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Air America's Co-Founder, Programming Chief Leave

The two departures come after weeks of start-up problems for the liberal talk-radio network.

April 28, 2004|Elizabeth Jensen | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Just weeks after it went on the air, liberal talk-radio network Air America Radio has lost its co-founder and chief executive as well as its top programming and operations executive.

The departures come after weeks of start-up problems for the limited-distribution network, which features entertainers Al Franken and Janeane Garofalo and was launched with a barrage of promotion at the end of March. In a dispute over payment, the network has already gone off the air in Los Angeles and will lose its Chicago home at the end of this week.

Air America remains on a New York station, as well as eight other stations around the country, including one in Riverside, and can be heard on the Internet and on satellite radio services.

Air America executives portrayed the departure of Mark Walsh, a former America Online executive who is the network's co-founder, and Dave Logan, the executive vice president of programming and operations, as a normal course of events as the network moved from its six-month sprint to get on the air to the grind of putting out 17 hours a day of radio talk shows.

"Now that we're in operations mode, we have a different set of tasks before us, and a different set of people who will execute those tasks," said David Goodfriend, the company's executive vice president and general counsel, who is now the acting chief operating officer.

Walsh will remain a senior advisor. He told the Chicago Tribune, which first reported his departure, that the parting was amicable.

But many radio insiders have been saying for months that the fledgling network -- which has set its mission as taking on the conservative voices that dominate talk radio -- didn't have a solid business plan to back up its politically motivated launch.

"These people do not seem to be following the kind of business plan one would expect from a stable and formidable broadcast operation," said Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers, a magazine that follows the talk-radio business. "Chaos at a start-up is a bad sign, especially when the CEO disappears."

But he said the network's ability to draw publicity was "extraordinary," adding, "Maybe they'll work their way through these problems."

Goodfriend declined to comment on negotiations for a new Los Angeles station but said he hoped to have an announcement "very, very soon."

Meanwhile, Lizz Winstead, one of Air America's on-air hosts, was named programming chief. She had been in charge of pre-produced entertainment elements at the network.

No audience figures have yet been released for the privately owned network.

"It's both good and bad to be as high-profile as we are," Goodfriend said. "It's good because everybody knows who we are, but we hiccup and everybody thinks we've got the stomach flu."

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