Tuesday, December 29, 2009

All a matter of priority...

We read with considerable sadness today about the passing of “Chairman” Charlie Capps of Cleveland, Mississippi, a soft-spoken southern politician who was a true gentleman and gave the word “politician” some much-needed dignity. He died on Christmas Day (12/25/09).

The 84-year-old Capps – a slight, white-headed man from the Mississippi delta – was a force to be reckoned with for most of his nearly 33 years in the legislature – serving as either Chairman or Vice-Chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee for some 24 years. He was honest and fair, and his career was immersed in public service that dates back to his years as a soldier in World War II. His obituary chronicles the life of a truly remarkable individual.

Charlie Capps had been Chairman of Appropriations for five years when I arrived on the scene at the State Capitol in Jackson as the new Executive Director for the statewide Educational Television (ETV) network. I first met Mr. Capps through then-Representative Billy McCoy, who chaired the Appropriations Subcommittee on Education and “strongly recommended” that agency heads attend appropriatons hearings – that they shouldn’t just send their fiscal officer or second in command. As the new kid on the block, I took that seriously and rarely missed a session. Mr. McCoy would frequently refer to the necessity of knowing budgets inside-out. There was little doubt that McCoy knew the budget of every agency as well as or better than some agency heads themselves. He was remarkable at that, and he always expressed the necessity to get appropriations bills cleaned up and “ready” for Chairman Capps.

Like Billy McCoy, Chairman Charlie Capps was a short gentleman. But unlike the animated – even fiery – Billy McCoy, Chairman Capps was restrained and usually very soft-spoken. Almost always chomping on a cigar, he was a dapper dresser and was counted among the handful of truly powerful lawmakers in Mississippi.

Educational Television, which included Mississippi’s statewide radio and television networks, a radio reading service for the blind, and a statewide instructional television fixed service (ITFS), was among the smallest of state agencies. Although we had only about 130 or so employees, we were highly visible across the state, and the legislature had played a key role in making ETV one of the best-funded state network operations in the country – an admittedly unusual circumstance for anything with Mississippi in its name. Legislators like Billy McCoy, Hob Bryan, Grey Ferris, and Charlie Capps were among those who took a real interest in education.

So it was that Charlie Capps and I would run in slightly different circles. We knew each other to exchange pleasantries and have brief conversations – but that was seldom outside the appropriations process.

But there was this one time....

The St. Petersburg Russia Symphony Orchestra was making a performance tour in the United States, and one of the stops was destined to be the new Performing Arts Center on the campus of Delta State University in the small community of Cleveland, smack dab in the middle of the Mississippi delta.

Kent Wyatt, the president of Delta State called me one day and asked if I and a few key staff members could come to Cleveland to meet with a group of citizens over lunch. They were interested in having ETV broadcast a live performance of the St. Petersburg Symphony.

Folks familiar with the challenges of producing a live performance broadcast – even in ideal studio settings – probably would appreciate the tentativeness with which I accepted the invitation to discuss such a venture. Nonetheless, Delta State – which had an aeronautics curriculum at the school – sent a plane to Jackson some days later to pick up our Director of Television and me for the short flight to Cleveland.

In the back of my mind, I was rather certain that there was no way we could attempt such a broadcast. It required production personnel experienced in this sort of thing. We’d have to contract out for them. Plus, we had no real production truck, no satellite uplink capability. Tens of thousands of dollars would be required to undertake such a production.

As we walked in to the dining room at Delta State, among the first to welcome us was…..Chairman Charlie Capps. Well, of course, I knew Cleveland was his hometown, but I had underestimated the level of his community involvement, while still keeping tabs on the budgets of every state agency in Mississippi!

I recall little about the meeting, except that President Wyatt, Charlie Capps, and others in the group were very hospitable. My recollection is that we agreed to look at what such a venture might cost, but we didn’t offer any great optimism. We returned to Jackson and – over the next several days – put together a rough estimate of the out-of-pocket costs for ETV to produce such a program. It was, as I recall, something on the order of $35,000-40,000. I was willing to commit indirect costs – but the out-of-pocket expenses would likely kill the deal, unless an underwriter was found.

I said as much to President Wyatt some days later when he called to follow up on our meeting. Our Development Department explored some underwriting possibilities – but to no avail.

Then it happened.

I answered the phone one morning and it was Charlie Capps calling from the capitol. This written passage just doesn’t do justice to the genteel persuasion that rolled from the lips of Chairman Capps – and, of course, -- you need to add his unmistakable southern drawl:

“Mister Miller, I understand you’re not likely to broadcast the St. Petersburg Symphony when they come to Delta State.”

“Yes, sir, that’s right. We just don’t have the resources to commit to such a venture, as much as we might like to do it.”

“I know things are tough for you, Mr. Miller. They’re tough for all agencies this year. All of us are just going to have to prioritize and do the right things. I do hope y’all will see fit to do this broadcast. The people across the delta would appreciate it, and I would appreciate it. I do hope the matter becomes a higher priority for ETV. Thank you for your time, Mr. Miller.

“Uhhhh, thank you Mr. Capps. We’ll certainly take a closer look at it.” Click.

I immediately picked up the phone, called our Director of Television, and told him to add the live, remote production of the St. Petersburg Symphony to our schedule.

As fate would have it, veteran producer/director Dick Rizzo was assigned to the project. A series of personnel squabbles from previous years had left Dick holding the bag for things that were out of his control. I’m not sure Dick’s assignment to this project was by choice or direction – but, to my mind – he and our production crew did a first-rate job.

Some months later, as my wife and I were attending the St. Petersburg Symphony performance in Cleveland, Chairman Capps spotted me and came over to tell me how pleased he was that we had chosen to do the broadcast. Of course, I was on pins and needles throughout the evening – for naught. The Mississippi ETV production crew performed beautifully, and that symphony broadcast was one of the finest special event productions during my eight-year tenure at Mississippi ETV.

In the days and weeks thereafter, we received many accolades from the delta and across the state about the quality of our symphony broadcast from Delta State University. And nowhere were those accolades more effusive than from Chairman Capps -- at the opening of our budget hearing the following year. And the year after that.

We had made the right choice.

All we had to do was “prioritize.” Thank you, Chairman Capps, God rest your soul!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Nebraska broadcasters left mark on AFRTS

For some 70 years, the Armed Forces Radio Service -- now known as the American Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS) -- has provided information and entertainment to U.S. military personnel around the world. Technology, of course, has remarkably reshaped the service, which in 2009 delivers programs on a variety of platforms with greater technical sophistication. But its audience has always valued AFRTS, even when it was a scratchy AM radio service in the gloomy, early days of World War II. From crude mobile stations in Europe to small makeshift operations on isolated islands in the south Pacific, Armed Forces Radio brought music, comedy, culture and news to military personnel. Back then, it was about the only real method for giving GIs overseas a taste of home.

Given its longevity and rich history, It’s no big surprise that thousands of broadcasters over the years gained their first real experience in radio and television with AFRTS.

We had the privilege of working with two men who had a big impact upon AFRTS. And both had strong ties to KCSR in Chadron, Nebraska.

Bill Finch – in the years following his selling KCSR to the Huse Publishing Company (licensee of WJAG in Norfolk) in 1959 – eventually landed in Colorado Springs, where he produced and hosted a local big band radio program. We don’t know how the program came to the attention of the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service, but by the late 1960s, Finch was flying to Hollywood periodically to produce a big band music program called “Finch’s Bandwagon.” This photo shows him visiting with an unidentified Army officer (at left) in an AFRTS production room. Finch's shows were tape recorded and then pressed to audio discs for distribution to stations around the world. These programs aired for a several years on AFRTS and were quite popular with G.I.s around the globe.

The other photo (below right) shows Finch during a recording session with band leader and entrepreneur Lawrence Welk, one of dozens legendary musicians he interviewed for the program.

Unfortunately, we don’t know what’s happened to Bill Finch. A few long-time Colorado broadcasters say they remember him, and they think he moved to North or South Carolina. Alas, efforts to locate him have been unsuccessful.

We remember Finch as a laid back guy with loads of talent. He seems to have vanished from the broadcasting world, and we're not certain he's even still alive.

If Finch was laid back and creative, Bob Thomas was probably a better businessman -- someone who was conservative and paid attention to details. Bob was General Manager of WJAG in Norfolk, Nebraska for many years. In 1958-59, he orchestrated the purchase of KCSR in Chadron for the Huse “Beef Empire Stations.”

During World War II, Thomas was assigned as Officer-in-Charge of the Armed Forces Radio Service shortwave branch in San Francisco, beaming programs to G.I.s across the South Pacific and other regions of the world. It was impressive that the top brass picked a small market Nebraska broadcaster to take on this huge task – a decided compliment to Bob and his achievements at WJAG.

In this photograph, Thomas is seated at his desk in San Francisco. The other two gents are not identified. Thomas once recounted for us how the War Department, at the end of World War II, planned to close down the AFRS operation in New York City. Although his hitch in the Army was about to end, Thomas was sent to New York to begin the closure process. he was soon discharged and went home to Nebraska, only to learn some months later that the War Department actually closed down AFRS San Francisco instead, keeping the New York operation open for several more years. Such are the ways of the military.

It’s been many years since we’ve visited with Bob Thomas. In the 1970s, he was instrumental in helping us write a history of AFRTS as an MS thesis at Iowa State University. Last we knew, he had re-located to the warmer climate of Arizona in retirement. Finch and Thomas had distinctly different approaches to broadcasting and management, but each -- in his own way -- left an indelible mark on this broadcaster and, we believe, on the radio business.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Jack Miller: the lost video!

One of our old bosses from a half-century ago was feted a couple of years ago -- named to its Hall of Fame by members of the Colorado Broadcasters Association.

Jack Miller was General Manager of KCSR in Chadron, Nebraska from 1959 to 1973, moving to Fort Collins, Colorado as Vice-President/GM of KCOL Radio. It was a new acquisition for the Beef Empire Stations based in Norfolk, Nebraska and owned by the Huse Publishing Company.

Below is a video that gives a good synopsis of Jack's career. He and his wife, Connie, are retired and still living in Fort Collins. We did an earlier posting on this site about a March 2009 trip to Colorado and a visit with Jack and another old colleague, Don Grant. A similar story -- with a decidedly "Chadron" twist, is posted on our High Plains Almanac site.

Click on the arrow (above at left) to watch the video.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Wistful vistas...

It was early February 1949, and high snow drifts were everywhere, barely a month after the infamous “Blizzard of ‘49” had wreaked havoc on mid-America. Cold weather and lingering drifts covered my hometown of Chadron, Nebraska, and communities all across the heartland.

Even when snowstorms didn’t keep us cooped up at home, winter evenings would usually find us gathered around the Philco console radio in the living room, listening to the likes of Dragnet, Our Miss Brooks, Lux Radio Theatre, or The Great Gildersleeve.

On February 3, 1949, two veteran radio comedians left the laughter for guest roles in an episode of Suspense, the weekly radio drama that was “calculated to keep you in…. suspense.” It was a popular show with new stars performing every week – a favorite around the Miller house. Jim Jordan and his wife Marian were widely known as Fibber McGee and Molly, with distinctive voices that still conjure up warm memories of early radio. On that February evening, they played it straight in an episode called “Backseat Driver.”

I was only five years old when the original episode was broadcast. And while I don’t specifically remember hearing it, there’s a pretty good chance that the Miller family was tuned in for the broadcast.

It was great fun last night (7/30/09) hearing a rebroadcast of this show as I traveled the road from Spearfish to Denver. This time, the program came not from an AM station out of Omaha, but via XM satellite radio Channel 164. No matter, the familiar voices of Fibber McGee and Molly transported me to a different place..... and a different time.

While it was satellite technology that beamed this program to my pickup truck, there was nothing particularly “high tech” about the radio show itself. Simple but effective sound effects, good writing, and superb acting carried the day. No 3-D. No high definition. No surround sound. Simply a good story that was well told.

Just as CBS revived its CBS Radio Mystery Theatre in the 1970s to a new generation of radio listeners – including my son – XM is helping introduce the “Golden Days of Radio” to a largely new audience.

Given the tripe that permeates much of the airwaves – radio and television – these days, it’s good to occasionally re-visit those simpler days, when radio programs painted pictures in our minds – requiring listeners to participate, quite willingly and effortlessly, with their own imaginations, in creating those images.

Those were the days!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Where are you, Miguel Fernandez?

Long before "Guantanamo" became a regular item on the evening news, it was home to Miguel Fernandez.

A handsome young man in his early 20s when I first met him in 1964, Miguel’s disarming smile and bright disposition veiled what must surely have been a very interesting past.

He was among a cadre of Cubans who passed through the minefields en route to work each day at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay. And among the hundreds of jobs filled by Cuban citizens on the base during that era – he had one of the best!

At least that was my view of the situation, since he and I worked side by side at the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS) outlet known as WGBY-AM-TV. I had requested duty at “Gitmo” and served as Program Manager at the station. We provided both radio and television programming for the thousands of sailors, Marines, civilians, and their families at “Gitmo.” Kinescope films of stateside television shows – usually about a month old – were broadcast to a very appreciative audience. From Jack Benny to Bonanza, with a smattering of more timely public affairs programs like Meet the Press, the television schedule was a fair cross-section of what folks were watching back in the states. Radio was dominated by a variety of music formats – and locally-produced programs were injected into both radio and television schedules.

But there was another “shadow audience” that we served, too – Cuban citizens on the “other side of the fence,” who were curious about the United States and who likely enjoyed some of the programs they heard. Maybe they were trying to learn English, or perhaps just evesdropping on a bit of U.S. culture by tuning in to the Tonight show with Johnny Carson on WGBY Radio. In any event, we acknowledged the Cuban audience and provided them with “Noticias en Espanol.”

Preparing and reading the “News in Spanish” was the job of Miguel Fernandez – and his aging mentor, Alfredo Barea. Barea was a seasoned Spanish-speaking broadcaster who had worked in New York City. He was in his late 50s or early 60s when he arrived at Gitmo.

Miguel and Alfredo used the same news sources for their Spanish newscasts as we did: radioteletype copy from the states. They were AP and UPI reports that were occasionally garbled in transmission. This was before AFRTS and other broadcasters had ready access to satellite communications.

I occasionally broke bread and socialized with both Alfredo Barea and Miguel Fernandez, and I remember them both with great fondness. By now, Barea is certainly deceased – but I often wonder whatever became of his bubbly protégé who found a bit of celebrity (and probably a degree of notoriety outside the Gitmo fence) as a broadcaster. Where are you Miguel Fernandez?

As I ponder Miguel’s whereabouts – I’m also curious about two of my Navy friends who also worked at WGBY during the early to mid-1960s.

Paul Lanham (left) aspired to go to medical school and become a doctor. I don’t remember where he was from, but he was well read and did well in his first (and perhaps last) broadcasting job. His cohort, Hank Harris (right) was also working at his first job in broadcasting – but he sounded like a pro and could likely have made a good career of it, if he wanted. I recall that Hank had ties to Denver. Most memorable: he was born in the Philippines during World War and – as I remember it – his father suffered considerably as a Japanese prisoner of war.

It would be good to see these old friends again…..and rekindle those friendships of nearly a half century ago.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Remembering Jon Poston

We were pleased earlier this month to hook up with a former broadcast colleague from the early 1970s at KMEG-TV in Sioux City, Iowa. Gene Ambroson is the Director of Alumni Relations for Morningside College, which tells me he’s been a media fixture around Sioux City for nearly 40 years.

The occasion of our communication was not a happy one. Our old boss at KMEG-TV, Jon Poston, had passed away some weeks earlier in Cave Creek, Arizona, where he had been living for a good many years. The cause of death was a massive stroke. He was 74 years old.

Jon was a veteran newsman with a background in both radio and television. Some of his early work for WAKY Radio in Louisville, Kentucky, can be heard in this audio archive. You can scroll down there to find audio bites of Jon's 1960 coverage of Richard Nixon's visit to Louisville. Jon later became News Director for KTVH-TV in Wichita.

I first knew of Jon Poston in the 1960s, when he was a News Editor and anchor for KETV/Channel 7 in Omaha. I was working as News Director for KMA Shenandoah, owned by the May Broadcasting Company, which also owned KMTV in Omaha. I didn’t meet Jon until 1971, when he was News Director for KMEG-TV. He hired me to do weather and business reporting for the CBS affiliate.

In those years, KMEG-TV was a spunky upstart in the Sioux City market. Buried in the basement of a coffee company building out on Floyd Boulevard, Channel 14 was owned by Medallion Broadcasting, a subsidiary of Fetzer Broadcasting. Bob Donovan was the General Manager. We had a staff that was considerably smaller than cross-town rival KCAU-TV/Channel 9. The venerable KTIV/Channel 4 was no longer a viable news competitor in the market. The legendary Don Stone was near the end of his career.

Thanks to Gene Ambroson for sharing this photograph, circa 1972. Surrounding Jon Poston in the center (clockwise from the left): Gene Ambroson, reporter; Larry Finley, cinematographer; George Linblade, cinematographer; Bruce Lewis, reporter; Jolene Stevens, reporter; Larry Miller, weatherman/business reporter; and Paul Marshall, sports.

Our underdog status was in many ways an advantage for KMEG. Jon was a competitive kind of guy who enjoyed “beating” the big boys across town, and we would often celebrate our successes with a late-night brew at “Frank’s,” a neighborhood restaurant/tavern on the north side of town. Come to think of it, we frequented Frank’s rather often – victory celebration or not.

I remember Jon hosting his staff and their families at Christmas time. He was very gracious, always unflappable, and every bit a professional.

Some years later, another KMEG veteran – Jack Parris – told me that Jon had left broadcasting and had moved to Arizona, where he was a consumer advocate in the telecom industry. He served as Executive Director of Arizona Competition in Telephone Service (ACTS) and volunteered many hours for AARP. Jack Parris, too, had relocated to Arizona and was working as GM for the public broadcasting station in Tucson. Jack and I would often cross paths at public broadcasting meetings and conspire to get the three of us together on the golf links in Arizona. It never happened.

Jon is survived by his wife, Sharon, four children and six grandchildren.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Curly's Corral

Trips to Colorado to visit our son in Wheat Ridge often conjure up memories of Colorado broadcasters who helped lay the groundwork for KCSR in Chadron.

The other day we wrote about a recent visit with ex-KCSR managers Jack Miller and Don Grant, who both live in Fort Collins. That delightful interlude caused me to remember Bill "Curly" Finch, a co-owner of KCSR when it went on the air in 1954. Among other places, I'm sure, Finch was once at KRAI in Craig, Colorado, before teaming up with Bob Fouse to establish the new radio station in Chadron.

While Finch was later known worldwide for playing big band music as host of Finch's Bandwagon on the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service, he also had a bit of country in him. Well, I'm not absolutely sure about that, but I do believe he understood the importance of country music to folks in western Nebraska, so he launched Curly's Corral on KCSR. It was a showcase for local talent, including long-time radio host Ellis "Peabody" Hale and another well-known musician, Russ Garner. They're among the musicians in the photo below.

Included in this scene are (L-R): Bob Rinker, Ellis "Peabody" Hale, Russ Garner, Unknown, Neville Sits Poor, Bill "Curly" Finch, Joe Crossdog, Harry Hanson, Howard Parker, Dave Parker, and Gordon Benson.

Live broadcasts of Curly's Corral were staged on Saturday afternoons in the small KCSR studio at 212 Bordeaux in Chadron; I don't recall other venues, but I'm sure their were remote broadcasts from other locations; I was a teenager and more inclined at that time toward Pat Boone and Elvis Presley. According to the Hillbilly-Music.com website featuring Russ Garner, the above photo was taken at the Pace Theatre in Chadron.

Finch would often engage in some spontaneous tomfoolery. Big band music really was his "schtick," and I recall one weekday afternoon when he played "One O'clock Jump" by Count Basie, then proceeded to play every other version of the tune that we had in the library. I was amazed at how long it took to accomplish the task -- and wonder how many listeners actually stayed with it!

While Finch was a shameless promoter, he had a real knack for understanding what an audience wanted. He remained in the wings while a creative Bob Fouse and witty Cliff Pike took the limelight with their popular morning show Breakfast with the Boys. I don't know whether Curly's Corral was his brainchild -- or Ellis Hale's -- but it certainly couldn't have succeeded without Finch's support and involvement. I don't recall Finch ever playing an instrument or singing, but he certainly was the host of the program that carried his moniker.

Good radio is still alive and well

Good friend and retired public broadcaster “Biker Bill” Campbell was moved to e-mail us the other day about a radio station he found in Minnesota while motoring from California to Chicago. Not just any station, but a real radio station – with live local announcers and some great music from the 1940s and ‘50s. It’s KNXR, 97.5 FM in Rochester, Minnesota. Bill said he enjoyed the station until the he lost the signal when I-90 dropped off the plains into the Mississippi River valley.

There was a time when getting excited about good radio stations was almost a non-event. Back when local stations strived to provide local services. These days, that’s an exceptional station! Of course, we old retired broadcasters like to think that we’re more discerning (wink).

Another such station – and one I’ve been intending to write about – is “Studio 1430,” KEZW in Denver.

For the past few years as we’ve made frequent treks to Denver from our Black Hills home, I’ve always looked forward to tuning the car radio to AM 1430 when we reach the Denver metro area. For quite some time, I thought it was “my little secret,” until I returned to Spearfish and learned that ham radio friend Bob Weaver had been listening to Studio 1430 on-line for quite some time. I must confess that KEZW Studio 1430 has been a bit of a surprise, since it is not a locally-owned station (few are, these days!) It's just one of more than 100 stations owned by media giant Entercom, which made an unsuccessful bid a few years ago to buy up ABC O & O stations. Nonetheless, they seem to be doing it right with this Denver outlet.

While at our son's home in Wheat Ridge, the radio remains on 1430. Great music selections, local weather, good local news, traffic reports, gardening shows, restaurant conversations – all typical fare of good local stations like Studio 1430, where Rick Crandall’s Breakfast Club is one of my favorites. Almost like Breakfast with the Boys on KCSR in Chadron back in the ‘50s. Truth of the matter is, it’s likely better, simply because of the excellent resources they dedicate towards making the station top notch.

It’s like being transported back to an era when radio was……good! Perhaps you have a favorite, too?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

"Beef Empire" memories

It was fun visiting this week (3/24/09) with two friends from the early days of KCSR in Chadron, Nebraska.

While taking refuge in Denver from a massive snowstorm across the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Minnesota, we took a side trip to Fort Collins. That’s home now for both Jack Miller and Don Grant, broadcast veterans who at one time worked – as did I – for the “Beef Empire Stations” owned by the Huse Publishing Company, publisher of the Norfolk (Nebr) Daily News.

That’s Don Grant (left) with Jack Miller in Jack’s Fort Collins driveway.

Jack Miller was named Manager of KCSR in August 1959, when the station was bought by the Norfolk group. A native of Norfolk and a Navy veteran who served aboard ship during the Korean War, Jack cut his broadcast teeth announcing and selling for WJAG beginning in 1956. Don, who hailed from LeMars, Iowa, was an Army veteran and attended the University of South Dakota after he left the service. He also worked at WJAG and did a stint at the Chadron station.

The “Beef Empire Stations” included flagship station WJAG in Norfolk, KVSH in Valentine, and KCSR in Chadron. The group later expanded to include KCOL in Fort Collins, Colorado. In 1971, Jack took the helm of KCOL, bringing along several of the KCSR staff – including Don Grant (Sales), John DeHaes (News), and Wil Huett (Programming).

Jack’s leadership at KCOL continued well into the 1980s before the station was sold. He twice served on the Board of Directors for the Colorado Broadcasters Association and was named “Broadcaster of the Year” in 1981. Not surprisingly, KCOL was strong on local service during those years, and instituted local editorials – not something lots of local broadcasters were always willing to undertake. Appropriately, Jack was named to the Colorado Broadcasters “Hall of Fame” in 2007.

Seeing Don Grant was a real bonus. Since we had worked together for only about a year (and I was a part-timer still going to school), I’m surprised he remembered me at all. Jack waxed eloquent about Don’s superb sales skills – of which I have no doubt. Don remains as I remembered him from 50 years ago – a warm and personable guy. Beyond our common friends and co-workers at KCSR, it was a further surprise when he revealed that he had spent time in Vermillion, South Dakota. We also lived in Vermillion and worked on the USD campus, albeit some 30 years after Don had been there. Still, we both remembered “Monk” Johnson and Martin Busch, both well-known broadcasters across South Dakota in those years. Don and I also spent time working in the Sioux City market.

I believe Don Grant said that another veteran broadcaster, Kent Slocum, was from his hometown of LeMars. I remember Kent from his years at KOTA in Rapid City. Wonder where he is these days?

After many years at KCOL, Don later returned for an encore at WJAG in Norfolk.

During our morning discussion, which was continued over lunch at Red Lobster, we tossed out names of one-time colleagues, and occasionally we all three would remember someone – or a memorable incident that would bring a chuckle. Like the case of the “sleeping announcer.”

But that’s another story……for another time

Friday, March 13, 2009

Chasing power

Seems we all chase success in our careers…..until it catches us.

It’s easy to get caught up with success and sometimes do some really stupid things – some of them even illegal.

An old Oklahoma boss of mine used to tell his managers: “It’s not IF someone will come looking to catch you screwing up……it’s WHEN they come. So be prepared.” The not-so-subliminal message was: walk the straight and narrow.

The fear of retribution – while still ignored by a few – has taken on increased importance in an age when faith, integrity, and ethics seem to be in short supply. And while it is perhaps not the most desirable tool to help keep over-achievers from running afoul of their responsibilities, it may be the most effective.

Still, folks succumb.

I opened a Wall Street Journal this week to see a photograph of a lady with whom I’ve worked in the past; someone for whom I had great respect and some admiration. Alas, she had basked in the glow of Washington success too long and made some serious mistakes.

Ann Marie Copland was a long-time legislative aide and executive assistant to U.S. Senator Thad Cochran for nearly 30 years. Last week (3/10) she pleaded guilty to violating federal conflict-of-interest laws by accepting tens of thousands of dollars in gifts in exchange for helping clients of the infamous Jack Abramoff. She reportedly had received more than $25,000 in food and entertainment tickets between 2002 through 2004. Her actions are disturbing and disappointing to say the least. That’s not the Ann Copland I thought I knew through most of the 1990s.

I worked with Ann often during the eight years I was with the Mississippi Educational Television (ETV) network. Thad’s dad was a one-time chairman of our ETV Board of Directors, and his mother had been a schoolteacher. It gave Senator Cochran reason to take increased interest in public broadcasting, and he has been a strong supporter of Mississippi ETV and public broadcasting. My principal liaison with Senator Cochran’s office was Ann Copland.

Highly regarded throughout most of the public broadcasting community, Ann was given the “Champion of Public Broadcasting” award by the Association of Public Television Stations(APTS). And I was not entirely surprised when she returned to Mississippi to become Deputy Director of the public broadcasting network last year, a post from which she has since resigned.

It’s sad when you see a talented and capable person stumble and fall victim to the ways of Washington…..to fall victim to abusing power.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Paul Harvey (1918-2009)

Having spent a decade in Oklahoma managing public broadcasting stations and teaching, I had the good fortune of meeting several Oklahomans who’ve left a big footprint in the media business.

From Jim Hartz and Betty Boyd to Harry Heath and Bob Allen. Of course, there are many other media folk, including the Gaylord family, who’ve left their mark on the Oklahoma plains and hills.

None, however, enjoyed the recognition, popularity, and notoriety of the late Tulsa native Paul Harvey Aurandt. Known to millions across America and the world simply as Paul Harvey, his daily broadcasts on ABC began 1951 and continued into the 21st century, although he’d stepped aside from the daily chores in 2008. Harvey died February 28th in Phoenix, Arizona. He was 90 years old.

I never considered Paul Harvey a newsman. There was a time I even had a certain disdain for his daily newscasts on ABC Radio. I felt he was a good actor (having done some film work) with a great radio delivery.

After my first couple of decades in broadcasting, including teaching broadcast journalism at Oklahoma State University, I began to at least appreciate the fact that Paul Harvey labeled his broadcast as “News and Comment.” If only we could persuade many new-generation newscasters to do the same.

By the 1990s, I was more comfortable with Paul Harvey as I gained an appreciation for his adherence to what I suppose we today call “traditional values.” Marriages that last. People who work hard. Respect for our elders. Admiration for those who sacrifice their lives for others. What once seemed a bit hokey to me began to make more sense.

Like his musical contemporary from the Dakotas – Lawrence Welk – Harvey was a target of some condescending ridicule for “down home” mannerisms. Both Welk and Harvey, however, parlayed their talents into highly successful careers that have touched millions of lives.

Read an excellent piece about the life of Paul Harvey in this
Time story. Below is a short WGN-Chicago tribute to Paul Harvey.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Remembering Freeman Hover

Long-time friend and mentor Freeman Hover passed last Monday (2/9/09) away in Tucson, Arizona. He was 79. A Memorial Mass will be held at noon on Monday, March 1, 2009, at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Tucson, Arizona. That's the day Freeman would have turned 80 years old.

A warm and personable man, he was both a broadcaster and educator, professions that he pursued with great enthusiasm and commitment.

We first met "Free" in 1957, not long after he started his radio career at KCSR in Chadron, Nebraska, just a year or so before I began working at the same station. A native of Plymouth, Michigan, Freeman Hover earned a bachelor of arts degree at the University of Denver in 1951. By the mid-1950s, he was pursuing his first broadcast job at KCSR in Chadron.

As was true for most radio folk in small market stations, Freeman Hover did it all. He was News Director at KCSR, but he had a wide range of interests in broadcasting -- one of them was "Top 40" music. He hosted "Club 949" (the station's Post Office box number) and "Top 40 Time." He became well known throughout the region, but decided to pursue opportunities elsewhere when the station was sold in 1959 to Huse Publishing out of Norfolk, Nebraska.

After a short stint in North Dakota, Hover headed toward the desert southwest and a job with the Doubleday station in Phoenix. Having earned a Master's degree from the University of Colorado, he turned his attention to education and became a classroom teacher. He eventually settled in Tucson. By all accounts, he was a top flight teacher, and he eventually won a spot in the Arizona Journalism Hall of Fame.

We have fond memories of visiting Freeman in Tucson in the late 1980s and again in the 1990s while attending public broadcasting meetings there. His love for history and the southwest was obvious, as was his pride for having been involved in the "rock and roll" era. While at KCSR, he had conducted a rare interview with the legendary Buddy Holly and a number of other popular artists of the time, including Eddie Cochran and Jimmy Bowen.

We remember Freeman as a kind and generous individual, and he certainly was an inspiration to me and many aspiring broadcasters and journalists who had the good fortune to cross paths with him.

You'll find a full obituary for Freeman Hover in the Arizona Daily Star.

Below is a short video tribute to Freeman, recognizing his time with KCSR in Chadron, Nebraska, where he left a legacy of many friends......and even more memories.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Biker Bill changes media

We were pleasantly surprised to be able to catch up with an old broadcasting friend the other day.

Bill Campbell and his wife Katherine Ann changed ZIP codes last year, moving from Montana to northern California. A veteran broadcaster from West Virginia, Bill and I first crossed paths about 25 years ago when Bill was managing a station in the Idaho Public Television network, and I was with South Dakota Public Broadcasting. I've followed his career with great interest as he took over the public TV station in Medford, Oregon, where he retired a few years back.

His move to Montana soon found Bill bicycling more and becoming heavily involved in Rotary, ending his stint as District Governor just last year. It was during their Montana residency that Bill biked from White Sulphur Springs, Montana, to Chicago, Illinois. Karen and I met him in Bowman, North Dakota for a short visit with a side trip to Medora for dinner. Some months later, Bill and I biked the 109-mile Mickelson Trail through the Black Hills of South Dakota. We had great fun, and it certainly gave this old soul a bunch of fond memories!

The photo at right was taken in October 2006 at the outset of our trek from Deadwood to Edgemont. "Biker Bill" is on the left. My bride, Karen, hauled us to the starting line and provided some much-appreciated trail support when we ran in to difficulty near Hill City.....but that's another story!

A note this holiday season from Bill and Katherine Ann Campbell told of their move to northern California, and one of Bill's latest pursuits: newspaper columnist! Although it's a rarity in these tough days for newspapers, the Inter Mountain News posts all of its old issues on the web, and they're accessible for free! Thus, I've been able to catch up on Bill's activities. The column is not simply a bicycling column, but a chronicle of many items of interest in the "Inter Mountain" region of northern California.

I check up on Bill from time to time by visiting the The Inter Mountain News website and clicking on the front page image. Scroll down to find the "Biker Bill" column. It's a good read!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Remembering Whitmore....and Truman!

Actor James Whitmore died Friday (2/6/09) at his Malibu, California home. He was 87.

We’ve written about Whitmore a couple of times over the past two years – admiring his unbridled enthusiasm and his seemingly boundless talents on stage and in television and film. I’ll never forget seeing his wonderful performance at the Oklahoma State University Seretean Center in the 1970s. I described that event in
this 2007 posting.

As I started poring through the wealth of materials now available on-line about Whitmore, I came across one video in particular that caught my attention. It was not just Whitmore, but his 1975 characterization of President Harry S. Truman that caught my attention.

It allowed me to remember the plain-spoken style of “Give ‘em Hell Harry.” And while I anticipated a pleasant trip down memory lane as I watched the video – enjoying the dramatic skills of James Whitmore and appreciating the outspoken style of President Truman – I wasn’t prepared for the relevancy of his message.

Although uttered more than a half century ago during the 1946 rail strike, the words attributed to Truman about the economy and the role of so-called “expert” economists still ring true. It’s enough to cause a bit of a chuckle……quickly followed by the realization that Harry probably had it right.

Take a moment to admire the talent of Whitmore……and the wisdom of Truman!

Monday, January 12, 2009

High tech surprise

Kicking around the broadcast business for more than 50 years, I’ve worked closely with lots of broadcast engineers who were also amateur radio operators. After I got my "ham" license in about 1960 (WAØBDN), I started dabbling in this hobby that I continue to enjoy to this day – despite the fact that I’m probably the world’s least active operator!

Among the hams that I’ve known and learned from – Leo Henen (WØFLO), Frank Allen (WØGGP), Tony Cashon (KØOAL), Lynn Bilyeu (KØODF), Joe Makeever (W5HS), Dan Schroeder (K5FVL), and many others. Some of them are "Silent Keys." I keep hoping to become more active in this fascinating hobby (as I intended upon retirement), but there are just too many other activities that I want to pursue as well!

I admire the creativity that many of my ham friends bring to the hobby. A few of them – and their numbers are dwindling with a change in FCC rules and the passage of time – are superb CW aficionados. Continuous Wave (CW) is the mode by which many hams still use Morse Code for sending messages.

And if you think this is a fuddy-duddy technology that has been left in the dust by "high tech" applications like texting, take a look at this segment from on old Jay Leno Tonight show.