BOB GARFIELD: We are back with On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. Naysayers across the political spectrum take note: the much-discussed and oft-dismissed liberal radio network may soon be a reality. Central Air Network and its parent company, Progress Media, are now poised to purchase a bunch of radio stations in major markets around the country, and they're currently in talks with leftie celebrities Al Franken and Janeane Garofalo. The plan is to launch by spring 2004 and join the election fray. Mark Walsh is CEO of both Central Air and Progress Media, and he joins me now. Welcome to the show.
MARK WALSH: Great to be here.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: First of all, is this a sure thing? How many stations are you planning to have in your network, and have you bought any of them yet?
MARK WALSH: Well, as you know, nothing in life is a sure thing, [LAUGHTER] and we have not physically completed the transaction for the purchase of our first five stations, but we signed a, a short form agreement that is indicative of our seller's interest and ours as a purchaser. So we're very encouraged about our ability to get our voice out early in '04.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Of course the response from the right has been that there are already a bunch of liberal networks on the air -- PBS, CBS, CNN, NPR --you get the idea.
MARK WALSH: I do.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So how will your network sound different from what's already out there?
MARK WALSH: Well I think one of the things we're focusing on early on is to be funny.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: We've read that you've hired a founder of the Daily Show, Lizz Winstead, to head up your entertainment programming. Is the Daily Show your model for at least some of the liberal entertainment you want to provide?
MARK WALSH: It's a darn good model. I'm a Jon Stewart junkie. His ability to, with an arch of the eyebrow, a slight curl of the lip, a wry sentence or phrase, to make a comment on the foibles of today's political scene, left or right, is -- I, I, I'm in envy of that. [CLIP FROM THE DAILY SHOW] [APPLAUSE]
JON STEWART: Traveling under extreme secrecy, President Bush paid a surprise visit to U.S. soldiers in Iraq on Thanksgiving day for a holiday dinner that boosted morale! [LAUGHTER] Bush's appearance was a complete surprise to the troops, and Iraq's Civil Administrator Paul Bremer and Commanding General Ricardo Sanchez played it for all it was worth.
RICARDO SANCHEZ: [...?...]. Let's see if we got anybody more senior here who can read the president's Thanksgiving speech. Is there anybody back there who's more senior than [I]? [APPLAUSE AND CHEERING]
JON STEWART: [SMALL LAUGH]. [LAUGHTER] That's, that's funny stuff.
MARK WALSH: A lot of Democrats don't have a sense of humor. We find ourselves often so upset or, as the right would like to label us, you know, enraged -- this liberal rage, which I think is also a fantasy, but very upset about what we see -- and our sense of humor often suffers from that upsettedness, and one of our goals is to not reflect the pure upset element [LAUGHTER] that is going on in the Democratic Party or the progressive voice in America, but to be more of a central voice that says hey, both sides have their viewpoints that are laughable, so let's not go to the edges of the bell curve, so to speak. Let's be decidedly able to have a debate on our shows between left and right and a discussion that is entertaining and, and comedic. The Republicans have been dramatically, stupendously, galactically successful at galvanizing opinion, bluntly around the rage that President Clinton aroused in them. I'm a brand guy. I understand brands. And I would argue the Democratic Party has lost its brand vitality while the Republican Party has generated true brand vitality. People buy brands. When we enter a voting booth and pull that curtain, we are pulling a lever for a brand.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So what are the characteristics of the liberal brand that you hope to establish with your network?
MARK WALSH:Well there are two answers to that. One is to return to the traditional characteristics of the liberal brand that were so successful in the '60s, '70s, part of the '80s and obviously under President Clinton as he expanded the brand. And those represent financial viability -- a nation that is financially strong. Yes, security here at home and abroad, although we are often painted as a party that cares less about security. In fact, I would argue, the exact reverse of the Democratic Party [...?...]. [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I want you to go a little more high-concept with me here, Mark.
MARK WALSH: Okay.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:When we're talking about a brand, you're talking about a kind of New Frontier, Kennedy-esque-mixed with the Grateful Dead kind of thing or, or what exactly are you talking about?
MARK WALSH: [LAUGHS] Well, now you're -- that's - funny that you would say that. Because you're, you're reflecting the "nuggetization," I call it, of very, very high concepts by this White House.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Well at least I'm not "upsettatizing about it." [LAUGHTER] No, the, the point of the matter here is that you do know, whenever you turn on the radio, you can expect a particular sound from a particular network, whether it's public radio, those sonorous tones, or the, the more overheated, passionate tones of talk radio and so forth. You know pretty much what you're going to get. And so when we talk about "branding," what's the tone that you have in mind for the liberal radio network?
MARK WALSH: Well our tone is comedy and entertainment.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm-hm?
MARK WALSH: I mean if can ask for a couple of words, with information as a kicker. So the goal is to entertain, laugh and learn.