Sunday, December 28, 2008

Banned on KCSR

As far back as I can remember, I've been a big fan of Art Carney, the celebrated actor who portrayed Ed Norton in the Jackie Gleason Honeymooners television series.
Carney has been dead some 15 years, having died in 1993 at the age of 85. But many of us well remember his infectuous dialogue as Norton, the "underground sanitation expert," and some of us even remember his career as a singer.


Well, his recording Song of the Sewer was popular, but it just never quite made it big in northwest Nebraska. It's one of the few songs ever banned from KCSR Radio in Chadron. I do remember hearing the song on the station in the mid-to-late 1950s, but I also vividly recall it's being "banned" some time later.

Not a great piece of music, perhaps, but it was a snappy bit of satire that only Norton could pull off. What was all the fuss? Well, judge for yourself. Quite by accident, while surfing the web, I came across this version of Song of the Sewer.

Carney apparently professed to be nothing like Norton. I remember reading that Carney was wounded at Normandy during World War II and walked with a limp for the rest of his life. Like so many from that war, he came home and got on with his life -- and what a life it was!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Whatever happened to Dave Scherling?

Earlier this week, I was foraging through old newspapers in search of information about the first dial telephone system in Dawes County Nebraska. Like the first moving picture theatre in the county, it was located in Whitney, and I was looking for information that I could add to our Whitney Reflections website.

Unable to find the information I was looking for, I scrolled ahead and happened across the article shown here. It reported the May 6, 1954 sign-on of KCSR, the 250-watt radio station, whose offices were at 212 Bordeaux in Chadron.

It was fun reading the article. I remember all of the folks mentioned in the story, and I pretty much know where most of them went when they left Chadron -- except for announcer Dave Scherling.

Bob Fouse returned to Colorado, where he died many years ago. Bill Finch eventually went back to Colorado (Colorado Springs, I believe) and also hosted a big band program for the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service. I suspect he may have passed from our earth by now, but I don't know that for a fact. Ted Turpin ended up in Arizona, retired from the newspaper business, and is still there, as far as I know. Sherry Girmann married and moved, I believe, to Colorado.

So whatever happened to Dave Scherling? To be continued...

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Congratulations, JT!

Congratulations are in order – again – for our good friend Jim Thompson, who received recognition this week (12/11/08) at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. Jim was tapped for the John Justin Standard of the West Committeeman of the Year award, recognizing his volunteer service over the years to the Deke Latham Rodeo in Kaycee, Wyoming.

Jim is a highly-talented broadcaster, whose skills transcend the rodeo arena public address system. Selected three times by his peers as South Dakota Sportscaster of the Year, Jim has also won accolades as a member of the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame and the Black Hills Stock Show Hall of Fame.

Jim and I met some three years ago, after a mutual friend – Dean Sorenson – hooked us up. Karen and I had retired to Spearfish in 2004. Over breakfast, Jim and I discovered some things we had in common – we’d both worked for the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service while in the service, and we also worked for the same boss, Bob Thomas, in Nebraska. Now retired and living in Arizona, “BT” was the long-time General Manager of the “Beef Empire Stations” across Nebraska and Colorado. Jim worked for KVSH in Valentine, Nebraska, and I was on the staff at KCSR in Chadron.

Our love of broadcasting and journalism – as well as a shared interest in things “Dakota” – often brings Jim and I together at weekly coffee sessions in Spearfish with other like-minded folks. Retired newspaper publisher Curt Moberg from Sundance, Wyoming, retired Iowa State journalism prof Bill Kunerth from Belle Fourche, and writer Lorraine Collins of Spearfish, among others, often congregate to discuss the media and current events.

Occasionally, Jim asks me to substitute for him on his weekday regional radio program Live with Jim Thompson. Despite rusty pipes and a propensity for pushing the wrong buttons on the control board, I enjoy these opportunities, and I’m pleased that Jim asks me to do it.

It also gives me an opportunity to see the “working side” of Jim Thompson. He’s every bit as affable off the air as he is in front of a live microphone. His two terms in the South Dakota legislature helped nurture Jim’s political acumen, and he doesn’t suffer fools lightly. But I also find him courteous to a fault.

Like his awards, Jim’s interests are many and varied. We're delighted to see that he's added another well deserved recognition to his achievements. Congratulations, JT!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A mentor to many -- Grant Price

One day in 1969, I hopped aboard a Cessna Queen-Air plane in Shenandoah, Iowa for a day-trip to Cedar Rapids.

Also aboard the craft was my boss, Norm Williams, the General Manager of KMA, which was owned by the May Broadcasting Company. In those days, May Broadcasting was comprised of KGUN-TV in Tucson, KMTV in Omaha, plus substantial ownership of KFAB in Omaha. I believe they also had a station in Wisconsin.

I’m not sure what Norm’s agenda was for that trip, but I know I was looking forward to visiting with Grant Price and the folks in the newsroom at WMT radio and television. We would also drive to Oelwein to visit the news operation overseen by Dick Petrik. I had recently joined KMA as News Director and was anxious to learn what I could from those veteran broadcasters.

Both KOEL in Oelwein, under Dick Petrik, and WMT in Cedar Rapids, led by Grant Price, had first-class news operations.
So I was saddened to learn about the passing of Grant Price last week (10/17) in Waterloo, Iowa. He was 85 years old and had been one of the best-known broadcasters in the state before stepping away from the microphone in 1989 to go to work for Wartburg College.

Occasionally in recent years, I’ve chatted with veteran sports broadcaster Bryan Lessly, who once worked in the WMT shop, about our Iowa experiences – and Grant Price almost always comes up in the conversation. I can think of few Iowa news broadcasters, save Jack Shelley, who’ve left any larger legacy than Grant Price. Okay, “Dutch” Reagan would be an exception. In any event, WMT became a news powerhouse under the auspices of Grant Price.


I remember the warm hospitality and generosity extended to me by Grant and his staff nearly 40 years ago – and it’s easy to understand why this talented and exceptional person was so highly regarded by so many as a good boss, a learned mentor, and a good friend.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Legendary musician Neal Hefti dies

Native Nebraskan Neal Hefti has died. Born in Hastings in 1922, Hefti won fame as an arranger for a wide variety of big bands during the 1940s and 50s, including Charlie Spivak, Woody Herman, Charlie Barnet and Harry James. He died Saturday (Oct. 11) at his home in Toluca Park, California.

An accomplished trumpet player, it was really Hefti’s composing and arranging that won him the adoration and respect of top-flight musicians ranging from Frank Sinatra to Count Basie. He was also a conductor and worked with the likes of Doris Day, Tony Bennett, Mel Torme, and Sinatra.

Without a clue to his roots, I remember playing a lot of Neal Hefti recordings on KCSR in Chadron, Nebraska in the 1950s. I often wondered if Neal was related to Paul Hefti, a Chadron banker – not an altogether wild assumption, since Hefti is a rather unusual name, and they both had Nebraska roots. I never found out. (NOTE: Paul Hefti's son, Marvin, responds that he does not believe Neil Hefti and Paul Hefti were closely related, if at all - 11/1/08)

Neal Hefti’s name graced a bevy of big band, standards, and jazz albums in those years. But probably his most popular works were the theme songs for the hit television series "The Odd Couple" and "Batman."

My favorite Hefti composition was a lumbering jazz ditty entitled Li'l Darlin’.

Neal Hefti was 85 years old.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Austin City Limits

In 1973, Karen and I left the cozy environment of Oklahoma State University, where I’d been teaching broadcast news courses and serving as News Director for KOSU, the public radio station licensed to the university.

Our destination was Austin, Texas, about which we knew…….nothing. It was the capitol city, and the University of Texas was located there. Beyond that, I suspect we might have perceived that “Hook ‘em Horns” was an obscene gesture. I was reminded of our stint in Austin when I read about my friend Terry Lickona winning the Lifetime Achievement Award last week in Nashville at the Americana Music Association awards gathering.

My official job title in Austin was Director of News and Public Affairs for the University of Texas Communications Center; in broadcasting parlance, I was the News Director for KLRN-TV and KUT-FM. In those days, KLRN was licensed to the Southwest Texas Public Broadcasting Council and served both San Antonio and Austin from a transmitter near New Braunfels. Although KLRN had studios in San Antonio, the station was headquartered in Austin. Within months after my arrival, KLRN-TV and KUT-FM moved from the old Chemistry building at UT to a brand spankin’ new facility on Guadalupe Street, shown at left some 30 years after I was there, but apparently still holding up fairly well.

Our leader in those days was Bob Schenkkan, whose early contributions to public television are pretty well documented. Bob did a lot of traveling in the 1970s, and I seldom saw or visited with him. Day-to-day operations were left to Station Manager Harvey Herbst, with whom I got along just fine. Harvey was not a favorite with many at KLRN/KUT, but I always found him fair and supportive.

Perhaps in another posting I can share stories about the many colorful and talented people I came to know in Austin, including Cactus Pryor, Cyndi Allen, Larry White, Tom Dvorak, Dick Rizzo, Bink Williams, Bob Buckalew, Bruce Scafe, and Charles Akins, among others. This posting focuses upon the Austin environment – particularly the sounds that were captured as a part of Austin City Limits.

First, Karen and I were taken by the beauty of the Austin area. The lakes and nearby “Hill Country” afforded two Nebraska kids an opportunity to see aspects of the Lone Star state of which we were unaware. Great restaurants were plentiful. Zilker Park was gorgeous. And then there’s the music.

Karen and I occasionally joined friends in weekend forays to downtown Austin to take in the live performances of a wide array of musicians. To this day, I don’t recall the names of the places or artists, but I do remember that Austin was rich with a diversity of talented country musicians.

Paul Bosner, Bruce Scafe, and Billy Arhos were the KLRN colleagues who had an big itch for producing a live country and western music program. And they made it happen.

While I was responsible for producing and anchoring a nightly 30-minute news and public affairs program in one of our fourth floor studios, Austin City Limits was produced in one of the two massive 6th floor studios. The other 6th floor studio was reserved for production of a children’s bi-lingual program called Carrascolendas, which had been the recipient of major federal grants obtained under the leadership of Ida Barrera.

One of my most vivid recollections of Austin City Limits had to do with riding the elevators after musicians had just gone up to their studio. I always thought that the sweet aroma left behind in the elevator was a new blend of pipe tobacco; I think one of the news staff suggested that perhaps I’d never smelled quafts of marijuana. I couldn’t be absolutely certain, of course, but the story would be consistent with what I knew about many of the musicians. While I know that Paul, Billy and others had high hopes for Austin City Limits, few of us felt it would achieve the success that had been enjoyed by Carrascolendas. Little did we know that it would become a staple performance broadcast for PBS and retain a strong following around the nation three decades after it was launched!

By late 1974, we were expanding our News and Public Affairs staff, and I hired a “walk-on” candidate from New York named Terry Lickona. I thought he could help us breathe life into the rather stagnant public affairs programming on KUT-FM. Terry was a thoughtful, low-key, but thorough producer with an excellent on-air radio presence. He did a fine job. But I was surprised a few months later when he approached me about moving into television. There were some sticky personnel issues that made him uncomfortable, and he wanted out of radio. We made the switch, and Terry became a regular part of our Newsroom Nine evening television broadcast.

In the mid-1970s, we decided to examine key current issues through a different format. It was a live courtroom-style television program based upon an old WGBH Boston series called The Advocates. Local Austin Judge Mary Pearl Williams was moderator. Our first program – and I don’t remember others – was a real challenge. One of our “advocates” was the fiery Mayor of Austin, Jeff Friedman. Minutes before the program was to go live, Friedman contested the ground rules for the program and threatened to walk out. Terry interceded. My recollection is that – with the help of Mary Pearl Williams – the program was saved.

Within two years after Karen and I left Austin, Terry became a part of the Austin City Limits staff, and eventually took over as Producer, a role he has held ever since. ACL holds something of a record in American television as the longest-running musical performance program series, and Terry Lickona has produced over 800 of those programs.

Terry and I have crossed paths a few times over the years. In the late 1990s, I invited him to Jackson, Mississippi for a visit. I was Executive Director for the statewide public broadcasting network and was interested in our producing a pilot performance program on the Blues, which had its birth in the Mississippi delta. Terry had the experience with ACL and could have given this initiative a real boost. My enthusiasm for the project was not shared by some of my senior managers, so the project never got launched. I still think we missed a real opportunity, and I regret that I didn’t push harder to make it happen.

I’ve enjoyed watching Terry Lickona’s career blossom. During the few years I worked with Terry in Austin, I gained a real appreciation for his professionalism, and I’ve been not at all surprised by his success. Congratulations, Terry, on the Lifetime Achievement Award with the AMA. Well done!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Jack McBride (1926-2008)

One of the great broadcasters of our time has passed away. Jack McBride, the gentle man from Lincoln, died on Monday, July 28th. He was largely responsible for envisioning and building the statewide public radio and television network in Nebraska, but he was also a recognized pioneer and leader in public broadcasting across the country and around the world.

It was my great pleasure to have known and worked with Jack a bit, largely through our dealings in an organization known as the Organization of State Broadcast Executives.

Jack’s commitment to the educational value of television was solid. From the early days of what is now known as Nebraska Educational Telecommunications, until long after his “retirement” in 1996. Jack McBride remained a visionary about what television and other emerging technologies could do to enhance learning. Steve Behrens wrote this obituary in Current, a public broadcasting newspaper.

And he had a sense of humor. I still remember receiving my commission as an “Admiral” in the Great Navy of the State of Nebraska during a public broadcasting meeting in Lincoln many years ago. The “recruiter” for our hitch in the land-locked Navy was Jack McBride.

Viewers and listeners of the public radio and television networks in Nebraska saw and heard little of this energetic fellow, but his legacy to all Nebraskans – and to public broadcasting across the country – was huge.

May there be "fair winds and following seas” for our friend Jack McBride.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

A great Mississippian

Note: This gentleman had significant impact upon public broadcasting in Mississippi through his oversight role as Chairman of the Senate Education Committee.
Grey Ferris has died. I didn’t learn about it until yesterday, when I was surfing the internet and came across his obituary. He was only 62 years old – a victim of cancer – and passed away June 13, 2008, at his home near Vicksburg, Mississippi.
But you need to know more about Grey Ferris. He was one of the most thoughtful and genuinely respectful people I’ve known. I first met Grey after moving to Mississippi in 1993 to head the Mississippi Authority for Educational Television (ETV). Grey had just been elected to a four-year term in the Mississippi State Senate from Warren and Issaquena counties.

Our ETV budget was shaped largely by the House and Senate Education Committees. In the House, that was a committee led by the fiery Billy McCoy of Rienzi, one of the hardest-working legislators I’ve ever known. He later was tapped as Speaker of the House – a post he still holds.
In the Senate, the Education Committee was chaired by the soon-to-be Governor Ronnie Musgrove. The Vice-Chairman was a quiet and rather studious Grey Ferris from Vicksburg. During his second term in office, Senator Ferris would serve as Chairman.

Grey’s grandfather, E. B. Ferris, was credited with founding Mississippi Agricultural Experiment Stations, and in 1918 he bought the land east of Vicksburg that became known as “Ferris Farm.” In 1935, his son, Bill, graduated from Millsaps College in Jackson and was soon back on the farm with his wife, Shelby, raising their five children – one of whom was Grey.

After high school in Mississippi and college at Tulane, where he was president of the student body, Grey practiced law for a while, but then returned to the farm. Reportedly, a move to consolidate county school districts rekindled his interest in government and public service. He served six years on the local consolidated school board and then ran for the legislature. It was shortly after that when I met Grey Ferris.

Politics anywhere can be dirty and deceitful, and it’s easy to become disenchanted with government officials. I was fortunate to cross paths with at least two politicians who made me realize that politics need not be bad. That public service is a public trust. And that there are some honest and honorable people who serve. For me, one such person was U.S. Senator Thad Cochran. The other was Mississippi State Senator Grey Ferris.

As a newcomer to Mississippi government – worse, as a “Yankee” – I found there were a few folks who would take advantage of my northern ways. For the most part, however, I found folks agreeable – even helpful – as I stumbled through the legislative process on behalf of public radio and television. No one was more helpful than Grey Ferris. He was adept at resolving conflicts and bringing people together to solve problems. When you visited with Grey, it was as if the rest of the world had been silenced, and he was listening only to you. And he was.

Of course, public broadcasting was a very small part of the over-all education budget, and Grey’s focus was on the big picture – trying to improve the quality of life in Mississippi through public education. He and Senator Hob Bryan (who made even Billy McCoy pale by comparison when considering “colorful” and “fiery” legislators) were among the key folks who pushed through the Mississippi Adequate Education Program in the late 1990s. Understandably, it was one of Grey’s proudest moments.

As an aside, I once had the privilege of sitting at a banquet table with Grey and his brother Bill, also a talented individual (and later head of the National Endowment of the Humanities), and their mother, Shelby Flowers Ferris. It was a rare treat watching the two siblings – both achievers – good-naturedly spar verbally under the watchful and loving eye of their mother.

In 1999, Senator Grey Ferris decided to run for lieutenant-governor. A Democrat, he was given a good shot at winning the post. However, when his 18-year-old daughter, Jessica, died after battling an eating disorder and depression, Grey, understandably, didn’t seem to have his heart in the race. He lost his bid for lieutenant-governor and left the Mississippi Senate at the end of his term.
He returned to Ferris Farm, and news accounts attributed to his wife Jann, indicate that he loved being back on the home place -- 6,000 acres of converted cropland running some 1,000 cows. Much of the farm is bottomland hardwood along the Big Black River. It boasts some historic Native American mounds and was also a site of passage by General Grant’s army during the siege of Vicksburg in the Civil War.

And then, a few short years after leaving Jackson to focus on his family and Ferris Farm, cancer struck. His valiant struggle – surrounded by loving family and friends – was poignantly detailed on the website Ferris Farm.

I was surprised to learn that Grey was only 62 when he died. To the many of us who leaned on him for advice and direction – his quiet wisdom and strength of character made him seem older than his years.

Perhaps it’s human nature. Perhaps it’s just the rush of life, but most of us don’t take the time to reach out while we can to communicate with those who’ve significantly touched our lives. In the seven years since leaving Jackson, I’ve often thought about the warmth Karen and I found in Mississippi. So many close personal friends – many of whom we still see occasionally. But too many others – many folks with whom we worked and did business, like Grey Ferris, fade too soon from our lives.

Grey Ferris made Mississippi – and this earth – a better place. God bless Grey and his family.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

FCC makes a Sirius mistake

The Federal Communications Commission approved the XM-Sirius merger last Friday (7/25), bringing to an end a 16-month battle over whether or not such a move would be in the public interest.

South Dakotan Jonathan Adelstein was one of the dissenting Commissioners in the 3-2 decision, hailed by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin as a move that will give consumers greater choice and greater flexibility.

Sirius and XM are the only satellite radio companies, and they concede that the $3.5 billion "merger" -- really a buyout of XM by Sirius -- will save them lots of money.

For the 18-million of us who are satellite radio subscribers, don't look for a rate reduction any time soon. The deal would freeze basic subscription increases, but you can rest assured the new company will find ways to get around that inconvenience. There were some compromises, but nothing that keeps it from falling into the category of a really bad public policy decision by the Federal Communications Commission.

The FCC can spell m-o-n-o-p-o-l-y, but they don't understand its meaning.

For more background on this deal, read these articles from Broadcasting & Cable and the New York Times.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Still a handsome fellow!

Life is full of surprises. And in the last few months, two events have given me a bit of serendipitous enjoyment.

First was my rediscovery of Lions. In the late 1940s and early 50s, I played on a kid’s baseball team in Chadron, Nebraska, sponsored by the local Lions club. Some 30 years later, I became a Lion in Vermillion, South Dakota and remained an active member for several years. Alas, somewhere along the way, as we moved to Mississippi and I took on one of the most challenging jobs of my career, I slipped away from the Lions. Now that I’m retired, I’ve rejoined, and in the few short months I’ve been a member of the Belle Fourche (SD) Lions, I’ve found it helping me scratch an itch for public service. It’s been extremely gratifying and most enjoyable.

Then, while thumbing through the May 2008 issue of The Lion magazine, I was pleasantly surprised to see a photograph of friend Charles Akins, a charter member of the Austin (TX) Capital City Lions, the first African-American Lions club. The story helps celebrate four decades of outstanding service by the Austin group. That’s Texas State Representative Dawnna Dukes with Charles in the photo above.

A long-time and highly-respected educator, Charles Akins – when I knew him back in the 1970s – was also an avid sports fan. And so it was that he landed a second job as the sportscaster on what was then KLRN-TV, the public television station serving Austin and San Antonio. In his “real life,” Charles was a school principal in Austin. He has long since retired. I was KLRN News Director and news anchor, and I had the good fortune to work with Charles for nearly three years. He was one of the most easy-going people I’ve ever known. Always amiable and extremely professional, Charles’ love for sports – and people – shown through brightly. I’ve always regretted not being able to keep in touch with Charles over the years, and by this posting I am committed to contacting him and adding my congratulations to him and the Capital City Lions Club.

After finding an old 1976 KLRN news staff roster a few minutes ago, I dialed Charles’ home phone number and – he still has the same phone number! Not surprisingly, he wasn’t at home, he was at a track meet! Did I mention that Charles was a real sports fan?

Seeing Charles’ picture has also spurred me to explore some of my old files from those days in Austin. While I’ve kept in loose touch with Terry Lickona, who continues his involvement with Austin City Limits, other staffers are more elusive. Folks like Cyndy Allen, Bob Buckalew, Dot Chaloupka, Roy Faires, Howard James, Gary Witt and others.

So many memories…….blurring a bit with the passage of time, but still fondly held!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Disappointing Interview

After watching the Bill Moyers interview with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright tonight on PBS, I was reminded what a real gentleman Bill Moyers is. He is gracious to a fault in person and on the air.

Reverend Wright, you’ll remember, is the black minister whose “damning” of America from the pulpit several weeks ago caught media attention, particularly because Wright is the pastor of Senator Barak Obama’s home church in Chicago.

The hour-long interview on Bill Moyers Journal demonstrated what we all should have known anyway, that Reverend Wright – like all of us – is more complex than can be reflected in a 30-second sound bite.

Nonetheless, I was sorely disappointed tonight by the lack of incisive questioning from Bill Moyers. Not so much over Wright’s “damning” of America statement, but his vitriolic statements about an unfeeling America that has killed innocent people in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

That innocents died – on both sides in these wars – is undeniable. That our troops, our government, and our nation did so as a matter of policy and with no feeling is blatantly untrue. Why did Bill Moyers not challenge Reverend Wright on this point?

Reverend Wright’s snipped comment about God “damning” America made national news, and Senator Obama promptly distanced himself from his old pastor. How, Moyers asked, did Reverend Wright feel about that?

In fresh candor, Reverend Wright acknowledged that Senator Obama is “a politician” and must say to his audience what is necessary; and as a pastor, he (Reverend Wright) must say to his audience what is necessary. Wright speaks at the National Press Club next week. I think I smell a book in the writing.

How unfortunate that Bill Moyers did not do what HIS audience expected: ask insightful questions and challenge the guest. Instead, it was kind of a “good ol’ pastors discussion down at the seminary.” Giving Reverend Wright 60 minutes to paint his own portrait on C-SPAN would have been equally revealing.

Bill Moyers has done some great interviews. This was not one of them.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Turned off by the TV turn off

There was a time when I thought participating in a national “Turn Off the TV” campaign was a pretty cool thing to do. No longer.

Part of my disillusionment with letting the tube go dark has to do with its effectiveness, or lack thereof. It fits right in with the notion that – if we all don’t buy gasoline on a certain day – we can change the behavior of the big oil companies. Pardon me if I play the skeptic.

Expecting that a one-week TV turnoff may “prime the pump” to a lifetime of reduced television watching is, to my mind, disingenuous.

All of this is not to say I’m opposed to the concept. Spending 29-34 hours a week plopped in front of the tube – as the average American does – is probably too much. And it detracts from doing more productive things, especially if the viewer is consumed by reality shows and “shock” television. That's the cheaper fare that helps television production companies and the networks turn a better profit. Quality costs. Junk is cheaper.

Better, I think, however, to focus on the quality of television that is produced and watched. That’s a tougher row to hoe, but its outcome would have far greater impact.

It’s easy to be absolutely cynical about the prospects of television transforming itself and offering better quality programs. I suspect there’ll always be a market for shock television and pornography. I must confess that even until very recently, I didn’t believe there was any way to stem the decline of television programming into an abyss of self-absorbing muck.

But my cynicism has given way to a flicker of optimism for the future. It has been fueled mostly by the high quality programs of public television and a handful of cable channels (History Channel, C-SPAN, and a few others).

But the real clincher was to see veteran smut peddler HBO launch its seven-part historical series on John Adams. A superb series that stands head and shoulders above an earlier tripe-cast called “Deadwood” (with apologies to a few of my South Dakota friends who believe that distorted history is better than no story at all).

Turn off the TV this week? I don’t think so. But it would be a good idea to start pushing the industry for better programming and supporting those offerings with our viewership. Admittedly, really good television programs are few and far between – but they can be found. They and their sponsors should be supported.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

"...Without the Rap!"

Part of the mystery has been solved about a new Rapid City radio station. Connoisseur Media’s new FM station at 102.7 played Christmas music for several weeks – becoming something of a curiosity, and leading some folks to wonder what music format the station would eventually adopt.

Well, the cat is out of the bag, and KXMZ/102.7 (Box Elder-Rapid City) bills itself as “Hits 102.7, Today’s Best Hits Without the Rap.” They’re streaming commercial-free music on their web site with a format that is clearly aimed at teens and young adults. We understand that Connoisseur picked up the 50,000-watt station in an FCC auction for just over $1 million. It’s one of 18 radio stations in the Rapid City market.

The more intriguing parts of the mystery remain: 1) When will they start generating some advertising revenue? 2) How successful will they be? And, perhaps most important to many of us: 3) just how much local service will 102.7 provide?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Memories of Biography

I became a Mike Wallace fan back in the early 1960s when I was Program Manager of WGBY-TV, the Armed Forces Radio & Television outlet on the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Those were the days before satellite broadcasts. Each week, we’d received air shipments of kinescopes from the mainland, including a wide variety of popular programs from all of the broadcast networks.

That’s when I was first exposed to a documentary film series entitled Biography, produced by David Wolper -- pictured here -- and hosted by Mike Wallace. Documentaries in those days were few and far between, and I was impressed with Wolper’s effective use of archival film footage and still photographs. These were well before the days of documentary filmmaker Ken Burns (who would have still been in elementary school). Of course, Mike’s narration added significantly to the authoritativeness of the Biography programs.

While I can’t offer up a link to the old Biography series, I can steer you to a rich collection interviews done even earlier in a series called
The Mike Wallace Interview. This series ended up at ABC, and the University of Texas has managed to persuade the 89-year-old Wallace – who owns the copyright – to allow UT to make 65 of the programs available on the internet. Another nice touch: transcripts of the programs are also on the site at the Harry Ransom Center on the UT campus in Austin.


Couric to Leave CBS Evening News....Soon?

The media business is abuzz with much talk about Katie Couric possibly leaving her anchor job at CBS Evening News -- perhaps sooner rather than later. The New York Times offered up the story last week. It'll be interesting to see if the speculation of an early departure becomes reality. A key part of the Today show at NBC for many years, she's been unable to help CBS navigate its way out of third place in the evening network news competition.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Millage Goes Back to School

Long-time news executive Mark Millage is leaving broadcasting to head Kilian Community College in Sioux Falls. Millage has been with the KELO-land stations, based in Sioux Falls, for some 25 years, most of them as News Director.

KELO-TV is the flagship station for a network of transmitters that cover most of South Dakota. Millage was tapped from among more than 40 applicants to become President of the two-year school.

I don’t know a lot about Kilian Community College – or Mark Millage – but they both have good reputations. According to the news release posted by the college, the school was formed as a “joint venture” by Augustana College and two other institutions that used to be known as Sioux Falls College and the North American Baptist Seminary.

I met Tom Kilian in the 1980s when I was with South Dakota Public Broadcasting. He’s the long-time South Dakota educator for whom the institution is named. He is a class act.

Good luck to Mark Millage and Kilian Community College.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Here Comes Santa Claus? 102.7 FM

Radio listeners in the Black Hills who tune around the radio dial just for the fun of it discovered something a bit odd the other day. A time warp, right out of “The Twilight Zone.” What else could explain the gentle strains of Silent Night and Jingle Bells blasting from the radio in early April?

Perhaps someone at this station, 102.7 FM, forgot that Christmas is over for this season?

Maybe it’s a radio signal returning to earth after bouncing off of a distant galaxy.

It might be an April Fool’s prank.

Or….maybe it’s just a new radio station with a gimmick to get our attention. Well, it seems to be working.

102.7 FM is on the air from Connecticut, or wherever, blasting away at the Rapid City market with Christmas music. Clearly, it’s an effort that seems to be working. I first learned about it from Dan Daly's Rapid City Journal blog site. Dan reports that the station call sign will be KXZM and the city of license is Box Elder, while the transmitter is atop "M" hill in Rapid City. Who are these people and what do they want?

Well, it turns out they’re Yankees from Connecticut. The company is called Connoisseur Media, and it’s headed by Jeffrey D. Warshaw, a well-to-do businessman who says he’s a broadcaster. Mr. Warshaw sold his first Connoisseur company – a collection of 27 radio stations -- for a cool $258 million. The Connoisseur web site indicates their new operation is “characterized by well researched and targeted programming, intense training and development of its people, and dedicated local service.” They list 17 radio stations from Erie, Pennsylvania to Billings, Montana.

It’ll be fascinating to see just how many Connoisseur employees populate the Rapid City market. Even more interesting will be watching them scramble to provide a “dedicated local service.” That’s a refreshing concept that even many locally-owned broadcasters struggle to attain but seldom achieve.

My bet is that their local service is promotional hype…..that their local staff is comprised mostly of a few sales people – and perhaps a contract person to keep the satellite gear and transmitter operating.

In the end, I doubt that Mr. Warshaw is Santa Claus coming to town with a bag of local services for Rapid City and the surrounding area. I predict they’ll have a competitive music service – whatever that may be – with a strong promotion strategy, a local sales force, and a creative way of trying to “sound local.”
The measure of their local service will be how much they really become a part of the community. How many news staff will they have? How effectively will they report the weather? Just how much will they really become a part of the social fabric of the Black Hills? I doubt that “dedicated local service” is a big part of the holiday strategy unleashed by Connoisseur Media.

I could be wrong. I hope I am. Stay tuned.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Six to premiere Monday

We see KEVN is moving its 5:30 p.m. weekday newscast to 6:00 p.m. starting next Monday, March 31st. I’m glad to see that, since it’ll give me – and presumably many other folks – an opportunity to see what the Fox affiliate can do in that time slot.

It gives them a clean shot at “news junkies” and others who must choose among competing broadcasts between 5 – 6 p.m. Of course, a few folks are home earlier and able to watch KCLO’s “KELO-land News,” at 4:30 MDT, but I’m not among them. I also have a little disdain for them, since they claim a local service presence statewide, but they have a decidedly “east river” flavor to their Sioux Falls broadcasts, which emanate in the Central Daylight Time zone. There is no or little concern over the time difference.

As one who relies upon ABC’s Charlie Gibson and PBS’s Jim Lehrer to provide a television window on the world, I seldom watch Fox, CBS, or NBC at suppertime. Consequently, I know little about the kind of work these stations do during the supper hour.

The Rapid City Journal this morning reported some “big changes” at KEVN starting Monday. General Manager Cindy McNeill is quoted as saying that “more people are watching at 6 p.m.” KEVN is re-labeling the broadcast “The Six.” They’re touting a new set and a new pace. Whether that’ll translate into a new and bigger audience remains to be seen.

Hal Riney dies at 75

Hal Riney died of cancer this week. He was 75 years old. If you’re not familiar with Riney's name, take a look at this commercial on You Tube that he produced a good many years ago.

Millions of Americans never knew who Riney was, but they recognized his voice. While his advertising firm was immensely successful, it was perhaps his subtle, low-key voice-over announcements that were most recognizable.

Riney employed “understatement” rather than “overstatement” in his advertising, and his strategy was usually to let the listener or viewer make a determination about the product or service, but only after having led them down a road where there seemed to be only one clearly logical choice.

Read Hal Riney’s obituary in the New York Times.

The San Francisco Chronicle web site posted Riney’s obituary and it attracted hundreds of comments. Disappointingly, many of them were postings that ripped advertising in general and Riney in particular. Too many folks with too little to do – and not doing it well.

I chose public broadcasting rather than commercial broadcasting as a career. That decision was based – in part – on my belief that there is greater creative freedom in non-commercial broadcasting than is available in commercial broadcasting. I still believe that.

Nonetheless, I recognize the value of good advertising, and few people did it better than Hal Riney.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Roy Jorgensen (1918-2008)

We were saddened this morning (3/26/08) to learn that good friend Roy Jorgensen of Vermillion, South Dakota died on Easter Sunday in Sioux Falls. He was 89.

Among the first to welcome Karen and me to Vermillion when we moved there in 1985 were Roy and Helen Jorgensen. Roy was an engineer for South Dakota Public Broadcasting in Vermillion, where he was pretty much in charge of technical operations for KUSD Radio. He had been with SDPB since the 1960s.

Already in his late 60s when I first came to know him, Roy was an avid ham radio operator (WØMMQ), and he introduced me to “packet radio.” I was amazed at his insatiable curiosity about things and his willingness to try something new. The conversion into digital electronics was a joy for Roy.

Roy and I also worked together on Lion’s projects, so it was a special delight to see him and Helen when Karen and I made an unexpected side trip to Vermillion two years ago. Good friends Vern and Joan Holter had invited us to join them at the Lion’s Pancake Supper, and among the folks we were able to see and visit with again were Roy and Helen. It was sheer delight!

We were also pleasantly surprised to learn, when we moved to the Black Hills, that Roy and Helen’s daughter and son-in-law, Ann and Ken Froelich, also lived in Spearfish.

Roy was born and raised in Yankton. And as I read through his obituary, I thought of how very much Roy Jorgensen typified the ex-GI’s that fellow broadcaster Tom Brokaw -- also also from Yankton -- wrote about in his book The Greatest Generation.

A World War II veteran who saw Signal Corps service in New Guinea, Roy repaired aircraft radios and other equipment as planes returned from combat missions. After the war, he came home, got on with his life, raised a family, and became an active member of his community – helping so many others along the way.

In amateur radio parlance, Roy is now a “Silent Key.” Throughout his life, he conveyed kindness and helpfulness to all – not just in his messages, but in his actions.

73 old friend.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Who needs competition?

I am conflicted ---

The U.S. Department of Justice today approved a $5 billion buyout of XM Radio by its competitor, Sirius Radio. Approval by the Federal Communications Commission seems imminent.

As a long-time subscriber to XM satellite radio, I have come to rely upon ready access to music of the 1940s and ‘50s, the in-depth governmental coverage of C-SPAN Radio, wall-to-wall classical music, occasional forays into Bluegrass, periodic visits from talk-show host Dave Ramsey, and a fresh perspective on international news from the BBC World Service.

I couldn’t care less about most of the 100+ other channel offerings. So when Sirius and XM said that, if they’re allowed to join forces, they’ll start offering program channels a la carte, I was excited. This “unbundling” concept is one that many subscribers would love to see implemented by cable television companies, and one promoted strongly by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin. Imagine paying only for the channels you really want! If we believe Sirius and XM, that may soon happen with their surviving radio services.

I fear the cost may be more than I hoped – much more.

For the past year, I’ve had a gnawing discomfort about this “merger,” but my fears subsided when I considered the possibility of paying less for fewer channels. Today, when I read about DOJ approval in the New York Times, I Googled the topic and found an archived story on the Sirius-XM deal by Marc Fisher of the Washington Post. Now I feel worse.

My hopes of keeping only the satellite channels I want – and paying less than my current $13 a month – now seem uncertain. Fisher, in his piece written last year, asked more than rhetorically, Can you name one example of a new consumer technology that was guaranteed to a single provider and still served customers well? (Don’t everyone say 'cable TV' at once.)"

Having now read his full article, my discomfort grows, and my shot at frugality seems to have been dashed.

I am conflicted and won’t know the final outcome until I get that note in the mail many months from now, from the satellite radio entity left standing, telling me about all of the wonderful new benefits of yet another media consolidation.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Willis Conover and the VOA

Sometime in the late 1940s or early 1950s, my dad bought a Philco console radio. Used though it was, it became the center of our household entertainment, where we’d gather after supper. Dad would read the paper, we kids would grab the “funnies,” and we’d all enjoy programs ranging from “Fibber McGhee and Molly” to “Our Miss Brooks” and “Gunsmoke.”

Within a short time, I became enamored with the shortwave bands. I can recall with amazement learning that the English monotone newscast I often heard was coming from Radio Moscow. In the middle of the “Cold War,” this was heady stuff. I think few of my friends were as intrigued by this stuff as I was.

By the late ‘50s, I was becoming a frequent listener of the
Voice of America. I liked to listen to both standard newscasts and “Special English” programs. Some 40 years later, when I was director of the Mississippi public broadcasting network, I even stole VOA’s “Opinion Roundup” title for a new program we initiated. It was a collection of editorial opinions from regional newspapers.

If I were to associate a single “voice” or “personality” with the Voice of America, it was Willis Conover. He was the independent contractor hired by VOA to host a jazz program, and it became wildly popular around the world. Importantly, it became a link with Russia and eastern European listeners and helped keep open a path of friendship between the peoples of those countries and the United States.

Willis’ rich voice, although used in a rather dour and monotone delivery, became familiar to citizens in most corners of the world – except, ironically, the United States. He seemed to have a limitless knowledge of jazz and its musicians, although that perception may have been because I was so immersed with “popular music” and the emerging sounds of rock and roll. I knew little about jazz.

The work of Willis Conover and his VOA broadcasts were a memorable part of my youth -- perhaps yours, too. I hope you’ll enjoy some of
these photographs of Willis at work and with some of the folks he interviewed over the years. That's songstress Sara Vaughan above with Willis. It’s a most enjoyable stroll down memory lane.

And for as long as it remains intact, here's a link to a sample of Willis Conover's brilliant work on VOA's Music USA..

Monday, March 3, 2008

Ed Paulin (1924-2008)

Another friend has passed away. Long-time Kentucky and Oklahoma broadcaster Ed Paulin died Saturday (March 1st). He was 83.
The Palmer Marler Carberry Funeral Home was in charge of the March 5th funeral.arrangements. They also provided this obituary. KOSU also provided an on-air report of Ed's passing. We've linked to an MP3 audio copy on the KOSU web site.

A native of Ohio, Ed started his broadcasting career in 1942 at WCMI in Ashland, Kentucky. After a three-year hitch with Army, he returned to WCMI and spent 24 years with the station. He then worked at WMRN in Marion, Ohio. He was a veteran sportscaster and covered everything from football and basketball to hockey and harness horse racing. He even covered a bit of pro wrestling. Ed was recognized as Ohio’s Top Sports Broadcaster in 1960.

Ed returned to school in 1966 and earned a B.A. degree from the University of Kentucky. Shortly thereafter, he became the first General Manager for KOSU-FM in Stillwater, Oklahoma. That was 1971. The station was licensed to Oklahoma State University, and it was a good fit for Ed, who loved sports.

I first became acquainted with Ed in 1973 when I joined KOSU as News Director. He finished his M.A. degree and was working on a doctorate. In 1976, Ed became Chairman of the Radio-TV-Film Department, and I succeeded him as General Manager of the public radio station. I always admired Ed’s even-keeled personality and his keen sense of humor. He was a wonderful storyteller.

When I left OSU in 1980 and went to work for the Oklahoma Educational Television network, Ed and I kept in touch quite a bit; however, I regret that we lost contact in later years.

Ed retired in 1990 and continued to be a staunch supporter of OSU sports. He is survived by his wife of 58 years, Micki. Our thoughts and prayers are with her during this difficult time.

Spearfish may get public station

(Originally posted February 28, 2008)

It won’t be happening anytime soon, but a full-service South Dakota Public Broadcasting FM radio station is being planned for the northern Black Hills. It would be located in Spearfish.

The Federal Communications Commission has granted a permit to SDPB for construction of a 6,000-watt radio station that would replace the low power FM translators that serve Belle Fourche (91.9 Mhz) and Spearfish (91.1 Mhz). The new station will operate at 91.9 Mhz.

This is great news for those of us who often have to resort to the Wyoming Public Radio station at Sundance for a reliable signal. It’s difficult to hear the two translators outside the city limits of Belle Fourche and Spearfish. And the terrain of the northern Black Hills doesn’t allow a good signal from either Rapid City or Faith, the two nearest SDPB full-service stations.
The transmitter for the Spearfish station will be located at an existing tower site in north Spearfish. You may click on the map at left to see a larger image of the planned coverage area. Programming will duplicate KUSD-FM, the SDPB flagship station at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion.

The construction permit was granted on January 17, 2008 and is valid for three years. It will likely be toward the end of that three-year period before the station is operational.

South Dakota Public Broadcasting operates a statewide network of radio (NPR) and television (PBS) stations.

Remembering Russ

(Originally posted February 15, 2008)

We lost a friend a few weeks ago.

Russ Bailey passed away January 27th at the United Retirement Center in Brookings, South Dakota. He was 77 years old. Our condolences go out to the entire Bailey family.

Many South Dakotans will remember Russ from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s as an on-air spokesman for South Dakota Public Broadcasting.

A native of Beverly, Massachusetts, he and his wife Marge were married in 1955. A career Air Force officer, Russ had assignments throughout the United States, Japan and Germany. After he retired as a Major, and they made their home in South Dakota, Russ became a key player in helping organize the Friends of South Dakota Public Broadcasting. He remained affiliated with Friends for some 20 years.

It was my good fortune to work with Russ during some of those years. He was an honest, no-nonsense fellow with a heart of gold. He spoke his mind and had the courage of his convictions. He was highly regarded by his many friends and colleagues throughout public broadcasting.

His obituary touched upon his varied career and the many activities for which he volunteered. Russ Bailey made the world a better place, and we’re all richer for having known him.

Who Wants Bigger Media?

(Originally posted December 17, 2007)

The Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to vote tomorrow on rules that would allow even greater consolidation of media in this country. Specifically, it would allow newspapers in major markets to acquire television stations in those same markets.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin -- who has some good ideas about giving consumers greater choices by "unbundling" cable television packages -- is way off base on the issue of newspaper/television cross-ownership. I can't fathom whence came the perceived urgency of such rules, but it's not hard to imagine the long and powerful reach of media moguls like Rupert Murdoch.
I've contacted Senators Johnson and Thune in South Dakota. While I doubt there is much that can be done at this late date to persuade Chairman Martin and the FCC to delay the vote tomorrow, the Senate can and should come together in support of S.2332, the Media Ownership Act of 2007. Among other things, it would require 90 days be provided for the public to comment on any proposed media ownership rules put forward by the FCC. It would also require a separate FCC proceeding to examine the impact media consolidation is having on localism. It's no surprise to anyone that truly good local service by commercial broadcasting stations has been diminishing over the past decade -- badly!

Hopefully, more citizens will contact their U.S. Senators to urge support of S.2332. It's an important piece of legislation that can have a positive impact on media services in this country. Learn more about media consolidation at my earlier postings about the FCC.

Merry Christmas, Rupert

(Originally posted November 23, 2007)

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin is apparently pushing forward with plans to “revise” the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule. If it happens – and he appears to have the votes to swing it – he’ll be able to present Rupert Murdoch and other media barons with a sweet Christmas present.

They’ll have a clear path to owning a TV station and a local daily newspaper in the same market. Current FCC rules don’t allow such cross-ownership. (Of course, Murdoch already has a waiver to the rule and owns the New York Post and the television stations WWOR-TV and WNYW-TV in New York City. And there are other markets, too, that are grandfathered in the sweet arrangement.)

The cross-ownership wobbling is a retrenchment from Martin’s original plan, which would have opened the floodgates for media consolidation. Michael Powell, FCC Chairman in 2003, tried the same thing and got thoroughly pummeled by Congress and the public. Chairman Martin and his supporters are pushing for a December 18 vote, allowing just a four-week period for public comment.

We’re pleased to see Republican Trent Lott and Democrat Byron Dorgan joining forces to inject a bit of accountability into the process. They’ve introduced S 2332, the Media Ownership Act of 2007. It would require a 90-day comment period on any proposed media ownership rule changes. Not only would it delay Martin’s consolidation initiative until 2008, the measure has strong bi-partisan support and would also require hearings on local service.

If the Commission’s experience in
Seattle earlier this month is any indication of public disaffection with the notion of more media consolidation, they’re in for a rough ride.

I think Chairman Martin may find a lump of coal under the tree this year.

Amnesia Perhaps?

(Originally posted October 30, 2007)

Although I guess it shouldn’t have surprised me, I was taken aback that Chairman Kevin Martin of the Federal Communications Commission has such bad short-term memory. Martin apparently doesn’t remember the thrashing that then Chairman Michael Powell took just three years ago when he tried to update FCC ownership rules for broadcast stations.

“Update” in this case is a euphemism for tossing out
ownership rules that are already skewed against the public interest and offer giant media conglomerates a continuing opportunity to stuff their pockets with profits. This, at the expense of many genuinely local radio and television stations that historically really have operated in the public “interest, convenience, and necessity."

Not surprisingly, the Wall Street Journal has weighed in supporting Martin’s plan. I took issue with their stance by writing this “Letter to the Editor” last week:

The Wall Street Journal’s assertion that media consolidation has “led not to monopolies but to a media landscape that is more diverse than ever” (Oct. 25, 2007) confuses variety with diversity. The growing media empire of Rupert Murdoch may offer a garden variety of pseudo-journalism and info-tainment, but it falls woefully short of truly diverse, local journalism.

Your suggestion that “free-market” consolidation might improve the media landscape ignores the declining, sorry state of local broadcasting in this country – almost as bad as network offerings. Your swipe at public broadcasting, which is often the only vibrant player in local radio and television, is unwarranted. Many of us pine for the days of locally-owned and operated stations that were a part of the fabric of the communities they served, producing content that genuinely strived to meet the needs and interests of the community – not just the corporate bottom line. There are still a few commercial properties that fulfill that role, but increasingly it is public broadcasters who have filled the void of local service.

Chairman Martin and the FCC would do well to further expand their efforts in encouraging more local broadcasting and abandon the numbskull notion that media consolidation will save the day.

Back when Michael Powell tried an end run to further "relax" ownership rules, even he might have been surprised to find media mogul Ted Turner opposed to the proposal. To his credit, Turner simply observed that further consolidation might have been good for big media – but it was bad public policy.
"When you lose small businesses, you lose big ideas," wrote Turner in the Washinton Monthly in 2004. Admitting that he earlier had tried his own "clean sweep" of vertical media ownership, Turner observed that media companies have grown ever larger and more powerful, and that their dominance has become so detrimental to small, emerging companies, that there's just one alternative -- bust up the big conglomerates.

Let’s hope that efforts to quash the plan – and there are many – are successful. Among those leading the charge against further media consolidation is U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota. Killing this proposal won't bust up the big media barons -- not by a long shot -- but it'll be a step in the right direction.

Jack and "The War"

(Originally posted September 30, 2007)

The airing of Ken Burns' The War on PBS this month stirred memories of my friend Jack Shelley.

For just about anyone around today who lived a decade or more in Iowa during the 1900s, Jack Shelley is a familiar name. Born in 1912 near Boone, Iowa, Jack is as close as you get to being a "living legend.”

A journalist of the first order, Jack's career with WHO radio and television in Des Moines was punctuated with historic broadcasts of World War Two. From live broadcasts at the Battle of the Bulge in 1944 to covering the Japanese surrender ceremonies aboard the USS Missouri in 1945, Jack reported from a variety of war venues. After the war, he served as News Director at WHO-AM-TV for some 25 years.

Fortunately for a new generation of aspiring broadcast journalists, Jack moved from the newsroom to the classroom in 1965, accepting an appointment to the faculty at Iowa State University in Ames. By 1969, when I was News Director at KMA in Shenandoah, Iowa, I had become acquainted with Jack through the Iowa Broadcasters Association. That was a factor in my return to Ames in 1970 to pursue a Masters degree in Journalism. Jack Shelley was my major professor.

In 1982, Jack retired from his second career as a college professor -- but not before touching the lives and positively influencing hundreds if not thousands of young men and women. What a tremendous career this gentleman has had.

In the 1990s, he was a staunch opponent of WOI-TV being sold by the university and was rather outspoken on the topic. While the sale occurred anyway, it didn't diminish Jack's capacity for being active and involved in the community and across campus. While his pace has slowed a bit -- at 95 years of age, he's entitled!

To capture a bit of his remarkable careers as a broadcaster and educator, I heartily recommend Robert Underhill's excellent book, Jack Shelley and the News (McMillen Publishing, Ames, IA 2002). Last I heard, Jack was still giving weekly news reports at Rotary meetings in Ames, but his good friend and long-time colleague Bill Kunerth tells me that Jack has recently had a few setbacks with his health. We'll hope it's only temporary!

And then, there's Bill Kunerth, but that's a story for another day.

Fair winds and following seas to a good friend and mentor, Jack Shelley.

Whitmore - Going Strong at 85!

(Originally posted on August 10, 2007)

As a few of us have drifted into active “retirement,” I am amazed at those of our elders – a generation older – who show no signs of slowing down.

Such is the case of actor James Whitmore, who – at 85 – has returned to his roots at a summer theatre in New Hampshire as Sheridan Whiteside in the vintage play “The Man Who Came to Dinner.” According to reviewer Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal, Whitmore did it like the “youthful trouper” he was when he made his acting debut there after serving in the Marines in World War II.

I am not surprised.

Three decades ago, when I was managing public radio station KOSU in Stillwater, Oklahoma, I was witness to the creativity and professionalism of James Whitmore. One afternoon, OSU colleague John Bissonette and I decided serendipitously to drop in on a campus convocation featuring Whitmore at the Seretean Performing Arts Center. We were disappointed that so few students, faculty, staff or community residents showed up for the event. There were probably 40 of us in the audience.

Did that make any difference to James Whitmore? Not a bit.

Coming on stage despite an injury that caused him to hobble a bit, the diminutive actor with a booming voice engaged the audience in a way I’d not seen before. He talked about acting. He talked about life. He shared anecdotes about his career. In the end, he revealed his “injury” to be nothing more than a grand case of spoofing the audience with body language. It was all make believe.

And nobody does it better than James Whitmore – a real professional.

I first remember him as a cop in the classic sci-fi film “Them!” But he’s appeared in dozens of other great movies like Oklahoma, Kiss Me Kate, and Battle Cry. Television credits run into the hundreds – including classic series like Playhouse 90 and The Twilight Zone.” His portrayals of presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Harry Truman in the 1970s were especially memorable, as was his rendition of humorist Will Rogers.

Bravo, James Whitmore! You’ve entertained millions of people the world over, and you continue to inspire those of us still stumbling around in early retirement.

You’ve demonstrated that keeping active and striving for excellence is a great formula for remaining “youthful troupers.” Well done!

Kudos to KBHB Radio

(Originally posted on July 8, 2007)

Extremely dry conditions in the southern Black Hills, coupled with hot temperatures and gusty winds, are hampering firefighters trying to subdue the “Alabaugh Fire” about five miles southwest of Hot Springs.

We’re saddened to learn that one person has been killed and two firefighters injured in incidents related to this fire. News reports say 27 homes have been destroyed by the wildfire, apparently started by lightning in Alabaugh Canyon.

We first learned of the fire Saturday night (July 7th) in Crawford, Nebraska, where we heard a public service radio dispatcher announce an appeal for assistance in fighting a wildfire in Fall River County South Dakota.

Sunday afternoon, as we drove north from Crawford, Nebraska to Spearfish, South Dakota, I listened up and down the radio dial seeking information about the fire.

I first tried the Hot Springs AM radio station at 580 on the dial. I heard nothing but country music. Switching to KOTA in Rapid City, I heard the CBS network news at both 2:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m., leading their newscasts with information about massive wilfires in the western states, including South Dakota. They reported the death related to the fire near Hot Springs, but there was little detail. We heard no local follow-up on KOTA following the network news. Admittedly, I was hop-scotching across the dial -- hoping to hear something, and I may well have missed coverage by stations. But I doubt it. I was trying all afternoon, but with little success.

At 4:00 p.m., an ABC network news report over KBHB Sturgis told about the evacuation of homes in the Hot Springs area, along with an excerpt from a fire official with a few details. Following the network news, KBHB’s Gary Matthews provided the only substantive local information we could find about the fire. It included more depth and greater detail than contained in the ABC network report. And it was the ONLY local radio report about the fire that we could locate on our car radio.

Our hats off to KBHB in Sturgis for providing these reports (we heard subsequent updates) and for caring enough to provide news and information that affect residents of the Black Hills region.

I know the story was picked up by the Associated Press, and KOTA-TV, the KELOland stations, and others have undoubtedly carried the story, since there is evidence on their web sites that their stations have broadcast the story.

But Sunday afternoon, some 18 hours after the fire was first reported, radio listeners in western South Dakota were hard pressed to find ANY information about the incident.

Alas, lots of radio stations are largely automated, especially on weekends, playing music fed to them via satellite. They provide little, if any, local and regional news reports. We know of at least one Black Hills radio station whose newscasts rely on newspaper clippings – often from yesterday’s edition!!

It is sad that so many radio stations offer so little original news reporting.

Kudos to KBHB and Gary Matthews for recognizing that local news and public affairs reporting is a key ingredient in providing real service to their listeners – not just canned music and network programs.

Tomek anchors at OETA

(Originally posted June 21, 2007)

I was pleasantly surprised this week to see that long-time friend George Tomek has signed on to do some work with the Oklahoma ETV network (OETA). A veteran television anchorman with WKY-TV (now KFOR) in Oklahoma City, I first knew George when he and I served together in the Naval Reserve back in the 1970s. I was a new Lieutenant (jg) and George was our unit Executive Officer.

Those were special years, and our small group (Office of Information 411) drilled together for several years, including a variety of "Special Active Duty for Training" assignments. Folks like Jack Raskopf, Gean Atkinson, Greg Slavonic, Bill Hickman, and Ed Klecka, were a talented group of Naval officers who came from a variety of backgrounds. I had been teaching and managing the public radio station at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, but later went to work at OETA as Assistant Director and then Manager of KOED-TV/Channel 11 in Tulsa. In the 1980s, George and I served together in OI-1018 in Kansas City. Of course, all my old colleagues at OETA are retired, dead or working elsewhere. But it was good to see the photo of George's smiling face in OETA web photos. It brought back fond memories of a great group of shipmates -- and of some good years at OETA.

W$J wrong on FCC stance

(Originally posted May 24, 2007)

Regrettably, the Wall Street Journal seems out of touch with much of America when it states that “a la carte pricing bears little relationship to the issue of violent television programming” (FCC TV, May 23, 2007). Suggesting that war scenes from a History Channel documentary or shark/lion feeding scenes in a Discovery Channel program come anywhere close to the gratuitous sex and violence that permeates commercial television today is disingenuous. The WSJ editorial further asserts that Federal Communications Commission recommendations for a la carte consumer choice would constitute an unwarranted attempt by the government to “dictate a private sector business model.” We ask our government to do that all the time. Have you noticed the seat belts and air bags in your car?

To Bundle, or Not to Bundle

(Originally posted May 10, 2007)

The Federal Communicationse Commission has just released a report that reveals -- not surprisingly -- a significant increase in television violence.

And while I didn't become violent last week when I encountered some unexpected "adult content" on our televison, it did rekindle some long-time beliefs that support the concept of "unbundling" television program packages. Basically, that means subscribers should be able to choose only the channels they want in their home package, rather than paying for a bunch of channels they don't want.

By the way, the culprit channel noted above was one of the HBO channels. I didn't stick around long enough to see which one. I'm not a fan of Deadwood or most other HBO programs, but I am aware they've done some good programming -- albeit not enough for me to justify paying for it. Our HBO channels were thrown in as a temporary "freebie" -- part of the incentive to make us new subscribers to Midcontinent Cable in South Dakota.

About "bundling" and "unbundling" channels: parents of young children may enjoy having Disney, Discovery, and the Cartoon Channel, but they may have no desire for VH1, MTV, and Comedy Central. The fact is, their cable or satellite subscription bundles all of these together, and customers can either take it or leave it. If they take it, they're not only paying for what they want, but a lot of channels they don't want, too.

The technology is readily available to provide unbundled services, although cable and satellite services bemoan the fact that it will cost them money to implement such changes.

Cable has long been criticized, justifiably, for poor customer service. And while they've worked hard to overcome this stigma, it still haunts them. It's about to hit them over the head again big time, if they don't quickly come to the realization that there is rapidly growing public support for "unbundling."

I'm delighted that FCC Chairman Kevin Martin is among those pushing for such unbundling. Other commissioners are supportive, as well. However, the real catalyst is a growing groundswell of public sentiment that cries for greater responsibility and accountability in the corporate offices of major cable and satellite service companies.

While parents and other care providers have prime responsibility to monitor television viewing by young children, television executives have some responsibility, too. In this instance, they also have an opportunity to be the "good guys" and take the initiative to support parents and provide ALL consumers with what they want.

Increasingly, consumers want "unbundled" services that can be selected "a 'la carte."

Let's hope cable television executives aren't asleep at the switch again.