After carrying on at length here at BOTB on the state of Air America over the last month or two, I thought I’d just shut up and let AAR do what they were going to do and see what happened next. I wasn’t all that hopeful, but I was frankly tired of thinking about the whole mess. Then while working on another post I happened across the Air America website, and I had to laugh and then shake my head. And so here I am again, blogging about the sad state of affairs at the struggling progressive talk network.
Yesterday, a new and revised on-air schedule went into effect at Air America radio. And although I happened to post an almost identical schedule (which I heard through the grapevine) here as a comment on one of my BOTB posts four weeks ago, and to my surprise I appear to have been the only one to actually promote the line-up. Sure, a few folks reposted and linked to the schedule I posted, but for some reason Air America never officially publicized their programming reshuffle until the day it actually took effect. Very strange.
Sunday night, only hours before the new schedule became operational, the old one was still on the AAR website. However, If you spent some time digging deep into their site you could figure out that “The Young Turks” were taking over the network six to nine morning slot (not in NYC), and that Sam Seder and Rachel Maddow would now have new time slots as well, but there was no big announcement online or on the network itself touting the programming changes. I had assumed that after the line-up make-over there would be some major revision of the website to clean it up and add more current information. But so far it's a turning into a poorly maintained online fossil.
And I got to wondering. Are they trying to keep their programming and decisions a secret for some reason? Or are they just so incompetent or short-handed that they’re not able to publicize (or define) themselves efficiently?
It seems to be the latter. As everybody who has been following the recent twists and turns in the behavior of Air America management, late-night firebrand Mike Malloy was suddenly canned a few weeks ago (with plenty of protestations among the AAR faithful). Well, apparently they haven’t been able to figure out what to do with Malloy’s time slot, and have brought in Peter Werbe (Malloy’s friend who often filled-in for him when he was away) to man the late night position at the network while they try to decide what to do with those hours. And much to my surprise, as I looked at the Air America when Werbe went on the air and there was no banner image of the host (as there always usually would be) and there was a brief description of Werbe’s broadcast posted by Mike Malloy himself. And it was hilarious:
"Hi. Malloy here. It’s Monday, September 18, 2006. Well, it’s been almost three weeks since we were fired by the really, really strange pod-people who have temporarily taken over Air America. Tonight’s program will be hosted by my good friend Peter Werbe. Not sure what he’s talking about tonight, but do tune in. If you’re wondering how we’re writing and posting this mini-blog it’s simply because the airheads in Air America’s executive suites – the pod-people mentioned above – are too, um, stupid to figure out how to handle their own website access.
The door’s wide open. Well, eventually their bodies will start to react to Earth atmosphere and they’ll have to leave. Meantime, Mike and Kathy here saying, stay tuned!"
Wow. Apparently, not only is Air America unable to keep their website up to date, but a host they fired weeks ago is still able to post text that shows up on their home page! Considering the possibilities, Malloy was practically graceful. Here’s what he says about it on his personal site:
"Strange things can happen when certain corporate entities fire much of their website editing department without first making sure at least one remaining employee knew how to operate the darned thing. I'm just sayin' . . . . .
And be sure to tune into Peter Werbe at 10 PM ET on Air America Radio while you can. He's a good guy and a premier talk show host and you should check him out, wish him luck, and pray his checks cash."
On the same page Malloy mentions that he was interviewed for an
upcoming Salon article where he says we’ll all be able to read some of his
“interesting observations” about the network. That should be fun.
The firing of Malloy infuriated thousands of fans and supporters (you can see or sign the petition to reinstate Malloy at AAR here) and led at least three or four Air America hosts to take time on the air to discuss their disagreement with the decision. (And all this following their split with Maron, a decision which caused the same kind of stink and they lived to regret). But what's even more curious, is how he was let go a few minutes before going on the air when they don't even seem to have had a viable plan for his replacement. And the fact that Malloy can make fun of the Air America brain trust right on their home page just adds insult to injury. To be sure, Air America is hurtin’.
So, I do wonder if they’ll catch on by tomorrow night. It’ll be worth checking to see if Malloy can continue to poke fun at Air America’s sad state of affairs right on their own website. But the site is like a ghost town. There’s even a link to Marc Maron’s show, which hasn’t been on the air since July and never made it to the network. On the AAR Malloy page, which remains up as well, Mike put up a post hinting he’ll keep causing trouble there as long as he can get away with it:
"The door’s wide open. So we dashed in just for the hell of it to post this “howdy, how is everyone?”
Frankly, we think the suits are too stupid to stop us so we’ll probably do this every day and also post a longer blog inside the site where we used to. Until they figure out what we’re doing and stop our fun. Bastards. Just mean ol’ right-wing bastard pod-people running our Air America."
(Read the whole thing and some comments here, . The blog post and Malloy's page at AAR's website since vanished.)
Yet, perhaps just mentioning Malloy’s little prank on this blog will be enough to make somebody scramble and change the password to keep the mischievous talk host off their site. I mean, I’m starting to feel like I’m an unpaid consultant for Air America. The new schedule has at least two changes I’ve advocated a few times here at BOTB– Springer’s off the schedule, and Randi Rhodes has been cut back to three hours. And in my last AAR post I discussed their shameful weekend newscasts by the smarmy “Miles Cameron” (formerly “Frisco Hills”) which were obviously pre-recorded many hours beforehand and repeated the same "evergreen" (calculatingly viable all weekend long) stories throughout the day. Then when I was listening this last weekend, Miles was gone! The new weekend newsreader, a woman (Paula Reid?), was actually reporting news relatively current to the hour of the newscast. Coincidence? Or is somebody over on Sixth Avenue reading these posts? More importantly, why isn’t somebody who understands what makes radio compelling and worthwhile (specifically news and talk radio) listening to the network (and checking the website) and remedying embarrassments before a blogger like me points them out? Just the fact that the website has begun to rot and Jerry Springer even had a network show for longer than a week should tell you one thing-- nobody making important decisions at Air America actually listens to Air America for more than a few minutes at time, or keeps up the network's online presence (or gives a rat's ass about it).
A while back I fantasized that Randy Michaels might either take over, buy out, or merge his progressive talk company (Product First) with Air America. It seems that might have been a damn good idea. While recent rumors of Air America declaring bankruptcy have been officially denied, they’re obviously in deep financial trouble. And Al Franken says he’s not getting his paycheck lately (at least that’s a step in the right direction). But what is obvious is that Air America really is bankrupt– of vision, new ideas, and the ability to even maintain the status quo of running a radio corporation.
While progressive talk radio has already proven itself in a number of ways as a viable new format (Clear Channel and Randy Michaels wouldn’t have gotten in the business otherwise), Air America itself is heading for failure with the current leadership. If Sheldon Drobny and Jon Sinton and others who remain of the original founders really give a shit about the network they need to either sell it to somebody who knows what they’re doing, or trim Air America down to a manageable syndication outfit and bring in real radio veterans to run the damn thing. And if they want to hire me, I’ll give them more detailed advice and quit sending snarky commentary into the blogosphere. I thought Air America Radio was a promising proposition from the beginning and I’ve been quick to say positive things about good programming on the network, but despite much good work by so many folks on and off the air, but AAR is obviously broken and needs to be fixed. First they hired a doofus CEO from the music business to steer the company, and now I hear the new guy calling the shots came from the cosmetics industry. Unbelievable.
As it stands Air America is a bloated and mismanaged monster adrift in the mediastream, and it’s become an embarrassment. There's some solid programming, but it's more by accident than part of some grand plan. There's no focused leadership or willingness to make any major decisions that aren't dictated by petty economic concerns.
Of course I want to say
all I’ve already said– bring back Maron and Malloy, and (PLEASE) get rid of
Franken, all that. And maybe it wasn’t so smart to part ways with Carl
Ginsburg or Shelley Lewis either. But while those may be good ideas, it’s now all
too obvious that there are deep and pervasive problems with the entire
structure and vision of the current management. Have I mentioned how much I hate these people who have taken over Air America?
This isn’t going well. The last thing I want to do is toss my lot in with morons who live to live to celebrate the demise of Air America. I hope Malloy is right, and "pod people" have only temporarily taken over. But I do plead with you suited men who can make such decisons--please let somebody else run the show or just let the seeds you've sown find more fertile ground. Air America provides an important role in a biased mediascape. Hand the reigns over to somebody who knows what they are doing.