Thursday, March 5, 2015

Something I found

Digging through some old boxes of whatnots the other day, I came across my official United States of America Federal Communications Commission Restricted Radiotelephone Operator Permit, which was what was required to be the disc jockey/news person/transmitter operator/telephone answerer and trash can emptier at one of America's radio stations.

In April, 1972, I began my radio career at a small station in Prince Frederick, MD.  The station was built into what was described as "an old hermit's house" and that hermit did not have exquisite taste (so few do) but in the kitchen of his old house there was an FM radio transmitter, and on the wall in various frames, the kind of FCC licenses that we needed in those days to run the transmitter and take readings to make sure we were a) still on the air and b) not cranking out so many watts that radios and WaterPiks all over town were not melting down.  They changed the licenses a few years ago, and for all I know, anyone can have one by filling out an online form.  We used to have to study all sorts of arcane laws that seemed to have more to do with SOS signals sent by sinking ships than reading commercials for used-car dealers, and then go downtown to the Federal Building and take a test on those laws in order to be issued a license, signed by the noted Ben F. Waple, Secretary, to allow us to play records and read commercials and love every second of it.

It was always fun to visit other radio stations to see their equipment and arrayed licenses.  Here is where we would see the real names of the people who dedicated their lives to bringing you the music of Bo Donaldson and The Heywoods.  That wacky morning DJ - "Rockin' Ron" Reno - who played the sounds of people doing the technicolor yawn while he read the school lunch menu turned out to be someone named J. Ronald Renoscopy. And the deeply sensitive evening guy?  The one who played "Desiderata" and read Rod McKuen poems as he urged listeners to dim the lights and get real mellow?  He called himself "Eros" on the radio, but his license identified him as Lester L. Crackenbush.

Old style
Now the DJs play what a computer tells them to and they aren't even "live" in many cases - something called "voice tracking" allows them to record a show in advance, and many stations have syndicated jocks playing the same records for people in Dubuque, Cincinnati and Brattleboro at the same time.

It's just not the same.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Just do the right thing

Can we talk for a minute about the spate of boasting that has toppled Brian Williams from his NBC Nightly News throne for six months and caused the US Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs, Robert McDonald, to have to issue an apology and gave pugnacious commentator Bill O'Reilly reason to have to come out swinging about his allegedly-inflated stories of coming into danger zones while reporting on the Falklands War for CBS?

One at a time...the O'Reilly kerfluffle is still up in the air, air which is filled with a lot of "Oh yeah?" and "But you didn't!"   He said he was there when the fighting was getting violent and others say he was not.  I don't pay much attention to O'Reilly, and so I don't care that much for him...he puts himself squarely in every story he talks about, so he becomes the story instead of reporting the story.  We do have his employer, FOX News, admitting that it might have been hard for him to witness the 1980 murders of nuns in El Salvador, since he didn't get there until 1981, but are we really going to quibble about this man's lies?*  It's like complaining that you went to Baskin-Robbins and got ice cream: it's what he sells.

Brian Williams is home until August to ponder the error of his ways.  NBC set him down for his wildly exaggerated claim of being in a helicopter that came under enemy fire, and for a half-hearted apology when some soldiers who were in harm's way pointed out that he was well out of the way at the time. He said he was in a "following" chopper, but was in fact an hour away.  By his standards, we live right next to Cal Ripken, Jr. and will be dining on the closest thing to pheasant under glass tonight, which is to say, KFC on Corelle plates.  Brian spent too much time sharpening his media personality, doing his Regis impersonation on Letterman and not paying enough attention to the news and the strict facts of which it should be composed.  When he returns late this summer, look for a more serious approach.

Secretary McDonald was a paratrooper and a West Point graduate, and those are two accomplishments that very few people will ever attain.  Why in the world did he feel it necessary to tell a man he encountered on the street in Los Angeles that we was in Special Forces?  Isn't it enough to be able to say, "I'm the Secretary of Veterans' Affairs, a former Army officer in the paratroops, and I was hired to straighten out an agency that for years was egregiously derelict in its duty to provide medical and other assistance to those who served the country"?

As I do so often in troubled times, I turn to old-school country for advice, and today it comes from Ernest Tubb's recording of a Ned Miller song called "Do What You Do Do Well."

He couldn't move a mountain
Or pull down a big oak tree
But my daddy became a mighty big man
With a simple philosophy
Do what you do do well boy
Do what you do do well
Give your love and all your of heart
And do what you do do well

* O'Reilly now says he "saw graphic pictures" of the slain nuns. Similarly, movie actor Ronald Reagan claimed to have "been there" when Nazi concentration camps were liberated, but what he meant was that he saw film footage of camps being liberated. Close enough?

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

While Shepherd watched his flock by night

To really get in the mood to read about the subject of today's bloviation, please click on this link and hear his theme song, "Bahn Frei."  We're talking about a man named Jean Shepherd, who used the song by Eduard Strauss (as recorded by the Boston Pops) as his intro music for over 20 years as his show came on WOR Radio in New York.  For 45 minutes late every night, he wove tales from his real life and from his imagination, enchanting millions of people with transistor radios tucked up under their pillows, with the little earpiece in use so my parents  no one would be any the wiser.

In case you'd like to hear what we heard, you can check out these recordings on the Internet Archive.

And if the name Jean Shepherd sounds familiar for more than its similarity to female Grand Ole Opry favorite Jean Shepard, it may be because the movie "A Christmas Story" was adopted from his tales in the book "In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash." It's all in there...the fight with Scut Farkus, the BB gun, the Bumpasses' dogs eating the turkey.

A fascinating man, he was, and talented as well.  Of course, even with all that talent, every performer needs promotional gimmicks and publicity stunts to get his/her name before the public.  Shep's was a doozy:

In 1956, he challenged his audience to create a demand for a book called "I, Libertine," by a made-up author - "Frederick R. Ewing." Jean figured that he could manipulate the best-seller lists by having his fans try to buy a certain book.  And they did, and, being a literary-type of audience in the media capital of the world, they planted references to the book in magazines and newspapers, creating further demand, as booksellers frantically attempted to purchase the book from their distributors for sale in stores. Then, with the book on the New York Times Best Seller List, Shepherd and two others actually wrote the doggone book, got a cover painted by Kelly Freas, and Ballantine Books put it out.

You'll notice the Wall Street Journal got Shep's name wrong, but the publicity went a long way toward making him a household name in New York. I just checked on Amazon...six hardback copies of the book are for sale, the lowest price being $125. We should have bought it in 1956!  But I didn't have 35 cents then.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Fingers Crossed for Keith

Unless he does something else foolish between now and 5 pm (EST) today, Keith Olbermann will once again host his tv show on ESPN2, after sitting out a three-day suspension late last week.

You may like Olbermann (I surely do) or you may despise him (you're not alone) but certain things about him stand out, no matter where you stand.  For one, he wrote and published a book called "The Major League Coaches," which listed and described every single manager and coach (bullpen, base, pitching, batting) in baseball history, a feat which no one else even ever attempted.

And Keith did that at the ripe old age of 14.

He's recognized as an expert on baseball cards and memorabilia, and he possesses a wealth of knowledge about athletes, teams, and sports history, which came in handy for his days as a sports reporter for many stations and networks.

In addition, his grammar is impeccable.  This earns bonus points from this corner.

But, when I say he has worked for many stations and networks, I think of the old joke about the guy who says his father was in the Army and "fought with Eisenhower...fought with Patton...fought with Pershing...he couldn't get along with anybody."

Olbermann has been fired more than a two-dollar pistol on a Saturday night in Baltimore, and that's a lot.

This recent suspension from ESPN came as a result of his comments about Penn State University.  Every night, Keith lists his three "World's Worst" entities about sports, and one list in January condemned the sports culture at Penn State for their pleasure in the deal the school made with the NCAA to restore 111 wins to their storied football program, in return for the school's pledge to spend $60 million on child abuse prevention in Pennsylvania.

Children were abused by a member of the Penn State football staff; there is not much dispute about that.  What the head coach knew, when he knew it, what he did about it, what the school administration did about it...all that is up for a debate that I don't think needs to take place, since it will be impossible to come up with answers agreed upon by all or close to all.  And really, what topic is ever agreed upon by all?  There are people among us who deny the Holocaust ever took place, who claim the moon landings were Disney fake jobs, who think a McFish® is seafood.

Olbermann lacks a certain modesty
It's better not to respond to the trolls lurking in Cyberville, but Keith did, and when some Penn State students engaged him in a Twitter fight (a "Twight"?) about all this, Keith responded in the heavy-handed manner that has so many times led to him being shown the door at his places of employment.

I hope he has finally learned his lesson and will refrain from calling people "pitiful" in the future.  That way, he can stay on the air and we can all learn from him...once he's learned from this.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Sunday Rerun: Always Leave 'Em Laughing

I love the unique..things that only take place once in history. An unassisted triple play in the seventh game of a World Series, pulled off by a seven-foot tall shortstop, would be something to remember. I am willing to bet that mine is the only iPod that shuffles from Bing Crosby to the Sex Pistols to Ernest Tubb. We once had a neighbor whose father was a horrible, mean man. When he died, her mom greeted me out by the mailbox with a sentence that might never have been spoken in our language before.

"Have some chili - my husband died today!"

Which brings me to this 
photo, which I saw online. Maybe the family depicted doesn't have many chances to get together to pose en masse. Maybe it's some mordant gag. Maybe they are celebrating a life, not mourning a death.

I don't know either, but I have to wonder.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Saturday Picture Show, February 28, 2015

Of all the National League baseball teams, I always liked the Dodgers best - the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Brooklyn is the most interesting borough in Noo Yawk to me, and here is what it looks like when the sun rises up there.
Speaking of National League baseball, here is the new helmet to be worn by Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton.  He took a pitch to the face last summer, and to prevent that from recurring, he will wear this facemask at the plate this summer.  Notice the stylish "G" in the design!
This is a Picasso painting called “La Coiffeuse,” French for “The Hairdresser,” which was recently found in Newark NJ. It was ripped off from Paris a decade ago and sent to this country. Shipping papers described it as a $37 “art craft/toy,” while its real value is said to be over 2.5 million semolians.  Anyone who can tell me how in the heck this looks anything like a hairdresser is welcome to try.

Remember the opening of the Mary Tyler Moore Show, where she rolled her eyes at the price of a steak before tossing tossing it into her cart?  Well, this picture is about as close as I will be getting to a steak these days.  Holy cow, is beef ever expensive.
You and I have no need for this type of clothing, but look for celebrities to be wearing it soon.  It's made of a special fabric that lights up under flash photography, thus ruining the days of all those paparazzi whose purpose in life is to take photographs of Madonna walking down the street.  That's some purpose.
Good-bye Radio Shack!  I guess there aren't that many people out to buy their own parts to build transistor radios anymore.  There aren't even people listening to transistor radios anymore.
There are two types of people in this world...those who like the sound of wind chimes, and those who spend breezy evenings fuming over the sound of brass or bamboo tubes clanging into each other, like the sound of 1001 tiny auto accidents in the backyard. I guess I'm in the latter category.
Saturday night!  Saturday night!  At the Drag-o-Way - the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick dragster is ready to zip down the quarter mile.
That should be the last underinflation joke from me.

Friday, February 27, 2015

About the Las Vegas murder

At first, the death by handgun bullet of Tammy Meyers in Las Vegas seemed to be a simple case of road rage.  Meyers was teaching her 15-year-old daughter to drive, and the story was that their car, with the younger woman at the wheel, was involved in some near-collision with another car, and the situation escalated to a point at which the unknown driver of the other car chased the Meyers women to their home and shot the mother in the head.

And then, it didn't happen to have happened that way, although that's how the initial report from Robert Meyers, husband of the deceased, had it.  He said he was confused when he left out the details, such as that the women came home angry after some confrontation with a neighbor, rounded up their 22-year-old son, and went back out in pursuit of the other party, leading to two separate gunfights.  The final gunfight took place at the Meyers home, and Mrs Meyers was in fact shot at that time.

The 19-year-old neighbor, Erich Milton Nowsch, appeared in court on Monday but has not entered a plea yet.  His attorney, Conrad Claus, says Nowsch feared for his life and acted in self-defense.

Police and prosecutors are saying that the Meyers family gave conflicting information, misleading suspect descriptions, and incomplete information.  For instance, they claimed that it was some tall random stranger, while in fact, Nowsch is a smallish sort of guy who lives around the corner and was well known to the Meyerses.  The late Tammy Meyers used to slip him a twenty when he showed up claiming hunger and would routinely admonish him to pull his pants up when she saw him affecting a gangster persona at the local park.

So who knows what happened, anyway?  A mistake by a novice driver? Aggressive driving by Nowsch?  A long-standing dispute or a flashpoint disagreement with horrible consequences?
So sad, so avoidable

Whatever happens when the courts shake this all out, one thing remains certain: had Tammy Meyers and her daughter returned home and let either time or the police handle it, there would likely have been no murder.  But acting like an old western in which cowboys ran to the saloon and rounded up a posse to mount up and chase after the Dalton Gang is not bound to end up well.

You could ask the Meyers family about that.  Her son's defiant statement, "I did what I had to do to protect my mother" left out the possibility that he might have protected her more by staying home and acting reasonably.