Friday, January 30, 2009

The Entitlement Society (CitiBoobs)

Apparently the geniuses at CitiBank understand the mood of America about as well as many of the local newsies around here understand the difference between "impeachment" and "conviction". They breathlessly announced on their late-afternoon news that Blago had been impeached! Sorry, sweethearts, he was impeached a while ago. He was convicted yesterday. We're too busy in the schools today teaching kids how to FEEL about things, and that they're SPECIAL, and we don't have time to teach civics any more. Sister Mary Clare, thank you for teaching me about the impeachment process back in 1961 at Saints Peter and Paul School.
If you were watching or following the vote in Springfield yesterday, you may have missed the hand-wringing from Wall Street about the president's rebuke of the robber barons who handed out billions in bonuses. For God's sake, can't Bartiromo and her ilk get you to understand that these people are ENTITLED to these bonuses??? They worked hard to earn these bonuses, and if they're not paid these bonuses, they'll go elsewhere and we'll LOSE their talent!!!
That was the argument put forth by the Captains of Money yesterday afternoon, and it's being repeated this morning. It might hold water, if finance was a segment of the economy that had one single example that's done an even lukewarm job for its shareholders in the past year. If the boys at JPMorgan-Chase don't get their bonuses, what are they going to do - jump ship to Citi??? Or WaMu??? Or Wachovia??? Let 'em go! These are the people who ran their own ship aground. Maybe Homecomings or Countrywide can hire them.
And how about those folks at Citi - who were astonished when the man who forgot to pay his taxes but got a sweet deal from the IRS and is now Secretary of the Treasury, Timmy boy, called them up and said "hey, that 50-million-dollar new corporate plane you're buying - that's a no-go". But Timmy, it's a Dassault, and it goes like hell! You should see the stuff that's on it!!! That sucker's a flyin' boardroom, for sure!!! Ol' Hardware Hank, your predecessor, wouldn'ta had a problem with it.
I'm not sure which is dumber - the Titans of Finance or the Controllers of the Taxpayers Pursestrings. The latter gave the former untold billions of our dollars, without a single string attached and without even having a method of actually finding out what they were doing with the money; or the former, which sees no problem in unloading 50 mil of that money on a fancy new airplane. No doubt ElRushbo will explain to us later today that the 50 mil would have gone to stimulate the economy, never mind that it would be the French economy.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Politics (as usual)

How many Republicans voted for the Obama economic stimulus package? As Dean Vernon Wormer (Animal House) would have said...."zero point zero". Not a single one. Since I'm not really an avid follower of politics, and certainly not a fan, it's hard to think anything has changed up there in D.C. No real surprise.
One thing which did surprise me, though, was that a politician from just south of Madison, Janesville's Paul Ryan, was dumb enough to join the Republican lockstep in voting against the package. I do follow Wisconsin news. Our state has lost SIXTY THOUSAND jobs in the past year. And perhaps no city was hit harder than Janesville, which shed thousands of jobs when General Motors closed the Assembly Plant there. Lots of good 'sconnies made lots of good Suburbans and Tahoes there, and the company made a lot of money off those big honkin' SUV's, but I guess selling black ones with dark-tinted windows to government agencies wasn't enough to keep the plant open, once gas hit four bucks a gallon.
When the GM plant shut down, it took with it a lot of other jobs at companies that supplied parts, services, and sub-assemblies to the GM plant. A lot of southern Wisconsin families proudly boasted three generations who've worked at the Janesville assembly plant. It consistently scored at the top of the metrics for quality. They built big trucks and they built them well. Like the paper industry in the Fox Valley, where sometimes four generations of 'sconnies worked for Thilmany or Kimberly-Clark, it was a place where you could invest in a lunch-bucket and go to work after high school, and earn enough to support a family, put a kid or two through college (boy, are THOSE days gone...), and even finance a boat or snowmobile.
Some folks said Paul Ryan is a real up-and-comer in the political world. Smart kid. Lots of political savvy. Once Scooter Jensen fell from grace (is he EVER going to actually go to trial?), insiders said Ryan was the great Republican hope; maybe even the next Republican Governor. But Ryan is giving quotes to the media today about how the Obama economic stimulus plan is "just more Democrat spending". Some say the Democratic leadership deliberately made the plan unpalatable to the Republicans. I wonder what the folks in the coffee shops in Janesville are saying about their hometown boy Paul Ryan today. He chose.......poorly, I think.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Midwest Ethos

Having lived and worked in the midwest, the west, and the south, it's sometimes difficult for me to understand those back-easters. Unlike many of my midwestern acquaintances, I adapted to the pace of life in New Orleans quickly. What's the rush? They thought us northerners were always talking too fast and in too much of a hurry.
And there were the L-A years - laid back is not a cliche, but a descriptor. It's true. I fit right in. They did business at the speed of light and did life at the speed of baseball. Midwesterners take some things for granted, like snow in winter. My morning started with Dunkin' Donuts Dark Roast and The Today Show, where they sent one of the anchorettes to do a live-shot in Central Park, to lend credibility to the weatherman's assertion that it was snowing in Noo Yawk. She craftily gestured on-camera with a panoramic arm-swoosh to help illustrate that flakes of snow were actually falling, and that the city was bracing for TWO INCHES of accumulation which would most certainly make for a challenging day. The local weather mavens in Madison, often the target of my snarkiness, would use that snowfall amount in a sentence such as "an Alberta clipper is going to pass through today, but it's not going to be that big a deal and won't amount to much...just a couple inches of snow".
Then, I had a Facebook exchange with a friend who co-anchored a morning radio show with me back in the mid-90's in Madison, who's now a star co-anchor of a very high-rated St. Louis morning radio show. She groused about the Missouri drivers on the freeway at 4 AM on her way to work, slipping and sliding everywhere on the six inches of snow they got overnight and early this morning, and how they didn't know jack about driving in snow. She was raised in the Chicago suburbs and knows a thing or two about driving in snow.
I may need to put in a sub-category here of "UPPER-midwesterners", to deal with this snow-driving thing. But I digress.
I can't decide if Washington DC is a "southern" city or an "eastern" city. We midwesterners think the east-coasters are wound a bit too tightly, and that southerners are a bit too unravelled. So it was with some surprise that I heard on the news last night that congress might actually push back that "deadline" for the digital conversion of television signals. I suppose congress is somewhat of a melting pot for all geographical appelations, but I would have bet money they wouldn't move the deadline. See what happens if you file your taxes on April 16th. I've already ranted on this blog about what "deadline" means to people in the news profession.
The item on the local TV news last night about the Senate approving the delay was followed by a scripted remark (God forbid the anchorette would go off-script!!!!) that THIS station, like the others in Madison, were already prepared for the digital conversion, and that THIS station was going ahead with the plan to shut off the analog broadcast on the 17th of next month. I interpret that as a "midwest" thing. We understand what deadlines are, and we meet them. Not that those in other parts of the country don't; it's just the "midwest work ethic" thing that we don't view a deadline as an arbitrary date or time which can be negotiated. Without going too deeply into the technical side of things, it costs money (electricity) to run transmitters, and if you're running two, it's more expensive than running one.
If the broadcasters lobby was as strong as the bankers lobby, my friends who own TV stations would be awash in bailout money.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

In Loco Parentis (Monster Trucks and Dead Ducks)

Ed Murrow warned us in the 50's that TV could turn out to be little more than a box with wires and lights; Newton Minnow in the 60's called it a vast wasteland. Today, it's America's cheapest baby-sitter. Just plunk the kids down in front of the tube and go about your other business. As I've noted before, Madison Wisconsin is the world's home office for nanny-staters....everyone must be protected by state, federal, and municipal government from all ills and threats, real or imagined.
In that spirit, local TV news is fully on-board, with regular feature segments about how to be a parent, how to care for your child, how to protect your child from the horrors out there (real or imagined). So, when the annual Monster Truck event was held here this past weekend, and the announcer/promoter accidentally stepped out in front of one of the behemoths and was almost literally ground into the dirt at the floor of the Dane County Coliseum, the local TV's went into full-protect-mode. Hundreds, if not thousands of children were there and witnessed the horrible and untimely death of the man. The first round of news stories centered on the mothers who were there with their children, and how traumatized the children were, and how tragic it was. The second round of news stories featured the videotape of the hapless announcer, looking to his left as one of the giant trucks bore down on him from his right. Clearly, the photographer(s) had captured the moment of impact, but the news bosses "tastefully" stopped the tape a nanosecond before the eight-foot-tall left front tire of the monster machine mowed down the six-foot-tall man. And then they ran that loop about five times to make sure we understood what had happened. Presumably, the traumatized children weren't in the TV audience to see it all unfold again, several times over.
The second-day lead at one of the local TV's was "How to Help Your Children Deal With The Trauma Of The Dead Monster-Truck Announcer". (Is anyone seeing any irony here yet?) One of the reporterettes was dispatched to find a suitable expert, who gave the ground-breaking advice that if the kids wanted to talk about it, the parent should talk with the child about it; if the child didn't want to talk about it, the parent shouldn't attempt to force a discussion; and then, the piece de resistance: if the child seemed troubled about the incident even after talking about it, the parent should consult a psychologist. See how helpful TV is?! Who would have thought of that, on their own??
The very next story on this particular station was about a couple snowmobilers in the next county over, who mowed down somewhere between 50 and 60 ducks on the frozen surface of a river. We were treated to shot after shot of the dead ducks, close-ups of the blood and guts on the ice, close-ups of the dismembered and bloody bodies of the ducks, and a medium-shot of municipal workers, stacking up the duck bodies about five high on the shoreline. Two and a half minutes of dead ducks, all in glorious hi-def.
Is it just me who senses the cognitive dissonance of spending two and a half minutes telling you how to deal with a child who's been traumatized by something they've seen....followed by two and a half minutes of close-ups of bloody, dismembered dead ducks? And - I'm not making this up - the dead ducks story was followed by a commercial for the Pheasants Forever event in town this weekend. TV- ya gotta love it.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Criminal Stupidity

He's very sad because "one of his boys" is "gone" and he's not coaching or teaching at his favorite school any more. So says coach Jason Stinson, who now faces charges in Kentucky for causing the death of a 15-year-old football player, Max Gilpin, on a hot August day last summer. What kind of sub-cretin moron denies water to an athlete during a hard workout in the hot summer sun? The kind of ignorant pro-jock wannabee who all too often populates the ranks of high school coaching.
Coaching is as much about authority as it is about learning, training, and development. The virtues of playing team sports don't need extolling or enumeration here. What needs to be said is that too many of those men - and women -who are drawn to coaching, are people who perhaps came close to excelling at a sport, but never made that leap to the next level. It's a position with great influence and status in the community, and there are countless coaches who have contributed to the positive development of millions of young men and women. All coaches are teachers, and the vast majority in the high school ranks are dedicated servants of youth and sport. But there are too many Jason Stinsons out there who are martinets operating with marginal IQ and an overabundance of authority.
No doubt the young athlete didn't want to appear to be "weak" by asking for a water break. You've got to be "tough". At the age of 15, Max Gilpin probably didn't even understand the signals his overheated body was sending him. He hadn't yet acheived the fine-tuned sensitivity the veteran athlete attains about his body. When he most needed a true coach, Stinson failed him. In the great state of Kentucky on that hot August day, horses were being given better treatment than the young athletes in that Louisville suburb. Any fool knows that you can't run a horse hard in hot and humid weather without plenty of water breaks.
It's a good thing I won't be in the jury pool for this case. My mind's already made up. Criminal stupidity in the first degree.

Friday, January 23, 2009


Most good coaches, like politicians, lawyers, and P-R pro's, have mastered the art of saying nothing by saying something. Fans of the Badger basketball team know that Bo Ryan is as good at this as any coach that ever lived. This morning's delicious tidbit of nothing is Bo's answer to a State Journal sports reporter's question about Trevon Hughes, and whether he'll be playing against Illinois Saturday. Hughes was mysteriously benched for the Iowa debacle. Bo's reply: "He'll be ready to play. He just has to be careful on his decisions and make sure the game is out there in front of him, not things that you have to try to over-create."
Say WHAT? First, this masterfully-created response avoids the real question, which is whether Hughes will play. He's "ready" to play. Poor question; great response. Doesn't answer the question. Then, the "dismiss and re-direct" which is so critical to sales, public relations, and politics....moving quickly off-topic to something that muddies the waters. "Be careful on his decisions and make sure the game is out there in front of him"? What the hell does THAT mean? Look both ways before crossing Dayton Street in front of the Kohl Center? And what is "over-creating"...a turn of phrase the coach was most pleased with, analogizing in the "raw" videotape that if the artist uses too much paint, it ruins the canvas. Bo is really great at this stuff.
A little farther down on the sports page is the story about the Brewers' young slugger, Prince Fielder, and his new deal with the team. 18 million over two years. He made 670 grand last year, and in arbitration as of Tuesday, he was asking for 8 million and the Brewers were offering 6 million. So they settled at......18 million over two years. Say WHAT? He wanted 8 million a year, but had to settle for 9 million. Say WHAT? The AP story doesn't break down how the contract will be administered, probably because that's not even finalized yet, but....ya gotta wonder. Is it a million the first year, and 17 million the next? A straight 9 mil a year? No matter how ya divvy it up, it's one whale of a raise, akin to the kind of bonuses Wall Street bankers get for running their companies aground.
And, over coffee and strawberries and the State Journal this morning, I had on one of the local TV morning shows, and the anchor-ette announced that the current time was 6:47. One hopes she'll tell us when she's announcing a time that's not "current". Say WHAT?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Speech

Outside of the penchant all politicians have for talking too long, the speech did not disappoint. I refer, of course, to the Inauguration Address made by President Obama. My favorite part came toward the end when he talked about the icy blasts and storms that may lie ahead. One thing seems certain - there will be change. The country will be on a different path than the one we've been on the past eight years.
I don't think it will go down as one of the best Inauguration Addresses ever given, but it sent a clear message that we've got to change the way we do business with the rest of the world, the way we use our power, and the way we do business here at home. I think he was pretty clear that the immediate challenges are daunting, but the constant theme of "hope" that permeated his campaign was clear in the speech as well - we're up to the challenge, and we've handled challenges like this before, as Americans.
For a boy who grew up in a small town in Wisconsin, and whose first encounter with black people was at a visit to Milwaukee, it was truly moving to see a black man standing in the sunlight in front of the Capitol addressing the huge throngs that had gathered on the National Mall. My high school graduating class consisted of 88 people, and every face was white. Every teacher was white. Everyone who lived in the village was white. I didn't really know any black people until I got to college, and in the mid-60's there were precious few black faces on campus.
We've come a long way as a nation to elect a man of color to our highest office, and his speech made it clear that there's a long, tough road ahead. President Obama is intelligent, dynamic, and comes to the office with a mandate for change. He's shown tremendous ability to build diverse coalitions to get things done. He'll need vision and courage to end "business as usual" in Washington and push the nation forward. I think he's up to the challenge. Godspeed, President Barack Obama.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Celebrating Dr. King's Day (A Tribute to Sybil Morial)

Those of us who are self-employed must decide how best to observe Dr. King's holiday. There's no "day off"; but it's important to me to mark the day in some way. Ever since I lived in New Orleans back in the mid-80's, I've marked the day by spending some time thinking about the struggles of the people who helped change history. Through an accident of timing and opportunity, I got to learn about some of those struggles from people who "were there", on the front lines.
We'd been living in New Orleans a few months, and I'd already secured a part-time gig at WWL-AM. I guess I was hired because I'd learned to pronounce many of the unusual street names in the Big Easy and knew that Treme was two syllables, among other things. I wanted a full-time gig to supplement the radio income, and answered an ad in a New Orleans business publication for a person with a background in marketing and telecommunications. Long story short, I was hired on the spot by Sybil Morial at Xavier University. I didn't know it then, but she hired me in her mind when I answered her question "what brought a Wisconsin boy to New Orleans?". I told her, truthfully, that my wife had been sent there by her Chicago-based company to set up a joint health-care venture with the Ochsner institutions, and I'd "come along for the ride" and the chance to live in one of the world's most exciting cities.
That was all Mrs. Morial had to hear...that I'd FOLLOWED my wife down to the city that care forgot. Of course, my background and qualifications were perfect for the job, but those questions came later in the interview. I knew at the time that this petite woman who was doing the hiring had the same name as the fellow I'd read so much about....Ernest "Dutch" Morial, the first black mayor of New Orleans. It didn't take me long to figure out that I was sitting across the desk from his wife. The young man I met a few weeks later, her son Marc, would go on to follow his dad into the mayor's job and then become head of the National Urban League. One of the reasons Mrs. Morial liked my answer about "following my wife" was that it was, to say the least, an "unusual" response. In Louisiana, the man was king of the domicile. Women, even in 1984, held a VERY subservient position in business and in society. Mrs. Morial, in addition to being an academic Dean at a highly prestigeous University, also owned a travel agency in the Central Business District, and was a successful woman in her own right. Yet, she was "Dutch's wife" to most everybody in New Orleans. One time, not too long after she'd hired me, she took me to lunch. She drove. Brand new BMW, 5-series sedan. NICE ride. I commented on it. She said "open the glove box and look at the registration". It was registered to Ernest N. Morial. Dutch. She said "Dutch did not give me this car. I bought it myself with my own money. And yet the Motor Vehicle people will not register it in my name". That was far from the only story I heard about the second-class status of women in the South. Not only did Mrs. Morial have to fight the battles that all people of color had to fight in the South, she had the additional struggle of being a woman in the South.
One time I asked her about Dr. King and if she knew him. She did. Her roommate at Boston College was a young woman named Coretta Scott. So it's fair to say she knew Dr. King VERY well and in a way probably not a lot of people did, being one of the closest friends of Dr. King's wife. And she knew Maynard Jackson, the first black mayor of Atlanta, and was on a first-name basis with him and scores of other people of color who'd fought so hard to get where they were.
Of all the places I've lived and worked as an itenerant broadcaster, and of all the people I've worked for and with, few have made as strong an impression on me as Mrs. Morial. None faced the struggles she did and excelled to her level. So, on Dr. King's day, I will spend a great deal of time remembering Sybil Morial, and all the doors she opened for me in New Orleans, and all the things she taught me about overcoming the odds.

Friday, January 16, 2009

So, How Cold IS It???

Images of brass monkeys and well-digger's BEE-hinds come to mind. Ah, the cliche'. As young news writers back in the day, we were told a million times to avoid cliches like the plague. (Get it?) At least I've got my health. And on and on. And we knew the difference between "literal" and "figurative". Within arm's reach right now is my well-worn copy of "Warriner's English Grammar and Composition", stolen from Hortonville High School in 1964. (Miss Hince, God rest your grammar-teaching soul, forgive me.....)
OK, it's cold. When I got up this morning, my digital thermometer read -19.7. That would be degrees Fahrenheit, for the sticklers among us. I can't tell you how many discussions I've had over the years in training on-air broadcasters to say "nineteen below zero" rather than "minus 19 degrees". I've always preached the conversational style, but it's largely fallen on deaf ears. The young folks who write news now have never seen nor heard of Warriner's Grammer and Comp, and apparently they've never been taught about avoiding cliches. They learned to read one word at a time, so when they see "-19", they say "minus nineteen", without converting it to the spoken English of "nineteen below". They can say "Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water", but when they're READING it on-air, they say "Jack and Jill went up thee hill to fetch ay pail of water". A mentor of mine called that the "ay-thee disease" so many broadcasters have.
One of the news reporters on TV last night said "Madison has literally become an ice cube". Really? Didn't notice, but then, I live in the Township of Madison, not the city. Maybe things are different a few miles away, and the city has become an ice cube.
But I digress. As newspapers fail and fold (the Minneapolis Star-Trib went bankrupt yesterday, joining the long parade), the news broadcasters will briefly enjoy a period of increased importance in news dissemination, until the internet truly dominates "mainstream media". Yet, when it gets to be twenty below in Wisconsin in the second week of January, every year they'll continue to drag out the same old cliches. "Imagine what it would be like if you had to work outside in this weather!!!" shouted the news promo on a local channel last night. Gee, never thought of doing a story with somebody who has to work outside when it's cold...that's never been done before. New ground broken - NOT. All the local stations, radio and TV, have been peppered this week with the predictable stories about people who work in meat lockers and ice-cream storage warehouses (the same stories will be re-done in July or August, when we get a week of 90+ weather), and they'll follow around some USPS letter carrier, making his or her appointed rounds in the bitter cold.
The Facebook pages of the local broadcasters...many of them personal friends of long standing...are filled this week with back-and-forth about how idiotic these stories are. Yet, they continue to follow the orders of the boss, who says "do a cold weather story". One wag commented on a local TV reporter's Facebook post about bundling up to go outside and do a cold-weather story, "so, we can't know how cold it is unless you stand outside when you're doing the story?"...and another poster said "how stupid that you're going to have to do the story outside, to tell us we shouldn't be outside".
'nuff said. The consumers of the news are more savvy than the people who decide what the news is.
And they wonder why so many news sources are foundering.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Money or Influence?

It came up at lunch with a friend today - which has more power, money or influence? I'm not sure that we (or anyone) could answer the question, but it's intriguing to me. Money can sure buy a whale of a lot of influence. Influence can lead to money, but often the two are not that closely related.
It's not like one of those things like the old saw "the woodman says give me heat; the fireplace says give me wood". It may be more like the "nature-nurture" proposition. Having a lot of money can mean having a lot of influence, but having a lot of influence certainly doesn't mean you have a lot of money. And often, one does not necessarily lead to the other.
My lunch partner and I are both former broadcasters and news anchors, and have seen more than our fair share of how money can influence outcomes and attitudes. And we've seen plenty of cases where people with a lot more influence than money, have drastically affected outcomes and attitudes. You could say that a sitting justice of a state Supreme Court has a great deal of influence, but if you follow Wisconsin politics, you know that in the past two campaigns, it's been money by the boxcar-load that's determined the outcome of the election. I guess that's pretty much true for the past three or four Presidential elections, too.
Both money and influence are very powerful. We didn't come to any conclusions over lunch. I suspect the discussion will continue for some time, without conclusion.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Gift That Keeps On Taking

A limited amount of ado is being made of the financial woes at Madison's Overture Center, or, as I called it in my editorial-writing days, "The Great People's Palace Of The Arts". The Center has been in financial trouble pretty much since the day it was built. Last night, the city's Board of Estimate(s) made it clear, without a vote, that they don't want the city to poke this hornet's nest with a stick, ten feet long or otherwise. The committee members are pretty much in synch with Mayor Cieslewicz, who wants no part of another refinancing plan that puts taxpayers on the hook.
The Center is a gift from a local businessman, Jerry Frautschi, who opened his wallet to the tune of more than 200 million bucks to get it built about 8 years ago. The usual hyperbole was associated with the project, from the initial announcement during the reign of Mayor Sue Baumann, to the hiring of the famous architect Cesar Pelli, to the day it finally opened. It was to be a great engine to drive the arts scene and downtown night-life of the central city.
Not so much, as it turned out. Ten times the newspaper ink (and broadcast electrons) have been devoted in the past several years to the problems the downtown gentry (a/k/a "condonistas") have with the drunken young folks who raise hell downtown at bar time, as have been devoted to the big arts engine. A couple years ago, when the financial woes of the Overture Center became evident, and there was a mandated re-financing round, the arts mavens again chose to put the bulk of the remaining Frautschi money into the stock market...hoping the returns would not only pay off the construction debt of the building, but also would be bountiful enough to fund the singers, dancers, and artists.
That's a huge part of the issue. The arts crowd that held the purse strings thought they could double-down on Frautschi's money...and, rather than pay off the construction debt, they decided to use some of the money to set up a financing package to retire the construction debt (how'd THAT turn out?) and the rest to incubate arts. (This is a huge simplification of the actual setup, but unless you want to talk about mezannine financing, tiered debt, PILOT's, and other arcane financial stuff, it'll suffice.) The national financial meltdown did the same thing to the Overture's financial structure as it did to our 401-K's.
There are those who say a big part of the solution is to bring in more stuff that "regular" folks will go to. I'm one of those folks. The only time I've been to Overture was for a Lewis Black show, a year ago. He was hilarious and it was a great night. The facilty was superb. I was impressed. But the larger issue now, is keeping it if they decide more "regular folks" stuff should be booked, the Center will be there to open its doors to them. Largely, it's up to the smartest financial and management folks in Madison to figure out a way to get past this very large bump in the road. You can argue that the Center was built before there was a large support base of arts mavens created to push for construction, the way it is in most other communities that have a facility like the Overture Center, but that's the past, and Overture is forced to live in the now.
Until the money problem is resolved, and a clear plan for generating more attendance is implemented, one of the greatest civic gifts in history will continue to be the gift that keeps on taking.

Monday, January 12, 2009

And The Golden Globe Goes To....

One of the things happily married couples learn is the art of compromise. We agreed Sunday evening that after there was no doubt about the outcome of the Pittsburgh/San Diego game, we'd switch over to the Golden Globes. My wife had no interest in the football game and I had no interest in watching still another of the monthly self-congratulatory banquets Hollywood holds to reassure themselves that they are loved and live worthwhile lives.
Generally when these thoughtful marital compromises are reached about the activities of daily living, my wife will put half an ear on the TV and spend her time making jewelry. I'll generally fire up the laptop and catch the latest news or just surf the web. This allows us both to "do what we want" and still be able to catch the thread of what's going on, on the TV.
The first award they passed out on this show last night was for best supporting actress, and the woman who won, Kate Winslett, did not disappoint. She was a complete, unmitigated disaster. Couldn't talk. Couldn't compose herself. Kept saying "I'm sorry". And her profession is.....acting? So I guess either this was supposed to be a great acting performance...or further evidence that unless somebody writes something for them and they memorize it and the director tells them exactly what to do, they're not "acting". If you brought in the folks from those Burger King virgin ads, and showed them a clip of such a performance and asked them what they thought was the occupation of the person clutching the statue and stammering, the last thing they'd likely say would be "actress".
Later, another young woman interrupted my web-surfing with a similar performance. I don't recall who she is or which category she won, but she got up there and stammered and blubbered incoherently for about two and a half minutes. My wife knew what was going through my mind as I peered over the laptop, and said "she's just very high-strung". Whatever.
To me, performances like the ones so frequently seen on these awards shows just add to the common speculation that actors, like TV news anchors, are completely dependent on their writers.

Friday, January 9, 2009

What's a "deadline"?

As a former broadcaster, I have a pretty solid idea of what a deadline is. For thirty-some years of my professional life, I lived by the clock. When you have a newscast that starts at 6:05:00, that's when it starts...ready or not. Young broadcasters learn quite quickly that when a network newscast starts at the "top of the hour", it doesn't mean AROUND the top of the hour. It means X:00:00, as defined by that famous atomic clock at the Naval Observatory.
So, it is with disdain that I view the Obama soon-to-be-administration's request to congress that it change the "deadline" for digital conversion of TV stations. I have a huge number of friends involved in television broadcasting, chief among them my wife, who was an on-camera TV reporter for 15 years. When TV stations were given a DEADLINE for digital conversion by the FCC, they knew exactly when they had to "make the switch". The TV stations here in Madison have invested millions and millions of dollars in making the switch from analog to digital. That's money they won't recover through ad sales or in any other way. They were simply mandated by the FCC to buy the equipment and make the change, which is a little over a month away.
The Obamian view is that not enough people will be able to avail themselves of the federal "cheese" to get a debit card to help them buy an analog-to-digital converter, because the federal program to help them is out of money. Please note that the broadcasters did not ask the feds for any bailout money to buy the new transmitters, and in many cases, erect the towers necessary to meet the digital deadline.
I saw an interview on the local CBS affiliate last night with the head of the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, and she said no matter when you establish a deadline, there will always be people who don't know about it, aren't aware of it, or for some reason will "miss" the deadline. This, from a woman who really knows what the word "deadline" means.
Rather than "move the deadline back", the Obama soon-to-be-administration should urge congress to dip into that 715-billion-dollar slush fund, and make the "cheese" available to the people (estimated to be 7% of the national TV audience) who will wake up the morning of February 17th and wonder why they can't get their TV to work.
You see, to a broadcaster....a deadline is a deadline. And I'm pretty sure my many friends in the print media have just as clear an understanding of the word.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Welcome "IN" to....

Welcome IN to Sports Center, I'm (jock-sniffer of the hour). Ever notice how all the sports announcers and sports announcer wannabes copy the "signature" phrases of the guys (and gals) on ESPN?
I do. It's part of my obsessive-compulsive disorder, I guess.
Did you ever have anybody welcome you "IN" to anything? Didn't think so. "Welcome to the family". "Welcome to our home". "Welcome to my world". Never an "IN" in the mix!
Last night during half-time of the Badger game on the Greed Network (BTN) the studio announcer welcomed us "IN" to the half-time show. Then, after the game was over, the studio announcer welcomed us "IN" to "Big Ten Tonight".
There's a fellow who's the ringmaster/announcer/cheif-cook-and-bottle-washer of a local morning radio show, and my wife says every morning he welcomes the listeners "IN" to the morning show. Methinks he's a sports announcer wannabe.
Somebody once told me that the fastest way to be out of fashion is to be totally in fashion. Back when I was doing sports play-by-play (for the Wisconsin Flyers of the CBA) it was fashionable to copy the signature phrases of the Milwaukee Bucks' announcer, Eddie Doucette. "J" was jumper, or jump-shot. There were jacknife j's, leapin' leaners, rock-back-pop-j's, and all manner of Doucette-isms. Many of the guys doing sports play-by-play copied Eddie. They wanted to be him. It was all about THEM....not all about accurately describing the game to the listener. Radio naturally lends itself to more colorful descriptions, but the fundamental skill is to clearly translate action into verbiage. Doucette did it with tremendous flair, accuracy, and with a style so unique it became widely imitated.
Sports announcing has its own lingo, and to be regarded as "serious" in the biz, apparently now it's infra dig to be must copy what's said on ESPN. There's a particular lady (Cindy Brunson) who does some of the weekend sports shows on ESPN who has mastered all the latest cliche's the weekday fellows use. In baseball season, as she does the highlights of the various games, it's never "bottom of the fifth". It's "bottom five". Never "top of the eighth", but "top 8". Every time.
I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of sports announcers who really know what "prolific" means. The vast majority think it's the same as "proficient". It's never "the following play", it's "the ensuing play" or drive. It's a rule, apparently. And Lord spare us from the sports announcers who tell us something "really puts that into perspective".
We need a whole lot more Grantland Rice and Jim Murray, and a whole lot less of being "welcomed in".

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Take Cover NOW!

God save us from the consultants! Last night with great fanfare, another one of the local TV stations "re-branded" its weather product. They are now the STORM TRACK station!!!!
A few days ago I blogged about how everything's a storm now. An inch of snow? STORM! A couple tenths of an inch of rain? STORM! A good day to fly a kite? STORM!!! And your family will not be safe unless you are tuned to THIS station, to get the latest breathless information from our fully-professionally-trained-and-credentialed SCIENTISTS.
As my wife, herself a recovering TV reporter, dead-panned to me last night during the big re-branding announcement, "prepare for constant interruptions every time it gets cloudy this summer". We have a huge-screen HDTV in our media room, and she knows one of my pet peeves is the constant interruptions from the local weather folks every time there's a thundershower within 275 miles of Madison. "It's headed right at us! It will be in Sauk City at 7:57; in Middleton at 8:01; and in Madison at 8:04!!! Keep your dial set here!! We'll break in immediately if necessary!!!" And seldom is it not necessary for several break-ins.
Here's what probably happened. The folks at the (now) Storm Track station were barely recovered from their Thanksgiving turkey hangover when their consultant flew into town, and realized that the other station now goes into STORM MODE when flakes of snow are falling from the sky. "Why was I not told about this!!! You can't sit back and let them take the weather position in this market! We'll need to blunt this thrust by coming up with something even more scary!!!". Or words to the effect.
Hence, STORM TRACK is born, and rolled out shortly after the demise of the New Year hangover.
Years ago, a man named Elmer Childress did the weather on the Storm Center station. I don't think he had a degree in meteorology. He had a couple decades of experience watching the weather carefully in Madison, and more than a passing acquaintance with fronts, troughs, isobars, and things like that. He never said stuff like "putting our super doppler radar into storm detection mode, and advancing it through future-track and pinpoint doppler rainfall indication mode, it appears that the estimated chance of measurable precipitation will be in the 10 to 20 percent range for the next 12 to 18 hours". Elmer would say "looks like a nice night and a good day for a picnic tomorrow". I'm pretty sure he understood local weather just as well as the young folks today with their UW degrees and multi-million-dollar weather systems. Probably better.
He just made it a lot easier to understand, and never ever exaggerated any aspect of the forecast. Consultants would hate him.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Pampered Jocks

The way some people fawn over jocks is disgusting. I'm a Packers fan and my wife is a Bears fan. It has more to do with where we were born and raised than anything else. So, we don't have a team to follow in the NFL playoffs, but we had the tube on yesterday afternoon. Come to think of it, I guess it's really not a "tube" any more. It's more an arrangement of shining lights and mirrors, I suppose.
Since I'm not involved in the pretend football that so many younger guys invest hours in, I really don't know many players from other teams. I pointed out to my wife this fall that really, she's a Brett Favre fan more than a football fan. She was in New York City in October and had on her #4 Packers jersey, and had lots of Jets fans say "thank you!" on the subway. The local CBS affiliate carried the Jets broadcasts this year, for all those who discovered they are Favre fans, rather than Packers fans.
One thing that has annoyed me for the past decade is the way we pamper these jocks. What set me off again was seeing one of the Eagles' players come off the field, tilt his head back, and have some toady sycophant squirt water into his mouth. I'm disgusted not only with the players who are so catered-to that they won't find a water bottle on their own and take a drink, but with the gigantic losers who do the water-squirting, just to be close to their beloved jocks.
Here in Madison, the UW jocks are so catered-to that we've invented an entirely new system of criminal justice for them. Of course, to give the illusion of fairness it applies to all, but the biggest custormers of the so-called "First Offenders Program" are the jocks. Essentially, you can do whatever you want short of actually killing someone, and you're placed in the "First Offenders Program" and everyone pretends it never happened. Of course, if the "first offense" is serious enough, like armed robbery, the jock will be suspended - but the suspension will almost never involve missing an game. Just a practice or two.
The pampering begins in High School, where athletic talent is recognized and developed; continues through the college years, where everything is free, including the special tutoring and other personal services (at the UW, the jock department has work-study students who are paid to "walk jocks to class" to make sure they actually go - I'm not making this up); and the pampering is taken to new heights in the pro ranks.
God forbid your kid should show talent for mastering differential equations, rather than running pass routes.