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.

Return to Civil Discourse?

(Originally posted April 19, 2007)

The firing of Don Imus was covered extensively by the media – and probably would still be a “front page” item, were it not for the shootings at Virginia Tech.

Sadly, Imus’ characterization of the women who play basketball for Rutgers as “nappy-headed hos,” was not atypical for Imus. A bright and articulate guy, Imus has traded in “edgy” comments for years, apparently emboldened by getting away with ever-increasing gross and/or offensive remarks, More sadly, he is not alone.

The airwaves remain filled with language and topics that perpetrators exchange for tidy paychecks from companies that trade in the business of bad taste. Of course, these same entities – like CBS and MSNBC – have done some good things over the years, too. That’s no excuse for tolerating, even encouraging and nurturing, program content that would never have been broadcast in days gone by.

Last week, I doubt that there was a broadcast market in the country not subjected to a poll asking, “Should Don Imus be fired?” Then later, after he was fired by both MSNBC and CBS, “Should Don Imus have been fired.”

The answer, of course, is yes. But the better question is: Does the firing of Don Imus signal an end to the trashy talk espoused by Imus, Howard Stern, and dozens of wannabe so-called “shock jocks”?

Broadcasting would do well to consider a return to the days when the National Association of Broadcasters issued its “seal of approval” for stations that subscribed to the NAB Code of Conduct. Find out more about the "Code of Conduct."

Some would contend that such a return to yesteryear is absurd, that it would fly in the face of the First Amendment, and that it would be unenforceable. I plead guilty to being a bit nostalgic, but I doubt that our forefathers envisioned the kind of filth being spewed over the airwaves of the 21st century. Enforcing such a code probably is a big stretch, especially in a day when “local” broadcasters responsible to local audiences are nearly impossible to find.

Perhaps we’ll just have to settle for banishing such trash to satellite radio services, which seem to have found a revenue stream from audiences that like such programming. Just as pornography has always had an audience, I suspect such “pay” satellite channels might survive – even thrive.

Better there than on the free over-the-air channels that belong to the public. It would be refreshing to see a return to relative civility by those broadcast media outlets that have spewed trash over our public airwaves in recent years.

Back in the Saddle Again!

(Originally posted April 6, 2007)
Even as a 10-year-old growing up in Nebraska, I knew that Gene Autry had his title "King of the Cowboys" stolen from him by that upstart Leonard Slye (Roy Rogers). And how unfair it was, I thought.

After all, Gene had heroicly volunteered for the Army Air Corps in World War II, leaving his royal cowboy throne - only to have Roy steal it from him. Gene was flying "the Hump" in the China-Burma-India theatre, defending his country, while Roy was back home staging a coup!

With the recent release of Holly George-Warren's biography of Gene, Public Cowboy No. 1, all those old memories of my childhood hero were re-awakened. Not only was I among the millions of lads glued to the Gene Autry radio broadcasts from Melody Ranch, I must have had at least three autographed photos of Gene tucked away in my bedroom. I wouldn't miss any of his movies, which I still re-visit on DVD from time to time, sometimes a bit disappointed with the plot -- but never with Gene!

In the late 1940s and early '50s, kids in our neighborhood fell into one of two categories: Roy fans -- or Gene fans. I opted for the somewhat less flamboyant Gene Autry, whose humble beginnings in Texas and Oklahoma gave rise to a hero we (Gene fans) admired and tried to emulate. Roy, on the other hand, was just too flashy! Both had cool horses and pretty female sidekicks -- and that was usually the order in which we measured the good taste and wisdom of our Saturday afternoon idols.

Gene Autry came back from the war, re-established himself at the box office, and went on to amass a fortune in the record industry, real estate, broadcasting, and sports. He achieved a long-time goal of owning a major league baseball team, the California Angels.

In later years, of course, I came to admire Roy Rogers, too. His devotion to his adopted family and enduring benevolence was truly remarkable. But he would never supplant those early memories of my real hero, Gene Autry.

Some 50 years after I had put Gene up on his pedestal, and after raising my own family and traversing the country in search of a "career," the unthinkable happened. As a manager with the Oklahoma Educational Televison Authority (OETA, the state public TV network), my boss, Bob Allen, and I were invited to an open house at neighboring Oklahoma City station KAUT-TV, owned by Gene Autry's Golden West Broadcasting. Late for the gathering, we slipped in through a side door and were navigating the hallways in search of the official reception. As we turned a corner, we came face-to-face with....yup....Gene Autry. Conducting his own solo examination of the newest Golden West property, Gene obliged us, nonetheless, with a warm greeting and a handshake.

We had exchanged pleasantries, but there was no time for me to tell Gene how much he had affected my young life. I, and millions of other cowboy wannabes, grew up wanting to be just like our hero. Well, I never quite made it as cowboy hero, but for those few short moments, I was "back in the saddle again"!

Thanks for the memories, Gene.

America at a Crossroads

(Originally posted April 5, 2007)
Public broadcasting has always had a slight tilt to the left, but it remains the best U.S. broadcast news service available. While the BBC has lost ground, its international coverage is second to none. I spend most of my broadcast listening time with National Public Radio, but I'm about to invest a significant block of time watching "America at a Crossroads" on PBS later this month.

Not surprisingly, the New York Times dedicated most of its Television page on April Fools Day to PBS. And this time it's worth the ink. Reporter Elizabeth Jensen outlined the forthcoming bloc of independent documentaries that will likely range from the far left to the "neo-conservative" right. PBS has dubbed the twelver hours of diverse views "America at a Crossroads," and just which way she will go we can't be certain.

We can, however, take solace in the fact that this series of programs will be tied together by the thoughtful introductions of Robert MacNeil, long-time journalist with PBS and the BBC. It's hard to believe that MacNeil would risk his well-earned credibility becoming associated with a project without merit. His participation -- for many of us -- is a testament to the quality of the project.

Not that we'll all like everything we see and hear. More likely, it will offend those with extreme views on both sides, who will then try to enliven the perennial question regarding federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). Jensen reports that the concept of "Crossroads" emanated at CPB, which plowed $20 million into helping make the concept a meaningful reality.

Viewers with strong opinions on the war in Iraq will find much fodder for debate in this six-day series. Let's hope they find merit in diverse examinations of the war, Islam, and the sharpening conflict between national security and personal liberties.

And let's hope they're more tolerant than John Schidlovsky, an outside adviser to the "Crossroads" project. Founding director of the International Reporting Project at Johns Hopkins University, Schidlovsky resigned as an adviser, apparently because a "neo-conservative" film featuring former Bush advisor Richard Perle was given the green light for broadcast on "Crossroads." Never mind that it's just one of numerous perspectives to be aired.

The anticipated diverse content of "America at a Crossroads" is the kind of thing that we seldom find anywhere on television.....except at PBS. The first broadcast will be Sunday evening, April 15th. Kudos to CPB and PBS for taking on what will undoubtedly cause a stir along the Potomac.

Tune In...Take Drugs...

(Originally posted April 4, 2007)
I take an aspirin a day, so I'm reluctant to be a radical on the the subject of "big drug companies" ruining our lives. But I do believe they've had a profound negative effect on our quality of life. How is that possible you may ask, given the development of life-saving drugs that have also provided healthier lives for millions of Americans?

Let's clearly distinguish between the drugs themselves and their marketers.

A generation or more ago, the corner drugstore was a community gathering place, where you could visit with friends, pick up a prescription, and perhaps enjoy a milk shake at the soda fountain. Clearly, there were pharmaceutical companies -- even large ones, but they were not driven by the fierce market forces of the 21st century.

Some of you will remember the days of Huntley-Brinkley and Walter Cronkite, when the evening network news was replete with commercials for soap, breakfast food, automobiles, beer, and -- yes -- pharmaceuticals. Fast forward 50 years and discover that the Hamm's bears have gone into permanent hibernation from the airwaves, and that drug companies have come to dominate commercial time not just during the evening news -- but throughout the evening television schedule.

The enormity of the economic force wielded by big drug companies is reflected in a bit of research done by the Center for Public Integrity, a non-profit and non-partisan public policy organization in Washington, D.C. They report that big drug company lobbyists in Washington easily outnumber members of Congress, and that those lobbyists spent some $155 million between January 2005 and June 2006. It's little wonder that they were successful in beating back efforts by Congress to revisit a provision in the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003 that barred the federal government from negotiating on Medicare drug prices. The Center for Public Integrity further reports that drug lobbyists also worked hard for the protection of lucrative drug patents and the prevention of the importation of lower-priced Canadian drugs.

Three cheers to the Center for Public Integrity for its investigative efforts focusing on this timely issue. A situation that threatens to push costs for health care even farther out of sight......alongside drug company profits. You can read more about it at: It's enough to give a fella a headache. Would you please pass the aspirin?

Little Mike on the Job!

(Originally posted January 4, 2008)

We've added a few new photos to the KCSR Photo Gallery. One of them is shown above. It's the indefatigable "Little Mike" mobile unit, covering a baseball game at Memorial Park in Chadron, probably in the late 1950s. Can you identify the gent in the middle of the photograph? We hope to encourage other ex-KCSR folks to contribute old photos or stories they might have. Send us an e-mail if you have any such memorabilia you'd be willing to share. Thanks!

Remembering KCSR - 1450 on the Dial!

(Originally posted December 25, 2007)

The holidays have a way of allowing us to make contact with kindred souls we’ve not seen or visited with for many years.

In the past week, I’ve exchanged e-mails with Frank Clark, a former Chadronite now long-retired and living in Virginia. Frank and I met up at his home a few years ago to reminisce a bit about KCSR Radio and mutual friends who worked there in the early days, when the station was still at “1450 on the radio dial.”

It occurred to me it would be fun to try to pull together a few old photographs from those years. That’s a sample up above – Cliff Pike and Bob Fouse frolicking around on Breakfast with the Boys, which aired in the mid-1950s, shortly after the station went on the air.

In coming weeks, I’ll be posting the few photos I have in a KCSR Gallery and encouraging others to join the fray! If you have some you’re willing to share, please drop me an e-mail. Here are other KCSR stories.

KCSR trivia question #1: Bill Finch and Bob Fouse put KCSR on the air in May 1954. They already had a few years of broadcasting experience under their belts when they arrived in Chadron. Where had they been?