Rumors of Air America Purchase Among Stories of Poor Business Management

There are a number of stories today about Air America. AP reports that it is close to being sold to an undisclosed buyer. The New York Times has a story on the business problems at Air America:

Some people at Air America assert that, under Mr. Glaser and the team he put in place, the network was top-heavy with management, inept at selling ads, unwilling to make program compromises that veered from the liberal message and overstaffed with more than 100 employees when two dozen would have sufficed.

“What they did for $45 million they could have done for $10 million,” said Sheldon Drobny, an investor with a contentious relationship with the network. Mr. Drobny and his wife, Anita, longtime Democratic activists, are credited with the idea for Air America.

The network has run through a stream of operational executives. Danny Goldberg, a music executive who served as chief for about a year before leaving in April 2006, said the problem was “a big gap between the ambitions of the company and the funding available to accomplish those ambitions.”

“There was no way to manage around that gap,” he said. “Either lower your expectations or raise more money. No one wanted to change the ambitions.”

Faced with constant money woes, the board considered a takeover by the Democracy Alliance, a loose group of moneyed progressives, including George Soros, who had pooled resources to support projects they considered worthy. But the group ultimately rejected the appeal, because “Air America needed to do certain things to make it a more attractive business,” Mr. Kreeger said.

Newsweek also outlines the poor management at Air America and quotes one source as believing that the poor management, and not the idea of liberal radio, was the problem:

As affiliates have begun pulling the plug on Air America programming, including recent announcements out of such mainstay markets as Boston and Madison, Wis., many critics are ringing the death knell of liberal talk radio. But some industry experts say that’s the wrong conclusion to draw. “This has nothing to do with the viability of liberal talk radio,” says Michael Harrison, publisher of the talk radio trade journal Talkers Magazine. “It has to do with them not running an effective business model and with people like Al Franken not living up to the hype. If they’d hired broadcasters instead of a bunch of comedians, they would have had a chance of succeeding.”

There has also been speculation that Al Franken might be leaving to run for the Senate against Norm Coleman in Minnesota.

It would be interesting to see how a liberal network does with better management. Liberal talk radio is at a disadvantage compared to conservative talk radio. Conservatives, holding views which are frequently counter to fact and having a mind set more in line with following authoritarian leadership, prefer having their own views be reinforced by conservative commentators which tell them what to think. Liberals are more likely to be interested in reliable non-biased information and many prefer a balanced source such as NPR over Air America.

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3 Comments

  1. 1
    Todd says:

    Let me get this straight. Conservative talk-radio is booming because, in your words, “they tell people what to think.” Yet, in the NYT article, one of the reasons given for Air America’s failure is that they were “unwilling to make program compromises that veered from the liberal message.”

    You can’t have it both ways.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    Todd,

    You are missing the point. One reason Air America isn’t doing well is that liberals aren’t as likely as conservatives to listen to a program which doesn’t veer from the message. Conservatives are interested in shows which drum in the conservative message while liberals are more intersted in objective information and hearing variety of viewpoints. Conservatives are more likely to build defenses against listening to objective news sources which contradict their postiions.

  3. 3
    kj says:

    “Conservatives are more likely to build defenses against listening to objective news sources which contradict their postiions.”

    An ex-‘friend’ of mine, a conservative, used to rail about NPR using ‘her’ tax dollars to support a liberal agenda. She loved Rush and Hannity and spread their mis-information around daily. Even when proven false (Hannity’s radio show), she wouldn’t back down. Hannity was right, even when he was wrong.

    Poor management is behind the fall of Air America. Is that in question here?

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