Air America off air in L.A.-Chi dispute

Radio net files complaint in Supreme Court

New liberal net Air America Radio was abruptly yanked off the air in Los Angeles Wednesday by KBLA station owner MultiCultural Radio Broadcasting over a financial dispute.

Air America responded by filing a complaint in New York state Supreme Court alleging MultiCultural breached its contract and seeking to compel the company to restore its programming on both stations.

Sudden silence is a major roadblock for the nascent net, which premiered only two weeks ago. MultiCultural Radio also pulled Air America from its Chicago station, WNTD-AM.

Los Angelenos looking for Air America on AM 1580 and such program hosts as Al Franken and Janeane Garofalo were treated instead to Spanish-language programming, the station’s format before the alternative net bowed March 31.

Air America chairman Evan Cohen denied reports that Air America bounced a $1 million check to MultiCultural, from which it leased the two stations.

‘Height of irresponsibility’

“MultiCultural Radio Broadcasting’s conduct in this matter has been disgraceful. To shut off a broadcast that listeners rely on without warning and in the middle of discussions is the height of irresponsibility and a slap in the face of the media industry,” Cohen said in a statement that was also posted on the venture’s Web site.

MultiCultural Radio execs could not be reached for comment. However, owner Arthur Liu told the Chicago Tribune that the fledgling network has “paid only a very small portion of what they owe us” and failed to honor its agreement.

Not surprisingly, conservative radio hosts had a field day with the news. Rush Limbaugh told listeners that the “lib net” has been pulled off radio stations that are “1,000-watt blow torches,” while Sean Hannity joked that the only swath of the medium where liberals thrive, National Public Radio, is paid for by the government.

Air America remains on the air in New York and several other top markets around the country. Network’s lineup includes six shows during the week and several during the weekend. So far, network has leased AM radio stations only and raised $20 million-$25 million to get under way.

Cohen said listeners in L.A. and the Windy City could still access Air America programs via XM Satellite Radio and the Internet.

(Wire services contributed to this report.)

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