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July 26, 2004

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Q & A: Al Franken

Al Franken has developed a successful career as a comedian and comic writer for Saturday Night Live and in Hollywood. Earlier this year he took to the radio airwaves as an openly liberal alternative to conservative talk shows. Here's an edited version of an interview with Media Nation's Seth Effron.

Q. Where do you think your listeners are getting their information about public affairs and the political debate?

A. They are getting [more of their] information from blogs than [Rush] Limbaugh's listeners or [Bill] O'Reilly's listenersă probably because they are a lot younger. A lot of them are reading talkingpointsmemo.com or Atrios (atrios.blogspot.com). The sense I get is they get [news] from NPR. They watch CNN, and they sample Fox and they get mad at MSNBC. They read their local papers.

Q. Has anything changed your view about the news media and the American public since you started the show?

A. Just the experience of doing it brings into stark relief the need for [the show]. There is no equivalent for what the right is doing on the radio, except for the occasional guy who [is] out there. And they're not usually syndicated in many places or markets.

Q. How do you think the press treats liberals?

A. I think that the mainstream media has so internalized the 40 years of accusing the press of being liberal that they are afraid of their own shadow. They bend over backwards not to be accused of being liberal. That's not an issue for me. I'm not a journalist. I'm an advocate. [Still] I'm more of a journalist than Rush Limbaugh is.

Q. Since you╠ve started the show, what have you found that you didn╠t expect?

A. There are a lot of little things that make your learning curve. When you interview someone -- you've done the research on them, you've read their book, and you╠ve read all the stuff that your researchers have given you -- you don't actually have to prove that you've done that. I used to say what they said in their book. It's [just] better to let them say that.

Q. So I guess you've learned there aren't midterms in radio?

A. No, but I kind of thought that I╠ve got to prove to you that I read your book. They appreciate that, but it is more effective to actually let them talk.

Q. How has this project changed your career with Hollywood?

A. It is like a gig that I never had before. I'm actually getting more efficient at preparing and communicating to the staff about what I need from them. They are getting more efficient at producing it. At first I was just working pretty much around the clock. I╠m trying to have sort of a life. But until Nov. 2, I don't necessarily care about that.

 Q. How many markets are you currently in?

A. The show is [available] in 17 markets [and San Diego is about to be the eighteenth]. In New York [City] we jumped to the second most listened-to radio show in the 25-54 demographic. I made sure I talked this through with Michael Harris, who is the publisher of Talkers Magazine, who has no dog in this fight. Our signal with WLIB is a much weaker signal than WABC or WOR. Nevertheless, Rush got a 3.2 [Arbitron rating] and I got a 2.6 in that demographic. I actually beat him in the 18-25 demographic but nobody pays attention to that in talk radio because their audiences are so old. O'Reilly got a 1.1. The average age for O'Reilly listeners is like 60. In fairness to him, his average audience is much older. They're old, old people. They are literally dying out. We╠re the largest provider of audio streaming on the internet.

Q. Where do you get your best material?

A. I force the researchers to watch Fox and listen to likes of [Sean] Hannity, Limbaugh and O'Reilly. We have a Ditto Head on almost every day: a friend of mine from high school.He's a smart guy and a nice guy. I play him stuff Limbaugh said that, usually from the day before, that is either inaccurate, blatantly misleading, a distortion, incredibly hypocritical or just a big lie -- a statistic pulled directly from his butt -- and debunk it. And he [the Ditto Head] says, Well OK, he's wrong there but his bigger point is accurate!

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