Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Hunt For Pink October


I am one of the millions of Americans who has been touched directly by breast cancer. My sister Lynn is a 6-year survivor. My colleagues and friends Sheree, Robin, and many others are breast cancer survivors who fought and won long, painful, courageous battles.

Breast cancer doesn't need more "awareness".  Breast cancer needs a cure. And a cure takes money which funds research which will lead to a cure.

I'm working on a news story right now for the American Cancer Society (via Public News Service)  which will run on October 17th, which has been designated as National Mammogram Day. I've been interviewing a young mother from Milwaukee who was diagnosed with breast cancer two months after her second son was born.  While she was breast-feeding him. She is a phenomenally courageous woman and after I'm allowed to tell her story on the 17th, I'll put a link up here.

These are some of the reasons why this year, as the NFL wraps itself in pink in October and pretends to care about women's health issues, it's particularly disgusting to me, given the tone-deafness of the League's Commissioner and Owners regarding their problem with domestic violence. 


The NFL, with eager complicity from the TV networks that present their product, will this year again in October sell an ungodly amount of pink stuff under the guise of "Breast Cancer Awareness", and by most reliable accounts the NFL will pocket three out of every four dollars worth of merchandise sold. It's a multi-million dollar scam.


The Packers will sell enough pink stuff to clothe half the population of the state in pink from top to bottom. So will every other NFL team.  And, if the most reliable figures are accurate, only about 31 dollars of the money you spend for that $125 pink NFL jersey will go to "breast cancer awareness".

 
 
There'll be pink ribbons everywhere.  There'll be pink gloves, pink jerseys, pink cleats, pink ribbons carved in players' hair, pink, pink, pink.  The TV sports announcers will wear pink ribbons. Pink ribbons will be painted onto the field of play.
 

Even the comely young ladies who cheer on the NFL teams will get into the pink act. Pink, pink, pink.

You can spend your money any way you want. I'm not here to tell you how to run your life. I'm here for hypocrisy awareness.


Buy a pink jersey or pink gloves or pink shoes if you want. It's your money. But if you do, don't pretend you're helping to "raise awareness about breast cancer".

If you want to do something to help CURE breast cancer, donate to an organization like the American Cancer Society or the UW Carbone Cancer Center, where nearly all of your generous donation will go to fund things that directly help cancer victims: research, support, education, outreach programs, countless tangible things that actually help cancer victims and their families.


Thank you.









Friday, September 19, 2014

The Annual Baseball Rant




This year, rather than my usual mid-season-All-Star-Break rant, I decided to wait until the Brewers season was over to compose the rant.

Oh, I suppose mathematically there’s some way they could sneak in….as a wild card….if they sweep the rest of their games with the Pirates and the Cubs….and the Pirates collapse….but, it’s not gonna happen. And this year’s rant will have more of a tone of resignation and disgust, rather than the usual anger and brimstone.

 
First of all, the guy on the right should have fired the guy on the left in July. Or early August at the latest. Just like he did to Ned Yost, in the middle of September 2008 – when the Brewers actually were in contention.  Nedly told the media back then he never saw it coming.

I would have fired Roenicke weeks ago. Back in the early part of August you could sense the slide coming, and RR did NOTHING – at least nothing which I can glean from the popular prints and blogs and chatrooms – to get his players to motivate themselves to play like it meant something.

I’m of the school which believes you can’t motivate people, they have to do it for themselves – but you can try to create the circumstances and climate under which they will have an attitude (motivation) adjustment.  And sometimes, as any baseball fan knows, firing the manager causes the players to motivate themselves.

Kinda like ranting at an ump and getting tossed out of the game does, once in a while.


This guy should have been fired on the spot Thursday night for the unforgivable error in the 8th inning against the Cards when he “forgot” how many outs there were. For those not close followers of the team, his name is Mark Reynolds.  His mistake cost them the game. In a contest their playoff lives depended on, Reynolds head was clearly not in the game.

At the conclusion of that debacle, before the pitcher stepped on the rubber and started the next play, RR should have called time out, removed Reynolds from the game, put someone else on first, sent a team functionary to retrieve Reynolds’ street clothes and wallet from the locker room, told Reynolds to catch a cab to the airport and make his own way home, and that any other personal affects would be boxed up and shipped to him at whatever his seasonal address is, and inform him that his services would no longer be needed by the Milwaukee franchise of Major League Baseball.

But such things never happen. I can only dream them. It’s like my late father taught me so many times: there are mistakes you can recover from, and mistakes you can’t recover from.  This is one of those mistakes that’s so egregious that it should have been a career-ender.


This guy should be given a fat salary bump and a nice non-negotiated bonus. Not because Jonathon Lucroy hits a ton of doubles, but because he consistently plays with spirit and enthusiasm, performing at the highest level of his profession. It’s a shame that the other teammates don’t follow the lead of Luc, who “plays like he means it”.


Carlos Gomez is not a leadoff man. I think everyone in baseball knows that, except RR and Gomez. The job of the leadoff man is to get on base. Yet, if you’ve watched the Brewers in the past month, every time Gomez takes to the plate – and, not just the first at-bat of the Brewers’ half of the first inning, when the role of the leadoff man is so clearly defined –he tries to hit a homer. And usually falls down at least once in EVERY at-bat because his swing is so undisciplined and goofy.

It’s become a joke at the Morrissey Compound. My wife and I will be sure we’re tuned in to the game at the very beginning, so we can see Gomez try to kill the ball in his first at-bat and fall down. For the uninformed, my bride is a true fan and student of the game, and has been since her wasted youth as a teenage pain-in-the-butt malingering daily, all summer, at the old Comiskey Park and at Wrigley Field. She claimed she was a fan of both teams, a claim no other Chicagoan has ever made.

Doesn’t anyone ever sit these guys like Gomez down and say “now, Carlos, we’re going to put you in the leadoff spot – all we want you to do is get on base. Whether you just meet the ball and put it in play, or take a base on balls, all we need you to do is get on base”.

This is the second year (last year was the first) that my bride and I attended NO major league baseball games. I’m not sure why.  We had plenty of opportunity; even though I insist in my advanced age (65.25) on sitting in very expensive seats right behind home plate, we’re fortunate that the cost isn’t really a consideration; I’m not sure why both of us just don’t seem to want to pull the trigger, buy some great seats on StubHub, and go to a game.

Part of the reason is advancing age; part of it is the glot of stupid, drunken, self-indulgent yay-hoos who always seem to have seats near the ones we buy (Section 117 or 118 at Miller Park, to be exact); and part of it is our media room is equipped with a 66-inch HDTV and a 500-watt outboard sound system and some VERY comfortable chairs.

Usually the annual rant takes a shot or two at baseball in general, but, with all the crap going on in the NFL right now, I just didn’t feel the desire to say crappy things about baseball. I still love the sport. But I’m just so disappointed in my home team this year.  A collapse comparable to the swoon the ’69 Cubs took.
I'll watch the playoffs and the world series as I always do, but from this point on, my attention will be focused on the Green and Gold, until Spring Training.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Living Well Is The Best Revenge (Life After Radio)


Here’s a nice photo from yesterday morning of my friend and former business partner and broadcast colleague Glen Gardner hard at work in his office.  Glen’s wife Lauren took the photo and posted it to Facebook with some good-natured comments about how her hubby was slaving away at the office. It’s their back yard in suburban Boston.  Glen probably has enough frequent-flyer miles for several free trips around the world, since he also “lives” in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

It’s been five and a half years since Glen and I, who had been doing the morning news/talk show on a local radio station, were summarily dismissed in a poorly-executed palace coup which resulted in litigation and sealed settlements including repurchase of the shares of stock Glen and I owned in the company. I used to joke that Glen’s stock ownership represented significant chunks of several radio stations and mine represented a few pieces of office furniture, a hallway bathroom, and the old WTDY transmitter building off Syene Road.

One of our friends, WIBA-AM talk show host Mitch Henck, had been kicked to the curb Monday by Clear Channel radio. I wrote a piece about it yesterday, telling Mitch that life was better on “the other side”, which engendered a string of comments, including one from a fellow former broadcaster, who affirmed that “Virtually everyone I know, including me, who left broadcast news is happy. Almost everyone I know who is still in the business hates it.”  Not exactly a universal truth, but you get the idea.

After our “backstabbing by former business partners”, as Glen put it back then, we both set out in new directions, with absolutely no desire to go back to work for anyone except ourselves.


Glen formed a consulting partnership and was featured in a local magazine (In Business Magazine – that’s their photo above). The article was about what we then called “the gig economy” back in 2009. The world was full of former broadcasters and print reporters like Glen and me, downsized by their employer, putting together several part-time gigs as independent contractors to keep the money machine oiled.

One of Glen’s next projects back in ’09 was to put together a group of former local news folks to contribute to an online news site, YourNews.



If you’ve been around town a while, you’ll recognize a lot of faces in the picture above. All but one of us (Brian D’Ambrosio) were former broadcast employees or print journalism employees. We had a lot of fun meetings, wrote  a lot of good stories, even made a few bucks doing it.

One of Glen’s next projects was helping expand Public NewsService, a pretty-good-sized online news service headquartered in Boulder, CO, reaching an audience of 30 million people a week. Glen brought me on board several years ago, and I still write two or three stories a week for PNS, in addition to other independent contractor projects.

In 2011, Glen moved back east to his original stomping grounds near Boston, after he’d reconnected with his childhood sweetheart.


On November 18th, 2012, Glen and Lauren got married, four years to the day since we were tossed under the bus at the Madison radio company – giving us all a new way to observe that date!  Glen and Lauren are both active in a new concert promotion company they set up with another of Glen’s childhood friends, bringing big-name entertainers to a beautiful venue in suburban Boston.


And, Glen still can wail on that big Gibson guitar, with a band he and several other colleagues formed when they worked together at a Cedar Rapids legendary rock radio station – Jif and Choosy Mothers.  In the photo above, they’re putting on an outdoor concert in Cedar Rapids.  Gotta love the horns.


As the local radio business sinks into the morass of debt it’s created for itself, and more talented and high-rated personalities like Mitch Henck are fired by an industry that can't pay its debts, life goes on abundantly for those who worked hard at reinventing themselves.  

As George Herbert said centuries ago, living well is the best revenge.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Local Radio: No Longer A Sustainable Model



The calls and emails and social media direct messages began about 11 o’clock yesterday morning, from pals who wanted to know if I could confirm that my friend Mitch Henck had been fired by WIBA-AM.  Very early in the afternoon I knew it was true. The ax was falling at Clear Channel stations all around the nation – again.

It’s a wonder Clear Channel has anyone left to fire, except sales people.  More on that in a moment.

Hearing the news about Mitch Henck was not surprising in any way, but it was still tough to take. You can’t spend four decades working in broadcasting, as I did, and not be dismayed at how it’s really no longer a sustainable model.  People can get music anywhere today. New songs aren’t “broken” by radio stations any more – they’re first heard on social media sites. A local, live DJ after 9 AM has become rare. Newscasts, if a radio station even has them any more, are rare after 9AM and even then may originate in a city far away.

Mitch was upbeat when he talked to the Wisconsin State Journal late yesterday. (The article is here.) He knew it was coming; it was not a matter of “if”, but a matter of “when”, and for Mitch – and a bunch of other people at the Madison Clear Channel cluster, and at Clear Channel clusters all around the nation, the “when” was yesterday.

Mitch had a very good career in broadcasting, spending the last dozen years at WIBA-AM after a long stint in TV news. His “Outside the Box” show had excellent ratings; his demise had nothing to do with that. Mitch was never a partisan hack, like so many of the talk show hosts you hear today, either whining the left-wing agenda or screeching the right-wing agenda.  Sure, Mitch talked politics – but he also talked basketball, music, and above all, Mitch talked about LOCAL stuff.


He even shared his struggles trying to get his golf score down.

That’s the puzzling thing: about the only thing radio has left going for it is the “live and local” aspect, but shortsighted broadcast managers for the past seven years have steadily gotten rid of the only thing they really had going for them: local talent who talked about local stuff, whether they were doing a music-based show or a talk-based show.  That’s why they’ve made the model unsustainable. They’re getting rid of the only thing they really have going for them any more.


Mitch let us right into his personal life. He turned his struggles with weight (that’s Mitch’s official Plan Z By Zola "before and after" photo above) into a part of his daily show. A little over a year ago Mitch suffered a mild stroke that took him off the air for nearly four months, and we followed his progress as he came back and finished his re-hab on the air.  He said “I sound like I’ve had a couple of stiff blasts of Scotch on the rocks, but I haven’t!” in explaining his slurred speech as he battled back from the stroke.


We heard him constantly plug his “moonlighting job”, doing a Vegas-style review involving Sinatra songs and stand-up comedy which he calls “The Big Show”. 

That’s the thing about local personalities: even though we may not actually know them, or maybe briefly met them at a remote broadcast once or twice, we feel we know them – they become part of our lives, part of our daily routine. We know their hobbies, their pet peeves, their personalities.  Like the rest of us shown the door by shortsighted radio management, Mitch will land on his feet.  He’s smart, has a great personality, knows how to talk with people (as opposed to yell at them), and he’ll find the right fit for him and do well at whatever he chooses to do.


Now, a word about the company that fired Mitch, Clear Channel.  It’s the largest owner of radio stations in the nation, with 800+; it has absolutely unsustainable debt, and is slowly but surely drowning. While the Clear Channel top execs enjoy a lavish lifestyle with huge salaries and perks beyond your wildest imagination, their ship is sinking, and with it, radio everywhere is going down.

The debt is courtesy of Mitt Romney and his pal Bill Bain, who formed a company called Bain Capital in Boston in 1984 that set up the highly leveraged deal that allowed Clear Channel to become the biggest radio operator in the country, but saddled it with debt and management fees that no sane person would ever have agreed to.  Now, the model has reached the tipping point. In order to refinance its latest round of borrowing to stay afloat, Clear Channel has to (again) cut operating costs, which they translate to “programming and news salaries”.

Mitch knew it was coming, and it arrived for him yesterday.

Be well, my friend – life is better and brighter on the other side. Living well truly is the best revenge.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Weekend With Tom, Hank, and Friends


It’s become a tradition, as my friend Tom Plummer said as I was leaving his home in Lake City, Iowa just before the sun rose Monday morning. For the past three years, Tom and I have picked a weekend in June that works for both of us, and I head west for a few days of jamming polkas, visiting with Tom and his famous dog Hank, and, as has been the case in the past couple visits, sitting in with a real, live, honest-to-goodness polka band at a dance gig, as in the photo above.  More about that later.

This year, I wanted to tell the story not only of my visit with Tom and Hank, but also of some of the great, friendly, down-home folks I encountered in my four days in Iowa.

The idea for this post started when I made the first stop in my trip from Madison to Lake City on Friday. It was at a Casey’s General Store just off U.S. 20 in Independence, Iowa. I needed to use the facilities and grab a snack. I grabbed a big plastic bottle of Diet Mountain Dew from the cooler and a small bag of Fritos Honey BBQ Twists and set them on the counter. The young lady serving me had a Casey’s name-tag that said “Ashly”. She was a cute dark-haired girl who looked to be around 20, with bright blue eyes and a hundred-watt smile. As we made eye contact, I said “Ashly with no E – just like my daughter-in-law”. She laughed and said nobody ever spells her name right. Then she said “honey barbeque – my absolute favorite!” as she rang up the snack. We made more small talk as I handed her the money, and when I got back into my Road Warrior (which now has almost 80 thousand miles on the counter) I remember thinking how downright pleasant the folks in Iowa are, and the seed of this blogpost was planted.


By early afternoon I’d reached Lake City and as I pulled up in front of Tom’s house he and Hank came out to greet me.  That’s a poor photo of the two of them above, but it was the only one of Tom and Hank in my phone/camera.



Hank is a ball of energy who loves everybody, and now, after three years, I’m pretty sure he remembers me. He demonstrates his affection freely, as seen above. Or, it just might be that every time I visit Tom, I bring something along for Hank.  This year it was a box of Gravy Bones treats, which Hank loved.

Tom and I spent the afternoon watching the Cubs, catching up, and for dinner – another thing that’s become a tradition, a Supreme Pizza from Casey’s General Store, a few blocks away from Tom’s house on the main drag in Lake City. In case you don’t know, Casey’s General Store is to Iowa as PDQ and QuickTrip are to Wisconsin. For 18 bucks you can get a very tasty pizza easily big enough to feed two hungry men. We devoured it, had a few beers, watched more baseball, and visited some more.

Saturday Tom had arranged for his friend Larry Kisor to come over from Sioux City with his concertina so we could jam some polkas. Larry was Tom’s music teacher and band director – fair to say mentor – and the pupil followed in the teacher’s footsteps. Larry established a dynasty in Sioux City, winning Iowa Jazz Championships year after year before he retired a few years ago, and Tom has done the same thing in Lake City.


Here’s a shot of Larry and Tom, jammin’ polkas in Tom’s band room.


And here’s a shot of Larry and me jammin’ away.  We started around 9:30 AM and around noon, Tom served up a lunch of home-made barbecued beef sandwiches and chips. More of that Iowa hospitality – Tom did all the cooking and prep work. And, Larry’s wife had sent along some great home-made peanut butter-marshmallow bars for dessert! These Iowans really know how to treat you!

We jammed a couple more hours and then called it quits. Larry packed up his concertina and headed back over to Sioux City. The concertina is truly one of the most difficult instruments to master. There is absolutely no logic to the way the buttons are laid out, and each button produces one note if you’re pulling the bellows out, and a different note – not related in any way – if you’re pushing the bellows together. Larry, like Tom, can play a number of instruments extremely well. Both are tuba players, but Larry also plays trumpet, sax, and clarinet professionally. When he retired, Larry decided to learn the concertina, and in just a few short years he’s become a master of that instrument, as well.

As Tom and I were getting ready to leave his band room, a couple young fellows who had been cutting down a tree on the school grounds walked past the band room, and Tom invited them in. Both had been students of Tom’s a few years ago, and neither had seen the new bandroom, so he gave them a tour after introducing me to them. I wish I could remember their names. After the tour, Tom told me one of the two was a musician in Tom’s award-winning Jazz Band and the other was a “roadie” – who helped load and unload the band trailer and set up the band before performances. Tom told me one time the young man noticed there was difficulty hitching the trailer up to the vehicle that pulled it, so the young man and some of his pals pushed the trailer to the high school shop, fixed the hitch (which required metal fabrication and welding), fixed the latches on the door, and even re-wired the lights to work better.

That’s the thing about a lot of these Iowa kids, many of whom either grew up on a farm or are only a generation removed from the farm. They know how mechanical things work, and they aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty fixing things that don’t work. And they just do it, without prompting.

Saturday night was spaghetti night at the Plummer house, with Tom making his famous pasta and patented “gravy” as the Italians call it. Delicious! After dinner we took Hank for a ride around town – Hank loves to ride in the car and is constantly on the lookout for squirrels, cats, other dogs, deer, or whatever may present itself. We came home and watched some baseball.

We started Sunday morning with bacon and eggs, watched a few old-time videos, including a videotape concertina-maker Christy Hengel made with his portable camcorder, where he interviews Syl Liebl and the two both play tunes and talk about old-time music and musicians.  Sunday lunch was another Plummer family tradition – a big beef roast, which Tom put in the crock pot before we hit the hay Saturday night, along with lots of slow-cooked veggies.  Then we packed up the instruments and headed to the American Legion Hall in Arcadia for the gig.


This is what it looks like about an hour before a dance gig, as the band sets up.  On the left, Becky Livermore (Barefoot Becky) is reviewing her vast library of songs, deciding which ones she’ll have the band play at this engagement. The fellow in the blue shirt with the cord in his hand is Becky’s husband Terry Ard, who sets up the first-rate sound system the band uses. Bass man Tom Plummer is in the right foreground, and if you look closely at my shaky picture you can see that he is tuning up his Fender Precision Bass. Tom’s Conn 20J tuba is in front of him.  On this this job, Tom will play both instruments: the tuba on many of the polkas and waltzes, and the e-bass on other tunes like fox trots and novelty numbers.  Dale Baker’s drum set is visible in the left front of the picture. Dale lives in nearby Carroll, Iowa, and brought his 90-year-old mother to the gig. She loves to hear the music and watch the dancers.


Although Becky, Terry, and Tom have encouraged me to sit in with the band, I’m really very nervous about it. Finally I work up enough courage, and Tom took this picture of me playing his tuba on a nice, easy Laendler that Becky played. Terry is playing rhythm guitar and Dale is keeping the tempo on track, making sure I don’t rush the beat! Even though I’ve played hundreds of gigs, and sat in with a huge number of bands, that was all 35 years ago or more, and I’m quite nervous about playing even one tune with Becky’s band. I have so much respect for the band, and Becky and Terry have become friends over the past few years, and I don’t want to screw up and embarrass my friends! The band is SO good, and I’m quite apprehensive about giving at least a passable performance. I concentrate on listening for the chord changes and just playing basic bass patterns – nothing fancy, just keep the beat for the dancers and listen for Dale’s bass drum so I keep on rhythm. Becky is kind enough to acknowledge me sitting in after the song, the Iowans applaud (bless their hearts!) and a few sets later it’s 6 o’clock and the gig is over.


In the photo above, Tom is helping pack up Becky’s huge van. You’d be surprised at how much “stuff” it takes to put on a professional dance job! Instruments, stands, amps, mikes, cords, the musical library, lights, and a long list of stuff that fills Becky’s big van.
After the band is packed up, Tom and I head off to nearby Carroll, Iowa to grab dinner at Culver’s. As we’re walking to a table to sit down with our soft drinks, we walk by a couple who’d been at the dance in Arcadia, and they say “nice job this afternoon, fellas!”  Those Iowans – so friendly, so nice!

Becky and Terry join us in a few moments and we dine and visit for the better part of an hour, talking about fellow musicians, experiences we’ve had on the road, what the future of the dance business might be, and life in general. Becky and Terry live in and book out of Mt. Vernon, Iowa. It’s so easy to talk to them. They’re so accepting, so congenial. Great people, just like Tom, with tremendous talent but very unassuming.


That’s the plate on the back of Becky’s van – SHOWBIZ – and as we part ways, Tom and I head for his house, a few miles up the road in Lake City, and Terry and Becky head east for a three-hour drive to Mt. Vernon. Then it’s a couple rare days off for them, and back on the road Wednesday in a long haul for a gig at a casino way up above Traverse City, MI. The rest of June they’ll be on the road constantly with gigs all over Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Showbiz, indeed! I’ll see them again in mid-July, when they make a stop at the Turner Hall in Monroe, WI, an hour south of Madison.

Tom and I unload all his bass equipment at his bandroom in Lake City and then head to his house. While Tom takes Hank for a good run, I change into more comfortable clothes, and then we watch the Cubs game, which Tom has DVR’d. We’re both tired, so we hit the hay a little after 10 PM. Tom has a full day of giving music lessons Monday, and I’ve got the long drive back to Madison.

I sleep like a rock at Tom’s house.  Lake City is about the same size as the village I grew up in – Hortonville, WI – and at night, it is absolutely dead silent. I have a decibel-meter “app” on my iPhone – and just before I went to sleep, I checked it just for fun. It registers 28db. That’s as quiet as I’ve ever seen the meter register.  In our house in south suburban Madison, in the dead of night, the meter registers about 38db. The db scale is logarithmic – a whisper is about 30db, a loud motorcycle about a hundred db, and a jet taking off is about 115db, give or take.  It is literally quitter than a whisper at night in Lake City!

Just after 6 AM Hank comes bounding down the stairs from Tom’s bedroom and greets me in the living room; I woke up around 5:45 and packed my stuff, and I’m ready to roll. Tom offers to make some bacon and eggs for breakfast, but I thank him and say I’ll just head over to Casey’s, fill up with gas, grab a donut and a Diet Dew, and head east. He helps me carry my stuff to the Road Warrior, we agree that an excellent time was had by all, and vow to keep the tradition alive next June. I’ve eaten all his food, slept comfortably on the expansive couch in his living room, drank all his beer and soda, and left him with a kitchen full of dirty dishes and empty cans piled high. He’s waited on me all weekend, and as usual, has been a great conversationalist and wonderful friend.  I’m looking forward to seeing him with the band again in mid-July.

So I head a few blocks west to Casey’s General Store, fill the SUV to the brim, and then pull up in front of the store to grab a donut and a Diet Dew. The lady at the cash register – I didn’t see her nametag – says “you a travelin’ man this morning? I see the Wisconsin plates on your car.” I tell her I’ve spent a great weekend with a good friend in Lake City (everybody knows who Tom Plummer is, he’s the band director!) and how much I enjoy her town.  She says “yup, Lake City…everything but the lake!” - just like it says on the sign at the edge of town.  We laugh, I collect my donut and dew and head out the door, and she wishes me a safe trip.


Iowans.  Great folks.

Friday, May 30, 2014

He Did It His Way




Rob Starbuck is one of the most pleasant and straightforward folks you’ll ever meet.  This morning was his last broadcast as the long-time anchor of the News 3 morning show on WISC-TV in Madison. He was given an appropriate send-off by his friends and colleagues.

The photo above shows Rob recording his last news cut-in for the CBS morning show.

 

During the broadcast this morning, Channel 3 showed a whole bunch of recorded inserts from Rob’s former colleagues – including my wife – wishing Rob well on his retirement.  Rob has accomplished something which is extremely rare in broadcasting these days – he was able to retire on his on terms, on his own timetable.  Far too often nowadays, TV news folks are simply shown the door when they reach a certain age. Their contract isn’t renewed, or they’re simply “let go”.

 

Kudos to Television Wisconsin, Inc. for allowing Rob to retire and not tossing him to the curb.

 

I’ve known Rob for decades, going way back to the 70’s when I was working in radio in Oshkosh and Rob was working a few miles west in Ripon at WCWC radio…..”wick-wick radio” as we called it.  Once in a while something would happen between Ripon and Oshkosh, some horrid car wreck or barn fire…and either I’d call Rob’s newsroom or he’d call mine to say “you got anything on this?”  Rob made the move to Green Bay TV, where I watched him every weekend.  He was a consummate TV pro from the very beginning.

 

Here’s a nice shot of Rob with his “work wives” and his real wife, Joy Cardin.  (Yes, THAT Joy Cardin, of Wisconsin Public Radio fame.)  On the left is Cheryl Shubert , who co-anchored the TV3 morning show with Rob back in the 80’s and 90’s.  For a couple years in the mid-90’s, I would do a live TV segment with Cheryl and Rob called “The Week Ahead” every Monday morning, where Cheryl and I would talk about the big news events we expected to report on in the coming week.  Tim DeLay would drive the Channel 3 remote truck over to my radio news studio, set up a camera, and we’d do the 7-minute segment live at around 6:45 AM.  I still have lots of videotapes from those days!

 

Second from the left and next to Rob is Susan Siman, the News 3 veteran who does the Live at Five show now but was Rob’s morning co-anchor after Cheryl left. On Rob’s other side is his real wife, Joy Cardin, and on the right is the young woman who’s co-anchored with Rob for the past several years, Charlotte Deleste.

 

Above is a great gag shot of Rob tossing a chair into the air from the Channel 3 “Back Yard Weather Patio”, with News 3 morning show Meteorologist Haddie McClean looking on from the left and Rob's co-anchor Charlotte Deleste on the right.  It’s a great shot because the LAST thing Rob Starbuck would ever do is actually throw something in anger.  He is probably the most even-tempered person you’d ever meet.  I’ve never even heard Rob raise his voice. Sometimes in jest he’d say something like “I want to just pick this desk up and overturn it” but everyone knew he wasn’t serious. That’s why this shot is so funny – it’s Rob doing something Rob would never do!

 

I wish Rob all the best in retirement – and sure hope we can connect for coffee once in a while, now that he doesn’t have to get up at oh-dark-thirty (literally, 1 AM) to be in to work.  Rob’s going to teach yoga in his spare time now and enjoy life, and, finally, get a chance to listen to his wife’s morning show on Public Radio!  Rob is the consummate pro, respected by every one of his peers and every one of his viewers. I’m so glad he was able to “do it his way” and retire on his clock – to figuratively have his cake, and eat it, too.

 

Godspeed, Rob. I’ll call you about getting together for coffee.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Farewell To The State Journal




Ever since I ended my career as an itinerant musician decades ago, I’ve had a daily newspaper delivered to my home in every state and town I’ve lived in.  I’m sure the same is true for my wife Toni. We’re both still newsies at heart, so we had a serious discussion this weekend about the letter that came in the mail from The Wisconsin State Journal, which we’ve had delivered to the Compound since we bought the joint in ’98.

 

The letter informed us that the next time they took a chunk of money out of our bank account, the amount would be changing to $29.25 a month. A buck a day. They of course did not list what they’re charging now, so I looked it up, and it was pretty close what I thought it was: $22.65 a month.

 

Math is far from my strong suit, but I think that’s about a 29% increase.

 

My bride’s reaction was simple: we ought not be on the hook for paying down Lee Enterprises debt. I’m still not exactly sure how the ownership arrangement works; it involves entities like Lee, Capital Newspapers Inc., The Wisconsin State Journal, The Capital Times; one owns half of this and part of that; one owns part of this and some of that; yawn.  But Lee Enterprises seems to be the one in control.




I was saddened a few years back when Lee pulled the plug on the Capital Times, the “liberal” Madison daily paper. But, given the times, it wasn’t that surprising. The Capital Times is now essentially an online operation, but their print product is delivered as a section of the Wednesday morning Wisconsin State Journal, and I looked forward to getting it every Wednesday. I enjoy Paul Fanlund’s columns a great deal; I like Mike Ivey’s stuff; I enjoy the several pages of op/ed the Cap Times provides, too.

 

My wife and I are…..well, were….big supporters of the State Journal. We read it every day. At least, when it’s delivered before 6:30 AM on weekdays, we do. But lately, that’s been slipping. Too often it makes an appearance after 7 AM, and by then, Toni’s gone off to work and I’m at work in my home studio in front of this computer.  The State Journal still has some really top-notch reporters and columnists. George Hesselberg’s stuff is top-shelf. Dee Hall is a tremendous reporter. David Wahlberg is a formidable health-beat reporter. Our friend Doug Moe’s column is the quintessence of Madison. Pat Simms, a great reporter, still does some part-time work for the paper.  I know I’m forgetting some names; but – let me make it clear that our cancellation has NOTHING to do with their excellent work.

 

But the product the State Journal puts on our porch in the morning (and I mean literally on our porch – we tip our delivery man $50 at Christmas and $50 on the 4th of July to drive up the driveway and toss the paper right on our front porch) does not merit in any way a 29% increase in cost.  News content has steadily declined over the past few years, as the reporting staff was constantly downsized; overall, the quality is, in our estimation, lower. Again, not the quality of work being done by the reporting staff, but the overall quality of the paper.


Here’s the home office building for Lee Enterprises, in Davenport Iowa - certainly an unassuming edifice for a company that owns a lot of media properties.  I do not know a great deal about the finances of Lee Enterprises, but I do know that they made some gambles a while ago and racked up a huge amount of debt acquiring more media properties. Their stock has tanked a couple times in recent memory and was nearly de-listed not that long ago.


Above is a map representing Lee’s various media holdings. They have a pretty big footprint across the nation.


Mary Junck is the CEO, and, unflattering caricature above notwithstanding, I’m sure she’s had to make some “difficult decisions” in the past decade. Usually, the way I see it, the decisions have involved firing a lot of reporters, photographers, and content-creators in general, while taking huge bonuses as the stock tanks and the quality diminishes.

 

When I called Monday afternoon to cancel, the young lady who answered the phone didn’t even try to resell me.  She simply said “your last paper will be June 15th”. I had to ask how much it would cost to get the paper on Sunday only - $15/month, or, $3.46 per Sunday paper – an absurdly high rate for a paper which is mostly paid advertising.  I don’t expect Og Mandino (the so-called “world’s greatest salesman”) to be on the other end of the line, but perhaps a few dollars spent in sales training for the phone staff over there on Fish Hatchery Road (or wherever they are) would pay for itself in a hurry.

 

There is no joy here.  There was no sense lecturing the phone-answering-lady about the outrageousness of a 29% rate-hike. It’s a decision my wife and I did not make lightly, and I hope our friends who still work at the State Journal and Cap Times can hang on long enough to leave on their own terms.

 

As Ed Murrow used to say, good night, and good luck.