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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Veteran TV personality Montel Williams has signed a deal to host a new flagship talk show on Air America, the struggling radio network that comedian and would-be U.S. Senator Al Franken helped launch in 2004 as a voice for the political left.
Under his multi-year agreement, Williams, 52, will debut the new program, "Montel Across America," on April 6, and the show will air weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon Eastern time on affiliate stations nationwide, the network said on Thursday.
The bald-headed TV celebrity and author will become perhaps the best-known name on the network's on-air roster, which already includes MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, columnist Arianna Huffington, Robert Kennedy Jr., and Ron Reagan, the liberal son of conservative Republican icon and late former President Ronald Reagan.
Williams, a Baltimore native and former U.S. Marine and Navy officer, previously hosted his own syndicated TV show, "The Montel Williams Show," for 17 years, until 2008. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999.
He will occupy the three-hour radio slot preceding the one formerly filled by Franken, the "Saturday Night Live" veteran who helped start Air America as a liberal answer to the predominantly conservative talk radio circuit led by Rush Limbaugh.
Franken left the network last year as he was considering a bid for the U.S. Senate from his home state of Minnesota. He eventually ran as a Democrat to unseat Republican incumbent Norm Coleman in a race that was too close to call.
Though state officials later declared Franken the victor by a razor-thin margin of 255 votes, U.S. Senate leaders have so far refused to seat him because Coleman has threatened to challenge the recount in court.
Air America, which has struggled under a succession of management changes and financial woes since its inception, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in October 2007. An investment group led by New York real estate mogul Stephen Green bought it for about $4.25 million the following year, and the new owners are working to rebuild the enterprise.
"Our new owner is committed to growing the business, and certainly we're looking for passionate communicators with strong opinions, and if they have a well-known name, that's not a bad thing either," said Bill Hess, head of programing.
New York-based Air America produces about 17 original hours of program daily and is heard on about 60 affiliate stations across the country, reaching just over 1 million listeners weekly. It also is carried by Sirius XM Satellite Radio and is streamed over the Internet at www.airamerica.com.