Franken, Garofalo to take on Limbaugh on new liberal radio network

March 10, 2004

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Franken, Garofalo to take on Limbaugh on new liberal radio network

ASSOCIATED PRESS 2:10 p.m. March 10, 2004

NEW YORK – Comedian Al Franken is baiting conservatives again, and this time he's bringing along a bunch of friends to back him up.

Franken will be the lead personality on Air America Radio, a startup venture promising a liberal alternative to powerhouse radio talk show pundits like Rush Limbaugh.

The backers of Air America announced their programming lineup on Wednesday and said they planned to launch the network on March 31 in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco.

Franken will be joined by fellow TV comedian Janeane Garofalo, both of whom will have co-hosts for their live three-hour shows. Other shows will be hosted by Randi Rhodes, a radio personality from southern Florida, and Lizz Winstead, a co-creater of "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central.

Franken, in a swipe at Fox News host Bill O'Reilly, plans to call his midday show "The O'Franken Factor."

"Bill, I want you to sue us," Franken said on a conference call with reporters, referring to a case last year in which a judge threw out O'Reilly's request to ban Franken from using the slogan "Fair and Balanced" on the cover of his book. The ruling turned into a bonanza of publicity for Franken.

However, it seems unlikely another lawsuit is in the offing. Asked to respond to Franken's remarks, Robert Zimmerman, a spokesman for Fox News said: "All forms of free speech are welcomed in this country. We wish them well."

Franken, who has signed a one-year contract with the network, made it clear that he intends to use his pulpit to pillory President Bush in the run-up to the election.

"Bush is going down in November," Franken said. "We're not ceding this territory any more. To their credit, the right wing has captured radio. We're going after them, and we're going after them hard."

Mark Walsh, the CEO of Progress Media Inc., the company backing the network, said they have yet to sign any firm deals with advertisers but that several nonprofit organizations and progressive groups have promised to advertise.

He said the company hoped to raise "upward of $30 million" by the time the network goes live, which would allow them to operate for about 2 years before turning a profit. He declined to say how much they had raised so far, but he said "we are well on our way" to reaching the goal.

Reactions to the new network were mixed. Richard Cotter, the senior buyer of local broadcast advertising for MindShare Inc., says Air America could be a "refreshing alternative for listeners," but cautioned that "you never know until it goes on the air."

Robert Unmacht of In3 Partners, a media consulting firm in Nashville, Tenn., said Air America's initial array of stations was "weak."

"They've been far more interested in the thought of creating the network than in the actual business end of it," Unmacht said. "You need to run a complete radio station. You can't just say hey, we're liberal, isn't that great."

Walsh acknowledged that the starting base for the network was small, though positioned in key markets. "We don't expect to get giant numbers right away. This is one brick at a time."

Ironically, the name the liberal radio network has chosen for itself bears a close resemblance to "Air America," a covert CIA operation in Laos during the Vietnam War. Franken joked with reporters that the radio network was also being funded by the CIA.


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