Monday, October 16, 2006

Why did Air America fail?

Air America, the left-wing talk radio network, has filed chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after negotiations with creditors broke down this weekend. As a liberal, I think it's awful. But as a former media buyer who specialized in radio, I find it interesting. Why did Air America fail?

AA was supposed to be the liberal answer to long-dominant conservative talk radio networks with hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly. It seemed like a good idea; at least 50% of America is liberal to some degree, so there should have been an audience. There's always been a massive audience for conservative radio, and more so than ever in the last decade. Some say it's because AA preached to the converted, but I don't buy it. Rush doesn't preach to the converted? Please. His show is a right-wing circle-jerk. Conservatives say it's because there's no room for "liberal values" in contemporary America. Anyone who's seen Bush's approval ratings lately knows that dog don't hunt either. There's plenty of room -- about 2/3 of the room, if the polls are any indication.

The answer is probably in an interesting audience profile phenomenon: a lot of liberals listen to conservative talk radio (I do myself on occasion), but this doesn't seem to go both ways. Very few conservatives listen to liberal talk radio, or at least not that they'd ever admit. It speaks to one of the fundamental differences between liberals and conservatives: conservatives are less tolerant of dissenting opinions, so it makes sense that they'd be less likely to listen to liberal radio. However, liberals listening to Rush aren't exactly doing so for the information he brings to the table; most, like me, are probably rolling their eyes the whole time they're listening. It's all about their product and how they package it -- Rush is almost always full of shit, but that's part of his appeal. Air America does their homework and reports the truth, albeit from a biased point of view, but seldom engages in the kind of wild speculation and bullshitting you hear on Limbaugh's show. I think it's as simple as that: liberal radio just isn't entertaining enough.

If lefty radio can figure out a way to be as entertaining as its conservative counterpart, it might have a chance. But that's unlikely to happen unless it sinks to the same depths as Rush and O'Reilly, which would sort of defeat its purpose. Bullshit is entertaining, the truth is not. Take your pick.