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Talk radio takes a turn to the left

Air America wants to be a liberal voice in a medium dominated by conservatives.

March 11, 2004|Elizabeth Jensen | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Air America Radio, the long-promised liberal talk radio start-up, finally has a launch date, a 17-hours-per-weekday talent roster and a Los Angeles-area outlet, KBLA, a full-power station that operates from Santa Monica at 1580 on the AM dial.

The fledgling network, which wants to provide a counterpoint to what it says is conservative-dominated talk radio, said Wednesday it will launch March 31 on AM stations in New York and Chicago, as well as Los Angeles, and on a San Francisco station it wouldn't name. Executives said deals to buy stations in Boston and Philadelphia are being discussed, and the network's shows, from comedians such as Al Franken and Janeane Garofalo, could also be syndicated in other cities as well as on national satellite TV and radio services, and will be available on the Internet.

The programs, which will air live in the East and be tape-delayed by three hours in Los Angeles, have names such as "Uprising," "Unfiltered" and "The Majority Report," and some will include listener calls. Franken and co-host Katherine Lanpher will have a noon-to-3 p.m. show, while Garofalo and co-host Sam Seder will anchor the evening block from 8 to 11 p.m. The rapper Chuck D will be part of the 9 a.m.-to-noon team, which will also include Lizz Winstead, a co-creator of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show."

Morning drive, from 6 to 9 a.m., will be hosted by comedian Marc Maron, and a Florida radio host, Randi Rhodes, will be on in afternoon drive time. At 7 p.m., Marty Kaplan, director of the Norman Lear Center at USC's Annenberg School for Communication, will host "So What Else Is News?" looking at the media and politics. Repeats will fill the overnight hours.

The lineup, which will also include a daily report from online magazine Salon, is meant to be "entertaining, informing and comedic," said Mark Walsh, the network's chief executive, and a counterpoint to what's already on the air, which he called "right wing to dramatically right wing."

Despite the liberal outlook of its hosts, Walsh insisted in an interview that "this is not regime-change radio; this is attempting to build a legitimate, profitable, sustainable business anchored by radio." He added that "if all this business is about is this current president, it's a shortsighted view.... It's not just about this administration, although certainly some of the things this administration is doing make for incredibly great observation and comedic radio."

Franken, in a conference call with reporters, seemed to have other ideas. "We're going to put it to [President] Bush," he said. "Bush is going down in November. And then we'll be putting it to the rest of the right-wing media.... We're going to find their lies every day and hold them up to scorn and ridicule," he added, saying that the "right wing has captured radio and we're going after them."

His show will be called "The O'Franken Factor," playing off his public feud with Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly, who hosts "The O'Reilly Factor." "We're going to be baiting [O'Reilly] as much as we can," Franken said.

Executives said they already had commitments from advertisers but declined to name them. Walsh said investors have put in enough money for the network to operate "18 to 24 months without making money, and maybe more."

Air America is leasing the time on KBLA, currently a Korean-language station. In New York, the network struck a partnership with WLIB-AM, which airs Caribbean music and local talk shows that deal with political and international issues. Walsh said he was especially happy with the WLIB deal, quipping that "it's LIB, as in liberal."

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