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Franken draws a growing audience (but no pay)

Radio

Midday host Al Franken of Air America, the liberal network heard locally on WLIB (1190 AM), has run into good and not-so-good news.

The not-so-good news: He's working without salary now that it seems Air America has less capital than it claimed. In turn, the network's financial situation could keep it from playing the role it wants in the national political dialogue.

The better news is that during April, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily, WLIB finished ahead of the leading talk station, WABC, in the Arbitron ratings for 25- to 54- year-olds. WLIB averaged 3.4%, WABC 3.2%.

Franken is on from noon to 3p.m., opposite WABC's Rush Limbaugh.

This does not mean, however, that Franken has "beaten" Limbaugh yet.

For one thing, WABC program director Phil Boyce notes, there's no way to isolate the noon-3 p.m. bloc in the April figures.

More to the point, Boyce says, "One demographic in one month is not a reliable number. That's why Arbitron measures with three-month numbers, because you need the larger sampling."

WABC is also well ahead in that time slot when all listeners are counted.

Still, unless the number turns out to be a total aberration, it says Franken and Air America are attracting some attention, at least in New York.

Franken is the network's best-known host, though he's not the best radio personality. So far, the best is afternoon host Randi Rhodes, who has done radio for years.

For the same reason, experience, veteran Mark Riley stands out on Air America's morning show. He's comfortable with the medium - whereas some of the other hosts, including Franken, sometimes still sound as if they're performing prepared material.

But Franken recently boosted his stock as a radio guy, says editor Michael Harrison of Talkers magazine, with a speech at the industry's New Media Seminar.

"People were skeptical," said Harrison. "But he came across as really caring about radio and radio issues. His politics don't matter. He convinced a lot of people he's serious about this medium."

While Franken and Air America still need help, starting with outlets in more major cities, he's optimistic.

"We're doing quite well," he told the New Media Seminar, "in spite of everything we've managed to do to ourselves."

VOTES OF CONFIDENCE: Sen. John Kerry says that if he gets elected President, he will still be a call-in guest with morning host Imus of WFAN (660 AM).

"He is one of the most interesting sources of real interviews with people, and he lets people talk and listens," Kerry said of Imus, on whose show he has guested for years. "He takes people from all sides. I think it's interesting radio and interesting communication."

Meanwhile, Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone pledges he will support WXRK (92.3 FM) morning man Howard Stern, by going to Washington, if necessary.

"Those who consider Howard a sleazeball don't have to turn him on," says Redstone. "But he has millions of people who want to hear what he has to say, and they have a right."

Redstone predicts Stern will re-up with Viacom's Infinity radio when his contract expires at the end of next year. "He'd be pretty foolish to go to satellite," said Redstone. "It's minuscule by comparison."

AROUND THE DIAL: Steve Malzberg of WABC (770 AM) will emcee a Unity Rally at 5 p.m. today at City Hall, with the PBA, the Uniformed Fighters Association and the United Federation of Teachers. ... Christine Nagy of WHTZ (100.3 FM) is at Carolines Comedy Club tonight. ... WBGO (88.3 FM) presents trombonist Steve Turre today, noon-2 p.m., at the Tourneau Time Machine, 57th St. and Madison Ave. ... WQHT (97.1 FM) has its hot Summer Jam coming up Saturday, but Rick Cummings, president of parent Emmis Radio, says the station still needs something: a permanent morning show. "That's probably the No. 1 priority in this [radio] division," he told the trade paper Radio Ink.

Originally published on June 8, 2004

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