A month from now, Atlanta might not have a liberal AM talk-radio station.
The company that owns Atlanta's WMLB-AM (1160), an apolitical arts and entertainment station, is scheduled to close May 18 on a $12 million deal to buy WWAA-AM (1690), the local affiliate of the progressive talk-radio network Air America Radio. WWAA-AM will continue to provide Air America programming through June 11, when Air America's contract with 1690 expires.
But after that, things will change.
J.W. Broadcasting, the owner of 1160 and soon-to-be owner of 1690, will transfer 1160's programming -- a mix of opera, R&B, jazz and arts criticism -- to 1690, according to WMLB-AM (1160) program manager Jeff Davis. Unlike 1160, 1690 does not have to broadcast at a weaker signal throughout the night.
The change leaves the Air America affiliate's future up in the air, though one possibility would be to shift Air America programming over to 1160.
"There's a very compelling argument for keeping Air America," Davis says. "But we're not sure what we'll do with it yet."
That's disheartening to execs at Air America, the only outlet for liberal talk radio in Atlanta. Much of the AM market is saturated with conservative talk-show hosts such as Neal Boortz on WSB-AM (750) and Laura Ingraham on WGKA-AM (920), whose billboards scream, "Liberals Hate It!"
Air America's programming, on the other hand, leans heavily to the left with hosts such as Al Franken and Randi Rhodes. It also includes "Air Loaf," a show hosted by CL Editor Ken Edelstein that highlights local news and cultural issues. Edelstein says Air America helps balance an AM market that otherwise would range from far right to farther right.
"The radio market needs civil and civic discourse that welcomes all viewpoints," he says. "[Air America] has civically engaged people. It's proven its potential."
Jon Sinton, who is president of the nationwide Air America Radio network and who happens to live in Atlanta, says the Atlanta affiliate has a small but loyal fan base.
"People listen to [Air America] for hours and hours, not just a few minutes like other stations," Sinton says. "There's a lot of public support for it."
Sinton says there are plans to launch a grassroots campaign in the next week to urge WMLB-AM (1160) to retain WWAA-AM (1690)'s Air America programming. Another option would be to shop Air America affiliation around to other local radio stations.
"I really hope there's some way to continue Air America in Atlanta," Sinton says.
GET INVOLVED: For more info on the campaign to save Air America programming in Atlanta, visit www.airamericaradio.com.
Editor's note: To avoid a potential conflict of interest, CL Editor Ken Edelstein was not involved in the writing or editing of this story.
Due to an editing error, the print edition of this story incorrectly described the operating hours of WMLB-AM (1160).