Of course, Hartmann, 55, is far from new to the world of radio. Many liberal talk fans, and readers of this blog, are well familiar with him, and Hartmann is already on the air in many markets. His current show has been on the air for four years, long before Air America hit the airwaves.
So, who is Thom Hartmann?
Hartmann is the host of a weekday show that is becoming one of the biggest success stories in liberal talk. He's also a three-time Project Censored Award winner, bestselling author, international lecturer, teacher, practitioner in alternative medicine and acupuncture, and licensed psychotherapist with a certification in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). His books have covered a wide range of subjects, including politics, business, economics, constitutional law, history, self-help, spirituality, and one of his biggest pet projects, ADHD. In addition, he's written nine novels. He even established a specialized school for children afflicted with the disorder. He's had a private audience with Pope John Paul II, spent a week with the Dalai Lama, and his writings about the environment have even inspired two short web films and an upcoming documentary directed by actor and fan Leonardo DiCaprio.
On the radio, he hosts two three-hour shows every day - a local morning show at KPOJ in Portland and his nationally syndicated show immediately following. In the past, he's stretched out his broadcast day occasionally filling in for Randi Rhodes, giving him, on occasion, a 9-10 hour day behind the microphone.
Does this guy ever sleep?
Well, one has to wonder. Radio is his main job now, but he's still writing books. In the past year, he released Screwed, about the struggles affecting the working class and Walking Your Blues Away, one of several of his self-help books. He is often on the road, combining book signings with remote broadcasts of his radio shows.
Hartmann is no stranger to radio. He started in the industry as a teenager, in 1968. Over the years, he worked as a DJ and program director, and spent seven years as a radio and television news reporter during and immediately after his college years. He also wrote articles and columns for various publications, including the German version of International Business Week, The Christian Science Monitor, and Popular Computing, for which he wrote a monthly column for two years.
Since that wasn't enough to occupy his time, he successfully established seven businesses, one of which was featured on the front page of The Wall Street Journal. The businesses he started and later sold include an advertising agency, a newsletter/magazine publishing company, an herbal tea manufacturing company, a travel agency, a training seminars company (where he has a client list consisting of all but 30 of the firms listed in the Fortune 500), an electronics design and repair company, and computer peripherals sales business. He is also both a licensed pilot and licensed private detective, though he currently practices neither (lack of time?). He's also a former skydiver.
Why do I feel so inadequate now?
In 2002, Hartmann decided it was time for a return to radio. Seeing the lack of liberal/progressive voices on the airwaves, and way too many conservative flacks, he wrote an article, "Talking Back To Talk Radio" that some credit as one of the inspirations for starting Air America Radio. On March 1, 2003, Hartmann was on the air with his own show, via the now-defunct Detroit-based I.E. America Radio Network, owned by United Auto Workers. As Air America began to gather steam, and I.E. America closed down in anticipation of it, Hartmann was left without a syndicator. Not missing a beat, he began to self-syndicate and held on to his affiliates, including Sirius Left. He even picked up a few more, most notably at WPTT in Pittsburgh. In April 2005, he moved from Vermont to Portland, OR to host a morning show at Clear Channel's highly-rated progressive talker KPOJ.
In September 2005, Air America liked what they saw in Hartmann, who had done occasional fill-ins for their hosts, and established a new separate division to syndicate his show. Hartmann quickly gained in stature with the network, even though his show ran against Al Franken, the network's highest profile host. During the next year, the network's affiliates began picking up the show, and in some cases aired it in place of Franken. On KPTK in Seattle, Hartmann dominated his talk competition, including Rush Limbaugh, in all demographic breakdowns for a year in the Arbitron ratings book. When KQKE in San Francisco dropped Franken and replaced him with Hartmann, ratings increased 25-65% in various demographic breakdowns for the timeslot. On the same station, Hartmann even bested Ed Schultz, who's show immediately follows it, by an even larger margin.
When Franken announced his departure from radio in January, the choice for a replacement was simple. Hartmann was immediately tapped to slide over to the main network feed. And his ascension to Air America's highest profile timeslot could be a blessing to the beleaguered network, as he has been winning ratings, listeners and accolades. He could possibly become the linchpin for the soon-to-be-restructured network, the show they rebuild the network around.
There are many differences between Franken's show and Hartmann's. While Franken had often leaned on his comedy background (though some say not often enough), kept his guest roster to a small stable of like-minded pundits and personalities, and rarely took listener phone calls, Hartmann draws from his own background, mixing history and encyclopedic knowledge, listener phone calls and guests that often include Vermont's independent Senator Bernie Sanders, experts on various issues, and various pundits from right-wing think tanks, such as the Ayn Rand Institute and the American Heritage Foundation. Hartmann loves to bring on right-wing guests, as he feels they make for more interesting radio content than constantly surrounding himself with people he agrees with. "I'm one of the few progressive hosts who regularly debates conservatives. I do it because it highlights for my listeners the real issues-- the deeper issues beneath the sound bytes-- and helps model for them how to win the water cooler wars," said Hartmann.
He also feels that a radio talk show should be more about personality, presentation, content and entertainment value than just merely being a liberal talk show. "Nobody is ever going to listen to talk radio because they like the format: it's the talent that makes the show," wrote Hartmann in a 2004 article at Common Dreams. In addition, the show is highly educational, but not college lecture-boring. Hartmann feels that talk radio listeners like to be informed and educated, in addition to being entertained.
Hartmann's philosophy for succeeding in talk radio is simple. "If you're good, people will tune in for you, the same as they did for Rush (Limbaugh) back when he was all there was. Just produce a killer show and you'll succeed," he wrote.
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