New York City
Nicholas von Hoffman doesn’t like Air America [“Calling Air America,” May 23]. He thinks that Janeane Garofalo talks about sex too much, that Al Franken talks too slowly and that Jerry Springer is a “barking seal.” He writes that Air America “loses itself in its own smog.” Whatever emotional button Air America pushed in von Hoffman led not only to this meanspirited prose but to willful distortion of facts in service of his bias.
Von Hoffman states, “As of this writing Air America is still not back on the air in Chicago.” But Air America did go on the air in Chicago on May 5 (WCPT 850 AM), the very day his article was posted on the Nation website. Long before his deadline, I told von Hoffman we would soon be on in Chicago. He chose not to follow up.
Similarly von Hoffman writes, “Al Franken, the network’s star personality, had been on fewer than 10 percent of the number of stations carrying Rush Limbaugh.” This is technically true but very misleading. What matters is not the quantity of stations but the size of the total audience. A station in Dallas reaches 100 times as many people as one in a small Texas town. In January Air America was reaching a potential audience of 60 million Americans over the age of 12. By May it was reaching more than 100 million, 60 percent of the total US audience. Limbaugh has been on the air for eighteen years. Air America is far ahead of where his show was at a similar point in its development.
Von Hoffman quotes an exec from Democracy Radio, an Air America competitor, saying Air America “is very big on creating a splash with celebrities…celebrities in the long run don’t make as big a splash as real broadcasters do…. to be successful in broadcasting, use experienced broadcasters.” It’s not surprising that a competitor will use any argument, however specious, to diminish its better-known rival. It is disappointing that von Hoffman chose not to use any of the facts I gave him when he read me that quote: In addition to Randi Rhodes and Jerry Springer, Air America hosts with previous broadcast experience include Franken’s co-host, Katherine Lanpher; Morning Sedition co-host Mark Reilly; and late-night star Mike Malloy. Thus, five of Air America’s six weekday shows include “experienced broadcasters,” and the weekend includes radio veteran Laura Flanders.
As to the contention that “celebrities” don’t do well on radio, recent ratings in New York show that Majority Report, hosted by Sam Seder and Janeane Garofalo, defeated all talk shows in its time slot. Al Franken’s show grew 17 percent in a period that was generally bad for political talk (Limbaugh’s ratings were down 33 percent).
Von Hoffman defines Garofalo solely by a couple of minutes of a single broadcast in which she joked about sex. He does not mention that guests on Majority Report have included Archbishop Desmond Tutu; Senators Jon Corzine and Barbara Boxer; Representatives Rahm Emanuel, Bernie Sanders and Maxine Waters; Andy Stern of the SEIU; and writers Malcolm Gladwell, Howard Zinn, Jim Wallis, Rick Hertzberg, Robert Reich, Lewis Lapham, Dave Eggers, Bob Herbert; and Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel, who appears regularly.