Sending Air America Under the Radar

Doc Searles writes in his Hot Air column that Air America isn’t doing enough on the net. I would say that exact opposite — Air America is doing too much of the wrong things.

The worst thing that Air America could be doing right now is the only thing that it is doing on the net right now — streaming audio. At first glance, it is a no-brainer. Of course you do streaming audio! This is the 21st Century! The information age! You can’t do radio without streaming audio! Who does big radio without streaming audio? Well, CBS/Viacom for one. You don’t get much bigger than that.

First, streaming audio is expensive. The bandwidth cost is enormous for a fledgling network. They may have piles and piles of Soros money, but nothing eats up piles of money faster than radio, film and television. (Maybe White Glenn’s puppy bills. Not much else, though.) These guys are not just paying production costs. They are buying the time on the stations they broadcast from, something no “right-wing” show does, to my knowledge. (Soak that in. Air America is essentially one big infomercial.) Franken and Garofalo may be working for a song, but the technicians keeping the station afloat aren’t.

And then think about who is costing them all that bandwidth money. It isn’t people in New York and California. It is people in Texas. And Alabama. And Kansas. And Montana. The people listening to the streaming audio are the people that they don’t want to waste money on. Sure, there are lots of people sympathetic to their message that are listening, but I would be shocked to find out that the majority of people on the stream aren’t people like me, who are listening just to hear the train-wreck of a show and bask in the schadenfreude, and bitch about it on the net and tear it down if it doesn’t turn into a train wreck. People on the right are listening to the stream with the sole intention of using it against them.

It didn’t have to be this way. The story was simple. “We are a small, bootstrapping network, and we just can’t afford streaming audio.” It would have been the best solution for them, because it would have scared me. It would have scared me because I wouldn’t be able to hear how terrible it is for myself, and I would have to rely on the Big Media to tell me how it is doing. The New York Times would have told me that it is a hard-hitting, devastating blow to right-wing talk radio. The WaPo would have said that talk radio is on the run, because these guys are massive personalities that are kicking ass and taking names. The SanFran Chronicle would have told me that it is devastating, logical discourse that is converting right-of-the-aisle people en masse. And I might have believed all that, had I never heard it with my own ears.

There are ways to keep the stream up and dissuade the people who are listening just to tear it down. The best way would (really, the only way) would be to charge a fee like Streamlink. A nominal fee (like $3 a month) would be enough. It would keep people like me off, but people who are lefties in, say, BFE Omaha would still be able to keep up. I doubt that anything like that is going to happen, though, because there is a fundamental flaw in the thinking of Air America.

These guys seem to think that they have to destroy right-wing radio to win. They seem to think, more importantly, that there is the shadowy hand of some secret cabal running talk radio, and only by having a more powerful shadowy hand can it be defeated. There is no shadowy hand — only the invisible hand of the free market. Rush and Boortz and Hannity and Beck didn’t just get on the air one day and say, “Gimme 600 stations, because I’m going to change the world in less time than it takes to bring a human from conception to birth.” They paid dues. They built a following. They refined their Personality. They started small, and grew. Air America wants to start big and balloon, and that just isn’t going to work.

They have established a self-imposed and impossible deadline of eight months to make a difference. The rest of talk radio has an entirely different outlook. They intend not to change the world, but to make a buck, and keep doing it indefinitely. Air America won’t do that, because that isn’t what they have set out to do.


  1. MB Tankersley says:

    Sorry, I have to disagree with you. Many of those in Texas, Montana, Alabama, Kansas et al (geez you sound like Howard Dean) are LIBERALS who can’t get any liberal programming in our area. I think it is a bit early in the game to comment on rather Air America is a success or a failure. I HOPE the cons start attacking Air America- please do, on all your programs, excessively! Free publicity never hurts.

  2. MB Tankersley says:

    So what if they have no chance of affecting elections in states that swing to the cons? By that logic, Rush Limbaugh should ignore Massachusetts entirely. Air America’s backers understood the fact that they wouldn’t be able to pull a profit for quite a while before the network went on the air. Your contention that they put their wares on the air is pure conjecture on your part not based on fact.

    Speaking of the election, if the Democratic Party in any are can mobilize enough to force the Bush campaign to spend money in areas they did not originally plan to then a victory has been won in a battleground state.

    Your statement about Air America being pure hype is nonsense. Obviously you haven’t listened or you’d know that is not the case. Randi Rhodes is a business veteran, Franken has bestsellers under his belt. Most of the “personalities” on the net are paired with experienced people with strong radio resumes.

  3. Phelps says:

    Rush is not in the business of effecting elections. Rush is in the business of selling advertisements. When Rush doesn’t sell enough adds in Massachusetts, he won’t broadcast there.

    Bush isn’t going to be spending much money in Texas, Montana, etc because those aren’t battleground states. The Donks can spend billions in Texas, and they still aren’t going to get any electoral votes from Texas.

    I’ve listened. I wrote about the hype effect and bursting it. (I was going to link to it, but then I realized that was this post.) I’ve heard Franken. He can’t carry a radio show. As far as Best Sellers go, Mick Foley wrote several. Randi Rhodes is an offensive demagogue. She’s Mike Savage with a strap-on. Congratulations — the wingnuts on both sides have achieved parity.

  4. Phelps says:

    I didn’t say that they are wasting thier money streaming to these places because there are no liberals in these places; I said that they were wasting their money because they have almost no chance of effecting any elections in these places. Unlike (“right wing”) conventional talk radio, this network has been put in place for that express purpose, and they are wasting resources on places that they cannot succeed in (at least for this election cycle.)

    And free publicity can hurt. When all you have is hype, you don’t want people digging beneath the hype.

  5. MB Tankersley says:

    And all you’re doing is making assertions with no facts to back them up. 12 months down the line perhaps you’ll have a point but you don’t have one now. Right now I hear sponsors on Air America Radio and I’m pretty sure we’ll be hearing more. I am in advertising- any media with listeners can be sold- AAR is broadcasting to a niche audience that many sponsors don’t have a gateway to reach now. Give it time. Any new business has an initial investment to pay off before it starts making a profit.

    Challenge BushRove’s ego and there’s no telling what you can make them do.

    Your opinion of Franken is just that- your opinion. Lots of other people feel differently. Besides you’re making ajudgement on a show barely 2 weeks old?

    I hardly think Mick Foley and Al Franken sold books to the same audience. That is flawed logic.

  6. Phelps says:


    Like I’ve always said, especially in the dot-com times, if your business plan relies on you running a loss for more than a couple of months… change your business plan.

  7. MB Tankersley says:

    Whatever. How many businesses have you started? Why should I respect your opinion over any other? Looks like you dropped most of my substantive issues…

    Since its your blog and I don’t regularly read it you’ll get the last word anyhow. Enjoy.