NEW YORK – They haven't got a name or a launch date yet, but the entrepreneurs who dream of launching a liberal radio network have just landed themselves a lead man: Comedian and best-selling author Al Franken (search).
Progress Media (search) planned to announce Tuesday that it has reached an agreement with Franken to host a live, three-hour daily broadcast that would form the anchor of the programming schedule, according to people familiar with the matter.
In an interview, Franken said the format of the show was still evolving, but he said he was certain that it wouldn't be akin to that used by his rival Rush Limbaugh (search), which Franken described as "non-guested confrontation."
"He has no one on the show but it's confrontation," Franken said. "His show is just him railing for three hours."
Franken said he planned to use a mix of interviews, calls from listeners and scripted comedy. He said he planned to have a co-host with long experience in radio, but he said that role had not been finalized.
Franken had long been rumored to be interested in a deal with Progress Media, the startup company that is assembling radio stations and talent for a radio network to challenge conservative talk show powerhouses like Limbaugh.
But Franken had been holding off in recent months, partly to promote his hot-selling book, "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right," and partly because he had reservations about the previous owners of the venture.
"Things got more serious in terms of putting together stations and money to make this possible" with the change in ownership, Franken said.
Last November the company was bought by an investment group led by Mark Walsh, a former America Online executive and adviser to the Democratic National Committee, from the venture capitalists Sheldon and Anita Drobny.
Walsh, who serves as CEO of Progress Media, also said the new network had reached its first major distribution agreement, with the Chicago AM station WNTD. He said he expects to announce at least three other distribution deals in the coming weeks.
Walsh acknowledged that much work remains to be done on the network before it becomes a viable business, including lining up technical arrangements and setting up offices and studios.
He said that about 65 percent of the network's programming has been decided, but he declined to elaborate beyond disclosing another new show to be co-hosted by the environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (search) called "Champions of Justice."
The network also has yet to decide on a name. Last month the company indicated it would call the radio network Central Air, but Walsh said Tuesday the company was no longer certain it would be using that name.
Putting Franken in the midday time slot of noon to 3 p.m. Eastern time is a direct challenge to Limbaugh, whose hugely successful show occupies the same time slot.
Franken, whose earlier book was called "Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot," said he plans to call up his nemesis for advice on his own show since Limbaugh has often said he wonders why new radio hosts don't seek out his counsel.
"I'll ask him advice: how he approaches a show, how he frames an issue. If it doesn't happen it will be — very understandably — because he won't take my call," Franken said.
Franken said his contract with Progress Media would last just one year, after which time both sides would reassess how things were going. He also said he very much wanted to do the show during a presidential election year.
"I'm interested in doing what I can to affect this election," Franken said. "I've been thinking about what's the best use of my energies — I hope this is it."