Radio Off 

When Air America brought Al Franken to the masses, where was the Bay Area presence? Still under negotiation, apparently.

The Rush-antidote radio network, Air America, debuted last week in six major broadcast markets: New York, Chicago, Portland, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, and ... Inland Empire? Bottom Feeder would like -- nay, love -- to opine on whether Al Franken and Janeane Garofalo are good enough to say, goshdarnit, people should like them. Just one problem: We here in the Bay Area, liberal capital of the Americas, couldn't catch the new network on our radio dials this past week.

Despite Air America's earlier promise to announce its Bay Area affiliate before its March 31 launch, Bay Area listeners caught only dead air on debut day. Without explaining the reason for the delay in any detail, Air America leaders promised to announce its local radio station on April 7 (the day this paper hits newsracks). So that's where things stand as this column goes to press. But if the rumors are true, many Bay Area radioheads are gonna have a hard time hearing the new network even after it reaches local airwaves.

Air America leaders reportedly have been negotiating to run its 24-hour programming on Berkeley's teeny-tiny KVTO 1400 AM, and its diminutive sister station, KVVN, in the South Bay. KVTO currently runs Korean and Chinese programs that buy airtime through a broker, industry sources say. One reason KVTO is considered a likely spot for the liberal network is that it's owned by Inner City Broadcasting, which also owns WLIB, Air America's New York affiliate. (The company also owns KBLX-FM here in the Bay Area.) KVTO station manager Harvey Stone told the Silicon Valley Business Journal last month that his station was negotiating to carry Air America's programming, but a deal hadn't been finalized. That apparently remained the case as late as April 1 when, according to Stone's assistant, there was a conference call to further discuss a deal, but the tele-play didn't yield a signed contract.

The trouble with KVTO is that it transmits at a modest 1,000 watts, and KVVN adds only another 680 watts of power. Compare that to local radio-ratings king, KGO, which blasts 50,000 watts, or KPFA, the Bay Area's venerable radical-radio outlet, which boasts a 59,000-watt output. And radio insiders say KVTO's reception sucks later in the day. "The interference during the night is horrible," says Chris Edwards, station manager for Clear Channel's KABL. (Edwards, by the by, says Air America also talked to his corporate masters about taking over KABL, but he's pretty sure that won't happen. "I think they would have told me," he reasons.)

The upshot, Feeders, is that Air America may very well have a hard time competing to be heard in what should be its natural liberal-listening market.

Alex Bennett Returns

Before there was Air America, there was something called Sirius Left. Never heard of it? Yeah, well, Feeder neither. Sirius is a satellite-radio network that offers all types of commercial-free programming -- music, sports, news. Sirius Left is, as its name might suggest, the satellite company's liberal talk channel. Company spokesman Ron Rodrigues says the lefty-talk station has been on for about a year now. Later this month Sirius Left will begin airing a three-hour show hosted by someone familiar to Bay Areans: Alex Bennett, who, you may recall, used to handle the morning-show duties for Live 105 for eleven years until July 1997. According to Rodrigues, the show will premiere later this month and will be broadcast out of New York. The show's format hasn't totally been worked out yet, but Rodrigues says it'll be reminiscent of Bennett's "free-wheeling" morning show on Live 105. "It certainly won't be just about politics," he promises.

Write-In Written Off

It looks like Congressman Richard Pombo, the lone Republican in the Bay Area delegation, may not have a Democratic opponent in the fall after all. Democratic write-in candidate Jerry McNerney, an environmental engineer from Pleasanton, said election officials originally told him he'd won enough votes in the March 2 primary to qualify for a preprinted spot on the November ballot. He'd even posted a thank-you letter to his supporters. But a few days later he got a call from someone at the Alameda County Registrar's office informing him that he'd received 424 fewer votes than he had been led to believe, making him 73 votes short of qualifying as a real candidate for the Eleventh Congressional District.

As for why McNerney first came to the erroneous conclusion that he'd made the cut -- well, that's a matter of dispute. Alameda County Registrar Brad Clark tells Feeder that McNerney must have gotten confused when the clerk told him the total number of write-in votes cast in his race and mistakenly thought they were all for him. Not so, says McNerney. He says he and others repeatedly asked the clerk if the 986 write-in votes were for him. "I said, 'Are all those for me?' And she said, 'You're the only certified write-in candidate.'" Unfortunately, voters write in uncertified candidates such as Mickey Mouse all the time (see Take Out).

McNerney, a political novice, jumped into the race after no Democrat had the cojones to take on Pombo. He's asking for a recount, which could cost McNerney or his backers thousands of dollars if it fails to change the results. That seems like a big risk to take just to earn the right to lose in November to a powerful incumbent. McNerney, however, insists he isn't on a political suicide mission. "We're not falling on swords for the party," he says. "That's not what's happening here."

The Curb Cut Is the Deepest

This week's cover story details the hassles and headaches of taking the bus when you're disabled. But what about the dangers of rolling down the sidewalk or the street? Consider the experiences of disabled activists Ruthanne Shpiner, creator of the Disability Rights Watch Web site, and Karen Craig, a former member of Berkeley's Commission on Disability. In September, both gals were riding on Colusa Avenue to the Sunset View Cemetery on the Kensington and El Cerrito border to attend the funeral of another disabled activist, Fred Lupke. While going through Kensington they found themselves having to ride on the street because the sidewalks often didn't have curb cuts or were too cracked and uneven to traverse in a wheelchair. Ironically, Lupke was hit and killed by a car in Berkeley after being forced to use the road instead of a narrow and cracked sidewalk.

A month ago, Craig and Shpiner filed a $500,000 legal claim against Contra Costa County for emotional distress and violating their civil rights, and not complying with state and federal disability-access laws. Their attorney, Robert Schock, reports that Craig has a similar claim pending against the city of Oakland. In that case, she says she aggravated her medical condition by enduring the nonstop jolts from the bumpy and broken-up Telegraph Avenue sidewalk in North Oakland. Schock says his clients aren't in it for the money but are "more interested in getting something done than in suing." If his clients got a promise from city and county officials to fix the sidewalks in the not-too-distant future, they'd probably forget about filing a lawsuit, Schock says.


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