James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Archive for January 22nd, 2010

Dead Air (America): Liberal talk radio alternative going silent

Posted by James McPherson on January 22, 2010

Air America is dead. The 6-year-old radio network set up to combat right-wing talkers such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, and which in the past provided an outlet for political voices for folks such as Al FrankenEd Schultz and Rachel Maddow, will cease programming today.

As the New York Times reports, “The closing did not come as a surprise.” Management problems and a bad economic climate for media hurt the network from the start, and even the best programs on Air America never provided much of an “alternative” to anything for most liberals. I suspected from the start that talk radio, like direct mail, would work better for conservatives, not just because of their head start but also because both of those media rely heavilty on the emotional appeals of fear and anger. As I wrote in my most recent book, conservatives have used fear and anger better than liberals have, though the Web has “helped” liberals learn more about the those emotions.

I was glad that Spokane had an Air America affiliate, KPTQ, when some larger cities did not, and I occasionally listened. But I and many others much prefer news over opinion and reasoned arguments over the shrill harangues (about the opposition) and nauseating fawning (toward anyone in agreement) that has long characterized talk radio.

With Fox News, MSNBC and the Internet now providing too much of that same sort of programming offered by talk radio, and with cheaper independent local stations such as my local favorite, KYRS, also picking up some of the slack, I’m not sure Air America served much of a purpose except perhaps as a farm club for MSNBC. Incidentally, Maddow was my favorite host; I liked her better before she moved to MSNBC and became more like Keith Olbermann.

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