A.A. Bondy
American Hearts

Leaves in the Gutter

For What I Don't Become

The Thick of It
BBC America

Saddest Ghost Lamp

Monday, March 28, 2005

Err America

I know, I know, it's an overused pun. But in this case it's an apt summary of my first story for the Los Angeles Times, and in fact my first completed work of journalism as a freelancer since I quit the Tribune. (Whew!)

The story's on "Left of the Dial," a documentary showing the utter chaos that afflicted Air America Radio during its first months on the air, when co-founder Evan Cohen was found not to have invested all the money that his co-investors thought he had. Cohen got the boot, and staffers got bouncing paychecks. It's a great film (for the record, I started this story long before Matt Drudge's "exclusive," wherein he watched a publicity screener of the movie and recounted what he saw), and reminded me a lot of "Lost in La Mancha," the doc about Terry Gilliam's ill-fated attempts to make a film based on "Don Quixote." What was supposed to be a pretty routine making-of turned into a terrifying account of woe and suffering. My only complaint is that Patrick Farrelly and Kate O'Callaghan, the delightful Irish husband-and-wife team that made the movie, couldn't afford to clear the Replacements tune that is the film's namesake.

I covered Air America for the Chicago Tribune during the launch, and broke the news of Cohen's ouster--the Drudge Report flash announcing that they'd bounced checks to the owner of their Los Angeles and Chicago stations, which is featured prominently in the film as staffers read it in the Air America offices, was an advance account of my story in the Trib. I had no idea at the time that there were cameras rolling inside as I was feverishly trying to figure out what the hell was going on at the network. As soon as I heard about the movie I bothered Patrick incessantly for a copy, thinking all would finally be revealed to me; the irony is that, as the film shows, no one inside the network had a clue what was going on either.

Aside from the tension and misery, it's also a moving character portrait of Randi Rhodes, a classically insecure entertainer who was the only person at Air America who knew the slightest thing about radio--in fact she knew everything there is to know about radio--and had to stand in the glare of Al Franken's star power. Watching Randi's face when she's told that Franken and others are rehearsing live radio before the launch--How do you rehearse radio?--is priceless. Marc Maron is also prominently, and hilariously, featured. He's a cheerfully self-obsessed nebishy kind of guy. His best line, as he's struggling to put together his morning show: "In my head it would be called Air Marc and no one would really work. Everyone would just sort of hang out and talk about me for a couple hours, and then we'd all go eat and have a day."

Here's the story:

"Air America's difficult birth, caught on film"

The movie premieres at 8 p.m., 7 p.m. central, on HBO on March 31--Air America's one-year anniversary.