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Air America Radio: Teething Pains, but Growing Strong

April 18th, 2004

Air America Radio (AAR) has been ordered back on the air in Chicago. AAR discovered that MultiCultural Radio Broadcasting, which owns the L.A. and Chicago stations, had been double-dipping–charging AAR for the lease on the station while simultaneously leasing it to someone else–and so stopped payment on its fees for the L.A. station until the matter could be cleared. MultiCultural, in retaliation, yanked AAR from the airwaves not just in L.A. but in Chicago as well, where AAR had continued payments. MultiCultural then released a press release claiming AAR’s check had bounced, which was untrue.

So a Chicago judge ordered them back on the air in Chicago, where they are now–but L.A. remains dark while the disagreement is ironed out; it should be back on the air soon, however.

This is a minor stumble in AAR’s first month of broadcasting. Right-wing critics, however, are already writing the network’s obituary, claiming that is is “hypocritical and desperate“–with no evidence to support either charge, naturally–and that its ratings stink–before the ratings are even out. They try to gloss over the fact that AAR, with practically no paid PR campaign before its opening, no big rollout except that they simply went on the air, is now one of the most-visited (top 50) web sites on the Internet, and has sent out 2 million audio streams over their RealNetworks connection in just one week. On opening day, they had as many as 50,000 connections going at one time. That made it the biggest ever news stream, save for special breaking news events. And that’s despite all the technical difficulties that they’ve been suffering in getting this going.

Soon they will be opening new radio broadcasts in San Francisco, Sacramento, Boulder, Colorado Springs, Santa Fe NM, Portland ME, and two new satellite networks. Those are just the latest additions, after Minneapolis, West Palm Beach, Riverside CA, Key West, and Plattsburgh/Burlington (NY/VT) were added in AAR’s first week.

This is really the only way liberal talk radio could come out in the U.S., so dominated the airwaves by conservative owners. For example, one of AAR’s top broadcasters is Randi Rhodes, the acerbic left-wing talk show host and Air Force veteran from southern Florida. Despite the fact that her show regularly got higher ratings than Rush Limbaugh in his home market, Clear Channel–the right-wing national network that broadcasts Rush Limbaugh and has been cutting Howard Stern off at the knees since he went liberal–refused to ever syndicate Rhodes despite her fantastic ratings in Florida.

When the first ratings come out, we’ll see how well the network is doing in its first infant steps. But the lies spread by right-wingers about AAR’s cash-flow problems are outright false–AAR has enough capital to operate for two years at least.

And remember, this station is still in its infancy. If you’ll recall, the Fox network as laughed off as a joke for a few years when it first started, for many of the same reasons AAR is being knocked for now. So the show is far from over–it’s just getting warmed up.

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