Public Nuisance

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The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Sunday, September 12, 2004
There has been some controversy regarding the explosion of aggressively right wing media and the lack of similar liberal outlets. Was the reluctance of the media to air progressive voices a result of corporate control or a response to the market? Would the corporate media air a liberal voice that could make a profit?

The early history of Air America can be read on either side of this debate. AAR hurt itself significantly with a shaky start where it was on the brink of bankruptcy and fired several key executives. That bad beginning might well have killed it off had not early ratings exceeded even most optimistic forecasts.

In spite of strong ratings, AAR is not yet getting into most of the top markets. Currently the network claims 28 affiliates, but that number is a bit deceptive; quite a few of those stations only air one or two AAR programs; generally Al Franken and/or Randi Rhodes. Several stations which do broadcast significant AAR content are in tiny markets such as Key West, Chapel Hill, Plattsburgh, Anchorage, and Santa Cruz.

Recently AAR did add Philadelphia to its stable, but whether that is actually good news is debatable. They're on a small station with a weak signal, and the station is only broadcasting Franken and Rhodes. Presumably AAR wouldn't have gone for that unattractive offer if anything better was in the offing. Yet Philadelphia is still the only top 15 market, other than the flagship station in NYC, where AAR is heard. At present, AAR is heard in 9 of the top 50 markets (including Philadelphia), but that number has been growing. In fact, it could easily grow tomorrow; AAR has added stations each of the last several weeks.

That's solid market penetration for such a new entity, but it could be better. The large and extremely liberal San Francisco market is in the absurd position of having multiple talk stations going after the minority of hard core righties and not a single station catering to the liberal majority. The same is true of equally liberal Boston. Several major markets are rumored to be gaining AAR outlets in the near future; SF and Boston are among them. Oddly, Seattle doesn't seem to be, although AAR's ratings in the similar Portland market have been nothing short of sensational and are the main reason that so many other markets are opening up.

Most of AAR's stations in key markets are owned by Clear Channel, a company known for its close ties to Republicans. Whether this is hedging bets against a Kerry victory or a purely economic decision is unclear.

A pretty current list of AAR stations is here. A good source for info about new markets and AAR news is here. You can get streaming audio from AAR's own site, or the affiliates in Miami, Key West, San Diego, or Portland.

Postscript: AAR did add a new station today, but not in a major market. It picked up WPEK, another station with a weak signal located in the #183 market, Asheville, NC.