- The Washington Times - Monday, January 17, 2005

It is being billed as the official “clubhouse” for liberal talk radio.

Just in time for President Bush’s inauguration, a broadcasting studio opened today at the District-based Center for American Progress, set to host Al Franken and a chorus of progressive or left-leaning personalities for three days of special inaugural coverage this week.

The studio is meant to be a national beacon for liberal talkers.

“The right had done an excellent job at providing resources and infrastructure for talk radio — especially conservative radio hosts,” said John Podesta, the group’s president, who served as chief of staff to President Clinton.

“As talk radio emerges as one of the primary sources of information for Americans, the center felt it was important to counter the efforts of the right, and to create a level playing field in talk radio,” Mr. Podesta said.

The center describes itself as a research group “dedicated to promoting a strong, just and free America.”

Mr. Franken, who will broadcast tomorrow and Thursday from Washington, doesn’t regard the inauguration as an automatic target, a spokesman said.

“We’re going to the true ground zero of politics. But we’re not billing our coverage in any particular way,” said producer Billy Kimball of New York-based Air America, which syndicates Mr. Franken’s daily program in 45 cities.

The inauguration is not a celebration — or a funeral, Mr. Kimball said.

“We’re just here to comment on the event,” he added.

Air America, founded last year as the nation’s first liberal talk radio network, will be profiled March 31 in “Left of the Dial,” a behind-the-scenes HBO documentary centered upon Mr. Franken and featuring fellow personalities Janeane Garofalo, Chuck D, Randi Rhodes and Marc Maron.

Conservative listeners, however, have their own champions. More than 20 popular radio hosts — including Neal Boortz and Blanquita Cullum — also will offer live inaugural coverage with the District-based Talk Radio News Service.

Sean Hannity, who hosts a daily show for ABC Radio, will broadcast live from a temporary studio in the Reagan Building — just blocks from his liberal counterparts.

“Throughout the campaign and the election season, we’ve worked hard to keep our loyal listeners informed about the most important and decisive issues facing our country,” Mr. Hannity said. “It is my privilege to be broadcasting from our nation’s capital during this historic week.”

The inauguration, meanwhile, could serve as a backdrop for liberal talkers intent on honing an appealing populist image.

Mr. Franken will be joined by Stephanie Miller and Ed Schultz of Denver-based Jones Radio Networks.

The network describes Miss Miller as “a fresh voice from the left that even conservatives love because she’s real.”

Mr. Schultz, on the other hand, “delivers straight talk from the heartland. … He goes toe-to-toe with conservatives and injects common sense, intelligence and humor into mainstream talk radio,” the network noted.

The trio will offer broadcasts before a live audience on Thursday. The program will be broadcast from a D.C. hotel and can be heard locally on WRC-AM (1260), a station that traded an all-sports format for “progressive talk” this week.

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