By Kevin Anderson
BBC News Online in Washington
With the launch of a new radio network, liberals in the US hope to counter what they perceive as a vast right-wing media conspiracy.
The network launched on a handful of stations and on satellite radio
Both liberals and conservatives in the US believe that the media is dominated by their opponents.
But liberals think they have been at a disadvantage on America's airwaves with the rise of conservative talk radio stars like Rush Limbaugh, who they see as a powerful part of the Republican Party's media machine.
The left-of-centre Air America network goes on air in the midst of a presidential election year when liberals' anger with President Bush is at full boil.
And headliner Al Franken has made it clear that he hopes the network will help not only tip what he perceives as an imbalance in the media but also tip the election against George W Bush.
'Regime change radio'
"Thanks for shifting to the left side of the dial!" the announcer says on station KPOJ in Portland Oregon.
The network features comedic actress Janeane Garofalo and rapper Chuck D.
Anchoring the network is Al Franken, who has transformed himself from a TV comedy writer to a liberal satirist with two best-selling books roasting conservative media figures like Mr Limbaugh.
Mr Franken rose to prominence as liberal gadfly and media critic with his book "Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot" and continued his attack with a follow-up book last year "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right".
Rush Limbaugh is a favourite target of liberals, a poster boy for the Republican revolution and overall a figure Democrats love to hate.
Rush - as he is known to fans and detractors alike - is aired on 600 radio stations across the US and boasts 20m listeners each week.
He led the talk radio assault on President Clinton, part of what Hillary Clinton referred to as the vast right-wing conspiracy lined up against her husband.
While Air America's chief executive Mark Walsh has said that the network is not "regime change radio", headliner Al Franken has clear political goals for his show.
He says, "Quite simply, my plan is to alter the political landscape, drive this radical right-wing president from office and stand as a beacon for ordinary Americans who work hard and play by the rules."
Rush Limbaugh has had a huge impact politically, says Jane Hall, an assistant professor of communications at American University in Washington and a panellist on FoxNews' News Watch.
"You need to remind people during the 1994 Republican revolution, when the Republicans were out of power, he was a big force," she said.
Rush Limbaugh's talk show has been a force in Republican politics
And Rush wants to play a big role in this year's presidential election.
On his website, Mr Limbaugh sells a guide called "How to Defeat a Liberal" and has links to stories critical of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.
The site says: "It's THE resource you can use to combat the partisan media, liberals and Bush-haters. Packed with facts, articles and Rush's commentary on the French-looking Democrat nominee."
Ms Hall said, "People on the left, progressives, wished that they had a voice in the media today."
But she adds, conservatives counter that the mainstream media in the US is dominated by a liberal agenda and quickly point to the New York Times, National Public Radio and CBS TV anchor Dan Rather.
On Rush Limbaugh's website, he has links to the Associated Press, Reuters and AFP news, which he calls "fawning, pro-Kerry wires", referring to President Bush's Democratic challenger.
And Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers magazine for the talk radio industry, says liberals are well represented on the US radio dial with urban radio, National Public Radio and liberal talk radio hosts.
"A lot of this is paranoia about the concentrated strength of conservative talk radio. It's not as strong as people think, but it has people thinking that it needs countered," he said.
He points out that, at most, Rush Limbaugh is listened to five out of every 100 people listening to the radio at a given time.
At the launch of his show, Mr Franken said that the day marked an end to the right-wing dominance of talk-radio.
But the network will face an uphill battle commercially, and it is not just because liberal talk radio has suffered in the past from what observers say was overly earnest and horribly tedious on-air talent.
Ms Hall says they have to keep it light, keep it fun to attract listeners, which they must do to attract more stations to join the network.
Air America has launched on a handful of stations across the country and the XM satellite radio service, which has some 3m subscribers.
Right now, they have $60m in backing from the likes of RealNetworks Rob Glaser and other well-heeled liberals.
They will have to make the difficult transition from attracting backers to earning money, Mr Harrison said.