Those still frowning in their coffee over the demise last week of Missoula’s progressive radio station and Air America affiliate KNS 105.9 were surely surprised early Wednesday, March 7, to hear Al Franken talking on another station—KNS’ sister station The Trail, at that—about the format change brought on by new managers Simmons Media Group.
“I was very surprised because we had just been there in January and had an amazing reception and strong ratings,” Franken told host Scott Hawk. “I had kind of seen Missoula as a model of what we should be doing.”
Dave Cowan, general manager of KNS, The Trail and KKVU, told the Indy that a lot of radio groups wouldn’t think of having Franken on the air just after axing his network, but that Franken’s successful visit to town made them want to give Franken a chance to say “thanks and so long.”
But Franken and Missoula fans of progressive radio aren’t saying goodbye so easily. Air America officials told the Indy Tuesday they’re working on finding a new affiliate station in Missoula, though they wouldn’t discuss specifics.
And Lesley Lotto, former KNS host, and David Max, who’s helped pioneer the biodiesel business in Montana, are busy trying to make the idea work from Missoula’s end. Max says a new website (www.airamericamissoula.com, which wasn’t up as of press time, but will be soon, Max says) will serve as a support hub for interested individuals and businesses. Meanwhile Max, who says he and other investors are looking to launch the idea, is researching the availability of frequencies. Most likely, he says, an existing station that’s not performing well may be persuaded to change its format to capture the respectable ratings KNS garnered in its short-lived run.
Max and Lotto say a progressive station can work in town, and that KNS was hemorrhaging money only because its managers and ad reps didn’t sell it right.
“I would love nothing more than to revive this on another station in town and prove them wrong,” Max says.
The fight to bring progressive radio back to Missoula’s airwaves parallels what’s happening in Phoenix, where the Air America affiliate was purchased by a Christian broadcasting company and pulled off the air March 1. Organizers there have secured a new home for the station and are fund-raising through a website, www.saveairamericaphoenix.com.
Franken says he wants to be back on the air in Missoula, and he’s seen people make it happen other places. In Portland, Maine, when managers threatened to pull the Air America affiliate station, locals held marches and protests, Franken says, and the station ultimately remained on the air.
“If people would organize and let it be known that they want a station in Missoula, I think it can happen,” he said.