September has arrived, and so far almost none of the changes I prognosticated for Air America (to coincide with their leaving WLIB) have come to pass. At least not yet. However, I did clearly state that I was offering rumors and guesses, and reports of decisions probably still in progress. But with great sadness, I can confirm I that Bush administration toady Armstrong Williams is indeed co-hosting the morning show on New York’s new Air America affiliate, WWRL.
Also contrary to what I reported here, Randy Michaels has not gotten a foothold into New York City’s progressive talk scene, either by taking over WLIB or making a deal with Air America. Although it had been reported in radio trade journals as a done deal, Mr. Michaels and Inner City Broadcasting were either in negotiations, and or had a tentative agreement that fell thorough. Instead as September arrived WLIB switched to an all-gospel format, and Air America jumped to WWRL-- where they now have significantly less coverage in the New York market and fewer hours of the broadcast day to open to their programming.
The upcoming new schedule I posted here isn't valid yet. Check the current one here, (here's a PDF of it today, to see when the link is updated) on Air America’s site. And here's the current WWRL schedule (again with a PDF here to see once the page is updated) In fact, the weekday line-up is EXACTLY the same as before, with one big exception. Mike Malloy is history.
Last week, Malloy was filling in for the vacationing Randi Rhodes for the entire week, obviously enjoying the opportunity to vent and profess in a more conspicuous time slot. Then on Wednesday afternoon, driving on the expressway to the studio his cell phone rang. His friend (and Air America honcho) Jon Sinton suggested Malloy might want to pull over for some bad news. Then on the shoulder of a suburban Atlanta interstate highway, Mike Malloy was fired. If you’d like to hear Malloy's version of the situation, check out this interview of Malloy on a California Air America affiliate the other night (download MP3 here).
The official reason? Financial considerations. So, in order to save some money Malloy was fired in mid-commute? Do you get the idea there might be more to this story?. By his own admission, Malloy was the lowest paid weekday host at Air America. C'mon. The net yearly gross of Malloy and his wife Kathy (his producer) was probably less than the cost of a weekend retreat for Al Franken's staff. Undoubtedly, there were other reasons which aren’t being released to the general public.
If I can shift again into the unsubstantiated rumors department. I’ve heard an alternate story on how Malloy’s abrupt spit with AAR went down. Although Malloy had been promised a contract, the ongoing meetings of the Air America brain trust were heavily split on whether they should keep him around. Then another of Malloy’s friends at network headquarters happened to see the latest draft of the upcoming Air America schedule. No Malloy Show. His friend thought Mike might be interested in the prosepective schedule change. If so, perhaps the call Malloy mentions was really a return call from Sinton confirming his eminent split with Air America. Either way, that call made it suddenly impossible that Mike Malloy would host the next four hours on Air America in a matter of minutes, or ever. I've been told there was a hell of a scramble to find a last minute replacement that afternoon. Again, this is all hearsay...
Meanwhile, we’re left to guess why, and fume and question the practices of Air America. The indignation and rage of Malloy’s fans across the country has yet to crest. And the manner of his dismissal has been a huge to blow to AAR’s credibility and morale headquarters.
Actually, after taking a look at the new Air America schedule there’s one overriding fact– it hasn’t really changed, other than becoming more conservative and frugal. Two and a half years is a long time in radio, and one would think that an admittedly experimental network and line-up would be subject to some tweaking and improving in that time frame, something beyond trying to do more on the cheap. The grand cable TV comedy meets left-wing political talk radio vision for Air America and most of the seat-of-the-pants schedule they slapped together in 2004 around that idea remains in place, only most of the “co-hosts” have been eliminated. So far, despite all the turn over in Air America management, there hasn’t been any rethinking of programming other than downsizing. That is, unless you consider putting a prattling boob like Jerry Springer in the line-up a “eureka moment.”
Observing the outward behavior of the Air America management, it would be a good working assumption that the network leadership has been running on automatic pilot for the most part, with a bit of in-house squabbling along the way. How else can you explain firing Marc Maron, and then signing a contract for a new program with him, and then scrapping that idea and begging him to come back to mornings? What else could cause AAR to promote Malloy’s webcast (and podcasting options to hear his show) during the hours they took him off in New York, and then promoting his return to the New York airwaves (and personally promising him a new contract), only to suddenly fire him when he was minutes away from a prime-time broadcast? Do you get the sense that there’s been some heated discussions over on Sixth Avenue? Probably one or them brought about the exit of Carl Ginsburg.
All that said, a schedule shake is probably just over the horizon. Sam Seder in this post (from August 24, 2006) on the Majority Report blog says that he will indeed move to mornings (in Springer’s slot) by mid-September. He also has says: “We're beginning to develop ideas for the new show...” and that he has “a couple of surprises in mind.” New ideas? Surprises? At least this sounds hopeful. An article in the Boston Globe also confirms an impending move to mornings for Seder at AAR.
I believe much of the prospective schedule (minus Malloy) that I posted as a comment will probably come to pass this month, most likely on the 18th of September. But don’t look for any hints from the Air America website. As I type this I've noticed that Malloy’s show is listed as “coming up next.” And references to Maron’s defunct program are still all over the site. Just last week I saw a dead link on the home page claiming Maron's show was streaming live (The show was cancelled in mid-July). In fact, a recent post on the Huffington blog made note of how inept Air America has been in promoting their network and programming in general. Hopefully, if the schedule is going to change they’ll update their site at least a few days in advance.
Air America’s inability to substantially promote itself or its programs, and to generally communicate with the press, has been a big problem. Actually, after the huge media circus surrounding the launch of AAR in 2004, the best promotional work for Air America has occurred online (via message boards and the blogosphere), which has been both free (and generally positive, with a exception of few GOP trained blog doggies) although a completely independent network of fans and observers out spreading the love. Actually, the Majority Report has done the best job of serving the net savvy AAR crowd, and Malloy and Rhodes have very active message boards as well. However, Air America as a network doesn’t communicate any better with their online audience than they do with the news media. And the combination of two big and boneheaded missteps over the past year has kicked the online hive of AAR disciples into a burgeoning frenzy. And now many of their most active online promoters have turned to typing disparaging screeds and angry accusations all over the web.
Something they’ve admitted was an egregious mistake just by their subsequent efforts to reverse the decision-- watering down “Morning Sedition” into the Mark Riley show by taking Marc Maron and Jim Earls, really pissed off a rabid and growing fanbase. While it had yet to prove itself a ratings juggernaut, Morning Sedition inspired rabid loyalty and high-power internet buzz, and seemed positioned for a bright future (Especially considering that Howard Stern was about to evacuate morning drive across the country). Out of all the experimental talk shows AAR launched out of the box, it was the only one that eventually worked. It was funny, truly unique, and for many addictive.
If Morning Sedition fulfilled Air America’s initial promise of melding serious political programming with comedy, but incorporating Mike Malloy into the line-up provided a cathartic release valve for thousands of nightly listeners boiling over with rage over our government’s abysmal behavior at home and abroad. Kicking Maron off the network schedule irked many, but at least Maron was allowed to go gracefully. But jerking Malloy out of the ring in mid-fight without notice has unleashed a surge of online blowback that is sure to bounce around negative feedback on AAR for some time to come. While Franken or Springer may have a larger actual audience because of the hour their program airs, Malloy's listeners are intrinsically more loyal, more engaged and sincerely pissed off in a very un-moderate fashion. It isn’t hard to find many raw bitter emotional strings of messages all over the net now regarding Malloy's departure from Air America. (Imagine the national outrage when Springer is dropped from the line-up...) Rachel Maddow and Sam Seder have made online statements regretting the decision already. As of now, the Air America website doesn’t officially mention it ever happened. Does that mean they don't care, or they're still weighing the decision?
And why did Air America suddenly dump Malloy? Online, conspiracy theories abound. The most common one is that Malloy spoke out against Israel’s merciless ravaging of Lebanon of late. But Malloy was never known to follow the Democratic party line to the letter, and hundreds of civilian deaths would bring about his ire in any case. Malloy never really sounded managed or careful. And that's what inspired listeners. He spoke his raw unedited gut every night. But straddling the midnight hour kept most of his more meaty commentary out of the limelight, except among fans, followers and insomniacs. But when Malloy would sit in for Rhode’s afternoon drive slot, many people (including AAR suits?) suddenly found themselves basking (or roasting) in the deep purple glow of Malloy’s anger. I mean, Al Franken is so much nicer...
I’ve actually listened to the last two Malloy fill-ins for Rhodes a
couple of times now. I thought that by listening to his last broadcasts I might hear a particular damning moment. If there was some obvious wild jab, I can’t figure out what it might have been. That said, there was plenty of Malloy’s
trademark ball-to-the-wall commentary to go around. Night after night of venting and ranting, it’s hard to know
what one thing (or what things) could have ultimately doomed his relationship with the network.
Maybe it was just the flavor of it all. (Oh, and for comic relief check this.)
Air America is in a strange place. Fans are angry, conflicting information on schedule changes is all over the web, and network’s public outreach is in a sloppy state of affairs. Most of the hosts are now on vacation. And the schedule is filled with reruns and substitute hosts. Sure, Labor Day weekend has been underway, but the network is now in its second week without most of their hosts running live shows. It's the kind of situation you'd expect just before a big change.
It’s my guess that at least some of the schedule upheaval changes I offered in a comment here will come to pass soon. Although I frankly find it hard to believe that “Eco Talk,” or even “Politically Direct” will become weekly shows, I guess it’s possible. Officially, Air America has posted that some square headed local talk host (Jon Elliott ?) from San Diego was taking Malloy’s slot. Funny thing however, is that I haven’t seen any confirmation of this except for on AAR’s schedule page. In a phone in interview on an Air America affiliate, Malloy said he’s heard that Laura Flanders (the host of “Radio Nation” on the weekends) is being groomed to take his place. I also heard that Flanders may have turned the slot down. Then this Monday night (what I assume was a repeat of) Thom Hartmann's show was running in Malloy's slot.
I frankly wouldn’t be too surprised if Malloy was invited back into the fold, despite how embarrassing that might be. What does Air America have to lose? Credibility?
Speaking of credibility, there’s a particular lack of it at Air America that I’ve been meaning to mention for a while now. I listen to Air America on the weekends, specifically to “Ring of Fire” and occasionally to Laura Flanders program. And like during the week, the network has a newscast at the top of the hour. However, the newscasts that play on Air America during weekend afternoons and evenings are embarrassing canned affairs, which again smell of radio done on the cheap.
These newscasts are OBVIOUSLY pre-recorded, usually by a guy who calls himself “Miles Cameron.” (Nice name, right? For months the same news reader called himself “Frisco Hills,” until somebody probably told him it just wasn’t very funny). Anyway, Miles (or whoever might be filling in for him) seems to come in during the morning, or perhaps the day before, and fudge together a newscast utilizing stories that would probably remain “evergreen” through the weekend. Not only do you hear the same stories repeated in different ways in newscasts through the day, but I’ve even heard the exact same newscast repeated at a later hour (a lazy board-op?). For a network that’s supposed to provide current news and information, it’s pretty shameful. Many times I’ve heard ongoing top stories totally ignored all day and night during the AAR weekend newscasts.
I hear that these lazy productions are the product of a private news “service” wired into the network. And from the looks of it, I hope it's an inexpensive deal. Is Air America so broke that they can’t afford to keep a living breathing news body on hand around the clock? Hell, any local news talk station worth its salt is able to afford that, you’d think it would be essential for a news/talk network to do at least as much, if not more.
And as far as the news, right-wing stooge blogger (and talk radio has been) Brian Maloney is reporting that Air America is also having trouble paying for their AP wire service. Like much of the slime on Maloney’s blog, it might be true. And Maloney has been shoveling out dirt like this since the inception of Air America– a few big “exclusives,” but mostly a lot of little digs like this one. While it’s certainly not on my roster of regular visits, his blog comes up quite a number of times when I'm in the middle of web searches on Air America. So, I’ve seen it quite a bit. Maloney is a just a hatchet man, a gossip columnist with an axe to grind. I don’t get the impression that he’s heard more than five minutes of any of Air America programs. He appears to have a mole or two who work for Air America that regularly contact him when ever they dig up some little tidbit that might look bad for the network. If you have any real interest in radio or the state of Air America, and happen to end up at his blog for looking for any practical information, keep that in mind that he's a trained rodent. No substance there, just zingers, potshots, and GOP catch phrases.
However, if you do come across the "Radio Equalizer" from time to time, there's no reason you can't have some fun getting equalized. First off, take some time to enjoy some of the "outsider" photoshop gags on display there. And if you're in the mood, grab a friend and a bottle of something strong and set yourself up for a Radio Equalizer drinking game. Then set up the glasses and start scrolling through Mr. Maloney's posts. As you meander through his razor sharp insights, take turns upturning a shot of booze every time you come across the word “unhinged.” You’ll both be completely unhinged in just a matter of minutes.
And let’s raise a glass as well if Jerry Springer is finally being dumped from the AAR line-up. Good riddance. Other than that I’m hard pressed to hope for any impending good news at Air America. I can tell you one thing, the WWRL signal is big disappointment. I can only get a clear read on Air America on a couple of the more expensive radios I own, or in the car. And then at night, WWRL is slightly polluted by bleed-in from nearby frequecies no matter what I try. It's sad. And I live less than a mile from lower Manhattan.
Who knows? Perhaps a schedule shake up will tighten up some programs and bring in some fresh thinking. While Franken’s a snore and Rhodes is what she is, Maddow is rock solid and Seder may take the opportunity of having a better slot and put some new life into his new show. However, if Malloy is truly gone for good, Air America may have dealt a crippling blow to its own future. More than just the hosts you hear, Air America is made up of a lot of underpaid hard working people who have expended huge amounts of energy because they believed in the network, and were empowered by raw politcal passion for change.And like the online fans who feel cheated and betrayed by Malloy’s firing, it all makes for a lot of despair and frustration that isn't going to benefit a business that is already strapped for cash, and doesn’t seem to have any new ideas.
If enough faith and good will dries up, the network is sure to follow, or at least shrink into something much less powerful.