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Left of the Dial
This America Undercover documentary charts the long-anticipated rise, scandalous near-fall, and subsequent salvation of Air America Radio, a liberal radio network geared towards those whose opinions skew a bit more to the "Left of the Dial." Told through verite footage shot at the New York-based station over a nine-month period, the 90-minute film begins with a frenetic pace and never lets up from the network's evolution twelve days before and up to its March, 2004 launch, through a much-publicized scandal involving bounced checks that nearly ended the dream, it concludes with a disappointing 2004 election that spawned new resolve among the talent, staff and management of the station. The film provides revealing profiles of management and on-air talent, ranging from those with little or no past radio experience, to those with national fame (or notoriety). The latter includes noted TV satirist and author Al Franken, whose on-air inaugural words promise, "an end to the right-wing dominance of talk radio, a beginning of a battle for truth, a battle for justice, a battle indeed for America itself." Wishful thinking?
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Top customer reviews
As mentioned by reviewers, Randi Rhodes is THE surprise of the film. I find her radio show to be fun and energizing...but only in small doses. She can be rather shrill & grating to my ears but I was very glad to see her in a more intimate light.
The DVD has two audio commentary tracks, #1 with Randi and Marc Maron, #2 with filmmakers Farrelly and O'Callaghan (BOTH TRACKS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!) but sadly, no subtitles/close captioning of any kind. There are several excellent special features: Deleted Scenes, Interviews with Randi, Chuck D, and Janeane Garofalo but the 20-minute Q&A segment with the filmmakers at the Jacob Burns Film Center is a special treat.
The film and commentaries revealed some of the massive internal problems - deception, infighting and clash of personalities / philosophies - which, by all accounts, should have sunk this venture. The fact that Air America is very much alive and growing is a testament to the passion and commitment of the staff, and to the very real need that they serve in an America with policies and doctrines that Thomas Jefferson would neither recognize nor approve.
What defines a "failure"?
> You're a "failure" when you announce plans to form a brand new-- and the first ever --"Liberal" talk radio network, because you won't be able to get onto (or stay on) any radio stations, because "nobody" wants to listen to "Left Wing Talk."
> You're a "failure" when you announce "March 31, 2004" as the official date you begin broadcasting that brand new-- and the first ever --"Liberal" talk radio network, because you won't be able to get onto (or stay on) any radio stations, because "nobody" wants to listen to "Left Wing Talk."
> You're a "failure" when you begin broadcasting the brand new-- and the first ever --"Liberal" talk radio network on only 6 stations nationwide, "proving" that you won't be able to get onto (or stay on) any radio stations, because "nobody" wants to listen to "Left Wing Talk."
> You're a "failure" when after just a couple of weeks your brand new-- and the first ever --"Liberal" talk radio network loses its foothold in the 2nd and 3rd largest listening markets in the U.S., leaving you with only 4 of the original 6 national radio stations you started out with, "proving" that you won't be able to get onto (or stay on) any radio stations, because "nobody" wants to listen to "Left Wing Talk."
> You're a "failure" when you pull this faltering brand new-- and the first ever --"Liberal" talk radio network back from the brink of oblivion and begin amassing station affiliates to air your programs at a never before seen explosive rate, "proving" that you won't be able to get onto (or stay on) any radio stations, because "nobody" wants to listen to "Left Wing Talk."
> You're a "failure" when in just your first year of operation (with virtually no promoting or advertising done on its behalf) programming from the brand new-- and the first ever --"Liberal" talk radio network covered about 60% of the country and could be heard in 17 of the "Top 20" radio markets, "proving" that you won't be able to get onto (or stay on) any radio stations, because "nobody" wants to listen to "Left Wing Talk."
Yes, that is precisely what defines a "failure" ... according to BILL O'REILLY, with regard to his interpretation of "Air America Radio's" unyielding success!
Oh! ...Well, I guess THAT explains it!
Since everything that comes out of O'Reilly's mouth is either a major lie, a "resumé-padding" fabrication, or just a childish temper tantrum, we have to assume that Bill O., in reality, has "something else" in mind altogether when he continually refers to "Air America Radio" as a "failure." So now that we've got the "proper perspective" (his), let's see if we can find out what Billy-Boy REALLY means every time he proclaims that the "Air America Radio" network is "failing miserably"....
> "Air America Radio" is "failing" to stop adding new affiliates;
> "Air America Radio" is "failing" to stop stomping the crap out of Bill O'Reilly (as well as his buddy, Sean Hannity) in the ratings wars;
> "Air America Radio" is "failing" to kiss the you-know-where of Neo-Conservatives or the so-called "Christian Right" as the Right Wing talking heads have been doing since the 1980's;
> "Air America Radio" is "failing" to just "shut-up" and go away!
And you want to know something? Bill is absolutely correct!
"Left of the Dial" tells the story of the brash little upstart radio network that could. It is the success story of a business venture that truly had all the makings of being a major failure from the git-go.
What originally made "Air America Radio" ("AAR") a recipe for disaster was its unique (read: "foolhardy") business plan. Rather than producing a line of original programs for syndication, they chose to launch an entirely new network. Rather than starting in 'small markets' and working their way up the ladder (as was normally done), they decided to jump in at the top of the food chain and "work downward," leasing (!) radio stations in the most concentrated listening markets in the country to carry their "full line" of programming. Rather than hiring technical and production staff with "radio" experience, they chose to bring in people who worked mostly in "television." And as far as the "on air talent" was concerned, they chose to feature only one person who had actually had any real experience (and a proven track record) as a radio talk show host-- Randi Bueten Robertson, better known as "Randi Rhodes" --and chose instead to showcase celebrities from the television, motion picture and music industries, etc., all but ignoring the talk radio veteran.
Amazingly, for all of those faults practically assuring the new network's downfall even prior to its launch, their big gamble (read: "arrogance") seemed to be paying off in spades. Little did they realize, however, that they were skating on a pond of very thin ice and that they were about to be destroyed from within by a high-profile enemy among their own ranks .
The cheers of glee could be heard across the entire nation, as Right Wing talking heads on radio and television danced a jig to the news of the rapidly impending premature demise of the snot-nosed pups who would dare to challenge their deeply entrenched dominance! But like all "Cinderella" stories, this one managed to pull itself out of the catastrophe (with exceedingly great difficulty) to achieve "happy ending" status -- to the dismay and frustration of its Right Wing apologist critics, foremost among them the aforementioned Bill O'Reilly.
"Left of the Dial" details the long struggle of the birth, near-death, and phoenix-like rebirth of "Air America Radio" -- the nation's "first 'Liberal' radio network" (though, in truth, calling it the "first" is really somewhat of a misnomer, as it was preceded by the now defunct "I.E. America" radio network, which was launched & operated by the United Auto Workers Union). It shows the struggles of its staff and talent-- most of whom had little or no real radio experience --trying to settle into their new roles and deal with the anticipation of making the project a success. It follows the initial optimism and later embittered pessimism of the directors and investors who quickly have to come to terms with the fact that 'one of their own' had deceived them and set them up for a painful crash almost from day one. But perhaps most vividly (and deservedly), it follows the inspiring story of Randi Rhodes, the woman left her life, her home, and her job as the #1 talk show host in her "home market" of West Palm Beach, Florida (which, by the way, was also Rush Limbaugh's "home market," where he was consistently being beaten by Randi, ratings book after ratings book) to show her readjusting to the city where she grew up, dealing with the lack of attention or publicity she truly deserved for her role in the network, and above all, her exposing the lie that "Liberal Talk" is "dull" and "non-entertaining," that it "plays too safe" and "can't attract an audience."
To be sure, "AAR's" problems are far from over. They are still having to deal with Evan Cohen's mishandling of funds (which included the redirection of funds from a charitable organization that were then inappropriately invested into the new network). They still face resistance from "Conservative strongholds" when trying to get their programming aired in new markets. Now there is this latest tactic from those who feel threatened by the juggernaut that is "AAR" -- have poor-performing radio stations which accept "AAR" programming (which usually results in a boost in ratings) "bought out" by other interests (meaning, larger radio companies) and institute "format changes" to the programming (meaning, "Buh-Bye, Air America!") or, as in this most recent case in Missoula, Montana (as of the time of this writing), simply have a "sales staff" sabotage an "AAR" broadcasting station 'from within' by being [*ahem*] "less-than-zealous" in selling advertising to support "AAR" programs (which is made even easier by advertisers who claim they are too afraid to support "controversial" programs like "The Al Franken Show" -- while they see no conflicts in logic by continuing to support programs that are much more "controversial," like Limbaugh, Hannity and Savage).
The fact that "AAR" is now (only two years later) caught in the middle of this intense "win some; lose some" game is proof positive that "Air America Radio's" time has arrived and that the little fledgling network has 'come of age' to become the next major player on the field of "talk radio," broadcasting (at present) on close to 90 radio stations nation wide and steadily adding more as time goes along. "Left of the Dial" shows what they had to go through to get to this point, revealing the seemingly insurmountable odds they faced as a cocky upstart, and ending with their riding off 'happily ever after,' wearing the glass slipper that fit perfectly!
I wish all my "failures" could be this tragic & disappointing!