Air America needs a helping hand(out)

AAR.jpgAir America has taken two unusual steps in the past few weeks: one, it has started soliciting donations in the manner of public radio, despite being a for-profit enterprise; and two, CEO Danny Goldberg responded to criticism from Conservative bloggers and Bill O’Reilly regarding their claims that Air America is on its last legs.

Goldberg sent out an email to supporters last Wednesday inviting them to become “Air America Associates,” made possible by their generous financial support:

To continue this great success story and start shaping the national debate the way that Right Wing talk radio does every day, we’ve got to reach into every community in this country. We know we can’t achieve this next stage of growth without significant help from you, our loyal listeners.

Associates are welcome to give any amount, of course, but $50 gets them three nifty bumper stickers (“I’m building Air America Radio!” and, depending on level of generosity, $100 wins a “stylin’ yet functional tote bag” and for $250 you can enjoy hearing yourself thanked on-air by an AAR host (I’d pick Rachel Maddow, natch). This is, of course, in addition to enjoying the various commercials on AAR, a hallmark of for-profit radio.

Since the Boys and Girls Club scandal broke earlier this summer, conservative bloggers Michelle Malkin and Brian Maloney have teamed up in “investigating” Air America, and have been zealously looking into the scandal (seriously, check out how many posts there are!) and excoriating the MSM for its minimal coverage of the matter.

On Tuesday, Malkin and Maloney went on The O’Reilly Factor to discuss Air America’s finances (O’Reilly in particular took umbrage to the “personal attackes” he said AAR made). Here is an excerpt:

MALONEY: …As things stand now they may be down to their last months
unless one of the big guns like Soros comes in, steps to the plate and puts up some cash, but otherwise I think things are looking bleak. They’re overpaying the air talent. They’re fending off lawsuits. They’re overspending. They just put a brand new studio facility in, they didn’t need that. That was at Franken’s
insistence. Now he’s not even going to use it. He’s moving to
Minnesota. So they’re wasting money. They’re not bringing it in. It’s a mess…

MALKIN: There’s two stories, really, here: the crumbling of Air
America, and the failure, and the refusal of the rest of the mainstream media to cover it as a financial, political and entertainment media story.

(Full transcript here)

The same day, the New York Post picked up the story, speculating (along with sources in radio) that the request for support must mean that the network was in bad financial shape, which a spokeswoman for Air America denied.

In response to the speculation, Danny Goldberg took to the internet yesterday to deny these rumours. Air America on its last legs? Untrue. Its ratings were actually up, it was on more and more stations each week (up to 70 now), and by the way the Conservative hosts were no strangers to hocking goods on the internet (he cites Rush Limbaugh and O’Reilly as prime offenders). AAR wasn’t doing anything different than The Nation, a for-profit magazine does; and meanwhile listeners have responded by the thousands. The upshot? The usual Conservatives-hating-on-Liberals, nothing to see here, folks, move along.

So, which version is true? We have to agree with O’Reilly’s prima facie analysis: “Why would they need money if, as they claim, they are doing so well?” That said, AAR does make a decent case (but an $875,000 deposit into escrow can’t make things easier). And, like them or not, Malkin and Mahoney have put a lot of work into their takedown (never mind that Malkin has a point; the MSM has indeed been pretty silent on the Air America story, especially in the context of how much network-watching is done). In any case, if Air America is indeed on its last legs, we’ll know in a few months. Franken for Senator!

Danny Goldberg’s email after the jump; O’Reilly vid here.

Email from Danny Goldberg, coutesy of Radio Equalizer:

Dear Air America Radio Listener,

When we launched the Air America Radio network one year ago, the country was being talked to death by conservative zealots like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, and others. Right Wing radio saturated every media market and every community a dominance of the airwaves that has been a huge part of what allowed the Right Wing to:

* Drag America into the Iraq war.
* Open up the Arctic National Refuge for oil drilling.
* Take over both houses of Congress.
* And, of course, win the 2004 Presidential election.

Rather than wait for the Right Wing to run out of breath, we launched Air America Radio to give the country back its voice. Thanks to listeners like you, we have a presence on 70 stations covering 60% of U.S. media markets. Air America Radio currently offers 15 shows and runs 24 hours a day of entertaining but always enlightening programming.

To continue this great success story and start shaping the national debate the way that Right Wing talk radio does every day, we’ve got to reach into every community in this country. We know we can’t achieve this next stage of growth without significant help from you, our loyal listeners.

We’ve also been asked on many occasions by our listeners how they can help out. Today we are launching a new program called AIR AMERICA ASSOCIATES that gives you the opportunity to do just that.

As an Air America Associate, you are a member of a special group of listeners who support Air America Radio and are dedicated to building the Air America community. When you sign up, we will send you a packet of bumper stickers to remind you that your job as an Associate is to spread the word about Air America Radio to other progressives in your workplace, your family, and your neighborhood.

Also, as an Air America Associate, you’ll be kept informed of events in your area and receive a monthly Associates insider newsletter with backstage news from our shows and our headquarters. And in time, when we launch our paid services, as an Associate you will be eligible for special discounts for premium content.

Rush Limbaugh didn’t take over our airwaves by himself he had an army of “dittoheads” behind him. We will never reach the same critical mass that he has without our listeners helping us as well. So, please become an Air America Associate today by clicking here: [Ed. – AAR link].

Thank you very much for your support,

Danny Goldberg
Air America Radio CEO