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