Originally created 02/19/03

Liberal radio network planned as an alternative to Rush Limbaugh



WASHINGTON -- A group planning a liberal-leaning radio network says the idea hasn't caught on in previous attempts because it wasn't marketed properly and wasn't entertaining enough.

Now venture capitalists from Chicago and an Atlanta radio executive are behind an effort to start just such a radio network that would offer an alternative to conservative talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh.

"We believe this is a tremendous business opportunity," Atlanta radio executive Jon Sinton said Monday. Sinton, who would be the network's chief executive, added, "There are so many right-wing talk shows, we think it's created a hole in the market you could drive a truck through."

The group, led by Anita Drobny, consists of investors who have financially supported Democratic candidates. Hoping to start the network by this fall, they are talking with comedian and author Al Franken about working with the network and hope to attract other entertainers and political guests.

Their group will be called AnShell Media L.L.C. and they are initially investing $10 million while hoping for assistance from like-minded entrepreneurs.

Sinton said those who lean to the right are great at haranguing Bill and Hillary Clinton, but those who lean left have better connections to the entertainment world in Hollywood and New York.

"We want to take an issue and make it funny and engaging," he said. "Our intent is to engage and entertain as a way to enlighten, engage in skit comedy, parody, political satire."

Sinton said earlier programs have failed because they were placed in time slots between more conservative programming and weren't entertaining enough. Former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo also tried his hand at a liberal-oriented talk show.

Sinton said he's confident he can come up with solid content for his network.

"My business strategy is that there are underperforming radio stations in all the markets. These underperforming stations are looking for a compelling broadcast day," he said.

While questions have been raised about who could be host on a liberal talk show, the bigger question may be the difficulty of mobilizing an audience for such a show.

A sign of the liberal dilemma is the code word that they like to use to describe themselves these days - "progressive" - which allows them to avoid the word "liberal," which has become almost an epithet when used by conservative politicians and pundits.

"Part of the impetus for this angry conservative bent of talk radio is the notion that the press is unfair, that it's part of a liberal establishment conspiracy," said Tom Rosenstiel, director for the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

"Progressives historically don't run in a pack," Rosenstiel added. "There's a kind of independent streak to the left wing in America that there isn't in the right wing."

Communications specialist Kathleen Hall Jamieson, who was involved in a study of talk radio in the mid 1990s, said the conservative radio audience is easier to mobilize because it is more likely to see liberals as very distant from their own views. And there are more people in polls who identify themselves as conservative than identify themselves as liberal.

"The search for the liberal equivalent of Rush Limbaugh may be misunderstanding how Limbaugh starts from a natural advantage," said Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. "His audience is already polarized. The liberals don't need a host, they need a different audience."