Air America, Franken's launching pad, goes out of business


Not a good week for liberals, folks. First, Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown wins the "Kennedy seat" in the U.S. Senate. Then, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi all but pulls the plug on health care reform for the time being. And now, there's radio silence where the liberal talk network Air America use to be.

At one point or other since its 2004 launch, Al Franken, Rachel Maddow, Ron Reagan, Arriana Huffington, Thom Hartmann, Randi Rhodes, Chuck D, Jerry Springer, Janeane Garofalo, Steve Earle and a host of other lefties all spent time behind Air America's microphones.

Franken was one of Air America's original hosts, and brightest stars, and his position gave him a platform to discuss politics -- and build a new audience -- after a career as a comedian and author. He parlayed that experience into Minnesota DFL politics, and a seat in the U.S. Senate at the expense of GOP incumbent Norm Coleman.

Longtime Twin Cities journalist Katherine Lanpher left her post at Minnesota Public Radio's "Midmorning" show to work as Franken's co-host. She left in 2005.

Its financial backers imagined that Air America would provide a counterbalance on the AM radio dial to 800-pound right-wing yakkers like Rush Limbaugh, but it was never a competitive fight. Limbaugh has famously turned his Atilla-The-Hun microphone into a gold mine, and spawned an army of imitators, but Air America was beset by financial problems, contract disputes and leadership turmoil almost from the moment it began broadcasting.

From its own obit:

When Air America Radio launched in April, 2004 with already-known personalities like Al Franken and then-unknown future stars like Rachel Maddow, it was the only full-time progressive voice in the mainstream broadcast media world. At a critical time in our nation's history -- when dissent on issues such as the Iraq war were often denounced as "un-American" -- Air America and its talented team helped millions of Americans remember the importance of compelling discussion about the most pivotal events and decisions of our generation. Through some 100 radio outlets nationwide, Air America helped build a new sense of purpose and determination among American progressives. With this revival, the progressive movement made major gains in the 2006 mid-term elections and, more recently, in the election of President Barack Obama and a strongly Democratic Congress.

Air America is broadcasting reruns through the weekend. On Monday, it's curtains.

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