Skip to comments.Dial to the left for WHJJ-AM (Air America struggles against the local conservative competition)
Posted on 02/20/2005 9:51:36 AM PST by got_moab?
Philip Johnson of Barrington thinks it's "an unmitigated disaster."
Rosalie Nocera of Providence thinks it's "excellent, excellent!"
They're radio listeners talking about Air America, the liberal talk-show network that showed up on local news/talk station WHJJ-AM (920) Oct. 15.
Nocera and Johnson both wrote to the station to express their strong feelings about the new format.
Carrying Air America was a risky move, particularly for a station that had been airing conservative local talk host John DePetro from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
DePetro dubbed himself "The Independent Man," but when it came to national politics, he was a consistently faithful Bush Republican. On one of his shows, DePetro thanked Jesus Christ that Bush, and not Al Gore, had won the contested election of 2000.
These are hardly the sentiments you will hear from Al Franken, the most celebrated host on Air America.
Franken and co-host Katherine Lanpher spend their noon-to-3 p.m. shift bashing Bush at every opportunity, from the conduct of the war in Iraq to his plan to reform Social Security.
Occasionally, Franken will take time out to blast conservative media icons Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly, two of the favorite subjects in Franken's book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.
Air America began broadcasting on last March 31, intended as a counterweight to the dominance of conservatives on talk radio.
"Let's just say it: We're liberals," said Air America president Jon Sinton in a recent phone interview. "Nothing wrong with that. Nothing to be ashamed of. We are here to reclaim the word."
The network is now heard on 48 stations, compared with about 600 for Limbaugh.
On Dec. 10, Air America sent its morning show, Morning Sedition, on the road to Boston -- actually, to Davis Square in Somerville -- where hosts Marc Maron and Mark Riley set up shop at a coffeehouse called The Someday Cafe. (Air America airs on WKOX-AM and WXKS-AM in the Boston area.)
By 8 o'clock on a raw, rainy morning, the small coffeehouse was crammed with Air America fans, technicians and the hosts.
Guests that morning included Rep. Barney Frank, who defended gay marriage and talked up the need for Democratic party unity, and musician Ted Leo, who tickled the crowd by playing Rush's elaborate Spirit of Radio on an acoustic guitar.
"I think Air America is a good counter to the Sean Hannitys and the Rush Limbaughs of the world," Frank said on his way out of the cafe, referring to two prominent conservative commentators. "Especially if it's not pompous and tries to do things with some entertainment and humor."
Back inside the coffeehouse, Maron offered the audience a tongue-in-cheek liberal agenda "direct from the Barbra Streisand compound."
The crowd cheered when he demanded the United States establish full diplomatic relations with Red Sox Nation.
"One curse down, one curse to go!" Maron said. The second curse, his audience understood, was the Bush presidency.
But the crowd booed when he suggested an all-Massachusetts ticket in 2008 -- John Kerry and Michael Dukakis.
Air America almost didn't make it off the launching pad. The original plan was that it would own, or at least lease, its own radio stations, which proved prohibitively expensive.
The network ran out of money in its first six weeks, was down to just three of its original five stations, and appeared headed for the radio graveyard. Then it developed a new business plan, found some additional financing, and began adding stations.
Last month the Wall Street Journal -- not exactly a fan of Air America's politics -- ran a story under the headline "Radio's Bush-Bashing Air America is Back in Fighting Form."
The network's arrival in Rhode Island followed the departure of DePetro, who left WHJJ last August to take a job with Boston's WRKO. After he left, the station held a series of auditions in his time slot, trying out local hosts ranging from storyteller Marc Joel Levitt to Survivor finalist Helen Glover.
Steve Peck, WHJJ program director at the time, said the station was committed to finding a local host for at least the 10 a.m.-to-noon shift.
So it was something of a shock when the station announced its new lineup: WHJJ kept national host Don Imus at 6 a.m., then picked up Morning Sedition from 10 a.m. to noon, followed by Franken from noon to 3 p.m. Local talk-radio stalwart Arlene Violet remained on the station in the 3-to-6 p.m. slot. Then came Air America's Randi Rhodes from 6 to 8 p.m., followed by local host Geoff Charles from 8 to 10.
Jim Corwin, market manager for the local Clear Channel stations, including WHJJ, said at the time that Rhode Island, a consistently Democratic state in national elections, seemed like a logical home for Air America.
"What I like best about Air America programming is that it reflects my point of view as a liberal thinker and reminds me that there are people out there who RESPECT it," WHJJ listener Susan Waterman of West Warwick wrote in an e-mail to The Providence Journal.
But the first radio ratings to come out since WHJJ switched to Air America show the station has lost listeners.
WHJJ's share, which measures the percentage of people who listening to the radio from 6 a.m. to midnight, went from 3.1 in the fall of 2003 to 2.6 in the fall of 2004, a decline of 16 percent.
And if you look at the heavyweight duel between Al Franken and Rush Limbaugh between noon and 3, Limbaugh is whipping Franken. Put another way, in an average 15 minutes in that time slot, WHJJ dropped from 13,600 listeners in fall 2003 to 8,000 in fall 2004. On WPRO, Limbaugh's audience rose from 13,800 to 22,200.
Still, WHJJ executives say that a single rating period is not nearly long enough to pass judgment on Air America.
Corwin said in a recent interview that he had expected at least some of the old WHJJ audience to be unhappy with Air America and to stop listening to the station. The question is whether enough new listeners will arrive to replace them.
Corwin pointed out that the number of people who sampled WHJJ at least once rose 19 percent during the most recent rating period, after Air America arrived. The tough part, he said, is getting them to stay.
David Bernstein, program director for rival WPRO-AM (630), agrees that it's too soon to judge the success of Air America. He even says he admires WHJJ for rolling the dice with a new format.
But he doesn't think it's going to work.
"I don't see the relevance of Air America for the people of Rhode Island," Bernstein said.
Rhode Island radio listeners want to hear -- and speak -- about local issues, Bernstein said. On WHJJ, they can't do that until Violet gets on the air at 3 p.m.
WPRO, on the other hand, has a local talk show with Steve Kass at 10 a.m.
"I can get national news from a lot of different places," Bernstein said. "What I can't get is a discussion of the possibility of casinos coming to Rhode Island."
Kass said he thinks Air America is bad programming for WHJJ, and a lousy product to boot.
"When you run syndicated shows against local, you're crazy," he said. "Local is what makes talk radio work.
"I listened to Al Franken, just to see what they're doing. I thought it was painful. He's slow, he's not funny ....
"From a competitive standpoint, I'm very happy they're doing what they're doing."
WHJJ's Violet said she has no political problem with Air America. But she, too, is troubled by the lack of local talk.
"I miss John [DePetro] ... I wish the 10-to-12 time slot could be local programming," she said. "When the [Jim] Taricani story broke, we had to wait until 3 p.m. to be able to talk about it ..."
Corwin said that keeping things local is fine, but not if that means listening to the same small set of callers over and over again.
"Yes, given equal talent, local is better than syndication," he said. "But if you listened to John or Arlene, it was a group of 5 or 10 callers dominating the shows. As Geoff Charles said, why give them our airwaves?"
All about the green
Corwin didn't give a deadline, but said he wants to wait for a few more ratings periods -- there are four a year -- before deciding about Air America. He said the ultimate decision has nothing to do with red states and blue states. It's all about the green.
"Ultimately, all I care about is whether I can produce results for our advertisers," he said. "I'm not interested in ideology."
Air America has already managed impressive ratings in some of its markets, including New York City.
Michael Harrison, editor of Talkers magazine, a trade journal devoted to talk radio, said it's too early to tell whether Air America will be a financial success. But he thinks it's already been a success in changing perceptions about radio.
"There's been a tremendous amount of press and attention to talk radio, thanks to Air America," he said. "I think it's opened the doors to a lot of different material."
Harrison said Bush's electoral victory in 2004 might, paradoxically, be a great thing for Air America. Talk radio, he said, tends to work particularly well among angry outsiders.
Limbaugh, he noted, came to prominence during President Clinton's administration.
"The best thing that could have happened to Air America, and any other liberal radio hosts," Harrison said, "is that Bush won
"David Bernstein, program director for rival WPRO-AM (630), agrees that it's too soon to judge the success of Air America. He even says he admires WHJJ for rolling the dice with a new format."
Translation- "If these dip$hits want to piss away their rating's we will gladly adjust our advertising fees accordingly"
I thought the most telling remark was that they are having no trouble getting people to look, but getting them to stay is tough.
That doesn't bode well for the product at all.
And there you have it.
Sure, establish a liberal network that isn't supported by taxpayer dollars, and let the free market decide.
Buried at paragraph #30.
Is this station the AM counterpart to FM WHJY? HJY has some liberal DJ's, one of whom blasted the President at the memorial service for the Station Nightclub victims.
I think I heard this week that Clear Channel is putting AA on 20 or so of it's stations. In the big Liberal cities, there's probably a market for it.
I listend one time online to it, arg, it was like watching that Ward Church guy on Cspan.
Liberal ratings math: one liberal listener is equal to two conservative listeners.
Note that their ratings fell during the huge election season. It's just going downhill from there.
The local media in Rhode Island (especially the Journal)has bent over backwards to sell this product since it's inception, this proves that nobody is buying.
Yes it is. I believe that Geoff Charles is the no talent burnt out hippy assclown that you are referring to. I figured the ratings would go straight down the toilet but this is even better than I imagined. They launched this format in October, just wait until the liberal fruits at our local "education camps"(Brown,RISD,RIC) depart for the summer and the audience completely disappears.
They are up against some pretty good local talent, Mike rosen from the right, Peter Boyles from the left, plus Laura Ingrahm.
liberal radio has two major problems. 1. they screen their callers to allow only kooks and leftist cheerleaders. If an intelligent conservative gets through they are literally shouted over, blocked from speaking, and hung up upon.
2. only ultra hard core liberals listen with any consistent measurable intent. Rush has a consistent listenership accross the spectrum. (he is also far more polite)
There will always be "a" niche for left wing radio shows. HOWEVER the jury is still out on the issue of profitability. I bet Clear Channel got ErrAmerika programing at a HUGE discount (if not free).
Franken has supposedly waived his salary to help the network start.
He is still overpaid.
I am not sure if he was the one but his name sounds familiar I knew "the Doctor" died in the fire. I also heard a DJ make fun of Alzheimer's sufferers once, about a year ago. Thanks for the reply.
>>DePetro dubbed himself "The Independent Man," but when it came to national politics, he was a consistently faithful Bush Republican
The name "Independent Man" comes from the statue of a man on top of the Rhode Island state house. You can be an
"Independent Man" and be conservative too; here in Mass.
I'm registered as Unenrolled or Independent but usually
vote Republican. I, too, am an Independent Man.
>>Is this station the AM counterpart to FM WHJY
Yes, I think so. The Station fire was 2 years ago today
(I remember talk about it on WHJJ just after the fire).
WHJY promoted the show and one of their DJs perished in the fire.
"The Doc Fund" has been established at The Rhode Island Foundation by Clear Channel Radio to remember the victims of The West Warwick Station Nightclub Fire, which claimed 100 lives on February 20, 2003. The Doc Fund will provide financial support to "The Station Nightclub Fire Relief Fund" designed to help victims and their families. The Doc Fund will also provide support for the Michael J. Gonsalves '86 Endowment Scholarship Fund at Rhode Island College.
Through its four radio stations, WHJY, WSNE, WWBB, and WHJJ, we will seek support, hold community-wide events and carry out other activities designed to support the mission of The Doc Fund.
The Station Nightclub Fire, the victims and their families commit the Doc Fund, for as long as there remains a need. The Doc Fund is a donor advised fund, and grant recommendations will be made by key advisors to the fund in support of its mission. In all respects the net income and/or principal of the Fund shall be used and disposed of for charitable purposes under and in accordance with the provisions of the Articles of Incorporation establishing The Rhode Island Community Foundation
Clear Channel Radio lost a dear friend and co-worker, Mike "The Doctor" Gonsalves in the fire. We hope to keep his memory and those of the other victims alive through The Doc Fund
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