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New Liberal Radio Network Debuts

The network made its official debut with the O’Franken Factor, its centerpiece program, hosted by comedian Al Franken.

“Today is both an ending and a beginning. An end to the right-wing dominance of talk radio, a beginning of a battle for truth, a battle for justice, indeed, for America itself — not to be … grandiose,” opened Franken, a self-described liberal.

“Some people have asked me, why the name the O’Franken Factor. Well, one reason and one reason only: To annoy and bait Bill O’Reilly. Bill, if you’re listening right now, and I know you are, please listen closely. In the United States of America, satire is protected speech, even if the object of the satire doesn’t get it.”

Franken’s three-hour program also featured interviews with former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska of the Sept. 11 commission and documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, as well as a satirical piece on airport security in London and call-ins from listeners including former Vice President Al Gore and talk show host G. Gordon Liddy.

The newcomer network intends to offer a blend of issue-oriented interviews with people representing diverse views. Air America, which calls itself “a progressive talk radio network,” will also broadcast news reports delivered without the political satire of its other shows.

Besides the O’Franken Factor, the network’s 17-hour weekday lineup includes a program hosted by Lizz Winstead, co-creator of the Daily Show on Comedy Central, and Chuck D., the front man and lead lyricist of rap group Public Enemy. Franken anchors the midday section of the broadcast.

Actress and comedian Janeane Garofalo and political humorist Sam Seder will co-host the Majority Report during the network’s evening primetime. On Saturdays and Sundays, Air America will broadcast Champions of Justice, hosted by environmentalist activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and lawyer Mike Papatanio.

Network chief executive Mark Walsh told Reuters the goal of Air America was to provide a liberal voice that has been missing on the airwaves and to present it in such as way as “to make you laugh. You will giggle when you listen although we will be tackling serious subjects.”

He said the network’s aim was not simply to derail President Bush’s reelection.

“We’re not regime change radio,” Walsh noted. “We do want to make a buck. We expect to go profitable in year three.”

Though Air America, a subsidiary of Progress Media, initially planned to own several stations by its launch date, the network now wants to purchase at least all of the airtime on radio stations in more than a dozen cities — including stations located in election battleground states — by the end of the year.

Air America has bought airtime on low-performing AM stations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Portland, Minneapolis, and Riverside and San Bernardino counties in California. It also broadcasts on XM Satellite Radio and through a live streaming link on its Web site, airamericaradio.com. Air America will broadcast in San Francisco on April 15 and other stations will be added soon, Walsh said.

In comparison, conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, who Air America considers its biggest competitor, is heard on more than 600 commercial stations. Sean Hannity, another popular conservative talk show host, reaches nearly as many listeners.

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