Air America Radio: It is Not About Bush, But Rush

Sean at the Everything I Know Is Wrong blog has a great post on liberal talk radio today. Short message: Talk radio is a business. Read it, and the link to a Boston Globe article by talk host Jay Severiin that Sean recommends. It is worth it.

Today is Debut Day for the newest liberal talk radio experiment, Air America Radio. You can listen in live through their website or via XM, or on six stations nationwide.

You can listen in, that is, if you’d rather hear Al Franken than Rush Limbaugh (or Bill O’Reilly’s radio show, or many others, for that matter).

Most on the right are derisive of this new venture. Bill O’Reilly scoffed at the mere six-station startup number last evening. I don’t scoff at that — every venture has to start somewhere. But I still don’t expect it to succeed. Here’s one reason why. Al Franken named his show “The O’Franken Factor” as a take-off on “The O’Reilly Factor.”

Let me put it this way: Why should we listen to a mere imitator? Left or right, people devoting three hours of their time to listen to someone else talk want to hear something original. Rush Limbaugh is an original. Bill O’Reilly is an original. Gordon Liddy is an original. Mike Reagan is an original. Neal Boortz is an original. Sean Hannity is an original. Glen Beck is an original. And so on. Any one of the regular listeners to one of these shows could, if given a written show transcript with all the names taken off, identify the show. That’s because they aren’t carbon copies of each other, and none of these hosts spends all day — as some on the left allege — reading GOP talking points. They work hard. They teach us a lot. But they also are showmen.

You see what I mean. Each of these successful talk hosts brings something valuable and unique to their microphone. Plus: Personality, Humor. First-rate research. Perspective. And more. Perhaps Al Franken can and will deliver all that, but to do so he needs to do better than naming his show after someone else’s.

I’ve also heard (from Laura Ingraham, another deservedly successful conservative talk host) that Franken says he has a one-year contract and that’s no coincidence. He’s implying he’s doing the show to influence the November election. If so, his show’s failure is preordained. It takes time to build an audience and dedication as well. If Franken only cares enough to give it a year, nothing much will come of his effort. Even Rush Limbaugh took longer than a year to get established, and he wasn’t competing for audience with NPR.

As Jay Severin put it in the Globe, Franken doesn’t need to beat Bush. He needs to beat — or at least slightly compete with — Rush.

I’ll listen in to Air America, some. If for no other reason, I want to hear some of the whoppers Robert F. Kennedy Jr. of the Natural Resources Defense Council inevitably will spout on his show, which is one of the other ones on this network. Comic relief.

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