Friday, October 31, 2008

Pallin' Around

"Don't you realize this is the last act of a desperate man?"

"We don't care if it's the first act of Henry the Fifth. We're getting out of here."

Okay, now this is just getting silly. Really. Is anybody at the Republican National Headquarters listening to what they're doing? Apparently not, or at least their voice actors on the robocalls have never heard of the Republican Vice Presidential nominee.

Look, I want to make it clear. I used to be a conservative. I voted for Reagan. I voted for the George Herbert Walker Bush. I marched in a parade with John Boehner back in Hamilton, Ohio. I worked at WLW, for crying out loud. It's not like I was raised by hippies, or wolves, or hippie wolves or something.

But this stuff coming out of the McCain campaign is straight out of the 1950's. The Commies are coming! The Commies are coming! Hell, with congress being run by liberal extremists, they're already here. This stuff is not just embarrassing to the GOP, it's embarrassing to the entire human race.

Robo Call just rang me again a few minutes ago. "Joe" told me how appalled he was that Obama said that Georgia should "show restraint" in the face of Russia's military action back this summer. You may recall both sides needed to show restraint, but that's beside the point. Joe shows well-inflected outrage at this, and asks is this what Obama will say when "Putin invades our homeland." Really. I'm not making this up.

So, Russia is marching towards America. And only McCain can stop them. That's funny. No, really. The answering machine recorded it, and I'm saving that one for history. Who needs Comedy Central with these bozos on the phone? But wait, it gets better. At the end of the message, the voice actor - and he is an actor, okay? They paid a guy to do this. - says this message was approved by the "McCain Pallin' Campaign."

I had to listen a second time to make sure I heard it right. Yes. That's what he said. He pronounced America's favorite MILF with a short "a" like we're just hanging out with my pal Sarah, and we're just Sarah pallin' around.

I'm dying. And I swear, I am not making this up.

That's the truly scary part.

Happy Halloween.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Case of the Missing Morning Man

All-night DJ's used to say, "It beats digging a ditch." Nowadays, in many cities, there are no all-night DJ's, and the people who have the talent for that line of work would rather dig a ditch.

There's an interesting piece in the Chicago Tribune about the decline of the Morning Zoo - those wild and crazy guys who used to dominate local morning radio. Patrick Kampert sights six reasons for the taming of the morning shows:

1 Federal Communications Commission fines

2 Jocks have matured

3 Advertisers don't like it

4 What's so shocking? (Cable and the Internet are relatively uncensored.)

5 The absence of Stern (He's on satellite radio dropping F bombs right and left.)

6 The tenor of the times

To that list, I'd like to add a seventh reason: the brain drain in the radio industry.

Years ago, major market stations kept boxes overflowing with audition tapes from hopeful applicants. These tapes came from the medium markets, where air talents polished their craft after paying their dues in the small markets, where they made their mistakes and found their personality. Only after years of work could a DJ hope to advance to the big leagues. (There are exceptions, of course, but those talents usually held a background in a similar field such as acting or TV.)

Today, the small market stations are owned by Clear Channel or other giants. These companies don't want their small market outlets to sound like small market outlets. Like the Big Mac, they want their stations to be the same all across the country. So, instead of employing a staff of fledgling professionals at their small stations, they bring in 20something sales managers who's only knowledge of the programming side of the business is to hire board operators to make sure the voice tracks imported from other stations get inserted between the songs correctly and sit through "Bob and Tom." These thousand-watt cubicle farms have no room for the Sterns and Dahls and even the Soupy Sales of tomorrow.

Not that Soupy Sales would be caught dead in one of these flea trap organizations. Once a proud part of their communities, many of these stations are now embarrassments. The staffers who were active members of the Kiwanis, Boy Scouts, Optimists, Shriners, and 4-H advisers, were told to take retirement. The hoodlums who run these stations today are far too busy searching for kegs, or crack, or whatever, or whoever they can "tap" next to be bothered with helping with the local Soap Box Derby. My personal experience was to have bar fights break out at my last remotes. A charity event at a bowling establishment turned into an embarrassment when station staffers of the Clear Channel variety got drunk and fell down on the lanes. In my last months working there, I used to half-joke that I'd rather tell people I sell child pornography than work for Clear Channel.

The result of all this is that the promise of talent that would've sent in tapes to the major market radio stations is now making a living in IT, selling cell phones, teaching, farming, or still searching for something, anything that can make them an honest living with their dignity intact. After all, some of these people are raising children.

Right now, there's a man who just issued a notice of foreclosure on somebody's house. He's walking away, feeling small and dirty. In order to bolster his spirits, he thinks back to the day he had to host the ultimate fighting matches for his station and a client who was soon indicted for money laundering. And he says to himself, "Could be worse. I could be in radio."

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

News in the Night

As election day approaches, I can't help but feel a bit nostalgic for the days when I used to cover local results. I vowed I would not turn this blog into a creaky memoir about the Good Old Days, but election coverage these days is just not the same.

There was a time when Election Night meant constant coverage. Local and national anchor teams sat in front of massive maps giving us the state-by-state breakdown, numbers were posted with magnetic numbers on metal boards, rear projection screens, or even black markers on white boards. On radio, you just read the results. But either way, Election Night meant a long night. The news director ordered pizza. You sat in a board of elections lobby gabbing with your fellow reporters, catching up on media gossip while you waited for more precincts to report in. And when they did, the results were usually written on a white board, or a chalk board, or at one courthouse I worked, they used an overhead projector.

On radio, results were phoned in, which meant you had to share the courthouse phones with your journalistic brethren. Banks of phones would be set up for the media, and you would be using them most of the night, as results trickled in from the hand counting of the ballots. During the 80's cell phones starting showing up. Reporters would unfurl their "bag phones" searching for a "hot spot" much the way laptop dogs hunt for WIFI today. Early cell phones went through batteries like the Tasmanian Devil goes through a Golden Coral. After two or three calls, reporters were searching for electrical outlets. More than a few election wrap ups were phoned in from dark hallways or the men's room. I usually did my final report in the car, with the phone plugged into the power outlet for the cigarette lighter - back when cars had cigarette lighters.

Those were the days. And now they're gone.

You see, there's not much call for wall-to-wall team coverage at the local level anymore. Sure, the presidential elections have been controversial gabfests for the national networks and cable news giants. But for many local stations the contest for sheriff or common pleas court judge really isn't worth the bitch calls they'll get breaking into "Dancing With The Stars." So they run a crawl throughout the night. And these days you can get the numbers on any number of websites faster, easier, and more detailed than you'll find anywhere else. And for the reporters, unless you happen to be at a county where the chads are hanging or a 69 year-old poll worker gets lost with the last precinct of ballots, you're done and on your way home by 10:00.

It's all fast and efficient now. And that's the way it ought to be.

But just once more, how I'd like to taste a soggy pizza in a stuffy newsroom after midnight.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Car Toons

Maureen Ryan's "Watcher" article in The Chicago Trib on WHY NBC HATES US? is worth reading. I often wonder the same things as I sit through the prime time schedule in master control. As for the question as to why NBC ordered a full season of "Knight Rider," the answer to that one is easy. Product placement. "Knight Rider" is a barely disguised commercial for the Ford Mustang and other Ford products, romping about in a live action cartoon. You know Ford is ponying up (pun intended) the production costs to make sure the real star of the show gets plenty of screen time.

A writer's observation: notice how the car is gifted with the ability to transform into any four-wheel vehicle of the Ford family - the easier to update the 'Tang to the 2010 model should the need arise, without a plot device. In the original "Knight Rider" KITT had to be wrecked in order to update the Trans Am. (A pointless exercise, since GM product designs tend to evolve at a glacier pace.) Note how KITT has evolved from the 2008 model.

So, if McCain wins the election, will Ford team up with a network to bring back "Maverick?"

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Dirty Politics

If I get one more automated telephone call telling me Barack Obama is a terrorist with an extreme liberal agenda, I'm going to put an Obama sign in my front yard and light it at night, and put a video of my mother seeing it and fainting on You Tube.

Some of things I'm seeing and hearing from McCain and Palin rallies are scaring me half to death. At least McCain finally told a little old lady, No. He's not. He's a good man. But Palin and the GOP are reminding me of something out of "All The King's Men." Or worse, George Wallace. (Irony Alert: Wallace was a Democrat.)

So why is this hi-octane crap being shoveled into my phone? Because political candidates are exempt from the National Do Not Call Registry, a loophole in the law that is intended to allow political freedom.

Also, it's a lot harder to track this bovine excrement when it comes over your telephone. Automated dialers - illegal for business oriented telemarketing - can be set up and taken out of any basement in any city in any state... or country. If anyone were to actually take the effort to track these guys down, all they'd find is an empty room by the time they found it.

But, if you buy advertising time on TV, local or network, somebody has to sign for it. There's a paper trail. The FCC is watching. Everybody has to be at their best behavior. You can say, "Obama voted to kill babies," as long as you sight your source by putting that little graphic at the bottom of the screen in microscopic font that even we in master control with HD direct monitors can't read.

But the question I have is this: Why aren't political ads held to the FTC's Truth in Advertising law? If it's illegal for Coke to run an ad saying "Pepsi is poison, with a liberal agenda that'll raise your taxes," why is it legal for McCain and the Republicans? If Viagra can't show a person taking a pill and saying, "Wow. Good thing I didn't take Cialis, which has terrorist friends," why should Palin get away with it?

According to the FTC website:

As with any other form of advertising or promotion, claims made through telemarketing must be truthful and substantiated.

Don't tell me it's for the sake of political freedom. The First Amendment doesn't cover libel, slander, or outright deception. If political campaigns were held to the same ethical standards in advertising as a local window company, these party politics flunkies wouldn't have any feces to sling and they'd have to get real jobs.

And my phone would stop ringing.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Taking Aim

Today, on an all-new Dr. Swill. They were a happily married couple... until they tried to aim their new antenna for digital TV.

Dr. Swill: Folks, I gotta tell ya. This has got be the worst relationship since Bristol Palin told her boyfriend she's keeping the baby. I'm talking with John and Marsha Wineguard. Marsha, let's start with you. How did this all get started?

Marsha: When Mr. Wizard here brought home that new digital TV.

John: Don't you judge me!

Dr. Swill: Alright, John, you'll get your turn. But thanks for getting that cliche out of the way early in the show. Seems to me digital TV was supposed to make the viewer's experience better, with more channels, a clearer picture...

Marsha: But we weren't told we had to get an antenna on our roof in order for any of that to work. So, then, John goes up on the roof to aim the antenna. Did you know if you don't aim those things just right... (breaks into sobbing) We couldn't get anything, Dr. Swill. That shouldn't happen to anyone. I mean, after all... We live in America!

(Audience applauds)

Dr. Swill: OK, now, John, I'll let you pick it up from there. You went out on the roof to aim the antenna. Then what?

John: Well, you know, I can't see the TV from up there, so I needed Marsha to watch the antenna aiming display on the TV. That's all I needed her to do. Just tell me when the bar hits one hundred.

Marsha: What bar? I don't know what he's talking about.

John: The bar. You know, the big honkin' signal display that you have to be either blind or stupid not to see.

Marsha: Well, you'd turn the thing, and all I could see was blue.

John: Turn the thing? You see what I've got to deal with? I never would've taken those vows of I had known I was marrying a techno-moron.

Dr. Swill: OK, now that's a bag of popcorn you can't unpop. I want you to think about-

Marsha: Oh, this coming from the genius who tried climbing up on the roof holding a four-by-eight piece of metal modern art AND a can of beer. Guess which one he dropped when he lost his balance.

John: The wind caught it.

Marsha: The wind caught it. And I guess it was the wind that nearly caused it to kill that man in the Buick.

John: I had him believing it was an alien spacecraft, until you had to open your big pie hole.

Dr. Swill: OK, now that rooster won't crow. I think what we're dealing with here is a communication issue.

Marsha: Oh, communication. You want to hear about communication? Let the genius here tell you about his Master Plan with the cell phones.

John: It was working fine. We both had our cell phones on so I could give her directions from the roof.

Marsha: You mean curse and call me names from the roof.

John: It was working fine!

Marsha: Yeah, until Marconi here dropped his phone and watched it slide down into a gutter where he can't reach it. It's still up there. Turned on. Now, every time he gets a call the entire neighborhood gets treated to the Bitch Song from South Park... again.

Dr. Swill: OK, what I'm going to suggest is that you two get professional help.

John: A marriage counselor?

Dr. Swill: No. A professional TV tower and antenna installation company. Because, unless you're a HAM radio operator or a professional stuntman, you've got no business trying to install your own TV antenna. A pro might cost you money, but it's money well spent if you want to enjoy over-the-air digital TV and get the most channels available in your area. Doing it yourself won't save you a plug-nickle if you end up in the hospital eating through a straw. Now, coming up, we're going to hear from a couple who tried to take their kids shopping for clothes. Can this marriage be saved? Stay tuned.

Are You Ready?

Digital TV is coming, whether any of us want it or not.

Is Lima, Ohio ready for the switch? Based on the number of calls I got the night our 1964 RCA analog broke down right before the vice-presidential debate, I'd say Hell No! According to the FCC, the people most likely to find their TV's inoperable on February 17, 2009 are the poor, the elderly, and the disenfranchised. That pretty much describes the core population of Lima.

Maybe we should air this.

Shout out to John Sandor for pointing out this video.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Weather Minus

This corporation ain't big enough for two weather networks, so it's audios Weather Plus.

NBC has made it official that the fledgling all-weather network is being phased out by the end of the year. The reason: NBC just bought The Weather Channel. Oops.

It wasn't that Weather Plus was all that bad, but rather the timing was the worst since the introduction of the 2008 SUV line-up just in time for $4 a gallon gas. It was envisioned that Weather Plus would offer a 24-hour a day alternative to The Weather Channel's increasingly chatty programming. In reality, it was relegated to the "point 3" channel on most NBC affiliates' new digital signals. Compare that to The Weather Channel's seemingly omnipresence during hurricane season, and it was clear the little dog never had a chance. Furthermore, many local TV stations use their own Doppler radars as the visual backbone for their continuous local weather channels. The Peacock's graphically cluttered theme, combined with oft repeated automated segments, sealed its fate.

The television landscape may support multiple ESPN's, a Fox Sports channel, two C-Spans, multiple children's networks, four PBS signals to every affiliate, and a plethora of religious channels... but there's still room for only one Weather Channel.

Cable Capers

Cable TV providers seem to be running into a number of "disputes" with local TV stations these days. In my general region alone, Time Warner had pulled the plug on two different major network affiliates in two markets last week. What gives? Here it is in a nutshell:

Once upon a time, a cable operator had to provide local channels whether they wanted to or not, 'cause the FCC said so. The "must carry" law went away some years ago, but most cable systems remained unchanged simply because things were working fine they way they were. But now, with the economy in the johnny flusher and ad revenues already off, local TV stations are looking for any means they can find to raise a little cash. The solution: inform the cable operators in your area that they are infringing on your rights by retransmitting your signal without fair compensation. Now, gimmee your money.

Naturally enough, the cable company's response to this is going to be, "@*%# you." They turn off the reception of the local station and put Starz Kids in its place. As a result, instead of Payton Manning and the Colts, you get "Bee Movie." Remote controls go flying. Screens are smashed. TV stations, cable operators, congressmen, and senators find their voice mails melted on Monday morning.

I'm not a lawyer, but it seems to me that if any of these disputes ever came to trial, I would want to know why, oh, say WANE in Fort Wayne, for example, hasn't felt motivated to taking action for the theft of their intellectual property in the any of the previous 50 years that their signal has been retransmitted all over the region. And what makes their signal in 2008 more valuable than the signal they transmitted in 2007, 2006, 2005, etc... Market value? Potential sales revenue? The court will take a 15 minute recess for the jury to stop laughing. YOU'RE A CBS AFFILIATE.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


Gotta give a shout out where it's deserved. The latest version of that "Yes for Issue 6" spot very deliberately shows the car with Indiana plates driving into Ohio with the voice over saying maybe people from our neighboring states will spend their gambling money here. Nice fix-it job. Glad to see somebody's paying attention.