Off the Air America 

Local AM radio station trades liberal politics for sports talk.

Drivers hoping to hear talk-show host Randi Rhodes rant about the Larry Craig sex scandal last week were in for a shock.

Beginning September 1st, WWTQ 680 AM dropped its Progressive Talk format, which aired content from left-leaning Air America, in favor of Fox Sports Radio.

"It really comes down to listener and advertising support," says Clint Sly, market manager for Entercom Radio. "The station never really gained the listening momentum ... that we'd hoped for."

The new Fox Sports Radio has exclusive local airing rights to the St. Louis Cardinals games, as well exclusive rights to University of Tennessee football and men's basketball. When the station is not airing live game coverage, it will feature syndicated sports-talk programming.

"Sports fans are loyal, not only as listeners, but also with advertising dollars," Sly says.

In its two-year run on 680 AM, Progressive Talk didn't gain a large listener base.

Local Democratic activist Jim Maynard believes the lack of local programming on Progressive Talk may have contributed to the declining audience. Last year, the station canceled The Leon Gray Show, the only local talk show on the station.

"After the failed local talk show with Leon Gray, who alienated many progressives with his anti-gay and conservative views on many social issues, the station was basically put on auto-pilot," Maynard says. "Although the national programs on Air America were pretty good, 680 AM lacked the local touch that conservative [radio station] 600 AM has."

Nationwide, 45 stations have dropped the format within the past three years. "Across the country, it really hasn't done as well as we hoped," Sly says. "Other stations have been having the same issues."

Air America has had financial problems since its inception in 2004 and filed for bankruptcy in October 2006.

Local Air America fans have been understanding. "A number of people have called saying they wanted a voice in Memphis," Sly says. "They say they're grateful that we had the courage to do it as long as we did."

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