Monday, December 29, 2014

If Ebenezer Scrooge Was a DJ

Charles Dickens, Age 49
Photo Credit: George Herbert Watkins
In Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by three apparitions of Christmas Past, Present and Future. Initially, Scrooge chalks up his nightmares to poor diet, but as we all know, the messages from the 'mares is more profound. This may be the most popular instance of recurring nightmares recorded in English Literature.

Dickens would likely have had a field day writing about our current culture at Christmas. Probably could have written as many volumes as the author of the Harry Potter series, especially if he examined the nocturnal visitations we sometimes receive as our mental overdrives spin down at night, and the nightmares they can bring. That still happens to me, dreams generated from situations at Radio stations past and present. I imagine the ghost of stations future is waiting in the wings.

The dream is recurring, but evolves over time. The constant is a setting in a Radio station air studio for which I am responsible. There's music playing, with a countdown clock showing less than a minute remaining in the tune. I can't locate the next song to play.

I've talked to countless colleagues over the years, and we all have them: a nightmarish scenario in which panic has strangled our ability to execute the next event in time, resulting in every DJ's worst fear, Dead Air.

Dead Air is that awkward silence that disrupts the smooth and snappy patter you generally hear on the Radio, except for NPR listeners. (Those guys thrive on silent spaces big enough to drive a truck through between stories and network rejoins. Maybe they're living their own nightmares, I don't know.) 

Most Radio listeners don't even realize a mistake has occurred in the booth, but for announcers and newsmen, producers and DJ's, even a half-second lapse sounds like half of Eternity when you're behind the mic, on the board, or at the switch.

In the olden days the most common reason for Dead Air was a lost record, a lost commercial, or a lost DJ. There are legends still being recounted about some poor schmuck who stepped out of the studio to "lengthen his attention span," and was literally caught with his pants down. Or worse, the dare devil DJ who put on a long record calculated to give him enough time to drive to a Dairy Queen and back...and was wrong. 

Every Radio station in America has its own epic adventure tale of a DJ scrambling to get back into the booth as the song ends--or worse, the same seven-bars of a song are being repeated as the needle skips (hic) repeated as the needle skips (hic) repeated as the needle skips...
It's a horrible sound.
It's a worse feeling in the pit of your gut.

My personal on-air nightmare dream has evolved with the changing technologies in the industry. My nightmares are now digital, and often involve a recalcitrant computer. Like last night, for example, in which the stack of clustered computer monitors had somehow become separated, and were strewn around the room, just out of view. In an interesting, diabolical twist, not only was the song running out, but a live band was setting up for a performance in the studio, which had grown in size to the dimensions of a full-on outdoor venue. A robot was positioning loudspeakers over the stage, and testing each one in the voice of Ed-309 from Robocop, just as I was about to open the mic. 
Most all Radio stations that play music these days do so with a computerized playlist and a software system to manage the library. You won't see actual "records" anywhere but in frames on the wall commemorating artists' record sales achievements.  That piece of music software cannot fail, or if it does, there'll be...Dead Air.

In my current nightmare iteration, as the screen monitors march to the four corners of the studio, and Ed-309 is testing concert hall speakers as I open the mic, the music software decides it's time to "take a dump," and reboot itself for mandatory upgrades. Not only is the song running out with less than 60-seconds to play, but the computer screens have gone dark, with nary a next number to find.

It could be worse, I suppose, waking to discover myself inside a snowglobe, realizing 'it was only a dream.' As it is, I awaken to find myself inside a silent, darkened room, next to my peacefully sleeping wife...realizing, thankfully, 'it was only a dream.'

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Christmas to Remember

This is my annual send-up of that popular poem that's just too irresistible to lampoon, with apologies to Clement Clarke Moore. This Christmas is being spent in the hospital as my Bride mends from back surgery.
Tonight there's no place I'd rather be than with her.

'Twas the night before Christmas, and on the fourth floor,
All the nurses were busy, running in and out the door.
The IV's were hung from each bed with great care,
In hopes that the night shift soon would be there.

The patients were nestled all snug in their beds,
As visions from narcotics danced in their heads.
Mom on her tilt bed, and I on the couch,
Were beginning to show the end of day slouch.

When out in the hall there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the mattress to see what was the matter.
Across the linoleum I flew like a flash,
Stubbed my toe on the nightstand, banged my knee with a crash.

The wax on the floor tiles gave off a bright glow;
On such a slick surface, I'd better go slow.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But miniature gurney and eight tiny reindeer.
With a little old Charge Nurse so lively and quick,
She was loaded with hypos, ready to stick!

More rapid than EMSA's her coursers they came,
And she whistled and shouted and called them by name:
"Now Patrick! Now Fortune! Now Susan and Joe!
On Rosalind! On Brittany! On Curly and Moe!
To the helipad, pronto, we've just got a call!
Now get the lead out, and dash away all!"

As leaves that before Hispanic yard men will blow,
When they meet with leaf blowers, all billowing so,
Out to the helipad the nurses all went,
With the gurney full of gear, meds, and stents. 

And then in the distance, I heard the soft beat
Of a medivac's blades thumping and buzzing to meet.
As I slipped on the floor tiles, and was spinning around,
Down the chopper came, landing on the pad with that sound.

The pilot was dressed all in fur, head to foot.
I thought, "That's kind of gay."
A bundle of stuff he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a doctor just opening his pack.
His eyes behind Raybans were a little bit wary.
"What do you mean, you think that I dress like a fairy?"

His droll little mouth was drawn up in an "O,"
And the goatee he sported was as black as coal.
The stump of a stogie he chewed in his teeth:
There's no smoking allowed around choppers, you seeth.

He had a gaunt face and a flat, tightened belly,
He was ripped like a body builder you see on the telly.
He was lean and mean, not a jolly old self.
And I cringed when I saw him, in spite of myself;

The look in his eye and the tilt of his head
Soon gave me to know the Charge Nurse had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
Slid a patient onto the gurney; then he turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger inside of his nose,
And giving a twist, pulled a booger from his toes.

He sprang to the cockpit, revved the engine, pulled the cog,
And lifted off that airship like a scalded dog.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he flew out of sight—
“A hospital room's a tough place to be on Christmas Eve night!”

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Home Away from Home for the Holidays

(In the ER) There is an irony at this time of the year, described as "the most joyous," which produces the most noxious music to the ear. Some of the  "new" Christmas tunes are still recognizable, but only barely, their melodies paired with arrhythmic tempos and tattoos.  The most onerous of these collections are generally  found in hospital waiting rooms, where the wailing and bleating blends nicely with the suffering of the injured.

Some examples of such musical travesties include a Dixieland treatment of "Sleigh Ride," with a non-stop back beat that totally ignores the nuances Leroy Anderson wrote to mimic the crack of the whip in the tune.  Then there's the abominable arrangement of Franz Gruber’s "Stille Nacht--" for my money, one of the most beautiful Christmas songs ever written--totally destroyed by the application of a disco beat.

There are new Christmas songs being produced by a younger crop of "artists" that defy definition. In the past hour and a half that I have been waiting, one such "song" has played twice in the ER area here: A female singer whines through the same four notes for bars and bars and bars against an electronic drum track.

It's a song that's something about the memories of Christmas. I know this because at one point, she speaks over the accompaniment about eating ice cream at Christmas time; the rest of the words of the song are totally unintelligible.

The music never changes chords, either. Sometimes she sings the notes in reverse sequence, just to break the monotony. It doesn't work.

The reason I'm paying such close attention to this musical tripe is to drown out the conversation in the next bed on the other side of the hospital curtain. A man has brought his elderly father in for care for a case of "the trots." The discussion of his rectal effluent is being graphically described in color and consistency,  and a comparison to pancake batter has been effectively,  irreversibly made. The culinary history of the older gentleman next door is also being re-hashed in minute detail.

Suddenly, the shrill of a Phil Specter arrangement of "Christmas" doesn't seem so bad.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Family Traditions at Christimas

Lots of families have traditions at Christmastime that are passed down from year to year.
Some of them are so old, no one remembers exactly how or why they came to be; it's just the way things have always been done. In our family, a great-grandmother's recipe for ginger bread cookies, made from pure cane molasses is the most anticipated, most sought after gift of the season. 

As my great grandmother and grandmother did in Christmases past, my aunts and mother and father have faithfully replicated the recipe each year. My Bride now does an admirable job of precisely duplicating the flavor and texture of those beloved gingerbread cookies, as well. And so that tradition will continue with the next generation.

Other traditions are more recently inaugurated, and with the advent of the Internet and social media, their origins can be more precisely traced.  Such is the annual re-gifting of the opened jar of chocolate nuts in our family. 

Admit it--we all re-gift.  But who would re-gift an obviously opened package?

The year before my younger brother died, our family had gathered on Christmas Day to exchange gifts and share a meal, before driving to nearby Wharton County for an extended-family holiday reunion.  There were four siblings in my immediate clan; I am the oldest, followed by three years by Craig. Our sister, Kay, is five years younger than me; and Scott, the youngest brother, is 12-years my junior.

Scott was always the one getting into mischief without really trying when he was growing up. He wasn't a bad kid--he was uniquely intelligent, and always wanted to keep up with his older brothers and sister. Our mother had her hands full as she raised us, and being frugal, she would plan ahead for things like Christmas gifts--often buying items earlier in the year for Yule time giving.

For this particular Christmas weekend, our mother had placed jars of chocolate covered almonds in a festive gift bag for each of us. One by one, we each opened our jar of chocolate nuts, and immediately munched on a handful. Craig, however, had a bemused expression on his face, and nudged me to show what was in his bag. It was the same jar of nuts, alright, but the vacuum seal had already been broken...and half the contents were gone!

(We later learned Mom had bought the nuts back before Thanksgiving. Scott had apparently been unable to wait, and opened one of the jars to "sample" the wares. Our mother, unaware of the pilfering, prepared the jar for Craig.)

When Scott looked over and saw Craig's half-empty jar of chocolate nuts, he burst out laughing, as did the rest of us, when we learned what had happened.
By the Spring, Craig would be gone, a victim of Leukemia.

 The following Christmas was a somber one; the first one without Craig. We all put on brave faces and gathered again for gift-giving and meal sharing, with an even closer bond with one another because of the shared loss of our brother, spouse, father, grandfather and son. 

My daughter made a special Christmas tree ornament for everyone that year with a photo of Craig placed in the center of a large, wooden snowflake. There were more than a few tears and sobs as we each opened that gift.

Scott passed to me a rumpled gift bag with tissue paper stuffed in the top. I reached in and pulled out a jar of chocolate covered almonds...half empty. As I opened the lid, I noticed a post-it note stuck to the vacuum seal, still partially attached to the mouth of the jar.

"Remember last year when we all laughed so hard together!" the note said, written in my youngest brother's unmistakable architect's scrawl. "Will be one of my favorite memories!" 

I think I had a pretty hard time reading the last line because my vision had become suddenly blurry with flurry of tears. And then I laughed, and Scott laughed, because it had been a pretty funny incident.

That was three years ago.
This year, once again, Craig's ornament graces our tree, smiling back at the room as if to share a private joke or two. This week, as my Bride and I re-packed that same, opened jar with more chocolate covered almonds, I noticed it looked odd.
It was full.

In order to maintain the authenticity of the tradition, I had to "remove" a few of the nuts.
The tradition will continue.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

"Lest We Forget..."

The loud roar of an aviation engine shattered the calm of Sunday morning's routines. Two ten year old boys, playing in the stillness, rushed outside to see the source.

Japanese aerial photo of first torpedo splashes and
first hit on USS West Virginia/Photo Credit: USN Archives
Tommy pointed to the sky as a line of twenty low-flying monoplanes lumbered past the roof of the two-story house, barely 50-feet in the air. The pilots' and gunners' faces were clearly visible as they flew past, cockpit canopies opened to allow the cool morning slipstream inside. Below each planes' belly was slung a long, metallic cylinder with wooden fins.

"Look, Ma, at the torpedo planes!" Tommy shouted back at the house.
"I know, dammit; they aren't ours!" his mother shouted back. "Get the hell inside!" she screamed.

An escort fighter roared overhead, spraying the house and yard with machine gun fire. Two rounds landed in an upstairs bedroom, where Tommy's older sister lay sleeping. Just a few hundred yards away, explosions began to rock the ground, thick, dark smoke stained the sky, and the buzz of warplanes filled the air. The boys scrambled back inside, and the family huddled in the house until the sounds ceased.

USS Arizona burns
Photo Credit: Naval Archives
It was December 7, 1941, and Tommy Gillette had just witnessed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor from the vantage of his front yard on the Naval Base. Gillette's father was a Navy Captain, responsible for managing all repairs and salvage at Pearl, a post he would retain until just prior to the Battle of Midway.

Recently de-classified information from both sides about the attack has revealed that while the United States was clearly surprised at Pearl Harbor, Japanese aggression was expected--and that the US Military had been instructed by President Franklin Roosevelt to allow Japan to draw first blood. They just didn’t think it would be on Oahu.

Pearl Harbor Survivor
Thomas W. Gillette
Photo: Brent Clanton
These revelations were the topic of a presentation by Thomas W. Gillette in ceremonies Saturday aboard the Battleship Texas commemorating the 73rd anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack. Gillette says Roosevelt recognized the Japanese threat to America's interests in the Pacific as early as World War I, when he served as Under-secretary of the Navy. When FDR became President, he silently began to upgrade the US Naval Fleet by replacing older vessels with more modern warships.

Gillette says FDR anticipated Japanese aggression against the US Fleet in the Pacific, and also authorized the construction of new Navy drydock facilities at Pearl and Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in the late 1930's. Those drydocks would prove crucial in repairing warships damaged at Pearl Harbor.

Capsized USS Utah
Photo Credit: Naval Archives
Gillette says as a teenager, he remembered watching workers at the Puget Sound yard rebuilding the U.S.S. Nevada, Tennessee, California and West Virginia in succession, battleships all sunk in the attack at Pearl.

The Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor was a tactical win for Japan--but only partially so, as the US Navy’s ability to repair its warships escaped damage. Gillette says, “In retrospect, it was a strategic victory for our Allies,” he says. “It unified all Americans with fierce resolve to defeat the Axis powers.” 

USS Arizona Memorial
Photo Credit: Brent Clanton
"Pearl Harbor taught us the need to be prepared, and the folly of underestimating your enemies," Gillette said on Saturday. "We should never forget those lessons."

Tom Gillette served in the US Navy as a Ship Repair Officer from 1952-1955. He later went to work for Exxon, and was responsible for the salvage of the Exxon Valdez. Tom's father, Claude Gillette, achieved the rank of Rear Admiral. Tom donates his time to the First Texas Volunteers, giving guided tours aboard the Battleship Texas. You can usually find him in Boiler Room #3.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

The Holiday Job Search Blues

The smartphone on the overnight stand jars me to wakefulness with its near-silent buzzing.
It's from a familiar phone number, but there's no identity attached, no name showing up on the screen.

When you're out of work, every phone call is a potential gold mine.
When you're out of work, every unknown caller is also a potential harasser from a creditor wanting to know when they're going to get their pound of flesh.
The call goes to voice mail.

The message is from an HR department with a major energy company, locally-based.
The potential gold mine call.

Still, after a sleepless night, insomnia instigated by the previous days' searching, rehearsing over and over again, sometimes it's best to not let a potential employer's first impression be that of your husky, 'morning voice,' croaking hello.

A quick review of the Texas Workforce Commission-required job search log, to refresh just which job it was that was applied for, is followed by a call-back within minutes to the company's HR operative.
The call goes to voice mail.
Irony or karma?
Or both?

The quest continues.

"I want to work for you!"
Brent Clanton is an out-of-work professional in the Radio Broadcast Industry.
His last position was Business Editor for Radio-one's now defunct News92FM, a project that lived just under three years. He is accepting all opportunities for consideration, and will be an Occasional Announcer for 89.3 KSBJ starting the weekend of December 6.

Learn more about Brent at

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Veteran Remembers: The Story of Iwo Jima and the End of WW2

1st Lt. Aubrey Farb, USMC (Ret.)
Today is Veteran's Day, on which we honor the men and women who have fought for our country and rendered a service that is incalculable. I always thank a Veteran for his/her service when I meet one, and not just on Veteran's Day. 

I believe it's important to acknowledge the fact that they put a portion of their life on hold for a period of time to uphold and maintain the principles of our nation. And at any opportunity I find, I try to sit down a learn a little about what a Veteran's personal service was.

Aubrey Farb is one of those Veterans I have met only recently. He served as a Marine--1st Lieutenant--in the Pacific Theater of World War II, towards the end of the War. His job was to interrogate Japanese prisoners of war and glean from them information that would save American lives. 

Farb was present at the invasion of Iwo Jima, and when the war's end came, was on Guam, making preparations for the invasion of Japan.

The conquest of Iwo Jima is legendary. The topography of the volcanic island was at first advantageous for the Japanese, as they had built an intricate system of concrete pill boxes and tunnels to defend the island. Those fortifications became fiery tombs as US artillery blasted away, and flamethrowers were used to eliminate the last holdouts on the island.

The US dedicated 110,000 men to assault Iwo Jima. The Japanese had 18,591 troops on the island. The 36-day battle cost 6,821 US casualties. The Japanese lost 18,375.

Aubrey Farb prepares
a map of Iwo Jima

Iwo Jima boasted two strategic airstrips from which the Japanese were able to harass American aircraft on missions to bomb their homeland. We needed the airstrips for emergency landings of damaged bombers. 

The first of those bombers to land on the island was the Dinah Might of the 9th Bomber Group, which touched down while the fighting still raged on March 4, 1945. Records reveal 2,251 B-29 landings were recorded by the end of the war, although not all of them were for dire emergencies. But 1,191 fighter escorts and 3,081 sorties against the islands of Japan were launched from Iwo Jima once it had been secured.

Lt. Farb's duties interrogating Japanese prisoners of war were mitigated somewhat by the math expressed above; he didn't have too many customers.

"We got good information from them because the Japanese taught their men that it was a sin to surrender, that you had dishonored yourself, dishonored your family, and that you no longer existed in the eyes of the Japanese," Farb told me recently at his home in Houston.  "If you teach somebody you never surrender, you don't teach them what to say when you do surrender," he chuckled. "The Japanese would tell you everything you needed to know--but you had to know how to ask it," Farb says.

It was on Iwo Jima that the US first became aware of the Japanese' plan to use Kamikaze pilots--suicide aircraft. "Some soldiers came in and said they'd found a graveyard, and wanted someone to come look at it," Farb recalled. "I went up and looked at it; didn't amount to anything.  But I saw a piece of paper--a document--on the ground, and I picked it up and took it back and I translated it." Farb says the document contained the Japanese strategy for how they were going to defend Okinawa--and the first mention of Kamikaze's.

"We were lucky at Iwo; we had no Kamikaze's," Farb says. "The Kamikaze's started at Okinawa, but we learned that the strategy at Okinawa [would be] to let our troops in without a great deal of resistance, and then they were going to use the Kamikaze's to starve us out."

Corporal Yukio Araki, holding a puppy,
with four other pilots of the
72nd Shinbu Squadron at Bansei, Kagoshima.
Araki died the following day, May 27, 1945.
Photo Credit: Wikipaedia.
Records show about 3,860 kamikaze pilots were killed during World War II. Only 19-percent of Kamikaze attacks managed to hit a ship. "I had a brother who was on a destroyer escort; his ship was hit, but it wasn't sunk," Farb recalled.

Lt. Farb also had the distinction of being among the first on the island of Guam to learn of the surrender of the Japanese, and subsequent ending of the War.  "We [had begun] training for Operation Olympic, which was to be the invasion of Japan at Nagasaki," Farb says.

One night Farb was in his tent, listening to his Radio. "I heard a broadcast in Japanese that I was sure that said they were surrendering," he says. Not wanting to make a fool of himself, he decided to look for it in English--and found it.

"I literally raced down to the Officers' Club," Farb said. There was a band made up of some of the Black troops who worked in the mess hall, playing for the officers. "I stopped the music and announced that the war was over," Farb remembers.
Nobody believed him.

"They figured I was playing some sort of game," Farb says. "In fact, an ex-football player from an organization called JASCO--Joint Assault Signal Company--he came up to me, and he grabbed me by the throat with my collar, and he said, 'Lieutenant, if this is some kind of a joke, there'll be a delegation from JASCO to see you tomorrow!'"

Vindication came 15-minutes later. "The Sargeant on duty at G-3 Operations came racing in, and found my Lieutenant Colonel, and he came up, and he said, 'Stop the music,' of course. He said, 'The Lieutenant is correct; the war is over.'"

Farb says Harry Truman is his hero. "We found out later, after the war, that the beaches at Nagasaki had been fortified with underwater concrete and steel barriers," Farb says. He's convinced that fewer people were killed by the atomic bomb "than would have been killed by our fire bombing of Nagasaki, and the Japanese soldiers who would have been killed, and certainly, our soldiers," he says.

Farb doesn't regard himself a hero. "I don't think I did anything except what I was asked to do," he says. "There were terrific sacrifices in going over to Guam; there were replacement battalions that had thirty-two 2nd Lieutenants. I think only 8 of them left Iwo. The rest were either wounded or were killed," he recalls.

"In the Marines, a 2nd Lieutenant was a Platoon leader," Farb explains. "The Platoon leader was not in the back--he was out front. It took a lot of guts to be a Marine Corps Platoon leader." Farb paused, and continued: "Anytime you found an infantryman who had a rank of higher than a 2nd Lieutenant, whose unit had been in combat, you know you had a man who was really a hero," he says.

Combat servicemen received points which accumulated towards receiving a ticket home.
"It took 60-points to go home," Farb says. "You got a point for every month you were in the service. You got two points for every month you served overseas. You got some points for every battle you were in," he says.

In the fall of 1945, Farb caught pneumonia. For a second time.
His commanding officer asked how many points Farb had amassed.
"Fifty-nine, sir," he replied.

Farb recalls, "He opened his drawer, took out a folder, and said, 'Lieutenant, here are your orders. Go home.' "

"So I obeyed orders," Farb shrugs with a wry grin.
"I landed back in San Diego on Christmas Day, 1945. And I was mustered-out at Brooklyn Navy base in February, and went back to Columbia university, and put the War behind me," he says.

And that's how most Veteran's would tell their story.
No brag, just fact, about the Greatest Generation.

Farb and his entire 3rd Marine Division Headquarters Battallion of the Headquarters Company received the Presidential Unit Citation for their part in the battle of Iwo Jima.

In honor of Veteran's Day, Aubrey Farb will address the South End Optimist Club, on Wednesday, November 12, at the Westchase Marriott, 2900 Briarpark at Westheimer, at a luncheon meeting at 12 noon. Guests are welcome but a call to (713) 706-4334 for a reservation is requested. The Marriott Hotel offers its extensive buffet for $15 with tax and tip included. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Not Every Story Makes it Into the News

Not all life-and-death stories we see in the newsroom are about people, and not all of the stories we become aware of are reported. This is one of them.

One of our anchors,  Lana Hughes, was visiting Houston's BARC this Summer to update the registrations for her adopted cats, when a man named Tyler approached her about getting a newborn kitten adopted out...the kitten he was holding in his hands. He was essentially turning the cat in.

A bundle of promise
in a cardboard box
The weeks-old kitten had yet to open its eyes. Chances of an adoption would be two-fold: Slim and none. Lana made a split-second decision that would impact the lives of a dozen people in the following weeks. She took the kitten home.

Newborns aren't supposed to be away from their mothers. We don't know the circumstances that delivered the kitten to us, but Lana became the kitten's surrogate mother, administering feedings and cleanings around the clock during the first few weeks of life.

The animal was so tiny, we couldn't even determine its gender at first. I dubbed it "Kitty Couric." Not long after, it was apparent we'd need to alter that title, and Lana and her producer, Matt Greenwood, proclaimed his name to be "Lil'-T," after the stranger who wanted to donate the cat to BARC.
In reality, it was Lil'-T who had US
eating from her, paw!

The news business is a 24-hour animal.
You have to continually feed the news machine with fresh content, around the clock. How ironic it was, then, that the feeding cycles for Lil-T would inter mesh, and the Newsroom became a bit of a nursery, with feedings upon arrival, just before news time, once during the morning block, and once more before Lana could leave for the day. We all became adoptive Aunts and Uncles for Lil-T.

Takes a lickin' and keeps on...uh, lickin
"T" was a tiger in the making.
He could down a dropper-ful of food in no time, a pace he maintained as he graduated to more substantial quantities of food. He learned to search ravenously for his dropper tip while it was being prepared. He would steady the bottle nipple with one paw slung sideways on the bottle top as he guzzled his breakfasts. And he would complain mightily as Lana and her Aunt Martha Martinez administered ritual cleanings with a moistened paper towel. Well, it was better than licking his face.

Lil'-T became the Newsroom mascot, albeit a surreptitious one: According to the employee manual, animals were not allowed on the floor of the Radio suite. So we kept Lil'-T on the Q-T. He would briefly 'mew' in his cardboard carton, but generally burrowed under a plush towel and snoozed the hours away in the Newsroom between feedings.

A firm grip on reality--and his bottle

Lil'-T matriculated to being a stay-at-home cat after a couple of months, and Lana was able to leave him at home in the mornings. The newsroom lost just a little of the morning buzz when it was no loner necessary to time our work load to his feeding cycle. As Lana noted, like most animals, Lil'-T brought out the best in all of us as we watched him flourish and grow.

Today Lil'-T is a cocky cat with a bit of an attitude and a nose for trouble--or is that just news--probably because he was rubbing shoulders (and ears) with some of the greats in Houston Radio. Lana has added to his name--the T is now short for in a certain Tasmanian cartoon character.

Lil' T at 2-1/2 Months
Photo Credit: Lana Hughes

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Fireman Bauer's Bayonet

Fireman 1st Class
Maurice Bauer, USN, Ret
Soldiers returning stateside from the Pacific Theater in the Autumn of 1945 weren't supposed to bring weapons home with them. Pistols, rifles, bayonets--none were allowed on the USS Texas (BB-35) as she transited from Hawaii to California as part of the "Magic Carpet Ride," a flotilla of warships enlisted to bring as many men back home from the war as quickly as possible. But there it was, a contraband bayonet left on a hatch cover as Fireman 1st Class Maurice Bauer was making his rounds.

How it got there, he didn't know. And didn't care--it would make a swell souvenir of the war, he thought. And so he secreted it away in a closet compartment near his berth on the battleship below deck.

Warships are quirky vessels.
They've got personalities, and they've got mysteries, and somehow, that bayonet didn't stay hidden in Fireman Bauer's closet for long. The ship claimed it, and it fell through a void into the engine compartment below. The engine compartment where Bauer served as Fireman 1st Class, "running around the engine, just making sure it was all running right," he described.

Port-side Steam Engine controls, Battleship "Texas" (BB-35)
Photo Credit: Brent Clanton
The steam engines on the "Texas" are massive, mechanical wonders. They're the only ones of their type still in existence, and on a vessel that's still floating in the water. The pair of triple-expansion reciprocating steam engines of the "Texas" sit side by side in the mechanical space of the warship, below the waterline, aft of the boilers. Spinning her twin screws at 120-rpm, the "Texas" could make 22-knots of speed on her first day in the water...and on her last.

Cylinder-heads of Battleship "Texas" Port-side steam engine
Photo Credit: Brent Clanton
Fireman 1st Class Bauer tended those engines with all the love and care any seasoned Navy man would, and on her final day as a commissioned warship in the US Navy, it was Bauer who pumped her engine cylinders full of cosmoline grease to preserve them against the ravages of time.

Nearly 70-years later, as the "Texas" was undergoing major repairs to her structural members, including the supports for those massive steam engines, Fireman 1st Class Bauer's contraband bayonet was discovered by engineers with Taylor Marine working to disassemble the vast network of pipes and tubing that fed the machines. Only it was no longer contraband--the bayonet was now an historical artifact.

"We found your bayonet," Ship's Manager Andy Smith said to Maurice Bauer in a recent phone call.
"Can I have it back?" Bauer asked.
"Nope," Smith replied. "It belongs on the Battleship as a piece of her history," he explained.
And so Bauer figured he'd never get to see that souvenir again.

Maurice Bauer's family woke him early on Saturday and said, "Get up and shave and shower. We have a surprise for you today."
"I have to do both?" he complained.
"Yes, it's something pretty special," they said.

The Battleship Texas is tied to twin floating moorings that allow her rise and fall with the tides and the wake of passing freight vessels twice her size. On the gangway to the Quarterdeck, Fireman 1st Class Bauer received a replica bayonet, identical to the one he'd hidden away so many years ago.

(L-R:) 1st Texas Volunteer, Ed Curry; Ship's Manager, Andy Smith;
Maurice Bauer; Julius Taylor, Taylor Marine
 "The real thing still belongs in the museum," explained Smith gently. It will be displayed along with other historical artifacts from the Battleship's rich legacy of service from two world wars. Julius Taylor, CEO of Taylor Marine, extended the bayonet to Fireman 1st Class Bauer, who cupped it in his hooks. Because, you see, Bauer has no hands now. They were lost in an accident after the war.

The Bauer Bunch tours the mechanical space of Battleship "Texas"
Bauer's family descended to the engine room to view for themselves where their father and grandfather had labored during the war. They were astounded at the sheer size of the engines.  "They were pretty quiet, really," Bauer said. "The loudest sound down there was a fan for ventilation," he recalls. "I could speak to the next guy at the other end of the engine in a normal voice," he said.

But it was too loud to hear that falling bayonet as it slipped from Bauer's closet to the floor of the engine room, seven decades ago.

Brent Clanton serves with the 1st Texas Volunteers, an organization dedication to the restoration and preservation of the only surviving Dreadnought Battleship, the USS Texas (BB-35). The group also conducts guided "hard-hat" tours to spaces on the warship that are generally off-limits to the general public. To book a hard-hat tour, visit the Battleship Texas Foundation website

Saturday, October 11, 2014

On the Beach...On the Prowl

A roomful of promise: The News92FM Newsroom near completion, July 2012

Wednesday, October 8, 2014.
They'd called a staff meeting for 9 o'clock.
I had a phone interview scheduled for 9:30a.
How long would this take, I asked my boss.
Not long, he assured me.
Some Corporate VP's boss was coming in for a rah-rah session for all the stations, I was told.
If I needed to duck out, it would be okay.
None of us were prepared for what followed.

Our Assignments Editor was barking out stories to editors and anchors as our General Manager, the VP of Programming, and The Big VP of Radio walked into the newsroom. One of them said, "Let's cut this short--we have something to tell you." The usual buzz of the Newsroom fell silent. Our GM spoke next.
"I was going to read you something I'd prepared," he started off. Uh-oh, here it comes, I thought. "...but I'm just going to speak from the heart," he said. And he did.

With tears in his eyes he told the assembled staff that our time had run out, the ratings weren't where they needed to be to generate sufficient cash flow, and the company was pulling the plug. After 35-months, News92FM was destined for the dustbin of Houston Radio history.

Initial reactions varied from instant tears to abject shock.
For me, the numbness still hasn't worn off.
This was our baby.

News92FM Anchor Patrick Osborn
was the original morning block technical
47 broadcast journalists, producers, engineers and reporters had been assembled under the dark of night to launch Houston's first, real all-news operation in decades. The last hold-out station calling itself "news" had abdicated the throne years ago, adding political talk shows between drive time news blocks, and then eventually abandoning any pretense of providing genuine news, traffic and weather for a hungry metropolis.

We were the best and brightest in the business, and in some cases, the oldest. It didn't matter--we had a Purpose, once again; we were all 20-somethings anew, chomping at the bit to tell the stories of "the day-to-day adventures of the Human Race," as one news consultant was quoted.

(I have stolen that phrase, fair and square, as I re-market myself for a new position.)

There are lots of reasons News92FM could not continue.
There are many more for why it should have--but they're all moot now. The brilliant marketing, the amazing zeal of the staff, and the very real, daily production of quality news  (other news outlets were beginning to take our lead on stories) could not overcome the physics of a less-than optimal signal, or the economics of marketing a very expensive operation to a still skeptical advertising base.

I am deeply saddened we're no longer on the air, but I'm not overwhelmed with grief. Honestly, it's kind of nice not to have to get up at 2am everyday. But I am immensely proud of what we were able to accomplish in a very short time.
No other staff of broadcast professionals could have pulled off some of the minor miracles we did--we literally pooled our experiences to make this station great. It was a once-in-a-lifetime blend of the best of what we were...and are.

So to all of my colleagues at News92FM, I salute you.
It was the best of times...
Closing day for News92 FM: October 8, 2014