry. I think he has more of a common touch that his overly formal speaking style owuld indicate. I like the old photos with John Lennon. I like the emotiuonsl (sic) connection he has to many fellow veterans, and I thought his silent dignififed(sic) appearence at the Reagan library was exactly the right touch.

I guess that's why he thought Jerry Springer was a better fit for AAR than the Presidential Palm Pilot, Morning Remembrance, and Rapture Watch.

Jon Larsen, former Morning Sedition producer, weighed in on the Goldberg/Green connection upon announcement of Morning Sedition's cancellation:

Rather than more of Sedition's comedy, Goldberg wanted the show to interview former NYC mayoral candidate Mark Green.

After I was gone, Green started showing up on Sedition with such frequency that it led the consistently-favorable magazine TimeOut NY to make its first negative comments about the show, with a dig about Green's frequency as a guest.

Larsen's remarks, written long before Mark Green figured into the Air America ownership equation, are ominous, particularly given Danny Goldberg's status as a donor to Green's 1998 Senate campaign.

I hate to give axe-grinder Brian Maloney of Radio Equalizer any credit for anything, and I'm not going to give him the dignity of a link (you can look it up for yourself), but he did have some information in April 2006 about the amount of money Goldberg stood to receive after destroying AAR's programming and then jumping ship:

While exiting day-to-day operations at Air America, Goldberg will continue in a minor, contractually-based role, working one day a week from home. Through the end of 2006, he'll be paid $400,000 on an annualized basis for his temporary role as "Vice-Chair".

In addition, he'll receive $400,000 in deferred compensation covering 2005, $100,000 to cover 2006 travel and entertainment, plus ongoing clerical support. An initial share award representing 2% of the company will now become fully vested.

Which just goes to show you that it isn't just good staunch Republicans like Lee Raymond and William Nardelli who can wreck a company and then ride off with a nice golden parachute.

So given the history of mutual back-scratching between Mark Green and Danny Goldberg, and given the fact that Mark Green has zero radio operations experience and is, like Jeff Wilpon and indeed George W. Bush before him, being given a company by a wealthy relative to use as a plaything, you'll forgive me for being less than optimistic that the new owners are a harbinger of a return to the Golden Days of the Milfingtons, Lawton Smalls, and the days when we really believed Air America would make a difference.

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