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Air America Stays on Air in Maine
Published on Sunday,October 3, 2004 by Portland Press Herald
Air America Stays on Air in Maine
By Ray Routhier

PORTLAND, Maine - Supporters of Air America have won their battle to keep the liberal talk radio network on the air in Maine.

Officials at Nassau Broadcasting reversed their decision to drop Air America from Portland station WLVP (870 AM) after about 150 people showed up at a public event Thursday evening.

Nassau's CEO, Louis Mercantanti, arranged the meeting at the station to address the more than 500 protests the company received after announcing on Sept. 20 that it would drop Air America. Station officials had planned to replace it this fall with the nationally syndicated ESPN Radio sports network.

Patrick Collins, general manager of Nassau's Maine stations, said that before Thursday, Mercantanti did not know what he would do. But once Mercantanti saw how many people showed up, and how passionate they are about the network, he decided the Air America network should stay on WLVP, Collins said.

Collins said previously that Nassau officials felt ESPN had the potential to produce more advertising revenue than Air America. That's why Nassau wanted to drop Air America, after airing it for only six months.

Collins said he and Mercantanti now feel differently.

"It starts with passion. If listeners don't have passion for your programming, they won't have passion for your advertisers," said Collins. "The passion these people have for Air America, that's priceless."

Collins said that Air America listeners who protested offered many ideas for increasing ad revenues on the station. One of those, which Collins said Nassau will probably adopt, is to sell sponsorships similar to those on public radio stations, instead of the individual ad spots heard on most commercial stations.

"So we might have a spot that says, 'This hour's programming brought to you by . . .' " said Collins. "Air America shares some of its listeners with NPR (National Public Radio) so it would make sense to take an NPR approach."

Collins said Air America will stay on WLVP indefinitely. The station will continue to air some local sports, including high school and Portland Sea Dogs baseball games. The station will also try to develop local public affairs programming, on weekends, to tie in with Air America's liberal-leaning news and politics.

Nassau bought its Maine stations in April and began airing Air America on WLVP only weeks after the network went on the air around the country, on March 31. The network includes news and talk shows that represent liberal views. Its hosts include comedian/commentators Al Franken and Janeane Garofalo.

The network got off to a rocky start. After a couple of months, it was nearly out of money and some network officials said publicly that they had been misled about how much money the company had. Around the same time, stations in Los Angeles and Chicago dropped the network.

But during the summer, things apparently improved, as the network gained stations around the country. By the end of the summer, the network was carried by stations in at least 19 cities.

According to Arbitron ratings, Air America on WLVP had about 9,200 listeners a week in June in the Portland market. WLVP's signal reaches an area with more than 300,000 residents that includes Cumberland and York counties.

Air America is the only liberal talk network on a commercial station in Portland, which is part of the reason listeners are so passionate about it.

"I've found it very comforting to be able to hear my own views voiced in the media. It makes me feel like I can make a difference," said Mary Chaney, 52, a Portland acupuncturist who protested Nassau's original decision. "I am so pleased they're keeping it on."

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© 2004 Blethen Maine Newspapers, Ltd.

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