Despite the intrigue concerning its management - and the abrupt pulling of its programming last month from stations in Chicago and Los Angeles, in a contract dispute - there are early indications that, where it can be heard, Air America is actually drawing listeners. WLIB-AM in New York City, one of 13 stations that carry at least part of Air America's 16 hours of original programming each day, even appears to be holding its own with WABC-AM, the New York City station and talk radio powerhouse that is Mr. Limbaugh's flagship.
For example, among listeners from 25 and 54, whom advertisers covet, the network estimates it drew an average listener share (roughly a percentage of listeners) of 3.4 on WLIB in April, from 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. on weekdays, according to the company's extrapolation of figures provided by Arbitron for the three months ended in April. (Arbitron, which does not provide ratings in monthly increments, said the network's methodology appeared sound, although such figures were too raw to translate to numbers of listeners.)
By contrast, according to Air America's figures, WABC-AM drew an average share of 3.2 during the same period in April for the same age group. That time period includes the three hours in which Mr. Limbaugh was pitted head to head against Mr. Franken.
That's a good base to build on, but it would certainly help if Air America weren't so strapped for cash that Franken is currently working for free.
Last week, I did some extended checking-in for the first time since Air America's launch, listening in on the network's website. Morning Sedition is still pretty bad. The hour that I was listening was "highlighted" by an interview with an Iraq-war veteran who talked about mistakenly blowing away civilians at a checkpoint. It could have been powerful, but in the inexpert hands of the show's hosts it came off as callow. Unfiltered was so-so; Chuck D was interviewing some guy who is the youngest member of the legislature in New York's Nassau County. Zzzzz.
The O'Franken Factor, on the other hand, seemed greatly improved. Al Franken's understated humor was coming through much more clearly than I remember from before. His guest was conservative-pit-bull-turned-liberal-pit-bull David Brock, who apparently comes on regularly to talk about his new website, MediaMatters.org.
Brock is currently campaigning to get Armed Forces Radio to drop Rush Limbaugh from its taxpayer-funded service, arguing that Limbaugh's tee-hee take on the horrors of Abu Ghraib is not only a direct contradiction of White House policy, but that it represents a danger to the troops as well.
Pretty good stuff. I just wish it wasn't such a pain in the ass to capture the stream so that I can listen to it in my car.
A NEW TYPE OF OUTSOURCING. Scott Allen reports in today's Boston Globe:
Harvard Medical School plans to break ground today on a branch in the Persian Gulf that will help oversee a massive "healthcare city" in the United Arab Emirates, the latest in a wave of US-Arab medical projects that was accelerated by the post-Sept. 11 restrictions on travel to the United States by the Middle East's elite.
This can't be good for the local economy.