Hot Air

Doc listens to the new liberal talk radio network and suggests it won't last unless it starts listening to the Net.

Raise your hand if you've heard about Al Franken's new Liberal talk radio network, which went live yesterday (today as I write this) at Noon, Eastern time.

Okay, now raise your hand if you know where you can hear it.

Little problem there.

Now raise your hand if you even know the name of the network, which would help if you want to look it up on the Web.

Here's a hint: It's called "Air America." Search for that on Google and your top result will be for, which makes "The World's Finest Paintball Air Systems". Other results include the 1990 Mel Gibson/Robert Downey Jr. movie about a secret CIA smuggling operation. Also the short-lived TV series about undercover pilots flying for a Latin American transport company. Also Air America Jet, a charter service out of Houston.

There's also plenty about the semi-secret CIA airline that operated in Southeast Asia from 1946-1975. Here's the CIA's own story, which attempts to correct distortions by the movie of the same name.

Anyway, you'd think that Al Franken and his buddies would have done a little lookup on this thing. The only network site that shows up on page one of a Google search is Here's what it says on the home page:

Central Air is now Air America Radio

On March 31, 2004 Air America Radio begins airlifting entertaining, progressive talk radio to millions of Americans who for far too long have been and are being neglected by talk radio broadcasters today.

Our on-air personalities and guests represent today's top political and popular humorists, commentators, activists and analysts.

Our irreverent, informative programming sparks the kind of challenging political and social dialogue that has been absent from AM radio for years.

Our programs will mix provocative conversation, challenging interviews and biting political satire.

I won't bother you with a tour of the site, which is lame in the extreme, possibly because it isn't the official site anymore. Most of the blogs covering the launch today are pointing to Heres what it says, in a single .jpg:


Air America Radio will be broadcast on:

  • New York - WLIB 1190 AM

  • Los Angeles - KBLA 1580 AM

  • Chicago - WNTD 950 AM

  • Portland, OR - KPOJ 620 AM

  • Inland Empire, CA - KCAA 1050 AM

  • XM Satellite Radio - Channel 167

  • San Francisco - Coming Soon

Coming soon to airwaves near you.

If we are not currently in your area, please join our community of listeners on our website and enjoy the streaming audio of all programs starting Wednesday the 31st at Noon. We can also be heard nationally on XM Satellite Radio Channel 167.

Bookmark this page now so you can be the among the first to become a member and receive updates, newsetters and other funny stuff.

Thanks for your interest.

That's it. No links to webcasts, or to any affiliate station Web sites. Nothing. After what has to be one of the great PR jobs of the year.

Now, you might be wondering, what does this have to do with Linux, or open source, or free software, or cool hacks, or any of the other stuff we usually obsess about around here? Well, not much, unless you credit Linux and open source with helping enable an enormous grass-roots support for such liberal causes as the Democratic Party, whose presidential candidates have been graced with dozens of millions of dollars, mostly in small donations, from citizens who became involved through Internet sites such as Howard Dean's BlogForAmerica (which still raises money and withstands Slashdot-grade traffic and postings, every day), and -- all of which run on Linux and involve supportive hacking by activist members of the Linux and open source communities.

Think about it. During most of the months when Al Franken and his buds were planning out this thing, the Howard Dean campaign did record-breaking fund-raising -- over $40 million -- and actually led at the polls in the weeks leading up to the Iowa Caucuses in January. Never mind that the candidate failed with the primary voters. Blame the candidate for that. Just pay attention to what was going on at the time. The Net was connecting citizens, and sustaining enormously productive grass roots support, which continues to drive the John Kerry campaign, plus dozens or perhaps even hundreds of other candidates across the country.

If you were going to start a new pro-Democratic radio network, one which attempted to balance the enormous incumbent advantages of Republican talkers such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Reagan, Michael Savage, Neal Boortz, Bill O'Reilly, G. Gordon Liddy and the rest of the crew... wouldn't you want to take advantage of only thing that was already working? With potential listeners already proven willing to spend money? Is this not a zero-brainer?

Okay, so let's look at what these guys are doing on the Web. It's now just past Noon as I write this, so the network should be on the air. Somewhere. The AirAmerica site has now gone live with a new message:

Thanks for visiting Air America Radio. Due to the overwhelmingly wonderful response to our website, you may experience some delays. We're working very hard to accommodate all of our listeners and supporters.

Click Here to Listen Live

Download RealPlayer

You can also hear us on the following radio stations:

  • New York - WLIB 1190 AM

  • Los Angeles - KBLA 1580 AM

  • Chicago - WNTD 950 AM

  • Portland, OR- KPOJ 1620 AM

  • Inland Empire, CA- KCAA 1050 AM

  • Minneapolis MN - WMNN 1330AM

  • The O'Franken Factor from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; XM Satellite Radio - Channel 167

The listen link goes to an error message consistent with the "some delays" warning. No surprise there.

The site is new. According to Netcraft, it's been up since March 11, running on Linux at a netblock owned by Alabanza. It's also on Microsoft IIS at a netblock owned by For what it's worth, runs on Linux at a netblock owned by UUNet. So if one of you wants to volunteer to come and help those guys out, you may have something to work with there.

(As of 1:12pm EST, redirects to the site. The lame original is no longer visible, although you can still see it in Google cache.)

As for their outlets on the air, only XM Satellite Radio has useful information. Here's its page devoted to the network. If you click on the XM "listen" link, you'll see "America Left" (not "Air America") listed, but without a "listen" link. Don't bother looking up "America Left" on Google, either, because all about all you'll get are right wingers crapping on " The Hate America Left".

Two of the listed stations -- KBLA and WNTD -- don't have Web sites. They're either too small or just don't care enough to bother. Or both.

KPOJ "Super 62" in Portland has a Web site for it's "new oldies" station. It consists of a form listeners can fill out to tell the station how it's doing. (First email today: "Where are the oldies?") It's been a sad decline for what had been KGW, one of the country's first radio stations. The channel has had at least five different sets of call letters since then. According to KGW-TV (where the call letters still live), KPOJ is dropping its oldies format to go with the new "progressive alternative". It doesn't name the network, but does say Franken's is the "flagship program". It also says the station is owned by Clear Channel, which also operates KEX, another big AM station in town. KEX carries Rush Limbaugh.

With 5,000 watts on 620 AM, KPOJ's is a first-tier AM signal, covering the region quite well day and night. So there: we've got parity in Portland.

The same can't be said for any of the other channels carrying the network, with the conditional exception of the flagship, WLIB on 1190 in New York, one of the few stations in the country with more power by night (30,000 watts) than by day (10,000 watts). The signal isn't on par with New York's biggest stations, but it covers the New York metro area. The WLIB Web site has some kind of problem. (At least for me; I can't get it to open.)

In Los Angeles, 75 miles down the coast from where I live in Santa Barbara, KBLA is a 50,000 signal on 1580, with its transmitter near Echo Park, near downtown. That sounds like a good situation, but it's not.

A digression....

It would be flattering to call AM radio a technological dinosaur. Think of it instead as a primitive bivalve from the electronic Paleozoic. The idea back then was to move a long waves as far as possible across the ground, to bounce them off the sky, or both. The tech was, and still is, brute force stuff. The AM towers you see standing alone or in groups on swampy ground don't hold radiating elements in the air. The towers themselves do the radiating. (If you see insulators isolating guy wires, or separating metal from concrete at the bases of self-supporting towers, you're looking at AM radio technology developed in the 1920s.) Since AM waves tend to adhere to the ground, you want the highest possible ground conductivity. Near the ocean you get that with salt water, which is why most of New York's Am are in the New Jersey meadowlands. Elsewhere the ground conductivity varies widely. It sucks on Long Island and under Atlanta. Also across most of the Southeast and the Northwest. It's good in the plains states, in most of Texas and in most of California's valleys. (Here's a map.) Longer waves also slop over mountains and hills and bridges, and tend to carry farther than shorter waves; which is why a 250-watt station on 540 will usually have far more range on the ground than a 50,000 watt station on 1580.

AM waves also bounce off the ionosphere at night, allowing bigger stations to cover distant regions. For many years the FCC reserved a couple dozen 50,000-watt "clear" channels, to be occupied by only one station in the country at night. WGN, WLS, WMAQ and WBBN in Chicago, for example. WJR in Detroit. WSM in Nashville. WCCO in Minneapolis. KNX and KFI in Los Angeles. KNBR in San Francisco. WNBC and WCBS in New York. WBZ in Boston. KDKA in Pittsburg. One of them, WOAI in San Antonio, became the launchpad for Clear Channel, Inc., a giant station-eating conglomerate that's now the biggest radio broadcaster in America.

In order to fit thousands of stations on a little over 100 channels, with minimum interference, the FCC allows stations to broadcast with limited powers and radiation patterns (obtained by using arrays of two or more towers). KBLA, for example, radiates with 4 towers by day and 6 by night. Both signals are weak in many more directions than they are strong, which is out toward the ocean.

KBLA, by the way, is the current incarnation of the old KDAY, one of L.A.'s second-tier Top 40 legends. Its Web presence is so minimal that Google asks "Did you mean: kabl radio?" It appears from a number of links that KBLA was most recently the L.A. home of Radio Korea, which appears to have moved to 1230 AM, the smallest signal in L.A. I can't tell, because here in Santa Barbara (where we get most of the larger L.A. stations) I can't get either signal.

In Chicago, WNTD is a former Spanish station on 950 AM, with two transmitter locations. It's nondirectional in the day from downtown, with 1000 watts; and it's directional at night with 5000 watts, blasting northward up Lake Michigan from south of town, Neither signal is competitive with the big former "clears", but they could be worse.

KCAA in Loma Linda (heart of the Inland Empire and birthplace of Richard M. Nixon) is a 1400-watt daytme only station on 1050 AM with an essentially local signal. At least it has an informative Web site. They actually promote the new program line-up. Credit where due.

WMNN in Minneapolis, Al Franken's home town, gets credit for having a Web site, but not for putting much on it. There's no mention there of Air America, Al, or anything close. The station radiates on 1330 AM with 9700 watts by day and 5100 watts by night. Both patterns cover most of the metro, but not much more.

As for San Francisco, Big Rick Stuart, the afternoon jock on KFOG in San Franscisco, yesterday pointed to a March 26 story in the Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal that says the new local Air America affiliate will be KVTO in Berkeley. This is the old KRE, in whose aging studios George Lucas filmed Wolfman Jack doing his thing for "American Graffiti". (Here's something cool: The site is the subject of a restoration project by the California Historical Radio Society.)

KVTO is on 1400 AM with a power of 1000 watts. The signal (see the red line on that link, which is the one that counts) is good for most of the North Bay and San Francisco, but starts getting weak south of the Dumbarton Bridge in the South Bay. And that's in the daytime. At night several hundred other stations on 1400 start coming in, limiting coverage to the nearest few zip codes. And, of course, no Web site.

So right now it's just before 3pm EST (noon on the West Coast) and I'm finally getting the network's stream. It's 16kb mono from Real, which makes sense given this Bloomberg story:

``They're pushing a rock up a hill,'' said Robert Carey, president of Syndicated Solutions Inc., which sells programming to radio stations. ``There are only so many talk stations in the country and these stations already run some very solid programming.''

Air America, supported by as much as $60 million from investors including RealNetworks Inc. Chairman Rob Glaser, will offer 24-hour programming on five radio stations and on XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc.'s pay service. It may take years for the network to establish itself with advertisers and listeners, Carey said.

All the ads on the network are for XM satellite radio. The current ad is bragging about how "all of our music channels are 100% commercial free." Now there's a Cool-Whip ad. The station ID just came up. Its WLIB from New York.

The O'Franken Factor show just ended. It was okay, at least from what little I heard. Franken has a good radio voice -- what in the business we used to call "heavy pipes". Basso, but not profundo. Now Randi Rhodes is on. She's an old pro and sounds like it. Just as smart, funny and self-righeous as any of her opponents on the right. (At the moment she's raking Ralph Nader over the coals. Also vice versa.) Looking forward to Jeanne Garafalo and the others later today.

Meanwhile, the problems remain, no matter how good the network and its talent may be. But the problems can be overcome. If the Air America people are as open as Liberals like to say they are, they can start taking advantage of what worked for Howard Dean last year and is working for John Kerry right now. (Not to mention George Bush.)

First, take advantage of the Net and the techies who make it work for a cause.

Second, schedule guests who know the Net and how it works for the New Politics. Schedule guests like Larry Lessig, Joe Trippi (who promotes the network on his Change For America blog today), and Cory Doctorow from the EFF.

Third, look at what Technorati says about the World Live Web, which is what it searches. We're talking here about the RSS-driven stuff that's too new and too live for Google. (Disclosure: I'm in the Technorati advisory board.) Think about what the "live Web" means for a live radio network. Put two and two together.

Fourth, make your Web site a living place where you can post what's going on right now -- for the network, its talents, its stations, its listeners, its friends and its intelligent readers. Set it up using PHP-Nuke, Drupal, Moveable Type, Scoop or whatever makes sense to the techies you bring on. If you're busy spending money outsourcing your Web sites "content", stop immediately and bring on some of the techies who used to work for Dean, Edwards, Clark or whomever. There are plenty of them around.

Fifth, put up links to listeners and fellow travellers, especially to blogs like Atrios, MaxSpeak and Daily Kos. Also to worthy sources on the other side of the fence, such as Glenn Reynolds and Andrew Sullivan. And to category-busters like Jeff Jarvis and Mickey Kaus. The potential list is huge.

Finally, get out of the media mentality of old radio. Don't try to beat right wing radio at its own game. Start a new one.


Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal


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Re: Hot Air

Anonymous's picture


This has absolutely nothing to do with Linux. Right? So why is it there? It belongs to Slashdot or to a political forum. Maybe in a media-PR publication. But not in a technical forum.

It is extremely rude and thoughtless to highjacked a good Linux monthly in order to discuss a politically loaded subject with absolutely no relationship to the publication's technical subject. Also, I'd like to remind Doc that LJ has a world-wide audience, and that the provincial petty matter of managing PR for a local US-only talk radio is not exactly useful for this international readership. I know that this is election time soon in the US and that many people are riled up about various political matters, but honestly, I don't give a damn.

In summary: I don't care about American politics. I want technical news in my Linux Journal. If I start seeing political rants in LJ, I'll stop subscribing. Is that clear?

-- Fred Mora

content is always king

Anonymous's picture

You've mentioned WLS, they've been testing leftwing hosts for years, every one a failure.

Mike Malloy was on for a couple years, his Bughouse Square as a show finale was funny. The rest of the show was dreadful, he hung up on anyone he disagreed with, called them names, and in general was nasty.

Jay Marvin in his first incarnation was just mean. "Brainstem" was his trademark epithet. He just didn't read up on topical events. In his second incarnation with Eileen Byrnes, he at least admits the other side may have a point, instead of just calling them child molesters and hanging up. He still isn't very cerebral.

Ski and Anderson bit the dust, don't bother worrying about their shtick.

Jennings and Jeffers are just nasty. If that's liberalism, Kerry can hang it up.

WLS is web savvy. They have an MP3 feed, it works quite well even in the morning with their showcase drivetime couple. Too bad Larry Lujack (or old tapes) isn't available any more. He was liberal and funny, a lost combination.

Limbaugh does an enormous amount of show prep and is prepared to argue the other side, you just don't see it. He's primarily a comedian, now that he's off drugs he's funny again. He's so good he just makes it look easy. He also lets opposing view have 10 or 15 minutes uninterrupted air time, an enormous stretch. He also lambastes Republicans often.

Savage is as mean as Jay Marvin, and Hannity is a predictable bore.

Re: content is always king

Anonymous's picture

Spoken like a true neo con know it all.

Re: content is always king

Anonymous's picture

Lujack IS back on the air in Chicago. He is doing mornings with Lil Snot Nose Tommy on WRLL, 1690 AM, Real Oldies. Animal Stories has returned...

Re: content is always king

Anonymous's picture

A better article would describe how WLS spawns its MP3 stream. It delivers. Or the sixties leftover that implemented the Dean blog. Or better yet, how Dean spent $60 million and has nothing to show for it. Real organizational skills there.

Ever lay out an annual report? Can it be done with SO as nicely as WPWin does it? How about a nonprofit newsletter? Most nonprofits keep track of their volunteers with sticky notes and files cards, anything in Linux that might improve on this? Ever work with a volunteer organziation? Ever do anything for free (Planned Parenthood doesn't count)?

Instead, we get your clueless rant. You've already got ABCNBCCBSMSNBC and mostly FOX. And NPR, also known as National Government Radio.

By the way, I received the April issue. Mighty skinny magazine ya got there, Mr. Searls. Fresh out of ideas?

the nineteen sixties rock my boat!!!!!

Anonymous's picture

the 60s are the best....i want to go back an live life to the fullest....have sex and do drugs be happy peace*-*

Re: content is always king

Anonymous's picture

Dont know about thw April issue but MAy issue is pretty thin. What happen to our magazine? Maybe its just me but it sure semms things are to great in Linux land.

Re: Hot Air

Anonymous's picture

I, for one, will cancel my subscription in a heartbeat if I see any more articles like this. I want to be informed about Linux, not subjected to Doc's political advertising. Do you have to report this article as a contribution to the Election commission? Keep your political opinions to yourself, and inform us about Linux, not loudmouth Democrats.

Re: Hot Air

Anonymous's picture


Re: Hot Air

Anonymous's picture

I agree completely. Doc might think that FOSS people are all as liberal as he seems to be, but he's entirely wrong. Many of us are conservative, thinking people, which is why we use Linux. This has no place at all in a Linux pub.

Re: Hot Air

oldergeek's picture

Politics affects us all. We need to be engaged with the political world to make changes there that will positively affect our ability to use Linux. Some of the proposals from the CongressCritters that have been bought and paid for by the "Media Interests" (read Disney, DVD-CCA, RIAA, etc.) would result inlaws that effectively outlaw Linux and Open Source.
Individually I may agree or disagree with Doc on an issue, but discussion of politics and Linux should always be on-topic here. Diatribes and insults don't belong, but rational discussion does.
Let's keep this on the high road of discussion and leave the name-calling to the M$ crowd.
Keep up the good work, Doc. We may not agree with you, but the discussion is fun and we might actually learn something.

Re: Hot Air

Doc's picture


I had misgivings too.

The LJ Web site, however, isn't the same thing as the magazine. I would never put an piece like this in the magazine, where space is finite and the focus is on how-to subjects (except for my column, which veers into business). Here on the Web site there's room for more material, and a bit more subject range as well.

And hey, it was a chance for me to talk some of tech (broadcast engineering) I know something about, even my knowledge is getting a little yellow and tattered around the edges.

As for my politics, I'm a registered independent who comes off as a Libertarian in most tests of political biases. The Air America launch was hugely hyped and all over the news. After looking at what they were doing, I thought they could use a little help in the Linux department. Is that a political thing to say? I would have said the same thing if the new network were a right-wing one in the same position.

For what it's worth, we haven't had much to say about Linux on the Right over the past year because the White House has had no competition from within the party (ergo: no horse races or boxing matches to cover), and has been very nondisclosing about its technologies. Democrats, on the other hand, have been doing all kinds of stuff with Linux and open source. Publicly. Covering them isn't the same thing as siding with them.

By the way, I've pretty much stopped trying to listen to the network, which is proving to be just as narrow and one-sided as any of the talk shows on the Right. Two extremes does not make a middle, or even much sense. As the great lefty Robert. S. Reich says, "Shaquille O'Neal and I have an average height of six-foot-one."

Re: Hot Air

Anonymous's picture

Oh, I see, when Republicans stump on every issue under the sun it's "my constitutional right", but when another viewpoint is expressed in any form of media, then it somehow infringes upon your pure political landscape and is unfair.

I believe there was a tie in to the underlying technology needed to bring this site up to the level of other sucessful web sites.

That it does not meet your political criteria is just too bad.

I am so tired of hearing the whine of Republicans; its been going on for years under Clinton (IF we had the power it would be different) and now that they have the power (oh, its the Democrats, they didn't leave us a plan! -sob!) they act like paralytic fools and Nixon surrogates with no brains.

Piss off.

Re: Hot Air

Anonymous's picture


Don't threaten blackmail, you ***** Republican.

Re: Hot Air

Anonymous's picture

Rush, Hannity, Regan, Savage, Liddy and the rest have an enormous incumbent advantage because:
1. consumers (I know, I know...) like the message they are putting out there
2. consumers find these guys entertaining (whether they agree w/ the host or not)
3. consumers really believe the major media companies present a liberal slant to the news. Maybe this is a perception created by Rush in the early 90s to grow his listener base, who knows - but it works.
4. These guys sell ad space by the truckload and the advertisers are getting their moneys worth.

Ed Koch and Mario Cuomo (no paragons of conservatism) both have had their own shows in the NYC market, and both were failures. Sean Hannity started in NYC, got his Fox News Channel Show with fellow NYC Radio personality Alan Colmes (whose show is a "dismal failure" to use one of Kerry's favorite phrases). Now Hannity is on over 400 stations b/c consumers like him. He was successful in one market and he got a syndication deal. And so on, and so on, and so on.

If the people dont like the radio personality AND the message, then the advertisers wont either. Air America will rise or fall on its ability to engage listeners and get them to keep tuning in. If you already drink the Garafalo/Franken/etc. kool-aid, then you will probably like their programming, and will support them. I think they will probably fail (discalimer - I am a republican). Instead of ideas, the left has nothing but criticism and complaints (not all of them... you know what I mean). Americans are tired of hearing the hollywood people and the newsreaders tell us the the liberal agenda is "progressive".

And when they fail, the lefty-media elites will claim it is COmmissioner Powell, or the Bush Administration or big business, or clear channel, or some conspiracy that killed their "progressive" radio experiment. They will never take the blame themselvels. If they cant entertain listeners with more than "Bush is Stupid", "Angry WHite Men", Disenfranchise Minorities", "Jobless Economy", then they will not be able to get MORE listeners. Listen to one Rush Limbaugh or Hannity show - they always take time to talk to people they converted from the left, or who they "Hannitized" into seeing things differently.

Oh yeah, Republicans use LINUX and open source too. Robust, stable, good for business. And Doc is right about Trippi - he changed the way campaigns will be run from now on. (Come on, I give props when they are due.)


Re: Hot Air

Anonymous's picture

The dems are just too "PC" to ever actually take a stand and call a judgement on anything. After all, we wouldn't want to hurt anyone's feelings, would we?

Re: Hot Air

Anonymous's picture

Yeah SeanB

We have the type of country YOU deserve. I wish you could live in it forever...

Re: Hot Air

Anonymous's picture

Great comments SeanB. Me, I'm still just trying to figure out what Doc's article, essentially a long advertisement for this new network (complete with link to listen live), has to do with Linux...

Re: Hot Air

Anonymous's picture

This just illustrates the fact that Google is a piece of sh*t as a useful search engine. If you used a real search engine (designed for people using the internet circa 2004), you wouldn't have this problem. Try the same search at to get meaningful websearch results. That section on the left side is great. If you're up for a real test, type "Paris Hilton" into the search bar. People interested it traveling to France can click directly to the hotel while those with a pubescent teen's curiosity can pursue their childish endeavor just as easily. :)

Re: Hot Air

Anonymous's picture

Great incisive, informative article. One quibble; Richard Nixon was born in Yorba Linda, in Orange County. Loma Linda, where the NBC affiliate carrying AirAmerica is located, best known for the Loma Linda University Adventist Health Sciences School, is forty miles to the northeast.

What does this have to do with Linux or Open Source?

Anonymous's picture

Not much it seems. At least not directly. But the author makes some good suggestions for any radio station. And the section on AM radio is very interesting.

Re: Hot Air

Doc's picture

You're right. Thanks. Mea bozo. There were other errors, too. And the picture keeps changing. I'll add current news to the comments pile.

Re: Hot Air

Anonymous's picture

How much of a problem would it be for them (or anyone else for that matter) to use streaming vorbis? Surely it would save the network a considerable amount of money(for licenses at least, I realize that bandwidth would still be pricey), and I would think that there would be plugins available for the "standard" streaming players like realplayer and windows media, especially since it's an open standard.

Re: Hot Air

dmarti's picture

There are open standards advocacy struggles with a good chance of success, and then there's "let's get the company to use a free product that competes with our biggest investor's product". That's like trying to promote MySQL to a company with an investment from Larry Ellison.

"One who knows when he can fight and when he cannot will be victorious."
-- Sun Tsu