Monday, January 31, 2011

Charge!

The only thing I find more amazing than a technological advance, is how humans can find reasons why we should reject a technological advance. There's nothing new here. People have been leery of new-fangled gadgets ever since Early Man started working with tools and developing ways of recording information. Let's take a trip back in time and visit a couple of cavemen during a technological breakthrough.

Grog: "Hey. What's happening, man?"

Grunk: "Dig it. I'm writing."

Grog: "Say what? Writing? What's that?"

Grunk: "Only the latest, daddy-o. Look, I chisel some marks in this stone, and that's my name in print."

Grog: "Hey man, you start putting your name out there and, like, the Man is gonna start buggin' you. First they get your name, then they want to know what you're doing in your cave. It's the slippery slope."

Grunk: "Aw man, you're harshing my mellow. Hey, forget writing. Let's go watch some Ultimate Fighting."

Grog: "Groovy."


Of course, that's not how people actually talked back in prehistoric times; it just feels that way. Anyway, this constant battle between technology and privacy rages on to this very day. Which brings me to smart meters: electric meters that when attached to your home's wiring can sense the "electronic signature" of various appliances and send information back to the electric company showing more than just your kilowatt per hour usage. Smart meters can show data on how often your refrigerator runs, what kind of TV you own and how often it's on, the amount of power consumed by your washer and dryer, and even whether you go with XBox or PlayStation. The idea behind this is to monitor your usage so that power companies can make more informed decisions about routing power for maximum efficiency, and yes, telling you how to cut your electrical usage. It's a "green" thing. It's meant to help the environment and conserve natural resources.

So naturally there are people who don't want them.

There are two reasons people have sited against the smart meters: first is the charge that since these devices communicate to the power company by means of wireless signals, they must be spewing out electromagnetic radiation, which apparently can cause at least in some people dizziness, fatigue, headaches, sleeplessness, bouts of depression leading to rage-fueled outbursts that sends you to rehab and shuts down production of your sit-com for weeks at a time. I'm not a medical professional, so I'm not qualified to debate the credibility of EHS (Electromagnetic Hyper Sensitivity) or why people who have this affliction don't seem to suffer the aforementioned symptoms on a sunny day when the sun showers us with far more electromagnetic radiation than any device ever created by humans. Nor will I attempt to question the idea that if high amounts of electromagnetic radiation causes cancer, why is it my coworkers and I, or anybody else at a TV or radio broadcasting facility have not morphed into giant walking tumors?

On the second reason I am a little more prepared to debate. This reason sites that data sent back to the power company infringes on our right to privacy. I have studied this theory over and over and while I must admit there is a certain creepiness factor in knowing somebody miles away can tell what my appliances are doing, I remain baffled as to how the power company knowing I left the porch light on is a threat to my life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Perhaps Mr. Burns and Smithers have some nefarious scheme afoot and all they're waiting for is Homer to tell them my refrigerator is running. ("Should I try to catch it, Mr. Burns?") And while it's true that it really is nobody's business if I turn on my Sony big screen and put in a Blue Ray of "Dukes of Hazzard: The Director's Cut" the fact is the credit card company already knows I own all of this. They know the second I swiped my Visa when I bought it at Wally World (who has me on multiple security cameras selecting, paying for, and lugging it out to the car) and already is gleefully sharing that information with various other marketing firms and advertising agencies. I could be wrong, but I think by the time a smart meter tells Burns and Smithers what I'm doing it is far, far too late to be worried about privacy.

And besides, I think I'm smart enough to know the difference between a slippery slope and an ant hill.


Big Brother is watching you... or rather he's watching your toaster oven.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Goodbye, Columbus

What can I say about Ted Williams that hasn't already been said? He's the viral sensation of the moment, and yet, as a voiceover performer, I'm pressed for my opinion on the matter.

First off, everyone seems to agree that Ted Williams deserves a break, and we all wish him good luck. No one begrudges him for looking for work, taking advantage of an opportunity, and climbing aboard a media rocket to the stars. Yeah, he messed up in the past. A lot of people in radio and other professions manage to stay off the booze and other substances at least enough to keep a job, but these days being clean and sober isn't a guarantee you won't get the sack tomorrow. So, to some degree at one time or another, those of us who've been in the radio biz can relate to Ted's dilemma, and I wish him well. In this era of Snookies and Situations and nondescript rap stars, it's refreshing to see someone with talent, determination, and humility become famous.

Now for the cynicism. Oh, yeah, there's cynicism creeping into this. Maybe I've seen Frank Capra's "Meet John Doe" one too many times, or the fact that Ted sounds like John Tesh, or it could be that you don't work for as long as I have in the media without feeling suspicious of every move somebody makes. I've seen, or been in on, enough radio pranks, publicity stunts, PR maneuvers, and management tap dancing to know very little happens in the media by accident or pure luck. So please forgive me if my first reaction to the viral video was, "Oh. Yeah, Sure. He's homeless like Donald Trump needs pocket change. Nice free commercial for a Columbus oldies station. Clever. And he sound like John Tesh." But Ted turned out to be the real deal, and I for one am relieved that this whole thing hasn't been revealed to be a stupid radio stunt.

But my crap detector is still on full scan. It's cynical of me, I know, but maybe you could understand if you saw things from my point of view. I'm not saying you should be wary of Ted Williams, but you should be wary of the people and organizations looking for ways to exploit him. There are a few things you really ought to be aware of. I can't prove all these things with hard evidence, but trust me... it's true.

Ted Williams is quite cognisant that he is being exploited. He knows people are making themselves look saintly by hiring him or having him on their show. He might've been homeless, but he ain't stupid.

Ted Williams is not his real name. It's a radio name. Trust me. I've heard "Ted Williams" before, and I'm not just talking about the baseball player. It's a double-first-name nom de plume common in the radio biz, like Jim Scott, Jerry Thomas, Randy Michaels, John Stevens, Fred Richards, and Dick Clark, invented back when he was on the air in days gone by. There's nothing wrong with that. In fact, that's smart. Like Superman he needs his privacy when he's not "on," and often times people are born with names that don't lend themselves to easy recognition in a crowded media world. Anybody remember Richard Starkey? So don't be shocked and dismayed when the story breaks that "Ted Williams" is a name he made up.

This had to happen in, of all places, Columbus? Really? What's with all the overnight sensations suddenly coming out of the Buckeye state? "American Idol" plucked Crystal Bowersock out of a wide spot in the road in Crawford County, "So You Think You Can Dance?" found Kent Boyd from Wapakoneta, (even if the judge couldn't find Wapakoneta. It's right next to I-75, you jackwagon.) and "Glee" is alleged to take place in Lima, although a film crew has never set foot here and not so much as an establishing shot has shown the real Lima. Oh, and while it's a coincidence, our new Speaker of the House John Boehner is from West Chester, (take note, news editors and proofreaders. That's how it's spelled, but it's pronounced like one word.) So, here again is another new star bursting onto the scene from Ohio. Don't get me wrong; I love it. But still...

The reporter who shot the viral video works for the Columbus Dispatch, which not only runs a newspaper but also owns radio stations and the leading local TV news station. And yet, the Dispatch Group couldn't find this guy a gig?

Next, I see him in Clear Channel Ohio, the organization that is responsible for more unemployment in Ohio radio than any other since the dawn of history. My Irony Alert was ringing like Big Ben.

Next, it's off to Smaltzapalooza, aka "Today." I hear they had a hell of a time flying him in because "Ted Williams" had no ID. Apparently the TSA folks never watch You Tube.

He swings by "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon." I'm sure Leno's people wanted him more, but it was all NBC could do just to get him to New York. I see glimpses of the radio personality he must've been.

It's announced that Ted will be the voice of MSNBC. (An image voice, as we say in the biz) NSNBC says he represents something. Apparently he represents pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. No wait... that can't be right. He represents the FCC's outright disregard if not hostility for broadcast radio. Hmmm, too harsh. I got it. He represents the fact that Clear Channel will hire someone off the street and put him on the air. Nope. We already knew that.

He records his first VO for Kraft, and it's captured on video and put on You Tube. No pressure, Ted, just relax, take a deep breath, and BE A GOD. The session is put on You Tube because the agency representing Kraft realizes Ted Williams' professional goal is to be an unassuming invisible voice, and that's not what this is all about. Send in the clowns and keep this circus running.

Besides, we can't run the risk that when the spot actually airs people at home will say, "Well, whadya know. John Tesh found work. Good for him."

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Nostalgia

Wanna see the TV we had when I was a kid. Well, here it is in this commercial from 1965. It was our first color set. My parents didn't buy a color set until I was old enough to operate it for them.



In the day, Zenith was considered one of the top brands for televisions, and as you can see in the ad, it really was built with a hand-wired tube chassis. Made in America. This was an advantage in the era, because tubes were much easier and cheaper to replace than an entire circuit board. Nowadays it's the opposite. The downsides to this technology: compared to today's TV's it was a power hog, it poured heat into the room, and it took about a minute to power up and another five or so to "warm up" to produce a quality picture.

Notice the ad promotes the rectangular picture tube. Prior to this model color sets had round tubes that fit behind a "TV shape" mask, with a flat top and bottom but rounded ends. You gained a lot of video real estate with the rectangular format. Compared to today's TV's though, the tube corners are rounded off and the whole thing had quite a bulge.

But the sound... This was one of the first sets to use the phrase "high fidelity." And it was. Separate bass and treble controls graced the front panel to adjust the FM radio quality sound. Now in those days, network audio traveled to local affiliates via special phone lines. This rendered all network audio - say like while watching "Batman" - in a quality more like AM radio. But it was still cool.

It's odd that the commercial overlooks a big Gee Whiz feature of this set. To change the channel, you pushed a button on the front panel, which engaged a motor drive that turned the channel selector until it stopped at the next local channel. This function was not electronic, but rather electro-mechanical: the local Zenith dealer pre-set the motorized channel selector to stop at local channels. (VHF only. The UHF tuner was a separate knob that you have to adjust manually. A real pain if you wanted to change UHF stations. TV's like this couldn't have sold well in UHF only cities like Fort Wayne.) But if you wanted to go backwards, you had to reach around behind the set and turn a manual knob.

Still, it was a reliable, robust system that served us until 1980 or so. Not bad. In fact, the quality really did go in.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

How To Annoy Master Control

In another installment in my continuing series learn how to interact with your local television broadcasters.

If you call NBC and try to get through to Brian Williams, chances are you won't. He's a star, and the NBC phone maze is designed to keep the typical person who might keep Mr. Williams from focusing on his job with conversation that might be more than a little distracting. ("Hi. I wat chu ev'ry nat. Yur cute.") Other departments, mainly the sales and office staff, keep business hours and can also get away with a reasonable amount of honesty with the wayward caller. And if you happen to get through the maze and your call gets to the technical operations center (TOC) you'll likely get something that sounds like The Situation.

"Whadya askin' me for? I'm havin' a bagel, here."
(Somehow I get the impression that network TOC operators generally don't live in Midtown and lunch in The Rainbow Room.)

Your local TV station does not have such luxury, particularly in master control where the phone is manned 24/7 by a dedicated and highly motivated member of our technical operations team. Here's a photo of one of our team members.


Blog administrator has removed said photo of dedicated and highly motivated member of our technical operations team due to the fact that the bird he is throwing the camera is indeed NOT the NBC peacock.


Knowing that such a person has nothing better to do but answer your call, you the common television viewer can take advantage of this. Listed below are tips in how to annoy master control.

* Call with a news tip. Master Control operator will tell you you need to call the newsroom number... you know, the one we put on the air in every newscast. Ignore the possibility there might be an email address on the station website. After operator gives you the news tip number start your rampage about the abortion clinic on the south side of town. Leave no detail untouched. (You won't be able to see the operator throwing away the the strawberry yogurt he was trying to eat when you called, but trust me he does.) After five minutes conclude your call, but never do as the operator suggests and actually call the news department because you know Obama has told us not to tell the truth.

* Something is wrong with your sound. Call master control. Don't bother to check to see if any other cable channel is doing the same thing. Start the conversation with, "What's wrong with your station?" Operator will scan the wall of meters and monitors in front of him and tell you all on his end is operating as it should; the issue must be at your end. Refuse to accept this as fact. The operator can't know what he's talking about. Don't be dissuaded by the fact that you are the only person who's called in with this issue, and if the station was indeed transmitting its audio in Spanish there's a fairly strong possibility that some other viewer just might be calling in to say something about it. Be sure to keep operator on the phone through at least one sloppy local break. When your three year-old nephew walks up and shows you the SAP button on your remote, share a laugh with the master control operator. OK. Assume he's laughing on the inside.

* Buy a case of cheap beer. Chug it. Call master control during the eleven. Hilarity ensures.

* Your cousin, wife, or both just got sent to prison for shooting somebody, and the TV news showed her being sentenced. Call master control and threaten slander lawsuit for defaming your cousin's character. Operator will ask you to call back during business hours. You say you'll do more than that; you just may show up and teach somebody a lesson. An hour later ponder why you're spending the night having a very uncomfortable conversation with people who wear badges.

* You are in charge of public relations for well-meaning but disorganized non-profit civic organization. Produce a public service announcement on your own on. (running time 47 seconds.) Show up at the TV station lobby door at 1:34AM with your VHS tape wrapped in a plain brown box. Beat on door and buzz intercom. Master control tells you to come back during business hours. Leave the package at the door. An hour later ponder why you're in the back of a cruiser while the bomb squad blows your tape to smithereens. That was your master.

* If you work at the station, park in the operator's spots. No. Really. She won't mind walking two blocks back to her car when her shift ends at 3:30AM. Oh, and master control loves running out to feed the parking meter during "Good Morning America." It keeps them in shape. The fact that you find all four of your tires flat is just a coincidence.

* You take your scout troop on a tour of a local station. While in master control you say to the operator nice and loud for the general manager to hear, "Looks like you get paid to just sit here and watch television." Operator suddenly wants to show you the tape archive vault. He walks you down the hall and forces open a pair of heavy doors. He shoves you into the darkness. You suddenly realize master control is on the second floor.

And it's just that simple. And don't worry. In all seriousness, we in the TOC would never resort to violence in retaliation. We broadcast engineers tend to be a pacifist group who believe in keeping our phasers set on "stun." Miscreants are dealt with by our Security Officer Lt. Worf, and you would simply be placed in the brig for the remainder of the journey... where one of our dedicated and highly motivated technical operations team members will keep you company by talking about "Star Trek."

You've been warned.