Monday, October 31, 2011

Company

And another hundred people just got canned by CC.

I don't think there's anything I can say about the latest round of firings at Clear Channel, the biggest radio company in America, that hasn't already been said. Certainly the post on Richards on the Radio blog says it as well as can be said. (See the new link to the right.) Misquoting Stephen Sondheim is about the best I can do.

The most hilarity from all this comes from the press release jargon regarding CC's new position of VP/Talent Development.

DENNIS CLARK's new position as VP/Talent Development will oversee talent development, working directly with key personalities, while creating a company-wide strategy to develop future talent.

Ever notice how companies who just laid off dozens of talented people at the same time find a way to create a dubious VP position for someone who most likely isn't qualified to park cars, much less be a VP of my cat's litter boxes? He'll work directly with key personalities, which at this stage of Clear Channel's demise means lame contest ideas will be exchanged when the three of them bump into each other at the urinals. As for developing future talent, that's going to be quite a challenge considering the small market stations, once the training ground for future talent, have all been turned into thousand-watt i-Pods with a sales department by the very same Clear Channel genius. This means Mr. Clark will be spending most of his time trying to corral first round rejects from "X-Factor" and offering the morning show to former pro football and baseball players who flunked the audition for Fox Sports Cleveland. Wonder what New Talent and Marketing Strategy the press release scribes will concoct to cover Mr. Clark's firing in few months?

And another hundred people just got canned by CC.

There's evidence that radio is not dead. In fact, ad revenue has shown an increase in 2011. So why the blood bath? Because the rise in revenue still isn't enough to wipe out the debt of buying hundreds of under-performing radio stations back in early 21st century. The ratings and ad dollars might be higher than a few years ago when the perfect storm of piss poor copycat content, persistent brain drain within the industry, a pop music industry woefully unprepared to replace the sudden career malfunctions of Michael Jackson, Prince, Paula Abdul, and the polarization created by rap, and lest we forget the Internet waylaid radio. But in terms of profit margins and media clout, we're still a long long way below the days of Wolfman Jack. The media choices available these days have pretty much banished radio to in-car listening, and even there it's hard to compete with my entire collection of MP3 files in a flash drive smaller than a car key.

The battle cry for government intervention to save radio is understandable, but I'm not sure it's practical or even obtainable - our current congress will gridlock over ordering a pizza if it'll put more distance between them and Obama's approval rating. (Now there's a guy with bad ratings waiting for the format change.) If you truly believe in a free market, then you have to ask the question: has the consolidation of radio killed the medium, or rather is consolidation a symptom of a media savvy public turning away from an increasingly antiquated delivery system? If CC sold your local station back to Mom and Pop tomorrow, would you tune in? If Mom and Pop stay with another ten-in-a-row of Today's Best Country followed by a four minute commercial break filled with snake oil for get out of debt, we'll buy your gold, and "male enhancement" pills, I'd have to say hell no. And if you think a local owner can engineer an overnight revival of a full service local format with gifted talent and knowledgeable news people plus a a sales staff with a conscience... in this economy... and generate a return on investment for the backers within a reasonable time...

Well, I have to admire your optimism.

The one thing congress and the FCC can do that would, in my opinion, make a difference is abolish the outdated rule forbidding the co-ownership of radio stations, TV stations, and newspapers within a market. A local TV station has the ready resources and talent pool and credibility in the community to take a reasonable risk on a radio operation. Sales people could make it part of a total coverage package that would consist of a relatively small additional charge, but the payoff for the advertiser would be substantial given people would actually now be listening to the radio station. It wouldn't have to turn a profit in a year, but it just might. The co-ownership rule was a product of a different era when radio and TV played on a more even field, and the FCC was under pressure to create a more diverse radio landscape. Today, diversity is easily obtainable on the web, and medium with virtually no gatekeepers. The co-ownership law has no effect on Internet enterprises that might originate within a geographical region, and let's face it, a web site has more traction these days than the printed-on-paper newspaper, so if the FCC is truly worried about diversity in the media... well, we wouldn't have Clear Channel.

And another hundred people just got canned by CC.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

How To Tell a Story

Scott Simon - you know, the guy on National Public Radio - has some helpful tips on telling a story that can be applied to the written word as well.



Geek notes: We're hearing Scott via a lapel mic, not the U87, but you can see NPR's house style of mic positioning from where the mic has been left. The sideways position allows reporters to rest their arms under the mic's position, while still having a clear sight line above it read the copy.


And now, an example of story telling in the Irish tradition.

Monday, October 17, 2011

"No Award For You! Go!"

Wouldn't this just make you sick? You get a phone call from the National Book Awards saying your novel is nominated in the Young People Literature category. You start dreaming big. Then you get a second phone call saying OOPS, we got the name wrong. You're not nominated after all.

That's what happened to Lauren Myracle last week with the announcement of the National Book Awards nominees. You see Myracle wrote a book entitled Shine. The NBA nominated a book by Franny Billingsley is entitled Chime. Somebody thought they heard Shine when it was really Chime. Nobody caught the mistake until they heard the nominees listed on the radio. And then somebody got the fun job of calling Myracle and telling her the news. Read the details here via Publisher's Weekly.

People commenting on the story bring up a good point: it never occurred to anybody at the NBA to put the author's name with the title? No. I was once involved in a situation where I read the wrong name at an awards ceremony, and I have a pretty good idea of what happened. Somebody got in a hurry and didn't take the time to write the titles and authors down. In situations like this, there's no substitute for a pen and a piece of paper.

I don't know for sure what happened in this case, but what typically happens behind the scenes at things like this is a list of possible winners gets printed, and then as nominations are announced somebody puts a star, or an asterisk, or a check mark (or in the case of one incident I was in, they write down the number of what place they won, only to mark them through and write another number) next to the title on the printout. It's a noisy, confusion-filled environment with people running around and almost all of them thinking this is easy. Somebody heard "Shine" when it was really "Chime" and there you are.

Since my unfortunate experience, I have learned to be prepared for this sort of thing. I bring a legal pad and pen to live announcer events, and when the winners are called out to me, I write them down in my own handwriting, asking for the name again, asking for spelling when needed (was that Miss Iowa, or Miss Idaho?) and then running through it slowly before a microphone gets turned on, or in this case a phone call gets made.

This is why, like him or not, Ryan Seacrest and other talent show hosts have an enormously pressure-packed job on live TV announcing winners on "American Idol" and its imitators. He can't carry a legal pad and look like me in reading glasses with my finger holding an earpiece in my ear. He has to look like Ryan Seacrest and read it from a card or a Teleprompter (which can freeze and crash on the air). And during those not-just-pregnant-but-going-into-labor pauses while we wait for the name to be announced, the director is on the intercom making sure he and his crew know who is who.

"Who's our winner? Repeat. Which one is Candy? The blonde? The one on the right? Are you sure? OK, camera two you're one the blonde on the right. Zoom in tight on my cue. Again, the winner is the blonde girl on the right."

Maybe the National Book Awards should hire Ryan Seacrest to make their phone calls.

[Blogger's note: The spellchecker on Blogspot thinks "blonde" is spelled b-l-o-n-d.]

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Reunion



I finally got my picture taken with one of the cheerleaders... it only took 30 years.

Class reunions can bring about some strange and happy incidents and revelations, and now that a certain fan of my blog has promoted this blog to everyone at the Milford Class of '81 Reunion, the pressure is on for me to write about it. This is treacherous territory. In the pre-Facebook era a person could write things about former classmates without fear of the classmate actually reading it. Pen names protected our identities. (No one will ever know I'm really Mike Holden. Get it? I'm a radio jock named Mike Holden. Gads, I'm genius!) Oops! Not anymore. Facebook blows my cover. It also immortalizes really bad pictures. So, here is my gentle observations about our reunion with appropriate editing and censorship where necessary.





Yeah, that's right. We're a clique. Fear us.







First, let me set the record straight for anyone reading this who may be of a younger generation, particularly my wife. At the class reunion...

A. We did not dance or reminisce about Disco. We lived through the real thing, and that was enough.

B. We did not imbibe in Mary Jane. At my age, I have enough trouble remembering where I put my car keys. Grass is the last thing I need, thank you very much.

C. We did not get our reading glasses mixed up.

D. We did not subject each other to endless displays of photos of grand kids. That's what Facebook is for.

The event was held in a sports bar in that area between Milford and Loveland that we natives refer to as that area between Milford and Loveland. Nice place. Great band. But a word of caution for my friends from the Lima area reading this: I know you find this hard to believe, but this sports bar provides hard evidence of the fact that nobody south of the Dayton city limits gives a (vulgarity for a rodent's hindquarters) about the Buckeyes. There was no Ohio State regailia anywhere to be found. No talk about among any of us about that day's Buckeyes' upset victory over Illinois. Call out "O-H!" and you'll get deer in headlights eyes. Nobody in these parts knows the Ohio State fight song, and people here think Carmen Ohio is a local production of an opera by Bizet. This is my world. Welcome to it.

One thing became very apparent within the first hour: you ladies certainly have a lot more energy than we guys. The men stood around holding our bottles of beer and talking, while the gals whooped it up. Eventually, the ladies drug us out on the dance floor, which caused a good deal of gasping, heaving, and groaning... some of it from the people watching us. But you ladies... Wow. I never imagined a woman of [censored] years of age could dance the way you did. Things sure have changed over the years. When my mother was [censored] the only time she moved like that was the time she found a mouse in the dryer vent. Damn! You looked good. I've been trying to figure out why the ladies were full of energy while the guys were out of breath after the first chorus of "Mony, Mony." I think the kind of stories we tell might hold a vital clue to this mystery:

Women our age tend to tell stories that end with sentences like, "...and that's how I met Oprah." Men our age tend to end our stories with sentences like, "...and that's how I ended up in the ER."

One former classmate is involved in agri-business. Now since I have a connection with agri-business as well, it was easy to strike up a conversation on the subject. Actually, it's not really hard to get ag people talking. My father-in-law taught me well the simple starter phases for farm talk:

"Get any rain at your place?"

"Beans do any good this year?"

"!@*&ing government!"


And then there was the phone call to [censored] to make her feel like a part of the festivities in spite of being a long, long way from Milford. Somebody handed me the phone and told me to make her guess who I was.

"Hey. Remember me?"

Uh... no."

"I played trombone in band."

"Hmmm."

"Remember when you filed the restraining order?"

"Steve! Ohmygod! How are you?"

And there were the old photos, the old yearbook, the stories, and the memories. I ended up driving home with the classic rock channel on the satellite radio. A soundtrack for a fun evening.

A lot of people, once they leave high school, say goodbye, amen, and leave that world as far behind as possible. I can't say that I blame them. High school can a difficult time filled with insecurities, embarrassment, regrets over things said, and deeper regrets over things left unsaid. Many of us don't have the best of a home life, and once we move out to college we never look back. When we get word of a reunion, we may find even after all these years the idea of looking back too painful, and choose to stay home. Or maybe our jobs, family commitments, the distance is just too much. It happens. It's life. It's not always kind.

By our guess, there were about 300 people in the Milford class of '81. Since then, it seems like the world keeps finding new ways of tearing people apart. I'm not one of you, and you're definitely not one of us, and if you're not one of us, then to hell with you. Ohio is the Rust Belt; get out while you can. There's a lot that pulls us away. The fact that about 20 of us could get together and swap stories and compare hairlines is actually pretty impressive. You might even say magical.

After all, who would've guessed I... me... would dance with and get my picture taken with one of the cheerleaders. Wait'll I show my...

...wife.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Wonderful World of Color

Happy 50th birthday, color TV!

Sorta.

Kinda.

Well, not really. A few media sources are celebrating the 50th anniversary of color TV just a bit early. Yes, the first color broadcasts aired in 1951, but these were in the CBS Field Sequential system, not the compatible RCA system that would become the NTSC standard for North America. The real birth of color TV as you, me, and that Quasar I've got down in the basement is concerned, was in 1953. It took two years of litigation and an FCC TV license freeze before that got settled, and even then the first color TV sets sold like... well, not like hot cakes. More like Edsels. There were only a few color specials that aired infrequently until around 1960 when better cameras, the advent of color videotape recording, and a more reliable "film chain" to transfer color motion picture film to electronic TV made more regular colorcasting possible.

According to The New York Times archives, the very first experimental show transmitted in the CBS system starred Milton Berle, which is rather startling considering Berle's regular show aired on NBC. Apparently, greater New York wanted to see Uncle Mitly in a dress in color.

Oh yeah, that was the other thing; color only existed in New York and Los Angles for many years. There was no Internet to download the shows, and no computers to download it with. No satellite distribution; Telstar was a decade into the future. Even the relatively simple coast-to-coast cable that would eventually link network affiliates was years away. Networks existed through TV stations picking up each other's broadcast signals and retransmitting them in a "daisy chain" configuration, or via cans of 16mm film shipped to the LA stations in transcontinental flights that surely must've strained the network budgets. (And in this grand tradition, most live prime time programming to this day is delayed to air at 8PM in the Pacific time zone. And now you know why you know why California gets the "American Idol" finale three hours after everyone on Facebook in the East has been spoiling it.) Coast-to-coast live color was science fiction until about 1953 after the FCC standardized the RCA/NBC color system. The video below, an NBC promotional piece of the period, tells us when the first Tournament of Roses parade aired via the network cable "backwards" from west to east. The images you see in this film, however, are film. This is a 16mm film. Remember: there was no color videotape yet. All the color imagery lavished over in this puff piece is not the work of RCA/NBC, but in all likelihood a product of Eastman Kodak. (And then somebody had to encode it to run on this viewer.)




But by whatever means, we had color TV in 1951. Got that? You see, America must have color TV before anybody else. There was talk that the ruskies were starting color TV broadcasts, and we don't want to be behind the reds, now do we? So... even though only a few hundred people in Manhattan could see it, we had color TV in 1951. Period.

Even after a compatible system was put on the air, Americans, by and large, preferred to wait until they could stop making payments on the black and white set they just bought before plunging into color. Television sets were expensive, and color was considered a luxury well into the 1960's. It really wasn't until around 1965-6 that the networks put a big push on color, upgrading nearly all prime time shows into color and putting "in color" on the opening title. The biggest impetus for buying a color set in those days, however, came from the increase in NFL and college football games now broadcast in color. The Baltimore Colts in color? Honey, you can get by driving that Falcon for another year. We're getting a new Zenith!

So happy birthday to color TV. Yeah, it was born in 1951. But like most children, it took about 15 years for it to show signs of maturity. And then we could see Barbara Eden's lovely pink costume in "I Dream of Jeannie" in beautiful color. But we still couldn't see her navel.