"We've done the show as an almost entirely volunteer hobby without more than an occasional break for nearly six years, usually while both of us were working full-time," said O'Connell. "Having half a weekend and brutal Monday mornings to kick off a full work week is exhausting."
With the bold mission of "liberating radio from the Right," hosts O'Connell and Mancini sought to provide a counterbalance to what they saw as a decidedly rightward tilt to over-the-air radio in Nashville. Although mostly a labor of love throughout its tenure, Mancini and O'Connell did attempt to expand and make their project commercially viable.
The duo did a 13-week experimental stint on WAMB-AM and WNSG-AM in the spring of 2007 buying time out of their own pockets and selling ads for their shows, acting as their own salesforce. The foray into commercialism was ultimately unsustainable as the hosts struggled to handle the business side of the project while maintaining the quality of the show.
"We knew we couldn't continue doing the show and sales beyond the pilot period, or the product would suffer," explained Mancini. "We never found either a station or salesperson who was willing to partner with us for a more sustainable experiment."
Liberadio(!) has been able to stay on the air through the generosity of Vanderbilt University's community DJ program. The university has for years offered an ever dwindling number of on-air spots on its station to members of the community not otherwise affiliated with the university. Mancini and O'Connell were thus able to build up their brand and provide a service to the community at a limited cost to them.
"We operated a popular blog, added a podcast, and even a live video stream, so we definitely achieved our goals of bootstrapping with low overhead for maximum impact," said O'Connell. "But you can't start a 10,000-watt radio station in your garage quite so easily."
Despite failing to reach a broader commercial audience, Liberadio(!) never failed to be honored by their community and recognized for the high news content of their show. O'Connell and Mancini were recognized three times in the Nashville Scene's Readers Poll and twice consecutively by Talkers magazine as one of their "Frontier Fifty," a list highlighting talk hosts doing pioneering work on the web.
The show also had an impact in political terms having received, on more than one occasion, requests by candidates for their endorsement.
"We were frequently asked whether we would be endorsing in given races or whether we would sponsor various issue debates," said Mancini. "We heard several voters tell us they had voted the Liberadio(!) ticket."
The Liberadio(!) brand also made waves in the national media; the most recent being in February of 2009 when Congressman Jim Cooper seemed to indicate during an interview that he had been granted permission by President Obama to vote against a health care bill being pushed by the administration in order to make it "cleaner." Cooper subsequently walked back the remarks once they began to get wider circulation. The episode led the hosts to ask almost every subsequent guest to finish the sentence, "I probably shouldn't be telling you this, but..."
Despite having the opportunity to interview candidates, elected leaders and public intellectuals what the hosts most enjoyed was interacting with the audience.
"We had the best and smartest listeners in the world," said the hosts. "[W]e loved hearing from them on all kinds of topics."
Asked what the Liberadio(!) legacy will be, the hosts answered with their characteristic wit and modesty.
"Launching the career of Stephen Colbert. Didn't we do that? Oh, who knows. Maybe someday we'll have our own Wikipedia page."
Freddie O'Connell, a native Nashvillian, is a graduate of Montgomery Bell Academy and Brown University and currently runs SearchViz, a boutique inbound marketing and web design firm. A longtime political and community activist. O'Connell currently serves as president of the Salemtown Neighborhood Association and on the board of the Metropolitan Transit Authority. In 2002, O'Connell ran as an independent against then-TNGOP chairwoman and state Rep. Beth Harwell.
Mary Mancini, best known as the owner and proprietor on the now defunct Lucy's Record Shop, has served on the board of various political and community groups including the Tennessee Alliance for Progress. On Monday, she will start work as Tennessee Citizen Action's Executive Director.