Air America continue…
Air America continues to be on the ropes:

In a sign that the privately held company’s financial woes have not fully abated, Al Franken, the network’s best-known star, said in an interview last week that he had agreed not to draw a salary, however temporarily, making him “an involuntary investor.”

“We had some bad management,” Mr. Franken said. “Then we got some good management.”

Still, Mr. Franken, his tongue only partly in cheek, added, “It’s a little fuzzy to me exactly who’s in charge.”

Puts the lie to the aphorism, “You never know who’s right, but you always know who’s in charge”. Or perhaps liberal talk radio is the exception that proves the rule. Interesting that, after operating for a couple of month, and after all the planning that went into this, the chain of command is missing a few links.

But that’s only the beginning:

The turmoil has shed light on the network’s corporate culture, laying bare a mismatched collection of managers and investors, including Democratic Party fund-raisers, Internet entrepreneurs and radio veterans who, as it turned out, did not get along especially well. Even as the network was finding an audience with its blend of humor and commentary, many of the principals’ business relationships were dissolving in a flurry of charges and countercharges. The most serious concerned how much money Air America actually had on hand when it went on the air on March 31.

In early March, the network’s chief executive, Mark Walsh, said that the company had raised more than $20 million, enough to keep it broadcasting for months, if not years, before making a profit. At the time, Mr. Walsh said that the network’s primary backers included Evan M. Cohen, a venture capitalist who was the network’s chairman, and Rex Sorensen, a business partner of Mr. Cohen’s who was the chairman of Progress Media, the parent company of Air America.

But in an interview on Friday, Mr. Walsh said: “I was misled about that number.” Mr. Walsh refused to say who had misled him, but he said that he had resigned in April because “the company wasn’t transparent” and “I was unable to decipher how it was being operated.”

<Insert “vast left-wing conspiracy joke here>

Less than a month later, Mr. Cohen and Mr. Sorensen, who had previously operated radio stations together in Guam and Saipan, resigned under pressure from the company’s other investors. David Goodfriend, who served as general counsel and later as acting chief operating officer of Air America, resigned about a week ago, having done his best, he said, to hold the company together in the wake of the departures of Mr. Cohen, Mr. Sorensen and Mr. Walsh. (Separately, Dave Logan, executive vice president for programming, also left, in late April.)

Jon Sinton, the president of Air America and one of the few top executives who remains from the day it went on the air, underscored Mr. Walsh’s comments by saying, in a separate interview, that he, too, had been misled about the company’s resources and that a cash crunch had ensued as a result.

“Financing wasn’t as available for operational issues as we’d thought it was,” he said. Reached on Friday, Mr. Cohen declined to comment on the state of the company’s finances under his watch.

Sinton isn’t just the president. As I noted in February of last year he’s the CEO of AnShell Media, the company that came up with the whole idea in the first place. If you want to believe that Richard Melon Scaife was the founder of the “vast right-wing conspiracy”, you’d be obliged to acknowledge that Sinton is at least one of the founders of a corresponding left-wing cadre. This is no patsy who didn’t know what was going on; this is an architect playing dumb to the cameras in hopes of shifting the blame when the building starts to collapse.

The Arbitron ratings, although still preliminary as the network hasn’t been around long enough for good numbers, do show that Air America could be holding its own for the moment.

For example, among listeners from 25 and 54, whom advertisers covet, the network estimates it drew an average listener share (roughly a percentage of listeners) of 3.4 on WLIB in April, from 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. on weekdays, according to the company’s extrapolation of figures provided by Arbitron for the three months ended in April. (Arbitron, which does not provide ratings in monthly increments, said the network’s methodology appeared sound, although such figures were too raw to translate to numbers of listeners.)

By contrast, according to Air America’s figures, WABC-AM drew an average share of 3.2 during the same period in April for the same age group. That time period includes the three hours in which Mr. Limbaugh was pitted head to head against Mr. Franken.

Phil Boyce, the program director of WABC , cautioned against drawing conclusions from preliminary data. “If they end up doing that well when the final number is out, which is two more months, I’ll give them a congratulations,” Mr. Boyce said.

While the network is awaiting the release of similar figures from Arbitron for other cities, KPOJ-AM, the Clear Channel station that carries its programming in Portland, Ore., informed Air America executives by an e-mail message in late April that its ratings appeared to have tripled last month, according to the station’s informal survey. (A station executive, Mary Lou Gunn, did not return a telephone message left at her office on Friday.)

The network, which is also carried on the satellite radio providers XM and Sirius, has found an audience on the Internet. In its first week, listeners clicked on the audio programming on the Air America Web site more than two million times, according to RealNetworks, the digital media provider.

“It’s clear the audience is there,” Mr. Franken said.

Well don’t break out the champagne yet, Al. First of all, you might not be able to afford it. Secondly, the media blitz that went into the start of the network at least guaranteed that you’d have a lot of folks listening in to find out what this was really going to be like–if it could live up to the hype. And don’t discount the conservatives that use your shows as fodder for their blogs. It’s still a novelty at this point, so I see no reason why, other than problems with financing, the network couldn’t last past the election. However, my prediction of 2 years before it dies hasn’t been shaken by any of the news since it began.

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