Entrepreneurs Present Plan to Revive Air America S.D. as “Liberty One Radio”

author: 
Mark Gabrish Conlan/Zenger's

Entrepreneurs Sal Magallanez and Hector Bonilla presented their plan to start “Liberty One Radio,” a progressive talk-radio station that will broadcast from Mexico to most of San Diego County, at an unusual October 28 meeting of the San Diego Democratic Club. The club usually doesn’t meet just five days before a major election, but it did this year.

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Entrepreneurs Present Plan for Progressive Radio Station to Club

Magallanez, Bonilla Plan to Revive Air America S.D. as “Liberty One Radio”

by MARK GABRISH CONLAN

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTOS, top to bottom: Sal Magallanez, Hector Bonilla

Entrepreneurs Sal Magallanez and Hector Bonilla presented their plan to start “Liberty One Radio,” a progressive talk-radio station that will broadcast from Mexico to most of San Diego County, at an unusual October 28 meeting of the San Diego Democratic Club. The club usually doesn’t meet just five days before a major election, but it did this year to hear the Liberty One presentation and to vote on proposed changes to the club’s bylaws — though because there weren’t enough members present to form a quorum, largely because many members were campaigning or attending candidate events, the bylaws vote had to be delayed.

Magallanez and Bonilla said their project came about as a response to the closure of KLSD, the former progressive Air America network’s outlet in San Diego, in 2007. Magallanez said that Air America was actually designed to fail, sabotaged from the get-go by Clear Channel Communications, the owner not only of many Air America stations but also of stations broadcasting Right-wing talk shows. “Clear Channel wanted to prove there wasn’t a market for progressive talk, so they gave it the weakest signals they had,” Magallanez said. Then, surprised by the audience appeal of progressive talk — Magallanez quoted data from Arbitron, the standard ratings service for radio, that KLSD’s ratings shot up when they put Air America’s hosts on the air, then collapsed again when Clear Channel shifted the station’s format to talk shows about sports — they pulled the plug on the whole Air America project. “They were making money, but they didn’t care,” Magallanez said. “They wanted to get rid of that voice in San Diego.”

Bonilla added that one of their inspirations for starting Liberty One Radio was the reaction among progressive San Diegans when Clear Channel closed down KLSD — including major rallies outside Clear Channel’s local headquarters — proving that there was not only a market, but a dedicated core of listeners, eager to hear progressive talk on San Diego radio. “I’ve been in San Diego all my life, and San Diego has always been known as a conservative community,” Bonilla said. “In 2008 San Diego turned from red to blue. There are now more registered Democrats than registered Republicans. When they took KLSD off the air, our voice went silent. ... Who is reporting the important things in San Diego? Nobody. [Congressmember] Bob Filner and others can’t get on the air.”

Magallanez and Bonilla presented a series of PowerPoint slides, including one that starkly illustrated the Right-wing monopoly of San Diego’s airwaves. It was a pie chart showing a giant orange dot, representing the percentage of San Diego talk radio that is politically conservative: 100 percent. “There are five conservative talk stations: KOGO, KFMB, KCEO, KCBQ and KPRZ,” Magallanez explained. “That’s 840 hours of conservative talk in San Diego per week, and zero hours of progressive talk.” Bonilla added that Clear Channel pulled Air America’s programming off the air in San Diego just before the 2008 elections, hinting that they did it on purpose to silence the progressive voice on the eve of a major election the Democrats were favored to win.

They’ve already made a deal with a company called Mount Wilson Broadcasting to lease a station in Mexico that broadcasts at 540 on the AM dial. They plan to least it on a year-by-year basis. They estimate the budget at $2 to $2.5 million per year and estimate the cost of getting on the air at $1.5 million. Asked how they plan to finance it, they say they’re looking for investors, though because of restrictions imposed by the laws governing sales of securities they can’t now answer specific questions about where the money is coming from. They’ve talked to former Air America personalities Randy Rhodes, Ed Schultz and Mike Malloy and are also in negotiations with Stacy Taylor and former Congressional candidate Mike Copass to do San Diego-based shows. They’re also looking for people to host shows specifically targeting African-Americans, women and labor, and said they have a host provisionally lined up for a show aimed at the LGBT community. Another show they have on the drawing boards is a nonpolitical program aimed at military families to give them information on how to obtain benefits due them.

Magallanez and Bonilla did a side trip from presenting their radio proposal to mention a story they helped break about the San Diego Sheriff’s Department purchasing a number of so-called Long-Range Acoustical Devices (LRAD’s) and installing these on light poles in public areas. Magallanez said the LRAD is “designed for crowd control,” specifically breaking up peaceful protests by sending signals that will “damage your ears and internal organs.” He said he and Bonilla took a photo of one already installed publicly, went to the Sheriff’s Department and asked them what the device was and why it was there. They also brought the photo to Congressmember Susan Davis’s town-hall meeting in Spring Valley in the summer of 2009 and offered the story to Miriam Raftery, editor/publisher of the East County Magazine Web site.

“We released the story on September 11, 2009, and by 6:30 there were six links to the story,” Magallanez recalled. “After five days we had 80 to 82 links, and ABC and the Washington Times picked it up.” It also won one of several awards given to stories on Raftery’s site and it became the hot topic at a sheriff’s candidates’ debate on September 12. “They almost lost control,” Magallanez said. “It didn’t matter whether they were progressive or conservative. Nobody wanted it. Then the Sheriff’s Department gave their own press conference saying that they were disabling the lethal capabilities of the device — which still left open what else they were planning to do with it.” Those interested in more information on Liberty One Radio can visit their Web site at http://www.libertyoneradio.com