Air America founders launch radio network

Drobnys set new venture

Two of the founders of Air America, pushed aside in a management struggle last month, are launching a new radio network to capitalize on the emerging market for liberal radio.

Prominent investors and Democratic donors Sheldon and Anita Drobny are launching syndication service Nova M Radio days after a management struggle that resulted in Air America filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Former Air America radio personality Mike Malloy is joining the Drobnys’ venture; Malloy was dismissed from his job at Air America over the summer.

Also aboard: physician and radio host Mike “Doc” Newcomb, who will act as CEO of the company; pollster John Zogby, who will host a weekly show; and former Howard Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi, who will develop an Internet strategy for the network.

The Drobnys, a husband-and-wife team who own and manage the Paradigm Group private investment firm, put in the original $3 million seed capital for Air America but had been marginalized by the current chairman, RealNetworks CEO Rob Glaser, who has nearly $10 million invested.

Air America filed for bankruptcy protection last week after turning down an offer from the Drobnys to fund the company; it will continue to operate under bankruptcy protection with funding from Democracy Allies, a group formed by Glaser.

The Drobnys are deeply critical of the current management of Air America, which they believe spends too much on talent and management to be a viable business. Al Franken, Air America’s biggest talent, is also one of its biggest creditors.

And since Franken is toying with a run for Senate in Minnesota, the comic may soon leave the air altogether.

“Air America had a ‘Field of Dreams’ concept — if they build it, they will come,” Sheldon Drobny said. “The Chapter 11 filing speaks for itself.”

Air America rep Jamie Horn declined to respond to Drobny’s critique except to say the venture could help expand the emerging market.

“Their attempt to start this company only validates Air America’s mission and the need for a progressive voice in this country,” Horn said.

Drobny remains a significant shareholder in Air America and stressed that the new network isn’t intended to compete with the liberal talkradio service but rather to capitalize on what he sees as an expanding market.

While Air America has positioned itself largely as an anti-President Bush network, Nova M Radio will be positioned as antiestablishment.

“They don’t have to be left or right wing — they just have to be truthful,” he said. “We want to be a balance and represent what the fourth estate should be doing to who’s in power.”

In addition to syndicating shows, the company will own and operate stations. So far it has purchased a station in Phoenix, Ariz., and has a lease-management agreement with another in Little Rock, Ark.

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