Thursday, July 29, 2010

Friday Media Rant: It's All Relative

What’s a good year? One where your revenue and profit are both up. At least, that’s the way it used to be. The world’s largest radio group, Clear Channel, had a pretty good first quarter…relatively speaking…with revenue of 623 million dollars. Not bad, but not what it used to be.

623 million bucks is a lot of money, but it’s all relative. iTunes revenue in the first quarter of the year was 1.1 BILLION dollars. Just about double the revenue of the largest radio group on the planet. And if you listen to music, you iTunes is not only the way a huge chunk of consumers get their music, but a place where you can buy (or download free) “aps”…applications…for your iPad or iPhone.

And, to put things in more clear perspective, 623 million is the total radio revenue for Clear Channel in the first quarter…and that represents about half the total take for Clear Channel, which also owns ticket outlets, concert promotion companies, concert venues, and other associated enterprises.

iTunes’ 1.1 billion is slightly less than 8% of Apple’s total revenue. In other words, iTunes had revenue approximately equal to the entire Clear Channel empire’s take, in the first quarter.

And, analysts say iPad revenue alone is forecast to be just under 2 BILLION dollars in the third quarter of this year.

It’s all relative, isn’t it?

While there’s plenty of gloom and doom to go around for local radio, it’s still a good business. Smart operators have learned, often the hard way, that being the over-the-air equivalent of an mp3 player is a sure way to lose audience and revenue. Live, local talent – on-air people who know the community and know their audience – can still make a lot of money for broadcast owners.

Contrary to what used to be the formula for success in music-based radio, “shut up and play the hits” doesn’t really work any more. The younger generation is not finding new music on the radio, and the established radio generation can get all the music it wants on its mp3 player. It’s still a business where personality means something – something no other station or mp3 player has.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Future Is Almost Here

It’s a big deal in Florida: this fall Clearwater High School is eliminating all textbooks, for all 21 hundred students, and will instead make the content available on iPads or Kindles. It’s going to cost around 600 grand, according to the St. Petersburg Times newspaper (where you can still read their stuff online free). The paper claims Clearwater High will be the first school in the nation to go paperless.

That’s THIS fall, as in just about a month away.

Another sign that these portable devices like the iPad and Kindle are becoming more and more “mainstream”: Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic Airlines is launching an iPad-only inflight magazine, and the first edition will be on flights in October. Content for iPhones and Android devices should follow in a few months.

Branson’s a real maverick, but he says it’s vital to target his upscale clientele and international customer base with exclusive mobile-smart-device-only content on travel, technology, and entrepreneurism. He’s put his daughter Holly in charge of the project. Both of them believe they have to provide this content to planeloads of passengers with electronic devices in their hands or on their lap, to stay ahead of the competition.

Hearst Corporation, with roots in both the print and broadcast industry, sold 12 thousand downloads of the Popular Mechanics app since it came out earlier this month. The popular techie publication, “Wired”, is now digital-only. At the top right of the front page of “Wired”, you’ll see a tab marked “Wired on iPad”.

More national newspapers are going to “paywalls” – cough up the dough if you want the content. News Corp’s Times and Sunday Times are said to be close to charging for content, and they’ve got a paywall that even Google’s powerful web spiders can’t surmount. The New York Times is tinkering with its metering system and will supposedly introduce a revised model next year.

The future’s getting closer every day.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Compromise: Knowing When Not To

I heard some talking head last night say that the folks in the world of high finance were somewhat happier with the new rules and regulations, because they were able to come to a compromise with the Obama administration on some of the harsher new (actually, old) rules that apply to the too-big-to-fail crowd.

Like not being too big to fail.

Senator Feingold says he couldn’t vote for the bill because it wasn’t strong enough, a decision which may come to haunt him during his campaign for re-election against Ron Johnson. Apparently, the Junior Senator from Wisconsin thought there was too much compromising going on.

I am likely in the top 5% of stubborn people in the world. Compromise does not come easy to me. I’m usually self-assured to the point of being intolerable; I don’t suffer fools gladly; have been known to be bitterly sarcastic; and it probably explains in part why I’ve been fired from every radio job I’ve ever had, and the list is a long one.

One of the many, many life-lessons I’ve learned from my long-suffering wife in our 22-year professional relationship and 13-year marriage is that compromise is often a very good thing, but sometimes, it should be left completely out of the question.

My late father was fond of saying to his children “marriage is not always a 50-50 proposition; sometimes it’s close; sometimes it’s 99 and 1; but it ought to average somewhere in the middle”.

My wife’s lineage is Italian and Polish, and mine is Irish and German. Talk about four ethnicities that aren’t exactly known for being wishy-washy about things! After butting heads about things a few times early in our marriage, my wife let me in on the secret.

She sat me down and said we’re going to have to be really honest with each other from time to time, and we’re going to have to be true to ourselves while we do it, without pushing each other’s buttons or losing our temper. (Sidebar: it took me a while to learn the difference between an Italian who’s simply passionate about something, and one who’s angry about something.)

I’m not talking about issues like which movie we want to watch Saturday night or which restaurant we want to dine at. I’m talking about serious stuff here. She said there are certain things which both of us hold as core values, and that to compromise those deep, core values could make either of us run the risk of being very unhappy in the long run. And that we had to learn about each other’s core values and respect them.

Like many things in life that are truly worthwhile, it doesn’t come easy. For us, as I believe it would be for most people, it’s still a work in progress. But there’s been a lot of progress in the past 13 years we’ve been married. And I believe that the more we’ve learned about each other’s core values, the more we respect and love each other.

I’m tellin’ ya, that’s one smart woman I married. And that’s a statement I will not compromise.

Monday, July 26, 2010

It's Tuesday - Is Tammy Still Living Here?

It was a very busy day for me last week Wednesday – had a lot of writing projects going, a couple telephone interviews lined up for news stories I’m working on, and I had to get our younger Collie, Sunny, to the groomer in Oregon for a 9 AM appointment. Time got away from me, and it got to be 8:50 before I knew it, so I had to hustle the dog into my huge gas-sucking foreign-made SUV and head a few miles south of El Rancho Morrissey down County HiWay MM.

I flipped on the radio and heard my friend Mitch Henck interviewing someone – I didn’t catch who it was – but this person was saying that Tammy Baldwin should not be on the ballot for re-election because she has her campaign office in Madison listed as her official address, which this person claimed was unlawful, and went on to say there’s no evidence that Tammy actually lives in the congressional district she represents and she should be tossed off the ballot.

What? What sort of misguided doofus would make such an assertion in the first place, much less on a radio station that’s listened to by thousands and thousands of people?

Some member of the Wisconsin Young Republicans or Campus Republicans or something of the sort. As I said, didn’t catch the name. Nice to know the older generation GOP’ers around here have passed on their skill in bringing up bogus issues to the younger generation. (I might mention they're not the only party which does this.)

Anybody who’s covered news around here during an election cycle knows damn well why Tammy lists her downtown campaign office as her “home address”. It’s because there are still enough Neanderthals left in Wisconsin’s 2nd Congressional District that when she first ran for national office, she was targeted and harassed by the anti-gay crowd.

Again, for those of you just joining us, Ms. Baldwin is our state’s first openly gay national politician.

As I passed the intersection with County HiWay B, a person identifying himself as being from the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (which used to be the state Elections Board) called in and explained why Tammy is allowed, with full state approval, to list her downtown campaign office as her “home” address.

As usual, the FACTS didn’t deter the young political hack one bit. He did the old Potomac Shuffle, which we used to call “dismiss and redirect” in sales training, and launched right back into his rant about how there’s no evidence Baldwin actually lives here.

I don’t know who this young fellow is, but I have a feeling he has a real future in politics.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Monday Media Rant: Fair and Balanced?

You may not have noticed it last week, but for a full day, honesty, “journalistic” integrity, due process, and fairness took a day off Tuesday. For nearly a full day, Fox News, the tea party website run by Andrew Breitbart, and the right-wing echo chamber deliberately smeared the good name of a long-time public servant, Shirley Sherrod, and got her fired. Temporarily.

There are at least two lessons here: Fox News (or, as many of my colleagues in the media call it, “Faux News”) is neither fair nor balanced, a message which should come as a surprise to no one with the capacity for rational thinking; and, as I’ve said many times, the blogosphere and talk radio are NOT “journalism”.

Jim Mitchell, who writes editorials for the Dallas Morning News, says the whole Sherrod debacle was created by partisan hatred and fueled by media haste, characterized by opportunism and buck-passing. Shirley Sherrod’s story is one of redemption and healing, not hostility and racism.

All the way from the partisan hack who craftily edited the videotape to make it seem like Sherrod was a racist who wouldn’t use her power as a government ag official to help a white farmer, to the tea party website that posted the altered video, to Fox News, to the NAACP, to the US Ag Department and the White House, there was either intentional or unintentional fanning of racial hatred and fear.

None of the above gave Shirley Sherrod a chance to defend herself; once the story was blasted out by Fox News, the NAACP, the Ag Department, and the White House jumped to a conclusion and acted without even saying “what’s her side of the story?”, and didn’t give her the opportunity to explain.

Fortunately, Sherrod was able to get her message out – through CNN and other media – and it dramatically changed the situation.

These were not good-faith errors made by any of the parties involved. There was a deliberate attempt to deceive, made by Breitbart and Fox News; the NAACP, which gave a knee-jerk reaction, later said it was “snookered” by Fox; and the White House and Ag Department followed the rush to judgment. At no point in that chain of events Tuesday did the NAACP, The White House, or the Ag Department say “wait a minute – this is a lifetime civil servant – what is she saying about all this?”, a fundamental proposition which any accused person or organization deserves.

We report, you decide? Only if the reporting is truly fair and balanced, and the fundamentals of journalism and reporting are honored.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Another Year Better

Sunday, the kids will come over and we’ll all wish my wife Toni a happy birthday. She told them she doesn’t want presents; she just wants their presence. She already got her birthday present from me, a brand new bike, and she’s already put quite a few miles on it. But the kids get a pass.

As far as I’m concerned, she’s not another year older; she’s another year better. Once you get past a certain age – I’m not sure what that age is – you really ought to stop counting. Oh, sure, there are landmarks like 50 and 60, but nowadays, if you keep yourself reasonably healthy, they’re just numbers.

It’s been an interesting year for us. It was my first full year of being self-employed, stitching together jobs creating websites, writing projects, and working as a producer for a national news organization. My wife was my biggest fan, booster, supporter, and cheerleader as I made the transition from getting up at half past two in the morning and slogging off to work in the dark, to getting up when her alarm goes off, and walking down two short flights of stairs to work.

We added another member to the family in the past year…our new Collie, Sunny, came to live with us in February. As much as our 4-year-old Collie, Shadow, is a “daddy-girl”, Sunny is a “mumma girl”. Sunny turns 2 just two days after Toni’s birthday. Sunny just dotes on Toni; follows her around everywhere in the house or the yard, and is always jumping up on her to give her a whole bunch of sloppy kisses.

It’s a year of transitions for our kids, too. Our son is putting the finishing touches on his degree at the UW Business School and will be a practicing accountant by the time my wife’s next birthday rolls around. And our daughter is moving back in with us for a couple weeks in August, and then she’s off to the College of New Rochelle in NYC to start her master’s degree.


Toni is constantly re-inventing herself, so she’s not averse to change. Her hair is a completely different color than it was on her last birthday. A year ago she was passionate about gardening and tending her roses and other flora; now she’s passionate about creating her own clothes and jewelry.

And riding her new bike.

So, if you’re reading this dear, thanks for putting up with my follies and foibles for another year; thanks for making our house a beautiful home; thanks for being the best mom in the world for the kids; thanks for getting up and going to work and bringing home a huge chunk of the bacon; and thanks for being the best partner I could ever imagine.

Happy birthday.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

TMI (Too Much Information)

It’s becoming a familiar tale: young worker gets mad at boss, puts a rant on Facebook, forgets the boss is his Facebook friend, gets fired when the boss sees it.

Now, sites like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter are being used to mine for information in divorce cases. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers says 81% of its members have used evidence pulled from posts on social media sites. And Facebook, by far, is the leading source of online evidence, say the lawyers. Oversharing on these websites has led to an overabundance of evidence in divorce cases.

The respected Pew Internet and American Life Project says about one in five adults uses Facebook for flirting, which is probably not the smartest idea if you’re in a divorce suit, about to be in one, or are seeking custody of children in a divorce action. Lawyers are now advising their clients that other attorneys and judges can read the stuff you put on Facebook, so don’t put anything there you wouldn’t want a judge to read.

Although divorce is an extremely emotional time, the Matrimonial Lawyers Academy says you should stifle your desire to talk trash about your soon-to-be-ex, and that it’s the worst possible time to share your feelings online, even though you may think you need to share your information online with friends to “help get you through it.”

And it’s not just divorce actions that can lead to a gold-mine of information on your Facebook page or MySpace page or your Twitter account. One lawyer, dealing with a client who was ordered to undergo anger management counseling, says he had to argue with his client to get him to remove his self-description on his Facebook page that said “If you have the balls to get in my face, I’ll kick your ass into submission.”

Anger issues? What anger issues?

Lawyers can tell true stories about clients who said they were too busy to attend their children’s school events, while at the same time the lawyer can track her presence with her new boyfriend on the World of Warcraft gaming site, or playing Farmville on Facebook while saying she was too busy to go to a piano recital.

One lawyer found evidence to support his client’s claim that his estranged wife was having men in the house all the time, and discovered the pictures to prove it on his children’s Facebook pages.

It’s a brave new online world. The key advice from the big-time lawyers: privacy settings are there for a reason. Find them. Get to know them. Use them. And keep up when Facebook decides it’s going to change things.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Scam Alert: The "Mystery Shopper" Racket

It’s an alluring concept: get a big check, spend some of the money shopping at two or three stores; keep some of the money for your “time and trouble”; and then wire the rest of it back to us. The “mystery shopper” scam has been around for a long time, but it’s back again, in a new form.

Folks all across the country are getting what looks like an official check from the State of Tennessee or Maryland Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Typically the Tennessee checks are in the amount of $3400. The Maryland checks are typically for $4,940. The letter that comes with the check says the money is from a special program to help the unemployed, and all you have to do is cash the check, shop at a store (Wal-Mart and Sears are frequently mentioned), fill out the enclosed form about your experience and mail it back to us, keep a couple hundred bucks for your trouble, and then wire the balance back to us to help evaluate Western Union’s service.

In times like this, it’s tempting; and the check looks VERY real and official. And even though it’s bogus, your bank will likely cash it. It can take the bank weeks to discover the check is bogus, and when the bank finds out, you end up on the hook for every cent of it…what you spent at the stores, the money you put in your pocket, and the huge sum you wired via Western Union – which went right into the scamster’s account.

AARP says the bogus “mystery shopper” checks from Tennessee and Maryland are showing up all over the nation.

Around Dane County you’ll see mystery shopper classified ads everywhere from local newspapers to Craig’s List. Many of them are bogus come-ons, very few are legitimate mystery shopper jobs. How do you know if any particular one is real or not?

There really are mystery shopper jobs. Over 300 retailers hire shoppers for millions of secret shopping missions every year.

AARP says the real mystery shopper jobs never send money up front. You pay out of your own pocket and are reimbursed after the assignment is completed. They’ll ask you to make purchases in the $8 to $20 range.

No legitimate mystery shopper job will ask you to complete a wire transfer of money, particularly to an overseas destination, outside the jurisdiction of U.S. law enforcement. That’s an immediate red-flag tipoff.

And the old adage is still true: if an offer looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Secret Government

The opening line of the Washington Post story Monday morning: “The top-secret world the government has created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.”


I guess we sort of had a sense that things were huge and duplicative and out of control, but the Post’s story blows it wide open and gives us a rare look at just how big and uncoordinated the intelligence effort is. The article says 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism and homeland security.

I see Dick Cheney’s fingerprints all over this. From his “One Percent Doctrine” (if a threat is even one percent likely to happen, we must respond to it as though it were 100 percent likely) to his secretive and vindictive ways, and the Bush administration’s essentially unlimited supply of national support and funding immediately after the 9-11 attacks, a huge and unmanageable bureaucracy has been created.

The Post gathered so much information for this special report that other news organizations were reporting that top-level government officials implored the paper’s editors not to print certain aspects of the information its reporters had gathered, fearful that such information would be highly useful to our nation’s enemies.

Such is the culture of paranoia that exists in the intelligence community that they’re worried that a Washington Post reporter can dig up more stuff than a terrorist organization. Maybe there’s something to it, because the paper supposedly acquiesced to the request.

The article says about 854,000 people (1.5 times the population of Washington DC) hold top-secret security clearances.

Does it take a security expert to tell you that when nearly a million people have access to our most sensitive information, it’s really not that secret?

Another stunning tidbit: In Washington and the surrounding area, 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since 9-11, totaling about 17 million square feet of space.

And no one can tell you how many of these agencies duplicate each other’s work or how much it’s really costing us.

The intelligence communities’ defense: we haven’t been successfully attacked since 9-11 and we’ve thwarted some very real threats, like the would-be Times Square bomber.

It’s like the hot-rodders used to say: speed costs money; how fast do you want to go? Only in this case, if we do indeed have the best national security money can buy, we still don’t know what we’re paying for.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Turnabout Is Fair Play

A letter to the editor of the State Journal written by Susan Young of Madison makes a really good point: just as dogs, even the best and friendliest dogs, aren’t truly safe to mix and mingle with the crowd at high-attendance events, a dog park is no place for a small child.

Susan concludes her excellent letter by saying that because we have to pass an ordinance to accomplish this, it again demonstrates a need to legislate common sense. Reminds me of another applicable cliché, namely, there’s nothing common about common sense.

I love dogs far more than the next person, and my two Collies are my constant companions. And yes, they ARE family members. Both are purebreds with phenomenal pedigrees, both are from the same breeder, and both were selected by my wife and me for their mellow temperament and their propensity to be affectionate.

Neither of our two dogs has ever had a bad experience with a human being, and neither has ever shown the slightest bit of aggression toward a human. They both LOVE people, and are full of joyful exuberance whenever somebody shows up at the door, whether it’s a tradesman coming to fix an appliance or a package delivery driver who needs a signature. Every new person represents a chance for someone new to play with, I guess.

Because we love this aspect of their behavior, my wife and I have deliberately NOT trained them to stay away from people who come to our door. We keep firm control of them, and if their presence annoys the visitor, we send the dogs outside to patrol the fencelines and leave the visitor in peace.

When we take them to Mounds to pick up food, we keep them on a short leash, because often there are small children in the store, and both dogs would love nothing better than to jump up on the child to put a bunch of wet kisses on their face and find out if this child is going to want to play with them. Instead, we command the dogs to SIT, and if the child wants to make their acquaintance by petting them, they’re trained to sit quietly and be petted. NO jumping up on people in public.

But when we take them to the Badger Prairie Dog Park in Verona, and let them off-leash to run and chase over the vast expanse of the park, and make friends with new dogs and renew acquaintances with regular canine visitors, I get nervous when some thoughtless person appears with a toddler in tow. When our dogs are on-leash my wife has trained them to follow her commands immediately. But when they’re off-leash, although they respond to commands, it’s sometimes not instantaneously.

Susan writes “I have to leash my dog when I see parents entering the dog park with children, not because she is vicious, but because she loves children and may knock them down and, because she is large, can hurt them.” Our 4-year-old Collie weighs 63 pounds and can run about 30 miles an hour and change direction effortlessly while running at top speed. She’s a herding dog; that’s what they do. She and our 2-year-old Collie do it for hours every day on our fenced-in property. And dogs that can run that fast can quickly cover a lot of ground, and may not hear or instantly react to your command.

But I’ll be damned if I’ll put the leash on either while they’re inside the dog park, just because some stupid adult is not bright enough to realize that a small child is not safe at an off-leash dog park. Otherwise, I’m with Susan: go ahead an write an ordinance to ban dogs from public events, and while you’re at it, ban children from off-leash dog parks. Legislate common sense.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Fleeting Expletives Are Now OK (Friday Media Rant)

In nearly 40 years of broadcasting, I’ve made more than my fair share of boneheaded mistakes; thankfully, the number diminished each year, as experience made me more cautious and judicious. I have never dropped the F-bomb. But my worst moment was far worse than dropping the F-bomb on the air. It was back in the early 80’s, when I should have known better, and it was so bad that I tendered my resignation the minute the big boss walked in the front door of the radio station.

My on-air partner and I did a morning show on the company’s FM station, and we also taped news and sports reports for airing on our AM station. While the rock was rolling on the FM station, we’d tape a four-minute report for the AM station. You had to keep your wits about you and operated on a very tight schedule.

As we were taping one of those news/sports breaks for the AM station, I was delivering a story about a man who had burned to death in a horrible car wreck. Just as I got to the part about how he was trapped in the burning car, my partner passed gas. It was VERY loud, and threw me off my game. I started chuckling, knowing that this tape was a bust, and that we’d have to do it over. My partner, realizing the same thing, said “how bad was he burned? As bad as my a** is right now?”

I tossed the tape aside, put in a new tape, and we started over. Then, because time was tight, we had to get ready to do a “break” on the FM station. The DJ from the AM station came into our studio, grabbed the news/sports tape while my partner and I were on the FM station, and went back to his studio.

You can probably guess what happened. He grabbed the wrong tape…the one that I should have erased immediately. He started it playing, and then went off to get a cup of coffee during his four-minute break.

Moments later, my partner and I noticed that all ten phone lines were lit up with callers. We still didn’t have a clue. Suddenly, the AM station disc jockey stepped back into his studio, picked up a call, and then looked over into our studio. I’ve never seen a look quite like the one that was on his face.

Realizing what had happened, I set the FM station to play 3 songs in a row, and then went into the AM studio and made a stammering on-air apology. When the boss came in, I met him at the door and offered my resignation. He said “your apology saved you – it was the best recovery I’ve ever heard”. Thankfully, nearly all the callers to the station felt the same way.

I still have the tape of the horrible gaffe…it made the rounds among broadcasters for years…but no tape of the apology exists. I have nearly no recollection of what I said. I was scared, knew my job was over – if not my career – but I knew that the man who died in the horrible wreck was a local guy, and that his family was going to hear about our huge mistake. The man’s wife, who heard about it from friends, called me later that morning to say she understood. At no time in my life have I felt lower than I did that wintry morning.

I probably have some of the details of this story wrong because of the intense emotion; but it taught me a lesson never forgotten.

So now if some unlucky broadcaster accidentally drops the F-bomb on the air, the station won’t get fined. But no law or rule will ever prevent a boneheaded mistake like I made 30 years ago.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I'm Not Going To Play In The 2011 All-Star Game

Brewers pitcher Yovanni Gallardo has made it clear: IF he makes the Major League Baseball All-Star team in 2011, and IF the game is still going to be played at the Diamondbacks’ ball park in Arizona, he will boycott the game and won’t play.

Let me go on the record right now as well: if I’m named to the Major League Baseball All-Star team in 2011, and it’s still scheduled to be played in Arizona, I won’t play, either. But if they move the game to the Duck Pond at Warner Park in Madison, I’m in.

And while I’m at it, I’d like to inform NASCAR that if they hold another Sprint Cup race at the racetrack in Phoenix, I’m not going to compete in it; I’m not even going to watch it on TV. Unless they decide to move it to the Madison International Speedway just outside the city in the pleasant suburb of Oregon.

Oh yes, one more thing: if the NHL continues to allow the Phoenix Coyotes to play their games in Arizona, I’m going to refuse to put on my skates and pads and jersey, and I won’t consider skating in an NHL game unless they move the Phoenix franchise to Madison, and play all their games at the Kohl Center.

That oughtta show ‘em! And don’t even get me started about the Phoenix Suns of the NBA.

There’s so much political posturing and fake outrage going on about the new immigration laws that will take affect in Arizona in a few days. Most polls say about 60% of Americans are in favor of the tougher law, but it’s become more a political football than anything else.

Just a couple days ago, Wisconsin Democratic Governor Jim Doyle again slapped down our Republican Attorney General, J B VanHollen, who sought permission (he can’t do it without an OK from the guv or the state legislature) to have Wisconsin join Michigan’s legal brief in support of Arizona’s new law.

Political grandstanding, again. It’s all about the fall elections, sports fans.

And to the Brewers pitcher who says he’ll boycott the All-Star game next year if he’s named to the team and the game is still in Arizona: why don’t you just expend your energies in trying to insure that you ARE named to the All-Star team next year. Get off the 15-day disabled list, get to work getting your won-lost record better and your ERA lower. (Yah, I know – he’s 8-4 right now with an ERA of 2.58, which makes him a star with the Brewers.)

As the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words, and imagine how much more impact your statement would have if you actually WERE named to the All-Star team.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Danger: Bad Intersection Ahead

It doesn’t take a genius. Anybody who regularly has to traverse the intersection at Badger Road and Park Street can tell you why it’s so dangerous. And could probably also tell you that the only real solution is to completely re-arrange the intersection, much like the talk about what to do with the far west side traffic problems that all come together near Junction Road and Mineral Point Road.

My friend Pat Simms’ article in the State Journal lists the litany of worst intersections in Madison in terms of number of crashes, and there’s not a single surprise on this year’s list. The second-worst intersection, Commercial Ave and North Thompson Drive on the east side, is one of those damnable roundabouts which so few drivers in Madison seem to have mastered, and on the list at number 3 is Midvale at Mineral Point, a 4-way stop which is a tribute to driver stupidity. It’s a straightforward intersection of two four-lane boulevards, which apparently attracts some of the most impatient drivers in the city. The solution there is traffic signal lights. It doesn’t take a genius.

I go through the Park and Badger intersection about ten times in a typical week, and I’ve had so many close calls there….or within a couple hundred feet of it….that I approach the area with extreme caution every time. It’s quite a different situation from the Midvale – Mineral Point intersection, because the traffic volume at Park and Badger is so much higher. You’ve got people (like me) coming up HiWay 14 from the “southern suburbs”; a constant flow of traffic coming off the Beltline to exit at Park (which, by the way, is also Hiway 151); people headed south on Park (HiWay 151) trying to get on the Beltline; and a mix of regular neighborhood traffic, pedestrians galore, AND the south-side Metro Bus Transfer Point.

They’re dickering around with the traffic lights at Badger and Park and putting up some sort of “signage” to warn drivers coming up HiWay 14 that there’s a busy intersection ahead, but the real solution is to completely re-arrange the intersection, which would require a LOT of construction, a LOT of money, and a LOT of inconvenience for thousands of drivers for a LONG time.

Ain’t gonna happen.

I’m not sure why roundabouts are so challenging; I don’t like them, but don’t have any real problems navigating them. There’s one on South Towne Drive just a couple hundred feet south of the South Towne exit from the Beltline that I go through frequently. You can just tell when somebody ahead of you bears watching. They timidly come to a complete stop at the “yield” sign, even if there’s no traffic in the roundabout; look both ways about four times, and then proceed immediately into the INSIDE lane of the roundabout and then rapidly, without warning, swerve into the outside lane and make their escape.

And there are always the idiots who just suddenly and without warning move from the inside lane of the roundabout to the outside lane, without checking their mirrors, and wind up side-swiping some unsuspecting law-abiding otherwise safe driver. That’s why the Commercial Ave – Thompson Drive roundabout is #2 on the list. But the city dismisses the problems there by saying most of the wrecks are side-swipes, with low impact, and few people get injured. Simms’ article quotes a city spokesperson as calling that an “acceptable trade-off”.

But I’m sure there are a lot of young folks who will tell us they could go through any of the worst ten intersections in the city while texting with one hand and changing the iPod player with the other, and never be involved in an accident.

Ah, the confidence of youth.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Recession Is Over!....or not...

Oh boy, it’s gonna be a great week for corporate America. I know this because I read it in The New York Times Sunday. Major corporations will report their earnings this week, and the paper says we’re going to see some of the strongest profits in years.

The big profits, the big paychecks, the big bonuses are back on Wall Street, and the financial houses that were “too big to fail” have the “Help Wanted” sign out. They’re hiring.

The rest of America? Not so much.

This quick turnaround of the financial fates of the big investment houses and the return to black ink in a few really big companies has not translated into more jobs. Many of these big outfits, except the financial houses, have cut costs, shuttered plants, and increased productivity.

For most of this week, as the quarterly earnings reports come out, there won’t be much talk of the dreaded “double-dip” recession, where the economy goes into the tank, starts a comeback, and then goes down again. The on-camera mavens of the cable TV financial stations will be happy-talking. The Money-Honey (Maria Bartiromo) will wear her fanciest clothes for her on-camera shots.

Feel like celebrating with them? Didn’t think so.

Meantime, the fate of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of unemployed Americans, hinges on what Congress will do. They left for vacation last week without passing another extension of unemployment benefits. That McConnell person said the Republicans would listen to what the Democrats have to say about more unemployment benefits, but the Democrats just won’t listen to the Republicans about making significant moves toward cutting this nation’s deficit spending and debt.

Apparently, again, it’s all about politics, and not about people. A pox on both parties.

So, excuse me if I don’t jump for joy because Alcoa threw off a dime a share or so yesterday. I have too many acquaintances and professional contacts who are still trying to stitch together enough part-time jobs to make ends meet, and a few close friends who really need that 3-or-4 hundred dollar weekly unemployment check.

The day after tomorrow, Thursday, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. will report their quarterly earnings. I’m sure we’ll learn that things are just booming at Chase.

It would be wrong for me to wish them ill, wouldn’t it? Or not…..

Monday, July 12, 2010

All (Or None) Hail King James

At least two factors came into play last week, as the entire universe paid rapt attention to the comings and goings of a 25-year-old basketball player, who happens to be pretty talented at his sport. First was, as I’ve often said, the media’s default position, which is “EXCESS.” Second, we were reminded that the term “fan” comes from the word “fanatic.”

If there has ever been more excessive media coverage of an event involving one person, I don’t know what it was. Regionally, we’ve seen excessive coverage of Brett Favre’s retiring-unretiring-indecision; but that was nothing compared to the full-on print, electronic, and online media coverage of LeBron James’ decision about where he was going to play basketball next year.

After the live “announcement” show watched by millions on ESPN, the fanatics were quick to react in both Miami and Cleveland. As joy reigned in Miami, the owner of the Cleveland NBA franchise issued a rant the next morning, calling his former superstar names, and promising the Cavs would win an NBA championship before James did. Cleveland fans called James a traitor and coward.

So what.

I’ll freely and enthusiastically admit I’m a fan of the Packers and Brewers. I grew up going to games at Lambeau Field during the glory years. Even though the Braves moved to Atlanta, I didn’t hate them or think they were traitors. I went to the ’57 and ’58 World Series games in Milwaukee with my dad, my uncle, and my grandpa, and had to learn that few things are “forever”, and that major league baseball is essentially a business. Things change.

I still love the Bucks. Going to the MECCA in the early 70’s to watch Kareem play has created fond memories. But, Kareem moved west, and the Bucks moved on.

LeBron James grew up in Ohio and played the first part of his professional career there. So it was a bit harder on the Cavs fans when he decided it was time to make a move he thinks will get him a championship ring. Once the Cavs fans loved him; now many of them hate him. It makes no sense. Disappointed, yes; hate – why?

A handful of players on the Brewers have real Wisconsin ties. A handful of players on the Packers have real Wisconsin ties. And I don’t think any of the Bucks players do. Yet we somehow feel a connection to them, because they wear the uniform of “our” team. And we may feel a bit more closely connected to those players who are from Wisconsin or went to school here or have family here.

Will “King James” get an NBA Championship ring now? If that’s what he really wants, more power to him. No matter what uniform he wears, he’s a pretty talented player. That’s probably not going to change. It’s still going to be entertaining to watch SportsCenter’s highlights of James.

And don’t think for one minute that when his skills diminish, he’ll be traded or benched. And don’t think for one minute that wouldn’t have been his fate in Cleveland.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Friday Media Rant: Wrecking Great Radio and TV Stations

The famous marketing IQ question goes something like this: you have one of the world’s most recognizable products. It has a nearly 40% share of its market. What do you do with the product? The usual optional answers go something like A) leave it alone, or B) change it. The correct answer is A, and the question here refers to Coca-Cola, and the huge gaffe the company made in 1985 by introducing “The New Coke”. The new Coke was pulled off store shelves three weeks after a multi-million-dollar rollout ad campaign.

New Coke is certainly not the only example of boneheaded corporate decisions. Anybody remember the Cadillac Cimmaron? It was introduced in 1982 when the suits decided to listen to Cadillac salesmen who said they needed a gas-sipping car to sell. It failed immediately. People who buy Cadillacs don’t give two hoots in hell about gas mileage.

Right now, one of the greatest radio stations in the Midwest is dying, at the hands of a new group of radio executives who have fired the veteran on-air talent and replaced them with out-of-towners. I speak of WGN in Chicago, a station once iconic to every broadcaster in the heartland, which has become just another spot on the radio dial with lukewarm talent and a failed baseball team. Wait ‘till next year, indeed.

The new guys came in and took one of the most successful radio properties that’s ever existed, and tinkered with it. Wally Phillips and Bob Collins are rolling in their graves, and Spike O’Dell, who followed in Collins’ and Phillips’ footsteps on the morning show until he retired a year or so ago, has publicly expressed his disgust with the ongoing destruction of a once-great radio station. Phillips, Collins, and O’Dell were Chicago institutions. Kathy and Judy? Gone. The new guys said the station was “going in a different direction”.

The same thing is happening right now, as far as I’m concerned, at The Weather Channel. It went on cable in May of 1982 and at first was watched only by weather geeks like me. It grew to be the ultimate weather authority, and soon after it reached the pinnacle of success, the owners started to add programs like “Storm Stories” and other feature stuff, diluting the franchise. For a short time, they tried to become “personality TV” with stuff like the ill-fated “Abrams and Bettes” show.

What got the Weather Channel its huge audience was its round-the-clock live forecasts. No matter what the time of day or night, you could turn on the Weather Channel and get a live meteorologist giving a real-time forecast. Now, not so much. Too many “fill” programs take up time that was once devoted to live real-time weather reporting and forecasting.

Now that NBC owns the Weather Channel, they’ve taken marquee weather names like Jim Cantore and Mike Seidel – who earned their reputation by covering horrid weather for the Weather Channel – and made them just a couple more network TV personalities. And yesterday morning when I tuned to the Weather Channel to get the forecast, I saw that aging buffoon Al Roker yukking it up with a couple of puppets on a new morning program the Weather Channel calls “Wake Up With Al”.

I don’t want to wake up with Al. I just want someone with a current AMS seal (Al’s is expired, sports fans) to give me the weather. I’d rather wake up with Elmer Childress giving me the weather. And Spike O’Dell on WGN. I don’t want to turn back the hands of time as much as I want the corporate suits who know nothing about the product they manage to learn to leave well enough alone.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Gig Economy

I did a radio interview segment yesterday with my friend and long-time radio partner Glen Gardner about the “gig economy”. The segment will air a week from Sunday at noon, on the 18th, as part of The Kathleen Show on 92.1 The Mic. For those not familiar, the gig economy is stitching together a bunch of projects and part-time jobs to pay the bills. The term “gig” means something different to computer nerds, but to musicians, a gig is a job – as in “I got a gig with Clyde Stubbelfield, but it’s just three nights at the Majestic”.

Some of the best musicians in the world live gig-to-gig, doing a studio date here, a live performance date there, and maybe booking a month-long tour. Now, in this economy, some of the most talented people in every profession are living gig-to-gig, doing a consulting project here, a part-time job there, picking up work where they can.

For the millions of Americans who are unemployed in this horrid downturn, many – probably the majority – aren’t even able to pick up projects, part-time jobs, or any form of employment to bring in some cash. They rely on unemployment benefits to “make the nut” and keep the wolf from the door.

Because the economy has been sour for so long, a lot of folks have been on unemployment money month after month, getting extension after extension of benefits, while they search for a new job or get training for a different one. It’s a lot different from just a few years ago, when you had to take unemployment money for a month or two until you landed a new full-time gig.

For thousands and thousands of unemployed workers, their benefits ran out – again – last week, and Congress went on vacation without approving another extension of unemployment benefits, leaving those thousands and thousands of unemployed workers high and dry.

As President Nixon used to say, let me make one thing perfectly clear: the Democrats are in control of Congress. You can blame it on heartless business-loving Republicans, but the Democrats control Congress and the White House. If they’d had the desire to “ram more unemployment benefits down our throat”, as the Republicans said the Democrats did with health insurance reform, they could have. They didn’t. Fail.

Unemployment benefit checks go right back into the local community. The money buys food, pays rent/mortgage, pays the power company, buys gas, and has a direct, measurable impact on the local economy. People getting unemployment benefits don’t park the money in the bank, don’t “invest” it, don’t do anything with it but pay their bills. Most of the recipients need the money desperately.

President Obama got 20 billion dollars out of BP; Congress is still funding our overseas wars and bailing out big business, but when it comes to “the little guy” – well, let’s take a vacation and talk about it later.

Our national priorities are so flawed.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Overture Center: Here To Stay

Once again, businessman Jerry Frautschi opened his checkbook and has put what appears to be the final touch on settling the debt for the Overture Center for the Arts. Paul Fanlund, who writes the excellent column “Madison 360” for says it’s time for the sniping to end.

His persuasive column, which appeared yesterday, acknowledges that there’s been grousing about the Overture Center since the day Frautschi proposed it to then-Mayor Baumann. A few days ago, Frautschi met the lenders about half-way so the quarter-billion-dollar structure, with the approval of the City Council, can be sold to the city for a dollar, and the city will staff and operate it.

Do NOT assume this will fly through the City Council. And do not assume that even though the 800-pound Gorilla, the remaining debt on the Overture Center, has been removed, that the huge downtown building will now be embraced by the nay-sayers.

As Fanlund points out, the debt issues that plagued Overture have now been settled, so the argument about the city taxpayer being on the hook for millions and millions is now moot. Estimates from city hall are that it will cost the city about a million and a half dollars a year to run the place – well within the same ball-park of what it cost to run the Civic Center.

But there’s the rub.

Even though the city would take ownership of a magnificently-appointed performing arts venue at a cost similar to running the Civic Center, which is, let’s face it, a glorified, renovated movie theater, this is a time when budget priorities are being examined more closely than ever before.

A few clicks away from Fanlund’s column on is a story about the committee appointed to study better ways to clear snow in the winter, suggesting that about a million bucks would do it, and discussion about what a huge object that million-dollar price-tag is right now.

Another few clicks away is a story about salaries paid to Dane County employees, and calls for reform on how public employees are paid and how their contracts are negotiated.

We’re not in a mood to throw money at anything, and that’s not likely to change until the economy moves solidly up and unemployment moves solidly down. And the city alders are going to hear that message loud and clear from their constituents when debate begins on the fate of the Overture Center on August 3rd.

And there will always be the small but noisy crowd that’s still angry that their favorite hamburger joint (Dotty’s) had to move to make way for the Overture Center.

I wonder if Jerry Frautschi ever thinks that passage in the Sermon On The Mount – the one about casting pearls before swine – was written with Madison in mind.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Supremes: Wrong Again...and Again

In my humble but deadly accurate opinion, our state’s highest court is on an express elevator to hell. Goin’ off the rails on a crazy train, as Ozzy would say. Now, the court is so deeply divided along political lines that they put out separate opinions about Justice Gableman’s adventures in advertising.

That topic in a moment.

A day or so before the supremes issued their dueling reports about Gableman’s fate last week, they unanimously – and poorly – decided that the appeals court was right in upholding the state’s so-called ban on gay marriage. The constitutional amendment, pushed for by people like that horrible Appling woman (self-proclaimed moral watchdog and guardian of the sanctity of marriage in Wisconsin), is just another example of how stupid people can be when they pay attention to slogans instead of critically thinking about the issue.

In a few years, the amendment will be repealed, and the supremes won’t have a role. Eventually, the fear and hatred of gay people will subside to a level where the majority of cheeseheads will understand that it’s wrong to discriminate against an entire class of our fellow citizens.

Marriage will still be safe for Brittney Spears, Al Gore, John Edwards, Larry King, and everyone else, Wisconsinite or not.

Now, the Gableman decision: at issue are the deliberately misleading and lying ads Gableman ran during his campaign in 2008, trying to make people believe that incumbent Justice Louis Butler turned a sex offender loose to offend again. Since Gableman can’t vote on this one, because he himself is involved, the justices split right along “party lines”, hence deciding not to decide.

Justices Abrahamson, Bradley, and Crooks wrote an opinion saying their colleague’s ads lied, and he should be disciplined; Justices Prosser, Roggensack, and the Gut-Check Justice (Ms. Ziegler) wrote an opposing opinion, saying the ads were distasteful but didn’t violate any laws.

And you were lead to believe in civics class (years ago, when they still had civics classes in school) that justice had nothing to do with politics.

Justices Abrahamson, Bradley, and Crooks, acknowledging that the 3-3 split on the court is not going to change, want the Judicial Commission to review the case and then proceed to a jury trial.

If so, consider this my application for a media credential to cover the trial. It should provide plenty of drama and comic relief.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Friday Media Rant: Where Are All The Reporters?

I didn’t think the day would ever come that big-time national media would be quoting from and citing the National Enquirer as a source, but that day is here. It actually arrived some time ago, when the grocery check-out line publication broke the story about John Edwards’ dalliance during his failed Presidential campaign.

Now, with the Enquirer’s story about Al Gore’s alleged groping of a masseuse, the tabloid has joined the ranks of the mainstream media.

This has got to be a pebble in the shoe of every reporter at every other news outlet in America. The unthinkable has happened: again, national TV networks and huge national newspapers are following the Enquirer’s scoop.

Just a year ago, in the untimely death of Michael Jackson, it was the lurid website that had the breaking news and had the scoop on developments before anybody else. Remember the first national news stories about Jackson’s death – with network anchors “hedging their bets” on their break-ins, heavily attributing the story of the pop star’s death to the website, just in case it wasn’t true?

To me, the more interesting question is, why have media like the Enquirer and TMZ moved from “gossip mongers” to breaking real, actual, hard news stories?

Let me suggest one possible answer: the “mainstream media” have laid off so many news professionals in the past two years that they’re missing stories, or simply don’t have the personnel to track these stories down.

Far-fetched? Consider the ranks of news people in our fair city. Madison TV has lost so many experienced news reporters in the past few years it’s hard to put a count to it. Madison Newspapers Inc., which publishes the State Journal and The Capital Times, has shed so many actual news-gathering positions that the two staffs, once loudly touted as “separate”, have now merged, and by-lines from traditional “Cap Times” reporters now appear in the State Journal and vice-versa. Isthmus has not escaped the trend, either.

And please, don’t even get me started about radio news in this market. A couple of “seasoned veterans” are left, and the rest are bright, eager young folks, but who really have no depth of knowledge about the community and have not yet developed a sense for tracking down real news.

I know, I’m hopelessly biased. My wife is one of the many veterans who left TV news, and Mid-West threw me under the bus back in ’08. Just between the two of us, that’s over 40 years of institutional knowledge about Madison news that’s gone and hasn’t been replaced.

So, welcome to the new age of media: an age where grocery store tabloids and lurid celebrity websites are now mainstream media.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Resume? We Don't Need No Steenking Resume

Michael Morgan, Administration Secretary in the Doyle administration, just landed himself a plum job with the UW System: he’ll be the Chief Operating Officer, and will be paid 245-grand a year. No application; no search; no resume – oops, wait a minute – after he was offered the job, he e-mailed his resume to UW System boss Kevin Reilly’s office.

Nice work if you can get it; and if you’re a loyal Doyle-ite, apparently you can. There was some hue and cry from the watchdogs and a handful of politicians, like UW-hater Steve Nass, but it’s pretty much a done deal. Morgan starts his new job Tuesday morning.

The latest dodge coming from UW-land is that it’s an “interim appointment”, so it doesn’t have to go through the standard procedure of posting, application, search and screen, interview, and so on. Anybody want to try and define “interim?” Didn’t think so.

I don’t begrudge Morgan one bit. Hell, if they offered the job to me, I’d take it. That quarter-million-dollar-a-year salary is really going to stand Morgan in good stead when it comes time to compute his state retirement benefits, a date not that far in the future. I’m sure the “interim” appointment can stretch out until it’s time for Mr. Morgan to take the gold watch and pension.

There’s precedent for this sort of thing over there on the big campus on the lake. Anybody remember a few years ago, when Barry Alvarez decided it was time to give up the coaching job and become Athletic Director?

How many coaches did they interview for the job of filling Alvarez’ big shoes? As Dean Wormer (Animal House) said, “Zero point zero”. Barry just made sure his hand-picked successor, Bret Bielema, got the job.

No posting, no application, no search and screen. And Bielema is paid four or five times what Morgan will be.

Later on, after Bielema was anointed – ah, I mean appointed – there was about as much hue and cry about the way it was done as there’s been over the Morgan appointment, and some fairly high-level functionary in the athletic apparatus over on Monroe Street took the fall for Barry, saying, in effect, “oh yeah – we shoulda posted that job. I forgot. My bad”.

As I said…nice work if you can get it. But you gotta know somebody.