Liberals Plan Radio Network

Rush Limbaugh and other conservative radio personalities may get a run for their money from a new show in town that claims to be the next big thing in political chatter.

Optimistic venture capitalists from Chicago and an Atlanta radio executive -- all of whom have donated campaign funds to Democratic candidates -- are banding together to launch a liberal-leaning radio network to fill what they call a "hole in the market."

"We believe this is a tremendous business opportunity," Atlanta radio executive Jon Sinton said Monday. Sinton, who would be the network's chief executive, added, "There are so many right-wing talk shows, we think it's created a hole in the market you could drive a truck through."

The group, led by high-profile philanthropist Anita Drobny, says previous attempts at elevating left-wing talk radio failed because personalities weren't marketed properly and simply weren't entertaining enough.

Drobny and her husband, Sheldon, are well-known contributors to Democratic campaigns and have also given money to entertainment and educational causes.

Among those contributions, they have donated $7.2 million to create a Jewish Studies Program at the University's of Illinois' Urbana-Champaign campus and to improve the program already in place at the Chicago campus. For several years the Drobnys have been involved with the R'fa-aye-nu Society's efforts to preserve Judaica hidden during the Holocaust.

Sheldon is managing director of the Paradigm Group, an investment and financial-consulting firm based in North Brook, Ill.

Hoping to start the network by this fall, they are talking with comedian and author Al Franken about working with the network and hope to attract other entertainers and political guests.

The group, called AnShell Media L.L.C., will initially invest $10 million and hope to get some financial help from like-minded entrepreneurs.

Sinton said those who lean to the right are great at haranguing Bill and Hillary Clinton, but those who lean left have better connections to the entertainment world in Hollywood and New York.

"We want to take an issue and make it funny and engaging," he said. "Our intent is to engage and entertain as a way to enlighten, engage in skit comedy, parody, political satire."

Sinton said earlier programs have failed because they were placed in time slots between more conservative programming and weren't entertaining enough. Sinton said he's confident he can come up with solid content for his network.

"My business strategy is that there are underperforming radio stations in all the markets. These underperforming stations are looking for a compelling broadcast day," he said.

Not only is it up in the air as to who would host a liberal talk show -- former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo has taken a crack at it before and failed -- but the bigger question may be the difficulty of mobilizing an audience for such a show.

Liberals are increasingly describing themselves as "progressive," which is often a milder term in political realms than "liberal." The term "liberal" is often hurled around by conservative politicians and pundits as a way to cast many Democrats in a less favorable light.

"Part of the impetus for this angry conservative bent of talk radio is the notion that the press is unfair, that it's part of a liberal establishment conspiracy," said Tom Rosenstiel, director for the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

"Progressives historically don't run in a pack," Rosenstiel added. "There's a kind of independent streak to the left wing in America that there isn't in the right wing."

Communications specialist Kathleen Hall Jamieson, who was involved in a study of talk radio in the mid-1990s, said the conservative radio audience is easier to attract and mobilize because right-wingers usually view liberals as way off the political spectrum.

And it also doesn't hurt that there are more people in polls who identify themselves as conservative than as liberal.

"The search for the liberal equivalent of Rush Limbaugh may be misunderstanding how Limbaugh starts from a natural advantage," said Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. "His audience is already polarized. The liberals don't need a host, they need a different audience."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.