Air America has folded — again, but, it seems, permanently. Two dominant reactions seem to have emerged: Disappointment that a liberal, progressive radio empire couldn’t make it, and an utter lack of surprise. The LAT’s James Rainey blamed Air America’s failure on “Bad radio. Boring radio. Preachy radio”; as the NYT’s Brian Stelter noted, Daily Kos founder and hyper-liberal Markos Moulitsas responded with “Air America was still really on the air?” However saddened people are by the loss of the flagship liberal bastion, it doesn’t sound like anyone actually listened.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for a liberal radio juggernaut — just maybe not on the radio. And that’s where HuffPo comes in.
HuffPo does many, many things very, very well. But they don’t host any regular programming. No podcasts, no livestreams, no livechats, no web tv programs, no vlogging. Not even any playlists. There may be the occasional contributor video, but institutionally, they have left that piece of the pie alone. And right now, I can’t think of anyone better positioned to take a big, giant bite.
Nowadays you don’t need a radio station to broadcast — you need a phone and BlogTalkRadio. Hook up your webcam while you’re doing it and boom, you’ve got a livestream. That’s how Office Hours, our Mediaite web show, started — humbly in our office conference room — but with three smart people and great guests and viewers calling in. Mediabistro, for example, has a slew of daily podcasts, and a page on Blog Talk Radio packed with content. If HuffPo made the decision to join this space, it could dominate — easily — within weeks.
Why? The same reason its blog-coffers are filled every week: there are tons of people with something to say, who are thrilled to be heard. Those who pooh-pooh the lack of payment forget that to many, the value of HuffPo lies in the quick publication of a hotly-felt piece, the lack of a time-intensive editing back-and-forth, the chance for a person whose expertise is in one area to sound off on another (Look! It’s the guy from Wings talking about politics!).* Similarly, the chance to anchor, or participate, in a weekly podcast as part of a larger lineup would no doubt be just as appealing to a wide range of HuffPo’s many contributors — especially since a lot of them are already doing it. (The energetic and amusing Bob Cesca comes to mind.)
Others who come to mind: HuffPo’s Jason Linkins, who has from time to time vlogged with Ana Marie Cox (who is available in the short term thanks to Air America’s axing), HuffTV staple Roy Sekoff, who would be a natural to anchor a flagship, livestreamed version of a call-in show; Dan Froomkin, who is beloved within the liberal ranks as a fearless truth-teller; Jose Antonio Vargas — what a natual extension of his quickly-built HuffPo Tech brand; Alex Leo could tap her comedy crew; and my fav Danny Shea, can emerge from behind the scenes, perhaps as a stealth society reporter since he’s such a fabulous man about town. I would also humbly suggest a show called “The Eternal Flume” starring managing blog editor David Flumenbaum (the behind-the-scenes young talent at HuffPo is terrific – I know, I spent many a long hour in the newsroom with them once upon a time).
And then there’s Arianna. Why not have a weekly interview show? Her L.A. base provides a wealth of great people to interview (especially as Oscar time approaches – an intense hour with Kathryn Bigelow would be a must-watch), but her travels through Washington and New York would mean bookings left, right and, er, center. Why not a partnership between HuffPo and longtime blogger Adam McKay, along with his thriving Funny or Die? From the celeblogger ranks, a multitude of possibilities – airtime is airtime, and the creative freedom of your own hour is pretty irresistible. Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh have shown that people sitting around with headphones and mics can work onscreen; there is no organization better positioned than HuffPo to test out that hypothesis.
Also, get Nora Ephron a show where she just reminisces about her career in journalism and show business and life in D.C. and New York. Nora Ephron show = gold.
As I write this, I realize just broad and deep the possibilities are. Books! Style! Green! A four-way bit between the Chicago, New York, LA and Denver pages (that show could be called “Hyper Local.” Booyah!). And I haven’t even delved into politics: “Newsmakers” with Sam Stein; “Washington Dinner Party” with Hilary Rosen; “Celebrity Skin” with Katherine Thomson and Katy Hall (that would be the most popular show…unless it was a podcast). Having the people-power is not HuffPo’s problem — that’s just the New York staff in that photo above — it’s actually HuffPo’s solution. All they need to do is put it to good use in a just-vacated space: the liberal-progressive airwaves.
Yes, there are plenty of non-Air America people like Stephanie Miller and Thom Hartmann successfully holding down the fort — just as before HuffPo, there were plenty of liberal blogs railing against the Bush administration. What HuffPo provided was a centralized hub, a concentration of firepower in an answer to the Drudge juggernaut. Eventually it grew into a juggernaut of its own, with the raw brute force of the Internet behind it in a true power offensive. That’s what Air America tried and failed to do in an answer to conservative talk radio. Now, again, Arianna and the Huffington Post is poised to fill that breach, and meet the monster head on.
Or at least find another platform to throw potentially monetizable free content at. Don’t touch that dial — Air Arianna, your time is now.
**Quote above from Arianna-favorite Henry V: “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; Or close the wall up with our English dead.” See also Hamlet: “‘Tis now the very witching time of night, when churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out contagion to this world.” Pretty decent way to describe Rush Limbaugh, no?
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