An Open Letter to Thom Hartmann - entrepreneur, author, radio host, et al.

    Dear Thom,

    In 2002, you wrote an oft-cited piece for Common Dreams in which you noted the overwhelming number of right-wing talk radio stations and the virtual absence of any liberal ones. You advised program directors that radio "stations that take the plunge into progressive talk will serve democracy by offering a loyal opposition (which Americans always appreciate), and earn healthy revenues in an industry where it's increasingly difficult to find a profitable niche." You urged listeners to "call [their] local stations to let them know that you want to hear progressive or Democrat[ic] voices, and will even patronize the advertisers of such shows when they run them."

    I'm not sure when I first read this article but it was probably around the time in May 2005 when I took the "plunge" that you suggested. I bought KRXA 540 AM in Monterey, CA, with the express purpose of programming it with liberal talk and that's exactly what I did. At the time, I had no experience in radio and had never managed any business. In fact, I hadn't even worked for a for-profit corporation since I was in college 20 years earlier. We started broadcasting in July 2005 and have been on the air in Monterey continuously since then. I am happy to say that you were in our original lineup and despite the inevitable program shuffles and slot changes, you have remained a fixture in our weekday lineup.

    At times, it's been a tough road. During our first few years, our expenses were higher than they are now because I had to employ and pay people to do tasks that I had yet to learn. About a year after purchase, I began hosting my own show thereby bringing a distinctly local vibe to KRXA. Within a couple of years, we got our cost structure under control unfortunately at about the same time industry-wide advertising revenues plummeted. But, it's been a blast and we are now profitable. I can't think of anything I'd rather do than hosting a show and owning and operating a liberal talk radio station - well maybe owning and operating two stations.

    It heartens me in these distressing political times that KRXA is making a difference. Many of the liberal and green candidates whom we spotlighted in recent local elections have prevailed. Sometimes, I even feel like I'm reaching staunch conservatives at least on some issues.

    Thom - another thing I love about KRXA is that I learn so much from our hosts including of course from you. You really are an educator. From listening to your show, I have learned much about the history of organized labor in America. Your discussions of debates over various provisions in the Constitution are always instructive and you are a leading voice for our environment.

    I have also learned a lot about you. I learned that you have written many books - over 30. The one that I read closely - The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight - calls powerfully for conservation and a sane energy policy. I learned that you are an entrepreneur who has started successful businesses and then sold them. I know that you also acted as a business consultant and that you started working in radio over thirty years ago.

    Given your history, there is nobody better positioned to buy and operate a liberal talk radio station. Your many years in radio and as a business owner/operator mean that you won't have to learn on the job as I did. And, as I mentioned earlier, profits while hard to come by can and do come. Excepting of course websites, radio stations are the most inexpensive media to buy. Indeed, they are substantially cheaper now than when I purchased AM-540. In most markets, you can find a decent signal for between $500,000 and $1 million. And while that amount is prohibitively expensive for many Americans, it should not be for you. I do not know how much money you have but I have to assume that your many books and successful businesses have left you with a substantial nest egg.

    In light of the recent suspension of Keith Olbermann, we assume that the corporate media will continue to broadcast liberal voices at our peril. Only through owning the sticks themselves, can we who love America ensure that honest decent voices will be heard.

    Thom - follow your advice. Buy a radio station. Heck, buy two. Most markets have no liberal talk radio at all. Choose wisely and you'll have the fields all to yourself and you'll never have to worry about a wet-behind-the-ears owner/operator moving you to a less desirable time slot or worse.

    Hal Ginsberg



    Hal, thanks for sharing the story of building your station.  I am glad for your success.

    Hal, this is great.  I'm proud to be writing to someone who put his money where his mouth was when it came to liberal radio.  If I had a million dollars I probably wouldn't buy a radio station, but this story of yours?  Inspiring.

    I hope Thom Hartmann takes your advice. How about pressing Michael Moore to do the same?  You said yourself that you started one without knowing a thing about running a station and now you're in the black and living to tell about it.  Tell him that.  He already knows about the need so he might just listen.

    I think you're on to something.  Anything I can do that doesn't involve money or public speaking--I'm in.

    Thanks for your thoughtful letter to Thom, Hal. Glad I found it! My prayer is that he does too.  Your KRXA can-do story is inspirational and the idea of Thom in an ownership position would be wonderful.  But let's take the idea a step further.  There are a lot of liberal voices who could easily purchase a station.  Lady Gaga, George Clooney, Beyonce, Russell Simmons and on and on.  They could turn their billions over to the powerful voices of Thom Hartman, Amy Goodman, Rachel Maddow (Glenn & Rush do both media), and our other progressive heroes.  Just as you took the deep plunge, for so many others with vast fortunes, it would be just a wade in the water.


       Thanks for your note and your kind words.  I'm honored that I had some small role to play in a person of your talent and integrity getting into this business! 

       And I agree totally with you that people of means should be doing what you did and buying radio stations to run progressive programming.  There are only a handful of such independently-owned stations in the country, and they're (you're) a vital and essential part of our body politic and media.  

       Louise and I have recently moved to Washington, DC, and our radio show is now also simulcast live as TV into over 30 million homes on DirectTV and DishNetwork via Free Speech TV (we follow Amy Goodman's show); we've expanded our radio distribution with Pacifica network to stations all across the US, the UK, Sweden, and Africa; and we're now also doing a daily evening hour-long TV show for the RT TV network, which is carried all across the US and internationally.  ( and )  

       All of this is our investment, much like your station is ours.  We own all three shows ourselves, and the business end as well as the production end has us working some pretty long days (although we love the work, and really think we're making a difference!). 

       So for now, our media work is to grow our show and do everything we can to build the success of our affiliates, as we're continuing to do.  And our clearance on your station is a valued part of it!  

       Thanks for the great work you do, and the great station you've birthed.  I look forward to the next time we can break bread together...


    Is this really *the* Thom Hartmann?  Awesome.  Thom, if you're of a mind to do so and the proprietors of this fine establishment are amenable, would you be willing to write a fresh post in which you share your thoughts on a couple of matters much discussed here lately?:

    1. What should liberals/progressives/right-thinking Americans of any political label take away from last week's elections?  What are the right conclusions to draw for action going forward?

    2.  I think pretty much all of us here, from what I've seen, are quite persuaded of the severe problems created for our country by the influence of massive amounts of corporate cash on political campaigns.  I've plugged your updated version of Unequal Protection (post Citizens United) to folks interested in reading up on this issue, which you've been all over for years now.  What are some specific actions you would recommend to concerned citizens to try to deal with this problem?  Are there particular advocacy groups whose work on this you can enthusiastically recommend as being well thought out, promising, and worth supporting or getting involved in?

    Thanks for listening.  From an admirer.  You rock!

    Latest Comments