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Monday, 16 October 2006 03:44

Brent Budowsky: The Fall Of Air America and A Bold Prediction For The Future

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by Brent Budowsky

Disclosure: I have never had any business relationship with Air America, do not have any such relationship today, know various financial players who might participate in its future, and readers should consider that I reserve the right to possibly have some future business interest.

The Hosts: I have written hyper-critically in the past about the management, ownership and corporate governance of Air America and have made suggestions publicly and privately that obviously were not taken up.

However, these criticisms have never been directed at the hosts, many of whom do a fine job, some of whom are outstanding, all of whom are collectively well above the average of political talk radio. Some of my own favorites include Randi Rhodes, Al Franken (who has received some criticism I personally believe is unfair), Laura Flanders, Thom Hartmann, Sam Seder, Mark Riley (the best morning show in the biz), Rachel Maddow, Robert Kennedy Jr. and Pap. Anyone who has not heard them, should check them out on the dail.

Next, regarding the departure of Mike Malloy. Mike and I have had some differences, but the manner of his departure only proves that those who call themselves liberal can be just as unprofessional, self-destructive and rude as those who call themselves conservative.

Mike is a bit further to the left that I am, but his voice is a voice that deserves to be heard, and his stature in the industry alone, should have demanded far more respectful and more professional treatment than he received, which reflected larger problems with the way Air America was run.

I am very confident that this note will find its way to the bankruptcy judge through one means or another. And I intend to write to the judge directly to offer some views at length, either as part of a financial group taking a role, or independently offering an informed opinion and suggestions going forward.

For now, some summary points:

1. It is an absolute disgrace that going into an historic national election Air America has been mired in management and ownership myopia, self-indulgence and ulterior agendas. Air America should have played a far more powerful role, and this far more powerful role should have been good for business as well as good for America.

2. I believe in progressive talk radio and I absolutely predict that when this is over, Air America or its successor will emerge in a far more powerful and strong position than ever. To use Warren Buffett's term, the numbers I have seen publicly, dramatically understate the intrinsic value of what Air America should be worth as a going concern, with the proper business plan, management and governance.

3. Absolutely no new money should be offered or committed under any circumstances, beyond keeping the hosts on the air, without aggressive and extreme reforms of corporate governance based on commonly accepted, highly professional and totally transparent "governors" and "rules of governance".

4. Absolutely no new money should be offered or committed under any circumstances, beyond keeping the hosts on the air, without a first rate management team with clear CEO leadership with a proven track record, clear marketing and public relations expertise and plans led by executives with experience and records of success.

5. Absolutely no new money should be offered or committed under any circumstances, beyond keeping the hosts on the air, without a clear, visionary, aggressive, comprehensive and transparent business plan that integrates progressive talk radio and its audience, with other elements of the progressive communities in win-win entertainment, transactional and financial relationships.

6. Specifically, for progressive talk radio to be a truly viable and successful business model and going concern, there must be strong integration between the audio world of radio progressives and the internet world of on-line progressives. These win-win relationships would increase the audience and eyeball power of both progressive radio and the progessive blogs and create mutually beneficial revenue streams for both.

7. Never again should hosts be expected to run around like beggars with tin cups seeking their own sources of sponsorship and capital. This is demeaning, absurd, unprofessional and ridiculous. Air America must reach out to a larger audience, and have both internal and vendor capacities to attract advertisors and sponsors. The host's job is to host; while the management's job is to manage.

8. There should be a comprehensive corporate culture of reaching out to potential large new audiences such as Hispanic, African American, labor, progressive religious denominations and military families receptive to new ideas and new sources of radio support. With these new and larger audiences, there should be corrolary new win-win relationships with their media, including African American and Hispanic television and radio through joint projects and audience cross- promotion and cross-marketing.

There is downside and upside to Chapter 11 and the Debtor-in-Possession formula. The downside is that it is slow and cumbersome at its worst, the upside is that the Court will try in good faith to do the right thing, from a professional point of view, and those with the most egregious ulterior motives and agendas are, I predict, in for a rude awakening while those with the most effective and viable new business plans will have the advantage.

What has happened is a shame, but what is done, is done. I predict the future of progressive radio is greater than ever, based on the strategies mentioned here, and would welcome any and all public comment and, I suspect, private reactions.


Brent Budowsky served as Legislative Assistant to U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen, responsible for commerce and intelligence matters, including one of the core drafters of the CIA Identities Law. Served as Legislative Director to Congressman Bill Alexander, then Chief Deputy Whip, House of Representatives. Currently a member of the International Advisory Council of the Intelligence Summit. Left goverment in 1990 for marketing and public affairs business including major corporate entertainment and talent management. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

This article first appeared on HuffingtonPost.com and is reprinted with the author's consent.