Friday, May 7, 2004

Quick headlines Friday:
* The Boston Phoenix's Dan Kennedy has a great piece about Kerry's serious problems: ["Stuck in neutral"]. He pretty much surmises exactly what I have felt about Kerry of late.
* The tape that got away: ["F.A.A. Official Scrapped Tape of 9/11 Controllers' Statements"]. Eh, why would an official do such a thing?
* Bloggers get a seat at the DNC convention: ["Media Logistics"] and ["Democrats: Bloggers Welcome!"]. Very cool. Don't complain about the media; become the media.
* Also very cool ... and not so cool. This company has some neat unmanned vehicles: ["Development of Breakthrough Aerial Vehicles"]. Check out the 6 inch micro-air spy plane. Whoa.
* Gas prices are way too high. Here is the EPA's report: ["U.S. Retail Gasoline Prices"].

Is 'Hot' Air America in trouble?
Possibly: ["Air America Radio Chairman Resigns"].
The problem with all this is that they really are doing it all wrong. Instead of paying to rent radio stations - something that is extremely expensive - they should have started low-key, set up a satellite service, got it up and running, promoted the shows to stations at no cost or barter, and then started to buy small radio stations around the country once the ball got rolling. As everyone in the radio biz knows, it is very hard to make money or stay afloat renting air time. Also, radio stations, especially small ones, regularly go bankrupt and are available for cheap in auctions. Before you know it, they would have had a full-slate of programs and stations.
I used to work for a small foreign language AM station when I lived in Boston. It had a tiny signal, 5,000 watts which sounded like 500 watts when you listened to it. If I remember correctly, the station was charging something like $200 an hour for prime time, $75 an hour during nighttime. The "brokers," as they were called, were broadcasting as much as 15 to 20 minutes of ads to pay for their air time, never mind turning a profit. They were also pretty cut throat. When one DJ heard an ad on one show, they would go to that store or business and lowball ads to get the business from the other DJ. It was pretty amazing to hear the DJs talk about each other at the station. I learned from this experience not to get involved in the lease time thing. It's pretty much a racket.
Recently, I was at a broadcaster's association job fair. There wasn't much available but I brought my demos and resume to see if there was any part-time work anywhere. One station manager tried to rope me into leasing his small AM station near the Vermont border for $300 an hour ... to do a restaurant show. I could barely keep a straight face.
According to its site, Air America is on a handful of metropolitan stations. The company was trying to get on the air in Boston which is hard and expensive despite some available stations. However, if they are broadcasting in a bunch of cities at say, $2,000 a day, $10,000 a week, never mind bird time [$90 to $250 an hour last time I looked], plus salaries - and there seems to be a lot of those - Air America would burn through that $30 million pretty fast, if they ever had the $30 mil.
Now, a small AM station in Boston to buy would cost between $3 to $5 million. The big ones are admittedly much more - and not for sale. In other more liberal but smaller markets, stations would be cheaper. So, starting out with $30 to $60 million - while working to barter on other stations - and starting out small with a couple of big shows would have been a safe plan. They could have merged with another fledging radio network - say, Talk America, which tends to be more populist than conservative - and worked together to get their top talkers on bigger stations.
They might be able to save the network. It is a good idea. There are scads of stations looking for programs other than the pill-popping Limboob, the deranged Sean Hannity, or the plethora of other rightwing blowhards spewing their bile over the airwaves. And, there are millions of satellite customers and people who listen on the Web. The liberals I know are raving about the network. The problem seems to be a lot of overhead in the salary department. Not being able to hand out paychecks just five weeks after starting operations, is not a good sign.
I have tried to listen to the network occasionally but I just don't have the time to listen to radio on the Web. Air America is currently on radio in Burlington [WTWK 1070 AM] and Portland [WMTW 870 AM] and on XM Satellite Radio Channel 167 and Sirius on Channel 125. The network is reportedly coming to WSNH 900 AM in Nashua and WHMP 1400 in Northampton.
Lastly, I inquired about weekend work at the network when the AnShell people owned it. I sent a package to their programmer, shared my thoughts about a potential show, and was back and forth via email with the woman handling all the "talent." However, they decided not to hire me which is okay. It's too bad though: I would have given them a high quality show - at a very affordable cost.