Air America Renews Maddow Contract, Despite Her Aversion to Callers

Desperately hoping to capitalize on their sole star's newfound celebrity, Air America Media has renewed Rachel Maddow's contract and given her a coveted -- and rarely seen -- single-hour radio show during morning drive.

"Rachel is a unique talent with an unlimited future," said Air America CEO Bennett Zier in an email press release. "We are delighted that Air America remains her radio home."

Maddow's morning show starts Feb. 2, its time unmentioned in the press release, simultaneous with "The Ron Reagan Program" expanding from one to three hours weekdays from 6-9 p.m., where it will absorb Maddow's current two hours in the Air America lineup. 

"We're elated with Maddow's continued commitment to Air America," said Air America senior vice president Bill Hess. "As millions of Americans now know, Rachel has become a breakout star and our affiliates and listeners will continue to benefit from her wit, intelligence and insight."

Question is, how much longer will this continue, since something else wasn't mentioned in the press release -- the length of the contract renewal. In other words, probably not that long. If this turns out to be the case, it won't come as a surprise.

Just as Maddow's radio show will have shrunk from three hours to one in less than a year, her interest in radio has waned as she succumbs to the siren call of "the television machine," as Maddow refers to it. 

Air America's announcement, illuminating though it was, left a few questions unanswered.

  • Will Maddow's morning show be broadcast live or prerecorded, seeing how her MSNBC cable show airs weeknights from 9 to 10?
  • Will Air America continue its practice of rebroadcasting audio from the previous night's Maddow show on MSNBC to fill a second hour of air time?
  • And perhaps most intriguingly, will she take calls from listeners? Maddow clearly doesn't like doing this and has gone to absurd lengths to avoid it.

I first noticed this about Maddow last spring when I started listening to her radio show on a regular basis. Soon thereafter Maddow began making frequent appearances as a pundit on MSNBC's "Race for the White House." This conflicted with the third hour of her radio show and Maddow would call in other radio people to cover, most frequently David Bender, another Air American host.

For reasons left unexplained, Maddow would not take calls during the first two hours but would frequently tell listeners they could call in during the third hour -- while someone else was hosting.

Even on nights when Maddow was not on "Race for the White House" or sitting in for Keith Olbermann, a guest host would often sit in for Maddow for her third hour, taking calls from listeners, with no apparent reason Maddow couldn't do the same.

A possible explanation for Maddow's aversion to callers -- you never know when one of them might be Ann Coulter, armed for bear.

After Maddow's MSNBC show began in September, Air America shrank Maddow's radio show from three to two hours and opportunities for listeners to have an actual, gosh-darn conversation with the voluble radio host diminished further still. Air America nearly always would rebroadcast audio of Maddow's MSNBC show from the night before, and with characteristic lack of candor, Air America did not  -- and still doesn't -- tells its listeners that what they are hearing is an MSNBC show rebroadcast  (perhaps this is simply assumed, since so many Air America listeners also share nearly all the same opinions).

Instead, what Air America listeners hear at the start of the second hour is Maddow announcing her guests and describing what they'll talk about, just as she does at the start of the first hour -- followed by a segue to the audio rebroadcast without listeners being told they are now hearing content originally created at MSNBC. Deceitful? Arguably not. Misleading? Perhaps so. A model of transparency? Hardly.

How difficult would it be for Air America to add a brief voiceover along these lines, "You are now listening to a rebroadcast of last night's Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC. Revel in the quackitude!"

Not difficult it all, though it would run the risk of conveying that what Air America listeners were about to hear was content created elsewhere. And you know what purists they can be.

This marks the second time Air America has rolled the dice with Maddow in morning drive, though the previous attempt saw weak ratings. Speaking of Maddow,The Huffington Post decided this brief snippet was newsworthy enough to publish.

Jack Coleman
Jack Coleman
Ex-liberal from People's Republic of Massachusetts