Future unknown for Air America
One of the only liberal talk-show radio stations in a market saturated by conservative signals might not survive the year.
Two-year-old WWAA-AM (1690), the local affiliate of progressive radio network Air America, was sold to JW Broadcasting for $12 million in late January from Intermart, a Scottsdale-based broadcasting company. Intermart says the sale was always part of their plan.
"The station's stockholders wanted to sell the station from the beginning," says Bill Brown, a spokesman for Intermart. "There have been several offers since the station has been on air. The right opportunity just came along."
But it's unknown what the new owner will do with the signal.
Full disclosure: Creative Loafing Editor Ken Edelstein hosts "Air Loaf," a show that highlights stories in the paper and political issues each week on 1690.
Joe Weber, president of JW Broadcasting, won't disclose plans for his new purchase. Weber's company currently operates WMLB-AM (1160), an eclectic mix of opera, R&B, poetry and jazz.
The sale of one of the only liberal radio talk stations in town raises the question of what's happening to media voices in Atlanta. Local favorites such as libertarian Neal Boortz on WSB-AM (750) and right-winger Martha Zoller on WDUN-AM (550) pander to the conservative radio market. Just last week, Fred Toucher, the seven-year veteran and morning-show host of WNNX-FM (99.7-99X), left after new ownership decided he wasn't a good fit for the station. And until 2004, liberal Atlanta-based talker and Air America host Mike Malloy couldn't find a home after he left WSB-AM.
What's more, the advent of HD radio, which allows listeners to tap into a variety of stations — similar to Sirius and XM Satellite Radio — and the increase of online downloads have many station owners wondering how FM and AM signals will stay afloat.
"More and more people are turning to the Internet or their iPods [for radio shows]," says Jon Sinton, the Atlanta-based president of Air America. "We have to market unduplicated programming to see growth."
Despite the challenges of new technology, Sinton says Air America is climbing in popularity across the nation. In Portland, Air America is the No. 3 station, Sinton says, and signals in Denver, Los Angeles and Miami have seen a jump in ratings.
According to Arbitron, a media research firm, Portland's Air America affiliate received a 4.1 rating in fall 2005, while Atlanta's station received a bleak 0.4. Sinton says Atlanta's ratings show that the station has a small but loyal fan base. Al Franken affirmed that notion in December when he broadcast from Variety Playhouse in Little Five Points in front of a packed crowd.
While Weber decides whether to keep Air America programming, Sinton says the network will shop its programming around Atlanta.
"There's probably someone out there not making money," Sinton says. "We'll see what we can find and go with the best possible signal."
GET INVOLVED: To help Air America find a potential new home in Atlanta, write letters to and call local radio stations to ask them to consider Air America programming. For more info on Air America, visit www.airamericaradio.com.