Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Weather Channel Has Lost Its Focus

The Weather Channel has been doomed since NBC bought into it several years ago and changed it from a place where you could get instant, up-to-date weather forecasts around the clock, 24-7-365, to just another cable channel filled with horrid reality shows and has-been TV personalities.


I’ve made this observation before and I’ll make it again: the Weather Channel has lost its focus.


If you tuned in to get the forecast yesterday, like I did, you couldn’t escape seeing the message delivered by Jim Cantore (a true weather geek and formidable weather personality, unlike Al Roker, an old-school TV personality) intoning in dire terms that DirecTV is, in essence, going to be responsible for countless deaths because – the way Jim spun it – DirecTV refuses to carry the Weather Channel.


After all, these meteorologists at the Weather Channel are serious scientists, and they’re in the business of saving lives.  That is, unless they happen to be running one of those horrid reality shows they’ve loaded onto the daily schedule.


The deal between the Weather Channel and DirecTV expired at one minute past midnight Tuesday, and the Weather Channel was ready with the Jim Cantore announcement, which ran seemingly every 8 minutes.  The business end of the Weather Channel was busy sending out news escapes calling the move by DirecTV “reckless”, and saying the move “will have an impact on….national safety and the preparedness fabric of our country”.


Serious stuff, this weather business.  Except, of course, like yesterday morning, when my wife and I tuned in the Weather Channel, and they were doing a LONG segment on how to cook a nutritious breakfast. (I’m not kidding.)
See what I mean about loss of focus?


Here’s the thing: this is not just an argument about how much money The Weather Channel wants from DirecTV to carry their programming, like the recent local spat between WISC-TV Channel 3 and Charter Cable about what the fee would be set at.  Or the one between Channel 3 and DishNet a few months before that.  That’s just business, and contract renewals can involve heavy-duty give-and-take; and, often, threats.


Apparently, more and more weather geeks – like me – have made their feelings clear about the loss of focus at the Weather Channel.  When the contract between the Weather Channel and DirecTV came to an end, DirecTV kicked the Weather Channel to the curb and put its own meteorological service, a new thing called Weather Nation, in place of the Weather Channel.  One DirecTV executive (Dan York, whose title is “Chief Content Officer”) said “Most consumers don’t want to watch a weather information channel with a forecast of a 40% chance of reality TV”.


Yup.  That’s me, all right.  You can keep “Weather In Space”, “Prospectors”, “Coast Guard Alaska”, “Breaking Ice”, “Freaks of Nature”, “Highway Through Hell” and all those other  Weather Channel reality shows….and you can put “Wake Up With Al” on that list. Al Roker is the LAST person I want to wake up with.
All this extraneous stuff they do would be like ESPN suddenly deciding to do shows about sewing or first-time home buyers.


DirecTV went on to say that they’ve heard loud and clear from their customers that they do NOT want to see reality shows when they tune in for the weather, and – Lord of mercy – they think the Weather Channel’s policy of giving names to storms is STOOPID!!!!!!

There is hope for humanity.
I’ve discovered I’m far from alone in despising the gimmicking-up of weather.  Whatever finally happens….whether the folks at DirecTV decide to get out of the weather business and come to terms with the Weather Channel again; or whether the Weather Channel wakes up with Al one morning and decides to resist the crap foisted on it by the NBC-Universal people and get back to the business of doing live forecasts 24-7-365, one thing is certain: the people – at least, some of them – subscribers to DirecTV - have been given an alternative, and as far as I’m concerned that’s a good thing.


I’ll be watching eagerly to see how this plays out.

Monday, January 13, 2014

An Ode to Rosie - Our Favorite Family Car

I think a lot of families have a particular car in which many fond memories reside, and in our case that car is a 1994 Colt Vista Wagon that my wife and kids dubbed “Rosie”. Rosie’s full name was “Rosebud”, mainly because of her rose-red color. That’s Rosie above, in a 2003 photo. She’s sitting in front of the house of our friends Tom and Mary. Nine years old but still looking like new!


My wife bought Rosie brand new from a Madison dealer (Russ Darrow) when we had just started dating. The decision was between Rosie, with her practicality and fuel economy and room for two kids and a dog, and a bright green, sporty, Chrysler Neon on display at the same dealership. Rosie won, and she stayed in our family from that day in 1994 until the day she died, in 2009. 15+ years of solid service.


Both kids learned to drive on Rosie. By the time our son was old enough to start learning to drive, in 1999, Rosie had already delivered five years of maintenance-free service, and her tiny 4-cylinder engine started up every time and purred like a kitten. At that time, I was driving a huge Cadillac ElDorado Touring Coupe with a Northstar V-8 that delivered 300 horsepower, and although our son campaigned heavily to “just take it for a cruise” after he got his license, he was restricted to driving Rosie. I know what it’s like to be 16 years old and have 300 horsepower at your command, and, well…..suffice it to say the only time our son got to drive the big black Caddy was one very late night around the turn of the century when my judgment was impaired.


It happened during a period of time when my radio compadre Sly was still in his drinking days. We’d had Sly over for dinner one Saturday night, and it was just one of those nights when everybody had a bit too much to drink. Some time after the midnight hour, while our son and several of his pals had a sleep-over going on in the lower level of the house playing video games and such, it became apparent that none of the “adults” were in any shape to drive.  I can’t recall whether Sly had driven the big Mercury sedan I called his “FBI Car” – because it looked like an FBI-issue sedan with heavily-tinted windows and a big V-8 – or if it was his big-ass classic Buick Roadmaster.


Anyway, the course of action decided upon was to have one of our son’s pals drive Sly home in his car, while our son and the rest of his pals would follow Sly home, and then bring the driver back after Sly’s car was safely parked at Sly’s west-side home.  In a moment of weakness, I allowed them to take the big Caddy, and stories of that night still abound among our son and his friends.  I never wanted to know the specifics.


As both kids went off to college at the UW, Rosie remained in the family, parked in the driveway. When my wife went to get a new car in 2002, the amount they offered us for a trade-in on Rosie was, I thought, insulting, so we decided to keep Rosie and “deal on the invoice” as the car folks used to say.  I gave Rosie plenty of loving attention, after all the years of service she’d given in family trips to Chicago and Hortonville, hauling brush to the dumpsite, getting groceries, and then becoming “the kids’ car” that sat in the driveway, off to the side, so my wife and I could get in and out of the garage without moving Rosie every time.
No matter what we asked of Rosie, she delivered. Even when she was just sitting and waiting to be driven.

Her low horsepower, front wheel drive, and narrow tires were perfect for battling heavy snow, and there were many snowy mornings over the years 2002- 2006 that I left the Caddy (and its sucessors) in the garage and took Rosie to work at 2:45 AM, long before the county plows went to work on the Beltline. We replaced a water pump and timing belt at some point; replaced the exhaust system; had ignition work done; but other than that, Rosie cost us little but gas, oil, and insurance.


After our daughter graduated from the UW, we gave Rosie to her. Our son did not like Rosie, and when we offered her to him, he said he would just sell her or trade her in – a concept we couldn’t live with. He wound up buying a nice 2000 Chevy Impala, which he still drives!


Rosie left home and went to live with our daughter in 2006. She got our daughter safely to and from work at Meriter Hospital, and then at UW Hospital for many years, and transported her to and from the nice apartment she and her BFF Breanna rented in McFarland. But then one warm spring day in 2009, our daughter called and said Rosie was not behaving well. I said “bring her over and we’ll take a look at her”. The test-drive was terrifying – at any speed above about 30 miles an hour, Rosie wobbled like a drunk and was very hard to steer.  I had a mechanic look at her, and the diagnosis was fatal: cost of repair would far exceed the value of the vehicle, to the point where it was time to put Rosie to sleep. Ball joints, tie rods, struts – a long list of things which had to be replaced. She had pretty serious body cancer by then; the air conditioner had given out quite a while ago; the tires were in need of replacement; add it all up, and it was a death sentence.  At that time, Rosie had about 161,000 hard-earned miles on the odometer.


So, the next day, driving on “surface streets only”, my daughter brought Rosie home for one last time; we drove Rosie to the huge Zimbrick dealership just off the Beltline, and picked out a nice, safe, low-miles Buick Regal to replace Rosie, and as part of the deal, the guys at Zimbrick said they would “dispose” of Rosie.


Rosie is gone, but will never be forgotten.  She was a good girl!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Ice Bowl II ???

I have been to the coldest game ever played at Lambeau Field – the famous Ice Bowl on 12/31/67 – and the hottest game ever played at Lambeau Field – the re-dedication of the stadium after renovation, on 9/7/03.  So I speak to this coming Sunday’s game with some authority on the matter.

Lots of Packers fans claim they were at the Ice Bowl, when the Packers defeated the Cowboys in a playoff game on New Year’s Eve in 1967, but I was really there.  Section 9, Row 58. Me, my mom and dad, and Grandpa Morrissey.

More on that, later.

As of the time this is being written Thursday noon, there are still about 5,500 tickets unsold for Sunday’s playoff game with the 49ers. It’s a big topic on talk radio, and sports radio is abuzz with speculation about the possibility of a TV blackout of the game. On Dan Patrick’s radio show, he said a Green Bay businessman is standing by to purchase any unsold tickets at the deadline, so the game won’t be blacked out in the Green Bay and Milwaukee TV markets.

Patrick says he was at the coldest game in NFL history, which some say was the AFC Championship game played at Riverfront Stadium between the Bengals and the Chargers on January 10th, 1982. He was in the press box, freezing his butt off, as the air temperature was 9 below and the wind chill was 59 below.

That was one cold, cold game.  Some argue the Ice Bowl was the coldest game in NFL history, because the air temperature was 13 below, 4 degrees colder than it was in Cincinnati in ’82. But the wind chill at the Ice Bowl was calculated at 46 below, 13 degrees “warmer” than the famous Cincy game.

If the temperature Sunday is colder than one below zero, Sunday’s game will go down as the second-coldest at Lambeau field. Right now the #2 slot is held by the playoff game against the Giants on January 20th, 2008, when the temperature was 1 below and the wind chill was 23 below.

I remember the Ice Bowl clearly, even though it was 46 years ago. I was 18 at the time, and was a college student home in Hortonville for the winter break. My dad had four season tickets for the Packers, and I went with him, my mom, and my Grandpa Morrissey to all the home games during the “glory years”. I remember listening to WHBY-AM (Appleton), and all the talk that Sunday morning on the station was about the frigid temperature and its impact on the big game. Everyone knew the Cowboys were staying at the Midway Motor Lodge in Appleton, where it was just as cold as it was in Green Bay, and Packers fans said this was decidedly a great home-field advantage for the Pack, playing against the warm-weather Dallas Cowboys.

We bundled up in snowmobile boots, heavy layers of clothes, scarves, and hats, with hand-warmers and several flasks of brandy as “anti-freeze”. Grandpa Morrissey drove from his home in Oshkosh to Hortonville and then we all got into my dad’s car and made the half-hour trip to Lambeau Field. We parked about a half-mile from the stadium in what used to be a huge open field and made the trek in.

At halftime, my mom couldn’t stand the cold any more, and she left the stadium to go back to the car and warm up. But my dad and grandpa and I toughed it out, and we were rewarded. The famous Bart Starr quarterback keeper that went over Jerry Kramer’s block on Jethro Pugh was at our end of the stadium, right below us, and we saw it perfectly.  Out seats were just to the right of the top of the scoreboard in the photo above.  In 1967, the Lambeau Field grandstand was 60 rows tall, and our seats in row 58 were two rows from the very top of the stadium, right in the teeth of the wind. I clearly recall that my feet were the coldest part of my body, even though we were sitting facing the wind. That concrete was COLD and it soaked right through my Canadian Sorel snowmobile boots!

After the game, we walked back to the car and then headed for a tavern in Black Creek, where we traditionally met up with a lot of folks after the game, for a brewski and a burger, to rehash the game, and warm up. The heater in my dad’s brand new ’67 Ford Country Squire wagon was good, but when it’s that cold, you need to keep your heavy clothes on inside the car.

At the Ice Bowl, the vendors at the stadium ran out of coffee and hot chocolate before half-time. Suffice it to say tap beer was not a big seller.  At the re-dedication game on September 7th of 2003, the mercury soared well into the 90’s, and the vendors ran out of bottled water some time early in the 3rd quarter. With the oppressive heat and humidity at that game, again, tap beer was not a big seller. Toni and I had purchased a package deal for that game, which included round trip transportation in a luxury bus from Pier 37 in Monona to Lambeau Field, a tailgate lunch at Brett Favre’s restaurant a block or so from the stadium, and tickets to the game. The package also included free “beverages” on the bus, and we didn’t have a beer on the way home until after all the bottled water was gone.

The talk shows are speculating about why the tickets for the 49ers game on Sunday didn’t sell out immediately, and everybody has their pet theories.  Season ticket holders were apathetic because the team didn’t have that good a year, with Rodgers injured and unable to play until the Bears game last week; people don’t want to sit in weather that cold that late in the day; you name it.

But HiDef TV has got to be another factor, along with the way NFL games are televised these days.  Back in the days of the Ice Bowl, you were more likely than not to see the game in black and white rather than in color, and there were maybe 5 or 6 camera angles available to the director.  Instant replay was just coming into use on the telecasts. Slow-motion or stop-action replay was still decades away.

Now, there are 25 to 30 different camera shots available to the person directing the telecast; there’s sky-cam or its equivalent, overhead shots, isolation shots on all the key players, slow-mo, super-slow-mo, and stop-motion shots available from at least four angles on every play. The whole TV game experience is vastly different from 1967.

So, Sunday afternoon, I’ll have a beverage standing by next to my giant recliner chair in the media room of the Morrissey compound, snacks of all sorts, and we’ll be watching the game in Hi Def on a 66-inch screen with a 500-watt surround sound system. It will be about 68 degrees in the room, with a fire crackling in the fireplace, and I will be able to stop, pause, or rewind the action any time I want with my DVR.

Call me a fair-weather fan, but that scenario is much more appealing to me than freezing my butt off at Lambeau Field.  I wouldn’t trade my Ice Bowl experience for anything, but those days are gone for me.