Once in Philadelphia there was a 24-hour all-classical music station, and my hearing was still good enough to enjoy it wherever I drove, especially during the interminable traffic jams on a dreadful road called the Schuylkill Expressway.
Advertisers abandoned it because its audience shrank; older people, its largest listener segment, died off and younger ones preferred to listen to rock. Especially to listen to rock. Or to listen to Rush Limbaugh telling them what to think. WFLN went the way of the eight-track tape.
Why, I often wondered, when Limblow's shouts about feminazis and Bill Clinton's sexual proclivities could be heard through an adjoining motorist's open window, was there not a talk-show antidote to Rush and his right wing fellow air polluters?
And then one day there was. It was called Air America and it gave us such intelligent, witty and perceptive commentators as Al Franken and Rachel Maddow -- thinking people's talk radio. Some real and excellent journalism was committed on its wavelength.
Air America folded last week, for want of advertising revenue and other sources of funding.
I join the progressive punditry in lamenting its death, which many commentators with far more knowledge of radio than I possess have called a "suicide." Others say the death was inevitable because there is no audience for progressive talk radiio -- it is by nature too open to dissenting views, too willing to consider nuance and subtle differences in priorioty, to appeal to a mass audience. On the one hand this, and on the other hand that. What with cell phones, GPS and a steering wheel, today's motorist doesn't have enough hands for progressive talk radio.
A friend who is a prize-winning veteran of public and progressive radio, falls in the "suicide" group.
"Air America was atrociously run from the gitgo," she told me. "I’ve seen it previously in lefty radio start ups: terrible business model, no adults in the room, doomed. Most radio shows take decades to find an audience. In Rush’s early days, accommodation was made for such a build up. These days there’s practically no room for that anymore, and A.A. really tried to rush things. Besides, the right has so dominated the AM airwaves for so long that they pull all sorts of stunts to keep the lefties away, and AA wasn't wise to the stunts.
"But if it's done right, there really is a lib radio audience -- and some of the the shows have found their way onto the same networks as Limbaugh, and (infamously right-wing) Clear channel etc. Take Randi Rhodes, for example, or Tom Hartman, Stephanie Miller -- their shows are surviving. Hartman is the anti-Limbaugh, a self-infatuated pontificator of the left. Miller is very funny. Rhodes is actually a serious student of politics with a flair for realpolitik."
I note that she said they're "surviving." Limblow and his clones are thriving. A clever entertainer can do that in talk radio. Ken Hamblin, a onetime civil rights marcher and newspaper photographer, reinvented himself as a right-wing black radio personality and thrived in Denver for years. He became wealthy, the act palled and now he's retired and jet-setting around from San Francisco.
But someone else always comes along to take up the bleat and get rich doing so. There's a big, deep, angry pool of haters out there, ripe to hear the message. Makes 'em feel, y' know, powerful.