(Read pt. 1 of this post here)
"Has anyone ever heard of Rachel Maddow?"
- Rush Limbaugh
Yeah Rush, we sure have. And by now, so have of you.
That little quote has been an oft-played sound bite at the beginning of The The Rachel Maddow show since it debuted on Air America last April. And the fact "El Rushbo" hadn't discovered Ms. Maddow last spring can probably be based on two things-- For one, Limbaugh most likely knew nothing about Air America, beyond that fact that TV stars Al Franken and Janine Garofalo were a part of it. And the other reason Maddow was probably off the Limbaugh radar back then was his comment came at the dawn of Maddow's new sub-career as a liberal TV pundit. And it isn't hard to imagine that most of Limbaugh's media intake (beyond the likely emailed orders from Rove staffers and the heralded "stack of stuff" his staff prepares) would come only from television.
For most people, Maddow's program airs when they're unconscious. On the radio from five to six in the morning from the Air America studios in New York, The Rachel Maddow Show is a hot coffee jolt of headlines, breaking stories, and some news almost no one else is talking about. And twice each program, you get 2 off the wall satirical newscasts from Kent Jones. The hour goes by fast, and by the end you feel a little smarter. She's like that.
Rachel Maddow is a unique and powerful new media entity, and a young honest voice in the age of Bush II who offers challenging facts instead of raw malice against all the madness the administration propagates. Maddow is a Rhodes Scholar and a proud "out" lesbian who comes across on the radio as warm, sincere and a little fierce. Her approach to radio has a paced athletic quality that makes her a bit of a current events trainer on the radio. I imagine it's the perfect show to accompany a gym regimen. Maddow never goes over the top, but the pace is rapid, and to the point with context. She maintains good humor and spirit in the face of bad news and strange times. Combined with the sharp humor of Kent Jones, her program is an informative and practical way to deal with the onslaught of nauseating news, and to keep up with the bad guys.
Maddow's powerful presence on television is ironic in a number of ways. First, Maddow doesn't watch TV. Her media intake is print media, internet and radio. But she's become a cable TV talking head via a regular role on Tucker Carlson's show on MSNBC-- "The Situation." And what's odd, is he had another program last year on PBS called "Unfiltered," which had the same name as Maddow's original show on Air America. Although both were canceled, it was Air America who first used the title.
While Carlson's gotten mixed reviews at best as the host of the show, Maddow star has quickly risen as a respected progressive pundit on the cable news scene by being a regular panelist on his program.
For now, radio remains the focus of Maddow's energies. It's a statement to Air America's recognition of her talents that they expanded their schedule one hour into the early morning to create a program just for her. Maddow's original Air America program, "Unfiltered," was a bit of a muddle at times, but had it's moments and built a loyal fan base. While the other co-hosts of the show, Lizz Winstead and Chuck D. were already minor celebrities in their own right, Maddow's only media fame before Air America was a morning radio show in western Massachusetts. Yet, it was the boyish Maddow's news doggedness and earnest energy that drove the show and gave Unfiltered purpose.
So while most are either sleeping or hitting the snooze alarm, Maddow bolts out of the gate at 5:06 a.m. And for thirty some minutes (minus the commercials and the Kent Jones hijinks) Maddow informs, opines and speaks truth to power with a warm voice of authority and positive style that always calls on activism and humor instead of boiling over in outrage.
She sprints through the lead stories that are out there each morning, and digs in and finds stories she thinks should be in the headlines. And whether or not the wars in the Middle East are making the headlines, each day Maddow kicks off her show with "news from life during wartime." But her signature bit is when she "pokes a stick at the soft white underbelly of the right-wing scheme machine" and offers insight on the latest and shadiest political tactics of the neo-cons and the religious right. It's a tradition she developed during the days of Unfiltered as a liberal muckraker who predicted what the right was going to do next, and let you know what the Bush Administration was trying to hide when they released bad news right before a weekend news lull or when a bigger story was attracting everyone's attention.
If you're interested in upgrading your news & information media diet, you can download daily archives of The Rachel Maddow show here, and if you follow the directions you can podcast any Air America program via this site.
The New York Times ran a minor feature on Air America a week ago Sunday which sang the praises of hosts Rachel Maddow and Randi Rhodes. In it, Air America CEO Danny Goldberg is quoted saying that both are "exactly the two people who have emerged in dramatic fashion" from the shadows of Franken and Garofalo as prominent voices of Air America. The fact that the controversy over Air America getting rid of Morning Sedition's Marc Maron is NOT mentioned in the article is telling. For one, it seems that at far as Air America is concerned Maron is history. And sadly, it seems like the New York Times is either not paying much attention to what's going on at Air America, or is selectively reporting the news again. But most significantly, it seems to foretell of the post-Maron Air America. Most likely, Ms. Maddow will probably be the anchor of the next incarnation of Air America's drive-time morning slot.
While Maddow's talents would undoubtedly translate to good radio no matter which slot she might occupy at the network, it seems unwise to completely dump one of the most dynamic programs on Air America, especially the ONLY one that always delivers laughs, in order to give Maddow more air time. Let's not forget that the 9am to noon slot is occupied by the radio non-talent Jerry Springer, who sounds as if he's explaining the issues of the day to a room full of middle-school kids, AND controversial talk monster Howard Stern is about to abdicate his morning throne and head off to Sirius Satellite Radio. While some of his fans will fork over the dough for the equipment and subscription fee to follow Stern, a lot of his other listeners will be scanning the radio dial for topical comedy talk, and if it were around Maron's Morning Sedition might be a viable magnet for the coming Howard Stern radio diaspora.
While I don't have the Arbitron data, the word on the street is that Morning Sedition is yet to make a big dent in the morning New York market, and that's the bottom line reason Maron is being squeezed out of the slot. Sure, that's important stuff but Air America is a network and Morning Sedition is national. If Air America is making decisions based on traditional NYC radio statistics could be counterintuitive. Over 5000 people have signed the internet petition to save Maron's role on Morning Sedition since my last post on his pending removal. While the NYC ratings may not be what the network desires, it seems obvious the program has strong support within the Air America listener base. Shouldn't that mean something? And in the last year I've seen outdoor advertising in New York for Franken, Rhodes, Springer and The Majority Report. I've never seen one ad in the city for Morning Sedition.
Again, I'm not privy to the Arbitron numbers, but I think internet data has a significance that's not to be ignored. For example, look at the difference between the number of strings on the Jerry Springer show's message board, compared with the how many are running the Morning Sedition board (these are NOT official Air America boards by the way). One show inspires discussion, the other almost none. The Springer show has all of three threads, one of them about how LITTLE discussion there is on the board. Springer's daily show blog posts generate a handful of comments. The Morning Sedition daily blog posts gather from 150 to 250 comments.
Less than stellar ratings aside, Air America has been an important element in countering the Republican noise machine and is developing an avid fan base on the internet. It's damn important that they succeed financially, but in the scheme of things they're not paying attention if they totally ignore the power and persuasion of their internet crowd. People who podcast, download archives, and post on the web aren't just net savvy, they're strategic links in a broad network of thinkers and disseminators of information that Air America needs for voices and networking nodes within the burgeoning media counterbalance to the right-wing propaganda machine. And they spread the gospel of Air America on the internet. That's promotion you can't buy.
No doubt, Rachel Maddow would kick ass in a better (and longer) slot on Air America's schedule. But to scrap one of their best programs (one that also has cutting edge comedy, has co-host chemistry that works, and fires up the internet listener base) seems like a bad idea-- Especially when there's another morning program on Air America with an insufferably boring host who engenders almost no significant internet fan base.
While it's obviously a smart move to give Maddow more air time on the network, it's a shortsighted move to eliminate a dynamic and vital chunk of programming to give her the airspace she is due. And it seems that's what's about to happen, and it's possible that there's nothing any bloggers or internet posters can do keep Maron on Morning Sedition. Go ahead and add your name to the web petition. Feel empowered?
I advise you to go ahead and enjoy what's left of the doomed Morning Sedition. Listen via your local affiliate or Podcast the show by going here, or snatch up one the archives right here. In theory, you'll be able to access Morning Sedition archives at Air America Place for a while, but if you want to hear the show right up until the end (which is supposed to be the end of November), or you also can stream it live in the morning from Air America's site. And if you'd like to just check out some of the hijinks of Morning Sedition satirists Jim Earl and Kent Jones there's archived bits available here. (Or you could scroll down to the 11-04-05 post on this blog to see a insightful love letter to the show.)
Rachel Maddow is an excellent host and pundit with a sensitive sniffer for important stories that are off the radar. It was smart to keep her around after the dissolution of Unfiltered. Considering her work at Air America it would be damn intuitive to bring her into a better time slot and give her more time. Though Maron has a much different approach to radio, like Maddow he's quickly evolved and improved as a talk radio personality in the twenty months of Air America's existence. Not only that, but they both come across as dedicated to sticking with the network for the long haul. And their two programs are currently followed by two shows hosted by dabblers in talk radio. It's very likely that Springer and/or Franken could easily shed their radio pulpits in the near future to dedicate their time to television again, or even seek political office. Franken's show is a mixed bag, but he's still the face of Air America. However, Springer's radio program is second rate across the board and he offers nothing beyond his notoriety. Admittedly, Franken has successfully marketed himself as a powerful political force, but Springer's fame in the general public is based solely on a legacy of sleazy television that anybody (including Springer himself) would admit has coarsened the medium. If he was doing groundbreaking radio, it might be easier to forget his crappy TV show or his past political scandals, but he's NOT. What's the point?
Never a fan of Howard Stern, I've never heard compelling satire on a morning radio show until I heard Morning Sedition. But I've also never heard a talk show like Maddow's with a host who digs into the news with a voracious and graceful fury that enlightens and empowers the listener. They're both strong programs, but the block they now fill is unfortunetly followed by a radio amateur who happens to be a celebrity.
Best idea? Trim Springer's show, or just pay him off and cut him loose. Maddow and Maron are homegrown Air America air talents who have proven themselves, and with the news wisdom of Mark Riley and the satire of Jones and Earl, their work makes the first four hours of the Air America's weekday schedule the most listenable and informative chunk of their line-up.
Air America is an ongoing experiment and radio is extremely competitive, especially mornings. One can understand Air America's desire to tweak and perfect their schedule, but making network wide decisions this early in the game based on the ratings in one city instead of making a judgment based on the merit and viability of the hosts they've successfully developed seems wrongheaded.
If the rumors are true, and Maddow gets a better and bigger role on the schedule, it's a plus. But if Maron disappears too, there won't just be a backlash, there will be a drastic loss to Air America's air staff. That would be sad.