If I ever find myself lost on a deserted island in the company of three other people, it’s safe to say that the chances of my survival would be slim to none if those other people were Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh. Although I am sure that they are perfectly amicable people underneath their conservative banter, my attempts to offer a liberal, alternative view would most certainly prove futile, increase my blood pressure and thus lead to my untimely demise.
Luckily, the more qualified liberals of Air America, which launched yesterday, are willing and ready to challenge the aforementioned conservative talk show hosts, not on a deserted island, but on the liberal radio network. Seeking to break the conservative hold over talk radio, the progressive network, which has no affiliation with the Democratic Party, will provide 24-hour programming with hosts such as Al Franken, rapper Chuck D and comedian Jeaneane Garofolo. Al Franken, expected to garner the largest audience, will heat up his already widely publicized feud with Bill O’Reilly on his program “The O’Franken Factor.”
If the network proves successful, which would probably not occur for a few years, former Vice President Al Gore’s dream of a liberal television network to rival Fox News might not be far behind. However, while the station has the potential to reach a large audience of liberals and independents, challenges still exist — the first of which is the relative lack of coverage by the media on this endeavor. In fact, the only pieces of in-depth coverage I have noticed occurred on the CNN program “Reliable Sources,” which critically reviews the media each Sunday morning, and Bloomberg News, which caters to a relatively specific audience. Although the Washington Post published an article about the network’s decision not to air in Washington D.C. and predicted that much hype would be made about the new network, I have failed to see anything of substance that would arouse the interest of the public.
Of course, Jack Cafferty of CNN’s “American Morning,” who jokingly said he didn’t want to take viewers away from the show by mentioning the launch of the new radio network, may have hit the nail on the head. Air America is the competition, and when ratings mean everything in the media world, the last thing you want to do is drive the audience to your competition. It is an unfortunate reality for a radio network that desperately wants to succeed, and it will force the network to rely on alternative sources for spreading the word about its existence.
Historically, liberal radio stations have not fared well, and Air America faces a less than friendly climate with the solid base of conservative talk shows that already exist. Perhaps that is why the network chose relatively Democratic, liberal-leaning cities to take flight, but the question remains whether anyone will be listening. Preaching to the choir will not be enough, and the network will have to enter arenas of typically independent voters if it hopes to compete with conservative talk shows.
Yet, Air America has the potential to revolutionize the airwaves and prove that liberals recognize the importance of utilizing the media to achieve their goals. Launching during an election year in which the American public is sharply divided among party lines and in which liberals are more eager than ever to beat George W. Bush in November may augment the network’s success. Liberals are starved for a source through which they can receive information that challenges the current administration and is unafraid to criticize the state of our society.
Moreover, the use of well-known entertainers and liberals will bring in an audience single-handedly. If Jeaneane Garofolo was able to hold her own on ABC’s “Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher” and HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” then her scathing anti-conservative commentary will find an audience on Air America. Of course, Al Franken, the “Golden Child” of the network, will have already found a huge following among those who read his satirical work which criticized both the Bush administration and Fox News.
Air America offers the chance for a radio network to address many common concerns over the state of the union and bring issues to the forefront that the mainstream media may not be willing to take on. If the network can capture those independents, then it may not only have an affect on this year’s election, but could redefine the landscape of talk radio. Here’s wishing Air America a very successful flight.
Alicia Washington is a junior in Trumbull College. Her column appears on alternate Thursdays.