Air America

I listened to my first bit of Air America programming yesterday, an episode of The O’Franken Factor from April that I had captured with RadioLover. I am way behind on my radio listening, so I’m just getting to the early April stuff. It was pretty decent and now I am interested in hearing something more current to see how the show has tightened up in the last couple of months.

I’ve still got the radio issues raised by Doc Searls on the brain and have been thinking about how simple it would be for Air America to really do something special with their internet infrastructure. They don’t have a tremendous number of stations, so they could really help themselves out by adding the ability for people to easily hear their programming on the internet. I qualify it because you can do it now but it isn’t easy. Here’s some suggestions to what I think they should do:

  • Add RSS! As Doc points out, they could help them out by publishing their show notes via RSS. It really wouldn’t take much – just have a notification item for each individual show in the programming, with notes to topics and guests. Listeners could subscribe to the feeds and get up-to-the-minute notifications of what is going to be on the air and when.
  • Get the audio archives up, like Right Freaking Now! It isn’t rocket surgery and they should have had this from the outset. WREK keeps an entire week of programming in their MP3 archives in two different bandwidth. NPR has RealAudio archives of everything they do. It wouldn’t take a lot to keep this 50 hours of programming a week in an archive. They seem to be RealAudio centric (Rob Glaser of RealNetworks is a financial supporter of the network) which I think is a mistake. It would be much better if they had MP3s available. Why? Think “iPod Generation.” They should desire to have their shows on the iPods of every young hipster walking the streets of our cities. In addition to the other RSS feed, they should have an RSS feed with enclosures for their archives, so that you could subscribe and automatically have their shows synced into your iTunes and iPod. When you leave the house in the morning, Air America is already on it.
  • Recruit the people from Air America Place fan site, and have them do some of this stuff for you. Pay them a nominal amount and have them keep doing what they are doing but with an official stamp. AAP does have MP3 archives, although I believe they strip the commercials out. I’d actually prefer to have the commercials left in, in which case I can see no reason why anyone would object to what they are doing. They are just distributing AA programming when AA doesn’t have to pay for the bandwidth. They’ve already got a better internet community with the forums and archives than the official AA site does, so just make them part of the team and roll them in.
  • Take subscriptions and for the price of duplication and postage send out MP3 CDs with a months worth of all the Air America programming. Get your shows into the hands of the potential listeners, let them trade them with their friends and build the audience the grassroots way. Let these folks do some of your groundwork for you in station expansion by demonstrating pre-built audiences. Wouldn’t it be nice to go into a meeting with a station manager when you can say “We already send 10,000 CDs a month of our programming into your town.” Alternately, get a grant from a George Soros type and send them out free, ala AOL disks, to places where you want people to hear the programming. Get guerilla on this.

I think Air America can make a go of this, but they have to do this a new way, not like every radio network startup of the past 80 years. They need to take advantage of the internet. While it is going to be difficult for them to build up a radio network to compete with their analogs of the right wing, it would be easier to build up an equivalent sized audience with people listening on their computers and iPods and Nomad jukeboxes. Take advantage of that. Get listeners via your archives, people that may not be sitting by a radio at the correct times to hear the air broadcast or live stream. Get creative. Don’t get mired down in the squabbles of radio networks, do what you can to get your shows out there by multiple alternate means.

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Dave Slusher is a blogger, podcaster, computer programmer, author, science fiction fan and father. Member of the Podcast Hall of Fame class of 2022.