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Air America comes to the Triangle 

While Triangle talk radio is still overwhelmingly right wing--as it is everywhere in the country--progressives have good news to talk about. WCHL, 1360 AM in Chapel Hill, announced last week that it has inked a deal with the lefty talk radio network Air America. On Monday, WCHL began running Al Franken's "The O'Franken Factor" from noon to 2 p.m. and Janeane Garofalo and Sam Seder's show "The Majority Report" from 9-11 p.m.

"Over a year ago when we first read that some big names were trying to get a liberal radio station launched we were very excited," says WCHL spokesperson Christy Dixon. The station has been trying to bring Air America to Chapel Hill ever since. "For a while we were pretty conservative," she says of the all-talk programming, "not by choice but because that's what syndication was out there. It's amazing how much conservative programming there is out there for talk radio, but there's very little liberal programming." Air America will balance out WCHL's other nationally syndicated offerings, which include "America at Night with Ernie Brown," and programs by African-American Libertarian Larry Elder and Christian financial advisor Dave Ramsey.

Since WCHL's original owner, VilCom executive Jim Heavner, bought the station back from Curtis Media in November 2002, he has tried to make it an outlet dedicated to the local community, Dixon says. "The mission of our station is to be live and local as much as possible and to serve Orange County." The station also produces local shows such as the newly added politics show "One on One" Wednesdays at 2 p.m., hosted by D.G. Martin, and a signature interview show, "The Special Hour," which airs twice a day. As a CBS affiliate, WCHL also runs national news as well as Sam Donaldson's ABC radio program to give a mainstream perspective.

Realizing that Chapel Hill and Carrboro are predominantly progressive, Dixon said WCHL programmers were excited to bring on another nationally syndicated show a few weeks ago: "Straight Talk from the Heartland," hosted by conservative-turned-progressive Ed Schultz of Fargo, N.D. "He's the liberal Rush," she says. The program runs from 3 to 5 p.m. weekdays.

"We want to be a very balanced station," Dixon says. "Even though we are in a progressive town, we want to offer something for everyone." Whereas most stations broadcast their conservative programs during the day, WCHL's will be on late at night. By contrast, the Triangle's top-rated talk station WPTF 680 AM (for We Protect the Family--no kidding) runs 10 hours of conservative and libertarian talk programming every day, starting with Rush Limbaugh.

Heavner's efforts with the local AM station have earned him the respect of many progressives who bemoan the loss of independent programming due to consolidation in the media industry.

WCHL's 5,000-watt signal can be heard in Orange County, much of Durham County and parts of western Wake County. Air America's live audio stream is available at www.airamericaradio.com

Here are other progressive talk shows on local radio stations:

  • "Free Speech Radio News" from Pacifica News Network 6-6:30 p.m. weekdays WNCU 90.7 p.m.
  • "The Tavis Smiley Show" 1-2 p.m. weekdays WSHA 88.9 FM; 5-6 p.m. weekdays WNCU 90.7 FM (Durham)
  • "Youth Voice Radio" 5-6 p.m. Saturdays, WXDU 88.7 FM
  • Indymedia Chapel Hill 6-7 p.m. Sundays, WXYC 89.3

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