The smut and garbage that has decimated weekend programming on radio stations throughout the country has claimed another life. “America Weekend,” a block of live, compelling and original talk radio programming has ceased further production following this past weekend’s shows. Syndicated by the Envision Radio Networks, the six hour block of programming each Saturday and Sunday aimed to minimize the amount of brokered real estate, financial, travel and health programming that airs on various news/talk stations nationwide.
Launched in early 2013, I was on-board as a fan from the start after it was announced that veteran broadcaster Paul Harris signed on to host the Saturday and Sunday 8 to 11 a.m. block. The remaining blocks were hosted by either Turi Ryder or Rob Carson (Saturdays and Sundays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.).
The shows were modular, meaning stations could carry as much of it as they wanted, in and around live sports or other programming. The concept was orchestrated by veteran radio programmer Kipper McGee. Unfortunately, the sad reality after a year and a half resulted in not enough stations willing to part ways with the easy money that brokered programming provides.
“America Weekend” host Paul Harris provided further explanation on his blog:
But the one thing Kipper and I couldn’t do was change the paradigm of weekend talk radio around the country. While we grew from our original two affiliates to about 30 from Alaska to Mississippi, we kept running into a brick wall with stations that only cared about putting on programming that gave them a check that cleared, even if it hurt their ratings. I even had a top executive from one of the major radio groups tell me that, although he loved the product we were putting on the air, he’d never be able to convince his sales managers to abandon the way they’ve been doing weekends for the last decade.
For as much as I wanted the concept to work, I admit I lost some optimism not far into its beginning. It was very hard to find affiliates that carried the show, thus making it hard to listen to live. Any of the available streams that I could find via the TuneIn app were mostly small market stations — any major market station that was willing to come on-board surely would have been publicized. I usually downloaded the “America Weekend” website. Not a viable way for them to make money, I’m sure.
What bums me about the loss of “America Weekend” is the six hours of Paul Harris each weekend. Paul has stated on his website that he will now return to semi-retirement, while continuing to host his local Friday show on KTRS-AM 550 in St. Louis, in addition to any other fill-in work from time to time.
While I don’t consider myself the authority on news/talk radio, it is my opinion that Paul is the best radio talk show host in America. I quickly became a fan of his in July 2008 after hearing him fill in for “Don and Roma” on WLS-AM 890 in Chicago. On top of that, I will always remain indebted to him since it was Paul who planted the seed for me to adapt an active mindset open to skepticism and critical thinking. Between reading his blog regularly (as well as his vast archive) and listening to countless shows where he filled on stations across the country, he has, without over-exaggerating, literally changed my life. I highly regret not having been aware of him back when he was broadcasting five days a week.
I should note that while Paul’s blog and previous radio shows did inspire me (aka correct previous assumptions and beliefs) politically, “America Weekend” was far from being a typical political show. It was the exact opposite. It was more of a news and lifestyle talk show, occupied by an assortment of guests to discuss a variety of topics. Paul had authors, actors, artists and journalists, and you always knew you were going to walk away having learned something useful or interesting, whether the discussion related to the importance of science education, climate change, the new iPad or green technology.
I’m sorry to see “America Weekend” belly up as a result of reluctant radio managers refusing to sacrifice easy money in exchange for providing their listeners with live and compelling content. A radio host friend of mine in Chicago once told me of a conversion he had with a programmer who described the easy money that comes from such brokered programming as being like “crack cocaine.”
In the news/talk radio industry, brokered programming has become an addiction. Unfortunately, creativity was not enough to either stop the abuse or prevent a relapse.