Friday, March 10, 2006

Now For Something Completely Different

One of my random interests that will probably end up on this blog often is US politics. Anyone with a similar interest is probably aware of Air America Radio. For those who aren't, there follows a brief introduction. If you are, skip the following few paragraphs.

Air America was founded in April 2004, before the November election. It was intended as an effort to bring some balance to the talk radio arena, which since Reagan's removal of the fairness doctrine from US broadcasting legislation has been dominated by Republicans. Headed by Rush Limbaugh, the American right had built up quite a stranglehold over the medium. There were, of course, a few efforts by individual hosts who have carved out careers for themselves, some of whom joined up to Air America upon it's inception.

Randi Rhodes and Mike Malloy (who claims that, in some of his previous radio jobs, his views have forced him to carry a gun for protection at work) spring to mind. But the big news when Air America started up was Al Franken, who had recently written his rather entertaining book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. Since then, it has become evident that his forte is not really radio, and his show is only really fun to listen to in the sense that it is kind of warm and gentle (comparitively). At the same time, however, new faces were arriving. Part of the strategy of Air America was to use big names. Franken was one. Another fairly obvious contender was Janeane Garofalo, who had made a name for herself in the relevant circles in the run-up to the Iraq war as a fairly outspoken pundit (against, you'll be glad to know).


On Garofalo's recommendation, they also contacted Marc Maron, a little known standup comic. Interestingly enough for someone with perhaps the least experience of any of their hosts, they stuck him on the breakfast show, Morning Sedition, albeit alongside experienced radio host Mark Riley. The show built from a shaky start into one of the most entertaining things I've ever come across. Then, at a time when the show was accumulating listeners and Howard Stern was about to go off the air, the CEO of Air America decided he didn't like it. He didn't renew Maron's contract, despite a big outcry from the fans of the show (which it had accumulated in a way I have rarely seen a radio programme do).

But the good news is, he's now back on the air, in a programme from Los Angeles in the evenings (or, in the UK, 6-8am!). You can stream it from here. You can also podcast it from here, although it will cost you money. I would recommend it to anyone who would like to hear the comings and goings of US Politics in an entertaining way every weekday.

So why am I writing about Maron? Well, it occurs to me that often, he is in fact one of the few genuinely liberal voices on Air America. We all like to bemoan the misuse of the word to characterise the American left, who are now trying fairly hard to rename themselves "Progressives", since the right have fairly succesfully made liberal a dirty word. Nonetheless, Maron is accurately describable as a liberal, I would say. On the day after the Oscars, many made jokes about Three 6 Mafia winning an award were made by hosts on Air America. Only Maron, to my knowledge, felt uncomfortable with the racially patronising tone of the jokes, and devoted a segment to bringing up his concern.

He frequently makes reference to his enjoyment of people being "freaks in a good way", and is socially liberal in areas where others might not feel it helps their cause to be (for instance, his stances on pornography). In a rant about the church his co-host Jim Earl made a point of not denying anyone's right to free speech where all too often other hosts do. Of course, US economic debate is so warped now that it's hardly fair to look at his economic opinion on the same terms as we would use in the UK. Nonetheless, as a liberal, I would recommend the Marc Maron Show to anyone. Apart from anything else, it's frequently very funny.

1 comment:

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