Monday, December 29, 2014

Hugh Hefner Is Dead, And Other Nooz

My bride, who was watching a local TV newscast as she was doing her early-morning prep in our master suite, came to the landing above our media room (where I was sipping coffee and scanning the TV news channels) and said “they just said Hugh Hefner is dead, went to a commercial break, (at this point I already knew what the punchline was going to be) and then came back and said he’s not dead – it’s just an internet rumor.”

We had a laugh at their expense.

The “Hugh Hefner is dead” rumor, which was started by an online “news” site yesterday, was swiftly debunked by Hef himself, on his Twitter account, a couple hours after the rumor was started. No, the Playboy founder and world’s oldest adolescent was very much alive, by his own assertion, and doing the sort of things that Hef does.


I’m not going to single out the local TV station that reported Hef’s death as news…and then, no doubt, during the commercial break, fielded calls from viewers saying something like “hey, folks – you’re reporting an internet rumor – Hefner’s not dead”. Nor will I criticize or scold the on-air folks who read the item off a teleprompter from a script prepared by a (presumably) 20-something “producer” who has never been taught or mentored to do something called “fact-checking”.


There will be no finger-wagging and no acerbic chiding because this sort of thing happens with frightening regularity on local and national TV nooz broadcasts. Stuff that’s just plain not true – and, in so many cases, easily proven so – gets on the air. Social media is full of false death reports, often rendered in such a convincing fashion that it’s hard to tell if the report is truth or fiction.


The thing is, so many 20-somethings, working long hours at low pay as TV nooz “producers” learning the biz, haven’t been trained by skeptical veteran broadcast journalists who may have actually known a newsroom boss who said “if your mother says she loves you, check it out and get a second source”.


Had the “nooz producer” simply typed “hugh hefner dead” into Google, it would have (any time after about 9AM Sunday) returned dozens of results leading to stories – real, actual, fact-checked news stories – debunking the “hef is dead” rumor.


A far more interesting development, as far as consumers of TV news should be concerned, is NBC News Chief Political Correspondent Chuck Todd recently fessing up that the reason he (and scores of other nooz units) don’t challenge politicians when they deliberately lie on Meet The Press (or any of scores of other nooz programs) is because if they call them on the lie, they won’t get “access” to that politician any more.


Apparently, it’s important to “get access” to politicians who deliberately lie.


This is far, far more scary than reporting a (false) rumor that Hugh Hefner is dead.


Radio has just as much fake news (or outright lying) as TV, particularly since the fellow above began calling himself “America’s Anchorman”, implying that what he does for three hours every day on his radio show is nooz, not entertainment. As I’ve pointed out many times, in Rush’s early days, his program was actually far more entertaining than it is now, because he didn’t pretend to be doing news. He ran a very original radio show, timely and topical, full of sarcasm (which so few people understand) and biting wit.

But it seems to me that still about half of his listeners today– give or take – actually think what Rush is doing is “news” and not entertainment, and he does nothing to dispel that misconception.


At least Paul Harvey would bill his broadcasts as “news and commentary”.


Hugh Hefner is still alive – at least, as of noon Monday 12/29/14 – but news is apparently on life support, being replaced by nooz. There are still a bunch of us old-schoolers around, though – who learned by making mistakes and getting a story wrong, and being called to account by a newsroom superior who cared more about being accurate than being first.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Good Neighbors

I took the photo above on a February morning in 2011, standing in my garage, realizing that the drift on the right side of the photo was just under four feet deep. And thanking my lucky stars that “work” for me was a home office, just a few feet away, with a fully-equipped studio and a broadband internet connection.
Snow days are comin' again, my friends. Maybe sooner, maybe later, but they're comin'.

A few years prior to when the picture was taken, I’d have had to make the slog through my drifted-shut driveway at 2:45 AM, out of our huge unplowed cul-de-sac, up a steeply inclined road to get out of our neighborhood, connect via snow-covered streets to the Beltline, then slip and slide six miles west on the Belt - BEFORE the plows started work around 3 AM, get off, and battle another mile of snow-covered city streets to get to the broadcasting station. 

That’s why for many years I've had an all-wheel-drive SUV with good ground clearance and the best set of snow and ice tires Tom and Linda Holmes could provide.  When you’re a news anchor, you can’t call in. You have to get to work.

When I was doing the news anchor job up in the Fox Valley 30 years ago, on “blizzard mornings” the County Sheriff’s Office would call me at 2:30 AM and say “we’re going to have a plow and a cruiser at your home in 15 minutes to take you to work – no way you’re going to make it in on your own today”. They wanted experienced news anchors on the air, mainly to tell people to stay the hell off the roads until the plows had a chance to make a few passes.

I titled this post “Good Neighbors” because I have some of the best, in our little tight-knit neighborhood of 8 homes that all have driveways that let out onto a huge, round cul-de-sac.  It’s been pretty much the same group of families for many years.  We all know each other, we all get along with each other, and we all watch out for each other.

During those blizzard days before November of 2008, when I’d be battling the snowmeggadon at 2:45 AM to get to work, my wife would be left to fend for herself to get out of the driveway (which would likely have drifted shut again, about a half-hour after I departed) and get to work.

But I never had to worry. Either my good neighbor Anthony, next door to the west, or my good neighbor Sam, next door to the east, would trundle their snowblower over to our house and clear out the driveway so my wife could get to work.  Or my good neighbor Dean, two houses to the west, would come over with his ATV and plow out our driveway.


Here’s a shot from a blizzard morning in December of ’09. That’s good neighbor Dean’s big red Dodge Ram truck behind Anthony's tree, half of which was blown down in that windstorm this spring - split the tree right in half! Dean's busy clearing out his driveway; and across the way Tim (there are two of us named Tim in this small neighborhood of 8 homes) and his wife are shoveling out their driveway. Tim is, among other things, a volunteer firefighter for our Township. He also manages a downtown entertainment venue. His wife is a teacher.


Here’s another shot from that morning, before I dug out our driveway. Because of the way our lot is landscaped, that’s one huge mountain of snow-covered decorative limestone on the right.

One of the things that inspired me to pen this post was a column written by my friend George Hesselberg for the State Journal a few years back, in which he talked about the partnership he and his neighbor established as joint owners of a snowblower. George put the column up on his Facebook page the other day, and after reading it, it reminded me of my own situation last winter. Or maybe it was the winter before – time flies, and all – when my good neighbor Anthony’s snowblower went out of commission right at the beginning of the snow season.

The first big snowfall, Anthony came over and asked me if he could borrow my machine – that he planned to buy another one to replace it, but that wouldn’t happen before he had to get his fancy long, low, black Lexus out of the driveway and off to work. I said “why buy a new one?  I’ve got two – this new big-ass two-stage Power Max Toro, and my little two-cycle single-stage machine for those annoying little 2-3 inch snowfalls. Just come into the garage (I gave him the code for the external garage-door-opener thingy you can see on the vertical wall in the picture below) and take it whenever you want.”


Here’s a shot of my fleet of snowblowers and shovels.
Well, good neighbor Anthony said the only way he could accept that deal would be if he could use it to plow out his driveway and then do mine. I said that was absolutely unacceptable, and that if I was any kind of decent neighbor, I’d just blow out his driveway until he got around to buying a replacement.

We talked a bit more, but I could not dissuade Anthony from wanting to snowblow my driveway as compensation for use of the machine. Long story shortened, several weeks later Anthony had somebody look at his busted machine, and all it needed was a small, inexpensive part to fix it.

In my younger days, I moved around a lot, to a lot of different cities in a lot of different states, never living in one place for more than a few years; so I never really got a feel for what the phrase “good neighbor” means. We bought our house – which we refer to as The Morrissey Compound – in 1998. It’s the longest time – 16 years, going on 17- that I’ve lived in one place since growing up in my folks’ home in the Fox Valley.

Now, I have a clear understanding about “good neighbors”. The kind I have. The kind I’m thankful for.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Long Past Time For Change

Michael Brown is dead and Eric Garner is dead, and the cops who caused their death will just have to live with whatever really happened, just as former Madison cop Steven Heimsness will have to live with whatever really happened in November of 2012 when he shot and killed Paul Heenan.  The common thread among these three cases is that an officer of the law killed an unarmed person.

 The difference is, in Madison, Steven Heimsness is no longer a cop, because the community reacted with outrage, and the powers that be did something. Although the “investigation” into the incident concluded that Heimsness did nothing wrong, the community knew the “investigation” was unadulterated horse manure and forced the cops to change their policies and forced Heimsness to resign from the force.

 Let me refresh your memory on the Madison case from 2012, which is the one that prompted change.


Pictured above is the late Paul Heenan, known in Madison music circles as Pauly, who’d finished a late-night gig at a club in Madison, got very drunk, and wandered mistakenly into his neighbor’s home on Baldwin Street.

Here are Kevin and his wife Megan O’Malley, Heenan’s neighbors, who were roused from their sleep in the wee hours of the morning when they heard someone rummaging around downstairs and called 9-1-1.

Above is former Madison cop Steven Heimsness. He and his partner were dispatched to the O’Malley’s home. They got there quickly, but by the time they arrived Heenan was out of the O’Malley’s house and stumbling around in their front yard. Heenan staggered toward Officer Heimsness and Kevin O’Malley, who was at that time standing on his front porch, yelled out something like “it’s OK, he’s my neighbor”. What happened next we’ll never really know for sure, because “eyewitness testimony” is notoriously inaccurate, but we do know that Heimsness put three rounds from his service weapon into Paulie Heenan’s chest and killed him on the spot. Heenan was unarmed.


Former Madison Police Chief Noble Wray, pictured above, a good man who was a good fit for the job of running the police department here in the bluest city in the bluest county in our purple state, had no idea the shitstorm that was about to hit when the community heard the story of what happened that early November morning on Baldwin Street.

 If you’re not familiar with the story, WMTV-Madison has a nice chronological summary of the Heenan shooting here on its website. It chronicles the case starting with the still-ongoing developments all the way to the very beginning and the first reports two years ago.

 My take on it is this: the people of Madison said, pretty clearly, that if a police officer cannot subdue and control an unarmed drunk without the use of deadly force, then that police officer should not be given a badge nor allowed to carry a weapon.

The system in place for reviewing cases like these stinks. It’s long past time to stop letting police organizations investigate their own incidents when one of their officers takes the life of an unarmed person. In all three of the cases here….in Ferguson, MO, Staten Island, NY, and Madison, WI…a significant portion of the public was grossly unsatisfied with the conclusion of the “investigation”.
As I've said so many times, here in America, we make our own laws. We don't think they came down from some God on a steaming tablet or were revealed to some prophet; we make up our laws, and if we don't like them, or don't think they're working, we CHANGE them.  Just like what's going on in Madison right now in the aftermath of the Paul Heenan shooting.
I don’t hate cops.  I respect the hell out of them.  My grandpa was a cop – a Wisconsin State Patrol officer. I have close friends and other family members and acquaintances who are cops, and I do not have the courage to do what they do every day. I know quite a few of the cops who patrol our township and respect them, thank them with contributions to their causes, and know that they deal with highly dangerous circumstances right here in our township nearly every day of the year.

 I also know that a lot of what two grand juries and one Madison investigative committee heard was boilerplate bullshit that would fall apart under cross examination in a court of law. Officer Darren Wilson said he feared for his life.  That’s the get-out-of-jail-free card. Wilson did all right, though – half a million bucks from NBC to sit down with Matt Lauer for half an hour and untold cash contributions from his “supporters” around the country. He's doing just fine. We'll never know what actually happened.

Officer Daniel Pantoleo said he wasn’t using a choke-hold on Eric Garner; rather, he was using a technique he learned at the police academy to subdue noncompliant people.  We’ll see if that particular bullshit statement stands up over time. You didn't have to be a grand jury member hearing testimony from some "expert" to determine if Officer Pantoleo was using a chokehold; you saw it with your own eyes from the cell phone video at the scene.

 Officer Steven Heimsness told the Madison “investigating committee” that Paul Heenan was going for his gun. Another get-out-of-jail-free code phrase. The people of Mad-town were smart enough to see through the BS and say if a cop can't stop a drunk from "going for his gun" without killing him with a triple-tap to center mass, then we aren't training our cops very well and we ought to look into that.

 It’s long past time for change.  A change for the better- for the city and the state – came out of the Heenan shooting. We’re still in the process of revising and updating and changing policies, procedures, and laws that allow police and related organizations (like the D.A.’s office) investigate such cases.

The national conversation about this is beginning. I have little faith that it will bear fruit; we’re far too divided as a nation to really listen to anyone’s differing point of view and move forward with change.

 But there’s hope.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

It's Almost Over Again....For A While....

This morning, TV again was filled with those horrible, rotten, lying, distorted, crappy political ads.  If the ads were to be believed – and, most certainly, they are NOT to be believed – both candidates for Wisconsin Attorney General are horrible lawyers who spent their legal lives trying to make sure that child molesters don’t go to prison.


When I first saw the horrible ad against Pat Bomhack, created by those nice businessmen over on East Wash at Blair (WI Manufacturers and Commerce), I had no idea who Pat Bomhack was or even what office he was running for, but I knew immediately that if I could vote for him, I would have to. The announcer the nice businessmen hired to do the voice track for the anti-Bomhack ad has the most annoying voice ever heard in the history of political advertising. As it turns out, I can’t vote for Pat Bomhack, because he’s running for Dale Schultz’s old senate seat.

My state senator is Fred Risser, the oldest living human being ever to hold office in Wisconsin, who helped pour water on the state capitol when it caught fire in 1904.


And then there’s the last-minute smear attempt by the Walker campaign gurus – who would like us to believe that Mary Burke was fired in disgrace from her dad’s company, but before she was, she outsourced millions of jobs to China or Bangladesh or Timbuktu or someplace. Oh, and this “news item” was broken by a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Republican Party….a stupid little glorified blog….that our state’s “mainstream media” immediately elevated to the status of respectable news organization by picking up the “news item” and running it as though it had come from Reuters or the Associated Press. Nice job, watchdogs.

Don’t expect TV news departments to come down too heavily on the disgusting sea of garbage foisted on us day and night in the form of “issue advertising” or “political advertising”.  And don’t get me going on the difference between the two; it’s another one of those absurd rules the politicians have created for themselves. After all, it was the landfill of money spent on political ads in 2010 that rescued a lot of local TV stations, still reeling from the great recession.


And while I’m on the topic….which campaign used the Swastika as part of its political advertising? That would be Mary Burke’s brain trust. Please don’t tell me it’s OK to use the Nazi imagery in political advertising, because it’s not, under any circumstances.


One more race I’d like to mention: the race for U.S. Senate in Iowa. I have a lot of friends who live in Iowa, and from time to time in my “day job” I have to cover news in Iowa, so I pay some attention to what’s going on there. The image above is the one that candidate Joni Ernst first wanted to portray – motorcycle-riding former soldier and mother, with “conservative values”.


But if you know her name, it’s probably because of the ad she ran where she talked about growing up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm. The implication of the ad was that she’d go to Washington and castrate all those big-spenders. "Make 'em squeal", as she said. That’s the ad the national media picked up on, and the lens through which candidate Ernst was portrayed on every national news outlet: the castrator.  The national news media never seem to mention that Ernst is a Michelle Bachman clone, with unbelievable whacky ideas about what government is, and Ernst’s campaign speeches often include a line about her military background, and how she’s got a gun and knows how to use it “in case the government comes after my rights”.

Obama’s Secret Muslim Army is coming to get us all in their black helicopters, right, Joni?

After the votes are counted tonight, there’ll be a respite for us; no rotten, negative, lying, disgusting political ads for a while.  But in the next election cycle, they’ll be back, with their dark and brooding images, their outright lies, their last-minute smears.

Until we clarify the laws about what political advertising is, and whether money is speech, we’re doomed to repeating the sickening cycle.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Joining of the Families


When parents think about their daughter’s wedding, they naturally hope their child – who, by that time, is not really a child – will meet and fall in love with a wonderful person, someone who will lovingly care for her and who will live up to all those promises made at the altar about sickness and health, richer or poorer, and so on. And you hope the person your daughter falls in love with comes from a loving and supportive family which will treat your child the same as they would treat their own child.

A marriage is the joining of the bride and groom, and the joining of their families.

My wife Toni and I really won the lottery with our little girl – who’s now a fully grown, educated, independent, smart, and beautiful young woman – because she met, fell in love with, and married a talented, smart, independent, handsome, well-mannered man from a wonderful family.

I have been in Mallory’s life since she was a little girl.  She was born in 1984 and I first met her when she was 3 years old. I met her mom, Toni, who is now my wife of nearly 18 years, at work when I moved to Madison from Los Angeles in 1988.

Here’s a photo of Mallory at age six, in the pool at the home my former wife and I owned at the time. I still sometimes think of Mal this way; as the little girl who loved to be in the pool. On the morning of her wedding, as we had breakfast, we reminisced about “my little tadpole” who loved to have me pick her up and toss her into the pool; she’d swim back to the ladder, climb out of the water, and say “again!” to me, time after time, until I was too tired to pick her up and toss her in again.

How I went from “mom’s friend Tim” to Mallory’s stepfather is one of those long, modern stories about marriages and divorces. No need to go into detail. It all worked out and nobody hates anybody.

My parenting skills have frequently been called into question, particularly in cases like the event pictured above – which was a housewarming party for Mal, who was then beginning her Junior year at the University of Wisconsin. Even though she was born in Burlington, Iowa, Mal quickly learned the survival skills necessary to navigate the alcohol-sodden traditions of the UW student body.

Three years ago, in 2011, when they were dating, Mal brought John Bonarrigo home for Thanksgiving.

Here’s the gang standing in our front hallway on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, headed out to a Badgers football game. Our son Dru and his girlfriend (now wife) Ashly are on the left; Mal and John are in the middle; and Mal’s BFF and Maid of Honor, Breanna Lalor and her then-current boyfriend Adam are on the right. The whole lot of them piled into my SUV and I dropped them off at Camp Randall Stadium, where they saw the Badgers demolish Penn State and advance to the Big Ten Championship.  Oh, and that Wisconsin hoodie that John is wearing? A gift from Toni.  John is a graduate of the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design.

But the real take-away from that four-day visit to our home was that I got to meet John, and to know a bit about him. Three years before he would marry our daughter, Toni and I knew that John was a perfect fit for Mal. During his stay as a guest in our home, back in November of 2011, John impressed me so favorably that when we took them to the airport for their flight back home, I pulled Mal aside and said “whatever you do, don’t lose this guy – you two are perfect together”.

Time flew by, 2014 arrived, and the phone call from Mal came early in the afternoon the day before Valentine’s Day. John had proposed, offered Mallory a beautiful diamond ring, and – thank God – she said “yes”! We were overjoyed.

As the time for the wedding drew closer, Mal’s BFF and Maid of Honor Breanna threw a bridal shower at her parents’ home in Madison, and I got to meet John’s sister Lisa for the first time. Above is a photo of Bre, Mal, and Lisa at the shower. When Lisa arrived from New York and Mal brought her to our home to introduce her to me, I was immediately impressed by her manners, her politeness, and knew after spending only a short time with her that John was no outlier – their parents had clearly done a great job of raising wonderful children.

Although Toni had met John’s parents, Dom and Chris, in her trips to New York to visit Mallory, I had not had the honor. Every time she came back from a trip, Toni would enthusiastically tell me stories about the wonderful people in John’s family she’d met. Finally, my chance came. Not that I’d ever doubted Toni, but - and any parent will know this- when your child is a thousand miles away from home (963 to be exact) you want to have personal knowledge about the kind of people who will be so close to and have such influence on your child’s life.

Toni and I flew to New York two days before the wedding, and Dom and Chris were gracious enough to invite us into their beautiful home in New Canaan, Connecticut, for celebratory toasts and dinner, so I could get to know them a bit. Before 15 minutes had gone by, there was absolutely no doubt in my mind that we could not have wished for better people as in-laws. I quickly arrived at the same conclusion that Toni had when she’d met Dom and Chris – that we had truly hit the jackpot with these gracious, generous, wonderful people.

After the delicious dinner of tilapia, quinoa, and asparagus, we told more stories, and then Lisa and Michael Bonarrigo arrived and joined us for dessert. It was the first time I’d met John’s brother Michael. What a great and talented person he is! What a pleasure to have finally met both of John’s siblings! And, to give you an idea of the kind of family Dom and Chris raised – as Dom, Chris, Toni, and I sat at the dinner table telling tales, after we’d greeted Lisa and Michael, both of them went immediately, without a word of prompting, into the kitchen and began to clear the counters of plates and silverware, pots and pans, and loaded the dishwasher and cleaned the kitchen.  That to me was another sign that the Bonarrigo children were raised properly, and that Dom and Chris were truly great parents. Then Michael and Lisa joined us for gelato and cookies. It was an unforgettable evening!

Here’s a photo of John’s parents – Chris and Domenick Bonarrigo – taken by Toni at the rehearsal dinner the evening before the wedding, after a run-through of the ceremony at St. Aloysius Church in New Canaan. The setting was a beautiful restaurant on the water in Norwalk,Connecticut, just a few miles down the road from New Canaan. There, we were able to meet more of the Bonarrigo’s extended family, and every person we met impressed us with their friendliness, their sincere interest in Mal, and each had a specific compliment about Mal.

One particular family member must be mentioned specifically here, and that would be Grandma Germano – “Grandma G”, Chris’s mother. At 90, Grandma G, seen above entering the church, is sharp as a tack. She insists on calling Toni “Antoinette” – even though Toni’s true, birth-certificate name is Toni – which should give you some insight into Grandma G. What a wonderful resource! A real family treasure, just like Mallory’s Grandma Denison –“Grandma D” – who hand-made beautiful necklaces for Toni and Mal and presented them to Toni and Mal at the rehearsal dinner. Unfortunately, Dom’s mother, Grace, passed away a few weeks before the wedding. I would love to have met her. Mallory spoke so highly of her.

One more note about the rehearsal dinner: Dom made a few remarks before dessert, and told what is, I think, one of the best stories ever. In describing Mal’s impact on the Bonarrigo family, Dom said “one Saturday afternoon a few days ago, we were watching the Badgers play Northwestern, and the Badgers were losing. I said ‘how can we be losing to Northwestern?’ – and then realized – what’s this ‘we’ stuff!!! I didn’t go to Wisconsin!” That’s the kind of effect Mal can have – her enthusiasm for Badger sports is contagious.  (I’m not 100% sure, but I think Dom’s law degree is from Boston College/New England School of Law.)

The morning of the wedding, Toni and I met Mal and Bre for breakfast at the Roger Sherman Inn, the historic hotel/restaurant where we stayed while in New Canaan, and the venue for the wedding reception.  The talk was light, reminiscing about being tossed into the pool again and again years ago; some of the adventures Mal and Bre had gone on; then the girls left to finish decorating the venue, to get their hair done, and before long it was time to leave for the church.

This was the gorgeous dress the mother of the bride wore.  She’s so beautiful!

Here’s the groom walking his mom, Chris, down the aisle, with John’s dad Dom right behind.

Here’s the beautiful and happy bride, being walked down the aisle proudly by her father, Rich Denison, and her stepfather (the author of this blog).

And here’s the “money shot” – John and Mallory saying their “I do’s”.

I don’t want to post a lot of pictures from the ceremony or the reception; in a few weeks, the professional photographer will have provided John and Mal with plenty of excellent images, and when we get those, I’ll post some on this blog.

I do want to post a couple more candids.

Here’s a snapshot of Breanna, the Maid of Honor, giving her tearful and heartfelt salute to her best friend Mallory and Mal’s new husband. That beautiful head of white hair in the foreground belongs to Nellie Denison – Grandma D.

Here’s a shot of the groom and his best man – John and Michael Bonarrigo. After the maid of honor, Breanna, gave a wonderful, heartfelt speech and toast to the newly married couple, Michael gave a speech which had the crowd roaring in laughter. It was full of droll humor and wonderful insights about John – the kind of stories only a brother can tell! Michael’s great toast to the newlyweds was another sign to Toni and me that these Bonarrigo children had been raised in a wonderful, loving home.

Dom and Chris made a few brief remarks (video of Dom here and here, of Chris here), dessert was served, and there was much socializing and dancing to the band. Toni and I were so happy that several of Mal’s friends -friends since middle school - made the trip, and we spent some time at the “Wisconsin table” (video here)thanking them for coming and toasting the newlyweds.

At the reception we met so many more members of the Bonarrigo’s extended family; each and every one of them made it a point to give a personal observation and compliment to Mallory; many had stories of how they knew early on that John and Mallory were made for each other.

Too soon, the grand event was over; good-byes were said, and people headed for their cars. Toni and I made it a point to thank Dom and Chris for their unbelievable generosity and warmth during our entire stay, and for all the things they did – financially and personally – to give our two children a wonderful and memorable wedding.

Mallory and John have been married, and the families have been joined. It is a strong bond, and I am confident it will be a lasting union of children and families. As Deacon Bill said during the wedding, what God has put together, let no person divide.

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, a day 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 broadcast the games, will this year again in October sell an ungodly amount of pink stuff under the guise of "Breast Cancer Awareness". 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 $125 you spend for that 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.