Thursday, May 28, 2009

Live Radio

My career in Radio started at a tiny college station in Houston, then situated in the basement of the Student Union building at Rice University. (The station was tiny, not the school!) 

I was a wet-behind-the-ears Radio wanna-be, filling in during the summer on KTRU-FM. I would listen to a network Radio news feed, re-write the stories in my own style, and "read the news" once an hour between creative sets of some pretty avant garde music, even by my tastes. But it was all live-Radio.

I later worked for a station in Houston where I ran their music automation system, and brother was it primitive, and would stop the play back sequence to break in and read the news live.  We would record voice tracks to a tape cartridge, which would be triggered to play between the music sets. Because the tape cartridge was a
 continuous-loop, you had to tape the announce-tracks "live to tape..." if you made a mistake, you had to start all over again. That was actually harder work than just hanging around to crack the mic open to say a few lines a couple of times each hour. It was the direction Radio was heading, however.

Years later, I would voice track an entire Sunday morning jazz show so I could be in church with my family. It was an oddly satisfying experience to drive to services, listening to myself prattle on about some hot, new Jazz artist.

The shows that I produce these days are 100% live. 
They air, warts and all, as they occur.

This morning, just before a commercial set ended, the wireless computer mouse decided to give up the ghost, and left my studio computer screen frozen on a website, unable to reach a piece of commercial copy I needed to

The good news is there are two wireless mice in the studio.
The bad news is the other one was just out of my reach.

So I did what you do in live Radio...explained why and what I was doing, as I stretched away from the microphone to reach for the other mouse...remove its batteries...and replace the
 expended ones in the mouse for my monitor. Live as it happened on the air.

I may have made a few people giggle at the interruption.
I tried to not let the problem get the better of me.
After all, the most entertaining snippets of airtime frequently occur when extraordinary people to ordinary things...or ordinary people perform extraordinary feats.
Not that this was either of those.
It just happened.
Live, on the air.

See you in the morning on the Radio!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Lest We Forget...

"True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost."
-- Arthur Ashe 

Memorial Day was once known as Decoration Day and was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by the national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, Gen. John Logan. The holiday was first observed on May 30th of that year, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. New York was the first state to officially recognize the holiday in 1873, and by 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. 

The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead separately until after World War I, when the holiday was changed to honor all Americans who died fighting in any war. 

Thomas Bailey Aldrich once wrote that Decoration Day "is the most beautiful of our national holidays.... The grim cannon have turned into palm branches, and the shell and shrapnel into peach blossoms."

I think he'd be horrified to see how this holiday has been bastardized like so many other American days of celebration, and turned into a debauchery of commercialism. Of all the American days of observance, perhaps this One is the most blasphemous to the purpose and heritage of our country. 

I personally don’t have a problem with a "Presidents’ Day sale," for example—for one thing, any meaningfulness of that holiday was lost when Congress combined Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays onto one, federally mandated holiday, which rarely falls on the birthdate of either. 

And the significance of Washington and Lincoln is further diminished by lumping all presidents, good and bad, into the same cheesy holiday. But holding Memorial Day Sales, to my sensitivities, is like letting the money changers into the temple of the Republic. We lose sight of the real meaning of the day in search of deep discounts, tax rebates, or holiday bogo’s. 

"Those who will may raise monuments of marble to perpetuate the fame of heroes. Those who will may build memorial halls to remind those who shall gather there in after times what manhood could do and dare for right, and what high examples of virtue and valor have gone before them. But let us make our offering to the ever-living soul. Let us build our benefactions in the ever-growing heart, that they shall live and rise and spread in blessing beyond our sight, beyond the ken of man and beyond the touch of time."
-- Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Memorial Day 1884 

On Monday we will not be here on CNN650RadioNews…we’re taking the day off, as many Americans will. Still on duty will be our producer, Chris Chapman…along with police, fire, ambulance and emergency room workers. Also on duty will be guards and grocers, pilots and ground crews, watchmen and ship captains. Because the reality of the 21st Century is that the business of life has become 24/7/365 on a grander, commercial scale. 

But serving silent sentry will be the Fallen, giving their mute testimony to the greatness of the American experiment from beneath stone pillars, dusty brass name plates, plain white crosses, or from unmarked graves on countless continents and beneath the oceans where wars have been fought. 

On Monday, don't forget why you're getting the "day off:" 
It's the same reason you're able to work and play and succeed and fail and learn and get up and try again. Make Monday a day of remembrance and appreciation for what we have…and what it’s cost to obtain. 

"A hero is one who knows how to hang on one minute longer."
-- Novalis

Thursday, May 07, 2009

All the News that's Fit to Subsidize

Did you get a morning paper today?
This is not a plug for the Houston Chronicle—or USA Today—or The Wall Street Journal…but I am among those who must read the paper each morning, not just as a function of my job as a Real Radio Host, but because I enjoy it.

I like thumbing through the pages.
If I see something I like, I can clip it out, or turn back and re-read it again later.

Yesterday, I needed to review an article I’d seen on a back page, and so I parked the car, pulled my copy of the paper out of the trunk, and flipped through the pages until I found what I was looking for…

I suppose I could have done that with an on-line edition of the paper, it's not as convenient to do so in a car. The business of disseminating the printed word is evolving…just as the meaning of “publishing” must now also include electronic versions on the Web.

The world is changing, and yet, our leadership is still stuck in the old world, trying to preserve that which will eventually be out paced and outlived by the natural progression of time and technology.

Now, Sen. John Kerry wants the Government to provide tax breaks for newspapers, or allow those who are struggling to survive to operate as nonprofits…which, if you ask most newspapermen, most all would qualify.

In fact, I may apply for non-profit status if some of my receivables don’t pay up.

Kerry wants Congress to help the newspaper industry suffering from a collapse in advertising revenue, mounting debt, and the loss of print subscribers to free online news websites. John, John, John, John, John…have you not yet learned the lessons of the free marketplace?

Has no one on Capitol Hill yet grasped the fact that when people stop buying things they don’t want, that doesn’t mean Congress has to step in to “save” it?

If that were the case, where are the subsidies for Conestoga’s?
Why is there no government subsidy for telegrams? Should we be propping up the Clothes-line Industry because too many people have clothes dryers in our homes?
C’mon, John….

And in what has got to be the most stupid utterance this week by a public official who should know better, Kerry told a Senate subcommittee hearing on the future of journalism “without newspapers, there will be too few journalists investigating governments, companies and individuals.”

Obviously, Sen. Kerry’s never heard of this thing called The Internet, which spreads information faster than a speedily-thrown newspaper landing in your yard at 4am.
"I think there are definitely some things we can do to encourage, to help the situation without stepping over any line," Kerry told Reuters after holding a hearing on the future of journalism.

These guys who've never held a real job, and I daresay, never known a hard deadline, are now futzing about with tax relief methods, accounting tricks--including how and when publishers can classify operating losses--and whether newspapers should be allowed to operate as nonprofit companies for educational purposes.

How about letting the one’s who get the evolution to electronic media survive because of their foresight and prowess, and those that cannot embrace and address these changes, allow to fail?

The members of the Subcommittee said they wanted to "figure out how to preserve the core societal function that is served by an independent and diverse news media."

You want to preserve a diverse news media?
Leave it alone, Congress.

And while you’re at it, how about not penalizing the electronic media when they don’t roll over every time the President wants to go on the air and read from his teleprompter…how about not favoring some media outlets over others—a la the dissing of the FOX network’s media pool reporter when that network chose to not pre-empt a revenue generating program in favor of another Obamafest press conference.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, the daughter of a journalist for the Associated Press and the Minneapolis Star Tribune, was quoted saying yesterday, "I'm afraid we're going to lose that watchdog if we don't figure this out.”
No, you’re going to foul it up, if you don’t stay out of their business.