Air America restored in Chicago
By John Cook
Tribune staff reporter
Published April 16, 2004
In a rapid reversal of fortunes, Air America Radio won a temporary restraining order Thursday requiring the owner of its Chicago affiliate to restore the fledgling, liberal talk-radio network's broadcast, one day after it was thrown off the air in Chicago and Los Angeles.
"We've just won Round 1," said Evan Cohen, Air America's chairman. "Arthur Liu received a clear message: Temper tantrums are not the way to conduct business."
Cohen said the network expects to resume broadcasting Friday on WNTD-950 AM in Chicago.
Liu, whose Multicultural Radio Broadcasting Inc. owns Air America's Chicago and Los Angeles stations, pulled the network off the air in both markets Wednesday and changed the locks on the doors. He told the Chicago Tribune that Air America had bounced a payment check and owed Multicultural more than $1 million.
But New York state Supreme Court Judge Marylin G. Diamond found Thursday that Air America had fully paid for airtime in Chicago and ordered Multicultural to begin broadcasting Air America's programming again.
Air America remains off the air in Los Angeles, where it had been broadcast on Multicultural's KBLA 1580 AM.
A person answering the phone Thursday at Multicultural said the company had no comment.
The dispute between the two companies began Wednesday morning, when Multicultural employees kicked Air America staffers out of the Chicago and Los Angeles stations and began airing Spanish-language programming. Liu claimed Air America had defaulted on payments for airtime.
But Air America executives said they were withholding payments for the Los Angeles station because Liu had been "double-dipping," or reselling airtime that the network had bought and paid for, prior to the network's launch a little more than two weeks ago.
Cohen said Thursday that Air America is considering its legal options regarding the Los Angeles station and would be "doing something within the next 48 hours."
Diamond scheduled a hearing on Monday to get a response from Multicultural.
No matter how the dispute is resolved, it seems unlikely that Air America will continue to broadcast on Multicultural's stations. The public relations battle became personal very quickly on Wednesday, with Liu accusing the network of insolvency, and Cohen calling Liu "disgraceful and unprofessional."
"Is this a relationship we want to continue?" Cohen asked. "Over the next couple of days we're both going to be doing a lot of thinking."
Cohen said he is "exploring other broadcast options with a partner who is more responsible and mature."
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