Air America Pokes its Nose in the Tampa Radio Market
Looks like Clearwater radio station WTAN-1340 AM -- once renowned as the Tampa Bay area's last home for disgraced radio host Don Imus -- will soon feature two talk shows from the liberal oriented radio network Air America.
On Monday, WTAN debuted a three-hour show by Tampa native Lionel (a.k.a. Michael William LeBron) airing from 9 p.m. to midnight, and is negotiating to bring an hourlong show by Air America's big name Randi Rhodes to their afternoon schedule at 3 p.m. beginning in November.
It's a big move for WTAN, which makes much of its money selling airtime to independent producers who assemble their own shows and sell their own advertising. It's also important for Air America, which announced deals with 10 other small radio stations around the country, fighting off continued rumors of its imminent demise by allowing stations to pick up select shows -- a practice the network resisted when it debuted in March 2004.
David Bernstein, Air America's vice president of programming, also dropped another admission: the liberal-oriented network is moving away from extreme liberalism.
"I do think the liberal programming that has occurred here has been far too extremist," said Bernstein, who came to Air America from commercial radio. "It's not our job to get a Democrat elected to Congress. We need to be funny, we need to be enjoyable, and I don't think that existed at this company three years ago."
That's quite a change from the network's debut, when former Saturday Night Live castmember Al Franken kicked off the network promising to oppose "the radical right wing of the Republican Party." Over the years, the network has seen major programming, executive and ownership changes amid constant rumors that it might go out-of-business. Franken has since left the network, along with former TV talk show host Jerry Springer and comic Marc Maron.
And even though some progressives might accuse the network of taking a Hillary Clinton-like moderate approach to talk radio, WTAN co-owner David Wagenvoord said Lionel and Rhodes will still offer an alternative from most AM talk stations in the Tampa Bay area, which feature hardcore conservatives such as Sean Hannity, Michael Savage and Rush Limbaugh.
"I think a lot of people have moved away from that (conservative) outlook," said Wagenvoord, who also said he'd take back Imus " in a second" if he returns to radio. "I like to be the guy in the middle who listens to everyone. And I think there's room now (in local radio) for both sides."