Air America Radio is a Joke
by Justin Felux
April 5, 2004

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A while back I listened to a recording of a teach-in at Colombia University in which Cornel West was giving a speech.  At the beginning he said, "I'd like to thank that group that made September 13th an upbeat day for me, even given the death of brother Tupac Shakur."  He was referring to the group of prisoners who took part in the Attica prison uprising on September 13, 1971, the same day that Tupac died in 1996.  Some of the white liberals in the audience responded by laughing, thinking that West was making a joke.  They were so clueless that they didn't realize West was expressing genuine remorse over Tupac's death.  I was reminded of that incident when I started learning about this new "liberal radio network."  I thought that a lot of black folks must be laughing right now, because although white liberals don't seem to realize it yet, Air America Radio is a joke.

The network is making its debut in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York.  All three of these cities have a substantial black population.  New York has the highest black population of any city in the country.  Chicago's black population is nearly as large as its white population. Generally speaking, blacks are much more liberal than their white counterparts.  About 90% of blacks vote for the Democratic Party as opposed to just over 40% of whites.  Given these facts, one might expect that African Americans would be prominently featured on this new "liberal radio network."  Sadly, the folks at Air America Radio could only find space for a grand total of 2 black people, by my count.  Chuck D, front man for the great rap group Public Enemy, deserves better than to be one of the token black guys for this doomed misadventure.  The other is Mark Riley, who co-hosts the show Morning Sedition.  Both Chuck D and Mark Riley have 2 white co-hosts.

It gets worse.  In New York, Air America's programming will be featured on WLIB-1190 AM, which is owned by the Inner City Broadcasting Corporation (ICBC).  Prior to the partnership with Air America, WLIB had been serving New York's black community for decades.  It was an outlet for black activists and featured unique "Afrocentric" programming.  The CEO of the ICBC, Pierre Sutton, tells his listeners that the new move "gives us an opportunity to impact on the world outside of our own community."  Many in the black community disagree.  According to black activist Elombe Brath, "We have people here already who know radio, who can do shows. And they want to come in with a program from other people trying to talk to black people in New York City? (WLIB) is just a station that has been stripped of what it's supposed to be! ... In reality what the station needs is to have some people who know the community and can speak to its needs."

In recent years WLIB has mostly featured Caribbean programming.  Carl Tyndale, a listener for more than 17 years, was upset with the takeover:  "Where are we going to find Caribbean music now?  This station had so much information. They would broadcast cricket games and news from back home. Other stations don't do that. I don't think there is going to be many black issues with the new format, and there will be less Caribbean callers because people won't feel at home. That is where people tune in to get something from home."  Tracey-McCallum, a listener originally from Jamaica, was equally upset by the changes.  "Their programming was quite good and offered quite a bit of Caribbean news; so that one source now is no longer available to us, and I think it's a great disappointment," she said.  The station will still feature Caribbean content, but it will be limited to the hours between midnight and 5 AM.

Of course, most white liberals are too busy bubbling over with joy to give a damn.  "At last we have a voice!"  Who cares if we further marginalize African Americans in the process?  Hey, it wouldn't be the first time we've done it.  Russell Simmons recently attacked the arrogant indifference of white liberals at a gathering of the "Society of Ethical Culture."  The meeting featured many members of Hollywood's liberal elite.  Most of the time was spent strategizing about how to defeat Bush in the upcoming election.  When given the opportunity to speak, Simmons informed those in attendance that "The shit y'all doing is corny!  You have to at least include people. We are not included!"  The audience members responded by rolling their eyes and shaking their heads.  Laurie David, the organizer of the event, later said, "I didn't really understand what he was talking about.  I was pretty clueless at the beginning of his diatribe and clueless at the end of it."  Obviously.

Also in attendance was comedian Al Franken, who sarcastically responded, "He said we were 'corny,' which is a terrible insult. That really hit me hard."  Franken now has his own show on Air America, which he has mischievously titled The O'Franken Factor.  Somehow I doubt black people will be tuning in to hear Al Franken deliver cheesy one-liners about Bill O'Reilly.  A brief scan of the reviews of Franken's first show indicate that most found it disappointing and boring.  They should not have expected anything better from Franken, who has been telling the same 5 jokes for the past 2 years or so.  The show featured a bland interview with war criminal Bob Kerrey about the 9/11 commission followed by an interview with sellout filmmaker Michael Moore.  The show reached its climax when former vice president Al Gore called in.  Moore used the opportunity to grovel.  He issued a pathetic apology for backing Ralph Nader in the 2000 elections and promised to "throw a big party" for Al Gore if Bush loses the next election.

The O'Franken Factor is followed by The Randi Rhodes Show, which featured a screaming match between Rhodes and Ralph Nader on its inglorious debut.  Rhodes informed Nader that she was "pissed" that he "screwed up the last election."  Nader tried to maintain his composure and engage in civil discourse, but Rhodes continued screaming at him until he eventually gave up.  Over the course of the screaming match, Nader aptly nicknamed the network "Hot Air America Radio."  Rhodes and Franken are both partisan hacks who spent the majority of their time serving up a virtual Bill Clinton love festival.  The resulting analysis and content ended up being as hollow and partisan as Rush Limbaugh's show.  The only shows that seem to have any promise are Janeane Garofalo's Majority Report and The Laura Flanders Show (full disclosure:  I had a nearly obsessive crush on Garofalo as a teenager).  Garofalo claims Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn among her ideological bedfellows.  Laura Flanders once worked for Fairness and Accuracy Reporting.  Her fabulous new book, Bushwomen: Tales of a Cynical Species, seems to be doing well.  Hopefully the independence of Flanders and Garofalo will balance the partisanship of Franken and Rhodes.

Sadly, it seems that nothing will be there to balance the utter whiteness of the network's format.  Considering that the Democratic Party would be a political nonentity without the support of black voters, the fact that they are shut out and marginalized at every turn is beyond insulting.  Air America Radio is just another episode in a long history of callous indifference and clueless misunderstanding the Democratic Party and white liberals in general have shown toward the black community.  White liberals need to wake up and realize that this sort of business isn't going to cut it any longer, and black liberals need to speak up loudly and let them know it.  Refusing to tune in to Air America Radio would be a good place to start.  I know I won't be.



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