Sunday, November 28, 2010

How To Write A Letter To A TV Station

At the end of certain episodes of "H.R. Puffnstuff" Puff implores the viewer at home to "Keep those cards and letters coming!" Viewed today, these pleas come across a bit desperate. They weren't; "Puffnstuff's" ratings were great by Saturday Morning standards. But the Kroft brothers knew the old rules of children's television: tell the kids to let the network and local stations know you're watching and just how horrible your life would be, and how you would have to change the channel, if your favorite show were to be cancelled. Oh yeah. Believe me, nothing makes a TV station manger's day like a pile of mail from children.

These days, Puff would have a Facebook wall and Witchiepoo would be hacking his website. But even in the Internet age nothing gets a station manger's attention quite like a good old-fashioned hand-written letter. That's because hard copy ink-on-paper correspondence must be kept on file for the FCC. So, if you want to be able to read your letter in our public file and enjoy watching the receptionist try to remember where the public file is, you need to know how to write a letter to your local TV station.

Step one: know to whom you are writing. A vague "Dear Sir" will get you nowhere, and shows you didn't take the time to do your research. Indicate to the station manger with your very first words that you are a person of intelligence and decorum.

ex: Dear Liberal Scumbag,

Step two: get to the point. No long-winded introductions here, just tell the manager in a clear, succinct manner the nature of the problem you wish to address.

ex: You're channel sucks.

Step three: back up your statement with concise facts. Stay on topic, and avoid rambling off on a tangent. Provide specific information in order to clarify the time and subject to which you refer.

ex: Why dose you're station hate Jesus?

Step four: indicate any actions you feel the station should take to alleviate the issue, and welcome the opportunity to seek a compromise to reach a satisfactory resolution.

ex: Im going to tell my frends to boycoot the advertizers on you're channel.

In your closing, make sure to provide a means for management to reply.

ex: I know where you live.

And that's all there is to it. Follow these simple steps, and I guarantee your letter will be kept on file by the proper federal authorities in Washington, DC.

Oh, and if you're sending a letter during the holidays, be sure to include a fruitcake. The agents just love fruitcakes. And nuts.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Kill NPR?

Once again, the battle cry was sounded to oust NPR from the American airwaves. The flash point this time is the firing of NPR news analyst Juan Williams, who made it known on Fox News Network's "O' Reilly Factor" that he feels nervous when seated next to a devout Muslim during a flight. To quote Chandler on "Friends," can open; worms everywhere.

As a result, NPR - that's NPR, not National Public Radio, for heaven's sake, don't mention radio anymore - fired Williams because...

"Juan's comments on Fox violated our standards as well as our values and offended many in doing so," said NPR President and CEO Vivian Schiller in an internal memo obtained by Fox News.

"This isn't the first time we have had serious concerns about some of Juan's public comments," she wrote. "Despite many conversations and warnings over the years, Juan continued to violate this principal.”

Bad air talent! No biscuit! But improper use of the word "principal" aside - so much for NPR being elitist - Ms. Schiller has the authority and a track record to back her firing of Williams. This is exactly how it's done in any media organization, be it public or private funded, including Fox. If I worked for Fox and went on CNN and said "George W. Bush is only saying things right now that will sell his book," my boss would call me in and say, point one: what the hell were you doing on CNN? and point two: You're fired.

Ah, but what about the first amendment? Didn't NPR censor Juan Williams when they fired him? Yep. The same way CBS censored the Smothers Brothers, and the same way the cast of "Saturday Night Live" has to run everything by Standards and Practices before the next show goes out. Being on a mass medium is a privilege, not a right. You gain that privilege by agreement with those who own control of that particular medium source. If you work for Disney, you answer to the Mouse. If you host a radio show sponsored by the NRA - yes, there are - you better not get caught at a rally for gun control legislation. Let me put it another way: let's say you work at Ford. Now, as an American citizen, you have the right to buy and drive any brand of car you want. Yes you do. But just try parking a Kia in that UAW parking lot.

Which is why the ballyhoo to drive NPR out of existence is a silly spotlight grabbing bit of congressional theater. Like it or not, NPR was exercising the same managerial tactics any other media organization uses. Oh, and even Mike Huckabee knows Congress doesn't "cut checks" to NPR or PBS or any other media organization. That would be a state run media, and we don't allow that in the USA. What Congress does allow is a federal funding go-between called The Corporation for Public Broadcasting which provides some funding for non-profit broadcasting for everything from "All Things Considered" to "Sesame Street" to "Antiques Road Show." The CPB funding accounts for something between 1% to 3% of total funding collected by public broadcasters, so yeah, cutting federal dollars would hurt, but not wipe NPR from the face of the earth. I wouldn't mind if public broadcasters were to be weened off of the CPB, but shutting off the spigot would only increase on-air fund drives and tie up Congress in a Battle Royale over something that isn't really a priority over, say, health care, or our troops in Afghanistan.

And besides... isn't outlawing an entire national radio network censorship?

Saturday, November 13, 2010


Apparently, actress Heather Leigh plays the role of my wife in the new movie "Unstoppable." Actually, the official cast listing is "Findlay Reporter," and Deb's newsroom was in Lima, but since Deb still grumbles about having to chase that frickin' freight train halfway across Northwest Ohio I figure "Findlay Reporter" is close enough to the truth. That's about as close to any truth this film ever gets.

To paraphrase Alfred Hitchcock, a good story is real life with the boring parts cut out. "Apollo 13" would be pretty boring if we had to sit through the hours of waiting while Walter Cronkite interviewed NASA officials. The crew on "CSI" get their results without making us suffer the monotony of lab work. And even the best episode of "Law & Order" skates past just... how... damn... boring... a real stakeout can be. These are justifiable omissions in the name of pacing and storytelling. We, the viewer, appreciate the dissolve to the next day, or the Bang-Bang black screen graphic insert to get us to the next plot point. The story is believable, we just cut out the boring Real Life stuff.

But sometimes it seems like Hollywood cuts out all connection with Real Life altogether. It was pointed out at the time of the film's release that the opening scene in the Sylvester Stallone yarn "Cliffhanger" could only occur in real life in the perfect storm of 3 Stooges like malfunctions. this did not reassure me into going mountain climbing, but it did make me wonder if the opening scene is complete codswallop, why should I care about the rest of the story?

The movie "Unstoppable" leads the box office this weekend, and it's easy to see why. It's got the total package: Denzel Washington being heroic, lots of CGI action, and absolutely no connection with reality whatsoever. The story was inspired by a Real Life runaway train that somehow broke away in Toledo and headed down the tracks south towards Columbus. The Movie train tears through populated area in speed-blurred CGI smashing anything that gets in its way. Oh, and to up the ante, there's dangerous materials on board that will wipe out all life as we know it

OK. Here's the reality:

My wife, news reporter for WIMA radio, easily intercepted the train in Hardin County while coworkers and I back at the station wondered why they didn't just route the damn thing into Springfield, blow it up there, and do us all a favor. According to Deb, "Unstoppable" got as fast as 15mph... downhill. Bicyclists were outrunning it. Floats in the Tournament of Roses Parade pose a greater threat to pedestrians. The area the train traveled through was sparsely populated enough that railroad and other officials considered intentionally derailing the train before it could reach Bellefontaine. The main HAZMAT threat was the possibility of a diesel fuel spill from the locomotive. An engineer simply jumping on board was eventually the method used to stop the train. It ended up stopped without any loss of life or property in Kenton, Ohio, blocking a highway. As for wiping out life as we know it in Hardin County, I can't see a down side.

Finally, let me just say that, while Heather Leigh is a fine looking woman, this is not a true representation of what a real radio news reporter looks like.

In reality, this is what my wife looks like.


Oh well. Reality bites.