The Demise of Air America

AA would never be expected to hit it big in the Bible Belt, but they were launching in an era when the popularity of the Iraq war and the Bush administration in general was beginning to seriously plummet. Given that the entirety of their programming schedule was a drumbeat of criticism on those subjects, one would expect that the listeners would have come flocking, even if the talent of the on air personalities wasn't exactly up to Jim White standards.

Some of their defenders claimed that it simply came down to generational and societal differences in their target audience as compared to the well established conservative talk radio giants. Conservatives, they reasoned, listened to the radio as they sat in their cars, chomping on cigars, and shouting at the hippies on the sidewalk. Liberals were the MTV generation, more into video -- and increasingly the internet -- for both their entertainment and news. The market, they reasoned, simply didn't exist.

Before we dismiss such a claim, it's worth noting that the example could be carried over to traditional news and opinion television. When thinking of potential audience share, progressives mustered enough people to carry more than 50% of the vote in the 2008 presidential election. That should translate into a fairly big listener base if we look at nothing more than ideological preferences. And yet Fox News Channel continues to be one of the most successful outlets while MSNBC struggles to maintain an audience larger than reruns of Iron Chef America on the Food Network. So where were progressives going for their news and political entertainment? You can only fill up so many hours of the day reading Daily Kos and Democratic Underground.

In the end, perhaps Rush Limbaugh was right after all when he diagnosed Air America shortly after their launch. He declared that before you could build and hold an audience you had to entertain them. Air America had the right message for the audience they were trying to reach. They ranted and raved, screeched and bellowed. They put a name to the demons they viewed as destroying the country they loved and waited for an audience to sing along and advertisers to pour in their dollars as a show of unity. But they didn't entertain. They didn't engage. There was no progressive field of dreams waiting for them in radioland. The owners did not build it, and they did not come.