Mary Ann Pekara, Author
Air America was supposed to be the political alternative to Rush Limbaugh on the airwaves, providing liberal listeners with talk show alternatives to the conservative juggernaut. But the station struggled to get off the ground, and Air America announced that it will soon file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and cease all live programming.
A statement released by the company said that the bankruptcy would “carry out an orderly winding-down of the business.” Started in April, 2004, and based out of New York, Air America claimed to be the “only full-time progressive voice in the mainstream broadcast media world.”
Over the last six years the network was home to a number of famous left-leaning celebrities, including future Senator Al Franken, actress Janeane Garofolo and future television host Rachel Maddow.
With around 100 radio outlets across the country, Air America played reruns through Monday, January 25, to help affiliates adjust to the speedy fade-out.
The statement went on to say that the difficult economic climate was a major factor in the Air America decline and ultimately its filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection. From the statement:
“With radio industry ad revenues down for 10 consecutive quarters, and reportedly off 21 percent in 2009, signs of improvement have consisted of hoping things will be less bad.”
The network also cited the fragmentation of audiences to different kinds of media, and the difficulty of finding operating or investment capital from traditional sources as other reasons for Air America’s sign-off.
The bankruptcy filing came after a long but ultimately fruitless search for new investors to bolster the ailing company. “Our painstaking search for new investors has come close several times right up into this week,” the statement said, “but ultimately fell short of success.”
The company had its share of issues during its run, which the New York Times called a “merry-go-round management and repeated financial shortfalls.”
Some have even implied that the radio station’s current impact is little more than symbolic. One prominent liberal blogger asked of his Twitter followers: “Air America was still really on the air?”
According to the New York Times, a number of former employees of Air America complained about poor business practices by station management. Prominent former show host Thom Hartmann in an interview that those who ran the station were “spectacularly incompetent.”
Air America provided a bundle of shows for syndication on affiliate stations across the country. One station, KKGN-AM, Green 960 in the San Francisco area, picked up most of this programming. In light of Air America’s failure, however, KKGN-AM station manager said in a statement on the station’s Web site that “it was a mess from almost the get-go.” He went on to reiterate the management issues brought up by others.
Industry insiders also cited the 20-year head start that conservative radio stations had on Air America as one reason for the network's business struggles.
In its final days, Air America attempted to redefine itself as a provider of new media web content, and more dynamic hosts including those like Montel Williams. Such efforts were not enough, however, to save the company.
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