Last week I listened to the last broadcast of Mike Malloy's show on the union-supported I.E.America radio network. I say "broadcast" although, as far as I know, Malloy's show was available only on one or two local stations and on the Internet. Though Malloy has always been popular in whatever market he worked in, right-wing organizing to silence him has usually been effective enough to keep him from being heard anywhere for long. But in this case, the union just couldn't see trying to make a go of maintaining a liberal station on the Internet any longer, and that was the end of Malloy's current run.
Meanwhile, Clear Channel dropped Howard Stern's show from the six markets in which they carry it. They said it was because of indecency.
As Eric Boehlert points out in his recent Salon article on the subject, Clear Channel boss is shocked -- shocked -- to find indecency!, this appears to be another timely response by the network to Congressional interest in broadcast violations. FCC head Michael Powell, mysteriously uninterested in what otherwise serves the public interest, has had a sudden disturbance after the appearance of Janet Jackson's breast rippled the broadcast waters. Congress gets into the act, and next thing you know, Clear Channel notices that Howard Stern has not been squeaky clean for all these years.
Now, it's true that members of the public have complained of what they regard as Stern's vulgarity. But it's equally true that members of the public have complained about some far more serious breaches of the public trust on Clear Channel's part. For example, the continuous stream of falsehoods and hate-mongering by Rush Limbaugh, the neglect of local programming - including local news and vital information during emergencies - and the network's national lock-out of musical innovation and diversity. Many of us regard these things as far more obscene than any Howard Stern show.
Some form of liberal radio is now trying to emerge in the form of something that started off calling itself "Central Air" and is now calling itself Air America. (And, yes, having read the book, I'm a bit disturbed by that name.) There's been a rather high profile given to the fact that comedian Al Franken has been asked to do a show on the new network - they want a star. But if they are to succeed, they really need people with experience in radio. If they want to compete with the likes of Rush, they should pick up folks who know the business, as Malloy has said, and as Ed Schultz and others have proven can work.
One of them, I'm pleased to say, has indeed been tapped for the network - Randi Rhodes, popular South Florida radio personality, is slated to have her show syndicated on Air America. (Clear Channel apparently considered syndicating her show, but legend has it that Rush Limbaugh threatened to take his toys and go elsewhere if he had to share their national airwaves with her.) But one radio star - even a "ratings queen" like Rhodes - is not enough.
As I so often say, the airwaves belong to the people. One way or another, we need to take them back.
[This article was originally published on 2 March 2004 at DailyNewsOnline.]