In the past month, Bob Agnew, a registered Republican who programs both a conservative talk station (KNEW-AM 910) and a liberal station (KQKE-AM 960), has pulled the plug on two high-profile liberal programs on KQKE (aka the Quake): the Air America-syndicated Al Franken Show and the locally created Will & Willie Show (with satirist Will Durst and da former mayor, Willie Brown). Franken was replaced on Nov. 6 by radio vet Thom Hartmann of Portland, Ore., while Will & Willie's hours were initially split by Franken and Stephanie Miller.
But what might seem like a right-wing conspiracy makes sound business sense.
Air America filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in mid-October, and the company may know as soon as this week whether it has secured enough investments to continue operating. It has been widely rumored that Al Franken will leave on Dec. 10 no matter what, so Agnew decided to preemptively pull the show locally to build momentum for Hartmann.
While Franken was vital in launching Air America, Agnew says his show "was not a ratings success whatsoever." Nor did Will & Willie generate the anticipated revenue or ratings during its nine-month run.
Durst, who's quick to call bullshit, sees no partisan sway in Agnew's moves.
"Bob Agnew is a great guy, actually," he says. "Out of all the alternatives, he's just trying to figure out what's going to work. He seems to be interested in whatever's good for the station. Thom Hartmann as a replacement is, I think, even lefter than Franken."
And Agnew still embraces the format.
"Quite honestly, the year-plus experience I've had with progressive talk radio has really taken me off the hard-right stance that I had and given me much more of a centrist position," he says. "And it's great to have that perspective.
"The great thing I say is that I'm bipolar politically, and that I can't lose an argument."