Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

One-On-One with Al Franken: The Interview

Yesterday, (as I mentioned in my prior post) I had the honor and privilege to attend a live broadcast of The Al Franken Show, put on by local affiliate 1090 AM, home of Seattle's Progressive Talk.

I had a chance to talk to Al during the press conference that followed the live broadcast and V.I.P. luncheon. I was one of three interviewers who asked him a series of questions. My interview is below, as well as highlights from some of the other interviews. Franken's answers are not exact, as I could not write down every word he said, but the text strongly reflects his response.

Andrew: What kind of impact do blogs have on your show and on talk radio as a medium?

Franken: Well, blogs are becoming a pretty important source of information. Our show gets some of its content from blogs - our research staff reads the blogs to find interesting stuff - but we don't trust everyone. We trust only reliable sources like Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo, Atrios, or Daily Kos, and a few others. Unlike the other side's shows, we actually use real facts and figures, and we do thorough research. You can get a lot of misinformation from blogs - especially the other side's blogs.

Andrew: So you feel the other side has no respect for facts?

Franken: No, no, not at all. They're not concerned with the truth. They're only concerned with their message.

Andrew: Some Air America affiliates are creating their own local progressive talk shows - like Thom Hartmann in Portland. Do you support these kinds of efforts?

Franken: Absolutely. Local talk shows are very important. Developing good hosts is key - they can make a difference in local races, especially helping local candidates and talking about local issues. What we need to do is create a farm team for the next wave of people on liberal talk radio. Obviously, Thom Hartmann's not a farm team - but these local shows are where the talent comes from. Think of it as if you were having 56-57 labratories [the current number of Air America stations, including affiliates] for training the next generation of talk show hosts.

Andrew: When you first got started, things were kind of rocky at Air America. How did you get beyond those initial start-up difficulties?

Franken: Well, when we first got started, we didn't know that some of the financing we thought was there wasn't there. Things were kind of tough - we lost a couple stations, some executives resigned and people weren't getting paid. But the front office cared and believed in us, and there were some real heroes on the executive side. Eventually, people stepped forward to help out, and problems were resolved. We also had to endure some initial trashing by conservatives who didn't think our business model worked. They were cherry picking ratings to make us look like we weren't doing well. But clearly our busines model does work because we keep expanding, and Clear Channel, the company behind many of our affiliates, looked at our ratings and saw that yes, our business model worked. I believe our ratings have proved that liberal talk radio can be successful.

Andrew: Thank you for your time. It was great meeting with you.

--- End of interview ---

It only lasted a few minutes, but it was a great interview, and I certainly enjoyed it. Michael Hood of BlatherWatch also asked Al some questions, as did another reporter, and a representative from AM 1090.

Al talked about running for Senate in 2008 (against Norm Coleman) and moving his show back to Minnesota from New York (Franken's home is in Minnesota) and a number of other things.

He also talked about Air America's audience - 2.5 million people a month, counting unique individuals who are listening in each market (not something like the number of times people listen). The Air America internet stream is the fourth largest audio stream in the country in terms of audience, and the leader in talk radio streams.

When asked who would replace him if he ran for Senate, Franken said he didn't know, but mentioned people like his co-host Katherine Lanpher, as well as Sam Seder and Janene Garofolo, who he called good hosts.

Some quotes from the press conference:

"Democrats should not be seen as soft on national security." - on the topic of homeland defense

"How that woman became Secretary of State after that is beyond me." - talking about Condoleeza Rice's testimony before the 9/11 Commission in 2004

"Did Bush read it? Did Bush retain it? Is he just stupid?" - referring to the memo, Bin Laden Determined To Strike in U.S., which was part of the August 6th, 2001, presidential daily briefing that has since been made public.

"He just froze." - referring to Bush's initial response on 9/11, when Bush continued to read My Pet Goat instead of leaving immediately to take charge of the situation.

"It better be in its infancy. Maybe it's a toddler." - on the current state of liberal talk radio

"We've created a new format - which is liberal talk radio." - on Air America's success

"There's only a hundred percent to cover. You can't have six hundred percent of the market." - referring to conservatives who might say that Rush Limbaugh is on 600 stations, whereas Air America has only 56-57 stations and covers about 50-60% of the market

Franken also mentioned an interesting quote Michael Medved once told him. Medved apparently said that, "the market would have taken care of it" - in reference to 1964 civil rights legislation. Franken then quipped to Michael Hood (of BlatherWatch), "You go to Michael Medved and ask him when the market would have taken care of it - ask him what year."

All in all, it was a fantastic day, and it was great to personally talk to Franken, meet him, and shake his hand. He's delightfully funny and witty, and intellectually sharp. His show is outstanding and all of us at NPI hope his show continues to be successful.

Thanks for coming to visit Seattle, Al, and we hope you come back soon.

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