Thursday, November 24, 2016

Radio Daze, Part 2

Oh, the humanity.
It being the Thanksgiving weekend, it’s traditional that someone posts something from the infamous “Turkey Drop” episode of WKRP in Cincinnati.  I’ve seen it a half-dozen times already in my Facebook feed, mostly from non-radio people.  We radio folks know it by heart because we lived it.  Not necessarily a promotional stunt just like the Turkey Drop, but something similar. 

Radio is nothing but weird stories like that, and yeah, most of WKRP was based on actual stuff that did happen – including the Turkey Drop.  The original event was in Georgia somewhere, and had turkeys thrown from trucks…with the same “splat” result. As God is my witness, these stories are (mostly) true.

Today’s story from yours truly surpasses WKRP in sheer weirdness, and frankly, it’s a gag I don’t remember seeing on the show.  Perhaps because it doesn’t translate well to TV.  Perhaps it’s because it’s so ubiquitous.  Certainly at a student station like WQBR the “I left the mic open” scenario was so. 

My favorite “forgettee” was Mark Santa Maria, who would always move and groove to the tunes he was playing, and neglect to turn his mic off.  One Friday afternoon he was especially vocal, and was singing and banging around the studio, and making a horrible racket.  As we watched from the office, no matter how hard gestured, we could not get his attention to the open mic, and he was oblivious to his own noise.  Finally looked up, saw us out in the office making all sorts of pointed movement towards him, and shouted,


What we want is to let you know your microphone is still on.

But that’s not the story I wanted to tell you, though it does involve an open microphone.  In the fall of 1985, I went to work for KRXX in Eugene, OR.  K-rocks was an AM rocker with an eclectic format, and DJs were pretty much on their own, which meant blues in the morning, pop in mid-day, album oriented rock in PM drive, new wave at night, and ratings a bit lower than WKRP had.  Actually, the local high-school student station had better ratings.  It was a weird thing, trust me, but the story begins a few weeks after my hire, and I am at home, in bed awakening and listening to the station as my alarm.  It’s 6:30, and time for the news.

The morning format was news at the top and bottom for about five minutes, then back to music.  Annie would throw it back to John, the morning guy, with a question about what was going to played next, something like, “It’s 51 degrees at the Rock, KRXX, and what do we have coming up, John?”  John would reply with something like, “In this next hour we’ll have some music from Bonnie Raitt, John Lee Hooker, and the Doors.”  Pretty standard stuff.

John had been living with our overnight jock Syd for a while before I started working at the station.  They were quite an item for a while, then, had a big falling out.  It got ugly, and to the point where they were no longer on speaking terms (but both continued to work at the station).  This was awkward, perhaps no more so than at 6:00 when Syd’s shift ended and John’s began.  

On this day, John was running a bit late.  As Syd descended the stairs to the front door, he was coming up those same stairs.  Words were exchanged.  Things got hot.  John, realizing that he was late and still needing to get upstairs and put on the next record, attempted to get by Syd.  She grabbed his leather jacket, ripping it (in her version his jacket got “caught on something”).  He pushed by her and moved to the studio (in her version he “pushed me violently down the stairs”).  He grabbed a record, tossed it on the turntable, deftly cued it up, and began his show just as Syd’s record faded out.

And now it’s 6:35.  “It’s 51 degrees at the Rock, KRXX, and what do we have coming up this half hour, John?”

“John?”  Five seconds of dead air, then, “John?”  And then a grunt.  And then, silence.

The news studio is right next to the main studio, with the customary window between so that the DJ and the newscaster can see each other.  However, at KRXX the news audio board was placed on a high table in front of this window.  And Annie was short…very short.  So she couldn’t see John when he was in his chair…which he wasn’t, but she didn’t know that.  So she stood, and saw that he wasn’t in the chair.  And he wasn’t anywhere in the studio.  As she stood on tiptoe (the grunt), she could see outside the open door of the newsroom, and out the window of the building of our facilities on Charnelton in downtown Eugene into a parking lot which we shared with other businesses in the building. 

And she saw John being helped into a police car.  So, being the intrepid newscaster she was, she raced downstairs to see why.

Leaving her door open and the microphone on.

At home, I am hearing mostly silence and muffled sounds.  No Bonnie Raitt.  No Doors.  Nothing.  I drag my butt out of bed and call the station.  No answer.  Meanwhile, there’s still nothing but nothing emanating from 1450AM on my radio.

Meanwhile, down in the parking lot, Annie is getting the lowdown that John is being arrested on Assault and Battery charges (via Syd, of course).  In an amazing coincidence, she spots one of our local interns walking to school, and frantically persuades him to go up to the studio and take John’s spot until she can call someone and get a replacement.  “Just play anything, quick,” she says.  I know this is what she says because her news mic is still on and I can hear her saying this to him as they come up the stairs.  I know it’s the intern because he had a bad leg and is clomping up the stairs like step-CLOMP, step-CLOMP, and Annie is imploring him to hurry because we’ve got (almost) nothing but dead air.

And I know this because I can hear all of this (somewhat faintly)…because her microphone is still on. 

In fact, the last thing I hear is her realization that it’s still on, as she sees the light (literally) and then I hear “Oh, shhh…” and then complete silence.  And then a few moments later a song comes on.

I took a shower and got dressed, and headed for the phone to find out what the hell happened, but before I could, John’s voice was on the radio, apologizing for the time out, thanking the intern, “and now, here are the Doors, on KRXX.” 

Later at work, I got the whole low-down.

Once at the police station, John explained what happened on the stairway, and somehow got the cops to drive him BACK to the radio station, all within 20 minutes.  Later that morning Syd and John went to the police station to deal with the situation.  She eventually dropped charges and from then on would hide in the Production studio until she heard John’s voice on the air, and then she would leave the station.  BTW, that procedure lasted about two weeks before the next blowup (at an all-staff meeting – how fun!).  That just might be another story.

I kept waiting for some fallout from listeners about the silence, the dead air, the weird background noise instead of music.  No one called, no one complained. 

We really did have lousy ratings.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Radio Daze, Part 1

Was it this bad?  No, not initially.
This past week some friends let me join a new group – The WQBR Old Folks Home.  It’s a Facebook group, apropos for this bunch, as it’s a mötley (crüe) collection of former Eastern Michigan University students who used to “…work (or at least hang out) at WQBR Radio…” 

That’s me in spades, as I spent more time there than most.  I was there three times – from 1971 to 1973 (when I dropped out of college entirely), then 78-9 (when I finished my degree…finally), and then again from 1982-4 (when it seemed I just couldn’t get enough of dear old EMU).  Each time I enjoyed my time there, learning (of course) but perhaps more importantly, smoking dope the camaraderie that existed among all the staff.  And of course, all that camaraderie means I have stories to tell.  Here’s the first, and it involves “the couch.”

No, not what happened on it.  We all know that.  Even first semester students got wind of the couch’s “unique characteristics.”  You’d know they knew when you invited them into the office area and asked them to sit, pointing at the couch, and they’d look at you and say, “No thanks, I’m good.”  No, this is about how we got the couch in the first place.  In fact, it’s how we got ALL the initial batch of furniture.

When I came back in 1978, WEMU has just left 129 Quirk for King Hall, leaving the former studios for the newly-christened WQBR (it was WHUR initially).  Some of the offices were taken by broadcasting faculty, leaving the 3 studios for WQBR.  The main studio (with a board as old as Marconi’s mother) remained, the production studio was empty (we wouldn’t get a real production area until 1983 when a new board replaced Marconi’s mom, which moved to production), and the large open “live” studio was to be our office area.

Except we had no furniture at all, except for a very large (awkward) table.  That was it.

Buying furniture was out of the question (we had zero budget).  I asked Admin about getting some desks and chairs from Surplus, and was told that requisitions would take “a while.”  No offer to help (or to speed up the process) was forthcoming, so I called the EMU Physical Plant myself, and found that without a faculty advisor’s signature, there was nothing they could do.  I asked them what type of furniture was available, and they told me that all sorts of things would be on hand, usually.  “In fact, we’re starting to collect a whole bunch of items right now from Downing Hall.”

Oh, really?

There’s an old saying that, as long as you LOOK like you know what you’re doing, no one will question you.  It seemed simple to me – if we followed the standard routine, the Physical Plant would take furniture out of Downing Hall, drag it to the Warehouse, wait for our requisition, then drag it back to Quirk Hall.  Or, we could take a shortcut and eliminate the middle.

So we took a few burly DJs over to Downing (did you laugh there?  I certainly did) and we started picking out furniture.  We found chairs, desks, and the infamous couch out in the halls, properly tagged for surplus…and all for the taking.  Best of all, we were there only about a half-hour, and no one said a word.  Well, that’s not true.  One RA saw what we were doing and said, “Hey, what’s going on?”  I quickly grabbed some papers from my back pocket and replied, “It’s OK, I’ve got paperwork.” He waved us on (couch and all).

By the way, I have NO idea whose inspired creative thinking caused us to grab the couch.  I should tell you that it’s a tradition I continued when I started up KEDM in Monroe, LA (and yes, it was a used couch – tradition!). 

Once we got all of the furniture back to Quirk and set up, it made for a very nice office area.  Certainly the students were pleased, but Admin…well, only once did someone ask me about it, wondering out loud if they really wanted to know how we got it and/or where it came from. 

Probably not.  Especially the couch.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Enablers in a Bubble

It was a week ago that Americans went to the polls, and later that evening discovered that one of the most shocking results in history had occurred – Donald Trump was elected President of the United States.  During the last seven days much has been discussed as to how (and why) this happened, but most of us can agree that:
  • Trump won the southern states as expected
  • Hillary Clinton won the east and west coasts, as expected, and
  • Trump was able to pull out enough wins in so-called “swing states” to gain an Electoral College victory.  Some of these wins were of razor-thin margins where neither candidate received a majority of votes (Wisconsin, Pennsylvania…and Michigan has yet to declare as of this writing).
  • Despite an Electoral College win (currently 289-232 with Michigan’s 16 votes still outstanding), Trump had fewer overall votes than Clinton.  As of today, he trails by about 760,000 votes (according to CBS).  Other reports show her lead to be almost a million.

Nevertheless, Donald Trump won the race.

In an election year where the word “strange” was used perhaps more often than ever before, it seems we still need to use it to describe the aftermath.  For several days thousands have taken to the streets to protest Trump’s victory (and let me state for the record that I am 100% supportive of the PEACEFUL protests, which the majority has been – violence against people or property is not condoned).  But for an equal amount of time the other side has ALSO protested (and been violent against property and people).  And they were the victors.

Gracious winners my ass.

Trump becoming President-elect has emboldened some to ratchet up their racial taunts.  Reports of women in hijabs being endangered, Latino schoolkids threatened by their teacher with deportation of their parents.  And the woman lucky enough to grab a selfie with Hillary Clinton the day after the election (whose selfie went viral)?  Death threats.

Wait, what’s that?  My last bullet point is in error?  Trump actually won the popular vote, too?

Yes, because Trump likes to win and win bigly, it’s apparently not enough to just win the Electoral vote.  The constant barrage of fake news and outright bullshit reposted infinity times by bubble-residing conservatives re-awoke to declare that yes, TRUMP WON THE POPULAR VOTE TOO SO QUIT PROTESTING and just shut up shut up SHUT UP.

Some of this crap (even calling it fake news gives it more credence than it deserves) declared that while she might win the votes “counted” she would not win the votes “cast” (something about not counting all absentee ballots, which is false).   Some posts used terms like “crushed” and “landslide” noting that many votes for Clinton came from NY and California (as if these two states were no longer part of the union).  Some sites just flat out had the numbers wrong (so put away that stupid Electoral College petition).  This last one bragged that they got the results from “Twitter posts.”  How journalistic of them (they reported Trump 62,972,226; Clinton 62,277,750, BTW).

Of course, when all else fails:
  • blame someone else (CNN),
  • move the goalposts (calling the votes cast for all of the candidates for House of Representatives as the true “popular vote”), or
  • claim that three million illegal immigrants voted (and most for Clinton, of course).

Anything to keep that meme resonating in supporters heads, I guess.

And there’s the attempt to discredit the nightly anti-Trump protests, because we’re all supposed to come together and support the President-elect just like Republicans did for Obama in 2008 and 2012.  Kumbaya and all that.

Protesters are being bused in from out of state.  They’re being incited by the media.  They’re being paid for by George Soros.  And the very idea of protesting a President-elect just because your side lost is, of course, so un-American (oh, wait – these pix are from 2008).

That Kumbaya-coming together moment you want?  Not.  Gonna.  Happen.  For once and for all - Trump won the election, Clinton got more votes.  But you can't use terms like "crushing" or "landslide" or "mandate" when more people voted for the other candidate.  Some folks are upset about the results.  Many more are upset for what it about to happen.

And here’s the sad thing – when it does happen, you won’t believe THAT, either.  The bubble seems to be impenetrable.  Believe what you want at your own peril.

Rolling out the welcome mat for the new 2008

Remember this, too?  Good times.

Friday, November 11, 2016

What Can I Get for, oh…$25 Million?

"Someday, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me."

As you may know, Sheldon Adelson finally backed a winner in Donald Trump, putting somewhere near $25 million (or more) into his campaign.  And as you also might know, rich donors usually expect something for their largess.  Don’t take my word for it – the President-elect said so himself earlier this year about his own contributions:
“When you give, they do whatever the hell you want them to do.”

Face it; $25 million should get you something more than just double bonus miles. 
So one can expect that Adelson will want something in return – the questions are what and how much?  The “what” is easy – his top three issues (in my opinion) would be
  • Israel – keeping US support strong
  • Marijuana – making it illegal (he’s been a strong opponent of medical marijuana regulation in Florida)
  • Online Gambling – ditto.
The “how much” pertains to whether he can get all three of his wishes granted.  The first one is a slam-dunk, as I can’t see the next Administration doing any less for Israel that is being done now.  So that’s one. 

The other two are the focus of my thought-experiment here.  There are plenty of similarities – both marijuana and online gambling are considered “vices” that are usually handled in by the states.  There are also legal issues unique to each that have surprising parallels.

Since Tuesday, there have been countless conversations asking pretty much the same thing:  “what does the election of Donald Trump mean to my industry?”  Online gambling has been one of them, with two recent op-eds in OnlinePokerReport and PokerNewsDaily painting a dire picture.  The marijuana industry has also taken note that despite the recent progress at the ballot box, it too may face radical changes.  See here, here, here and here.  California, Nevada and Massachusetts approved measures legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, while Florida, Arkansas and North Dakota voted to allow pot for medical purposes.  Currently there are eight states where recreational pot is legal, and 29 states and DC where some form of medical marijuana is allowed.

Trump has been on record that he thinks marijuana should be a state issue.  He’s also a former casino owner, so he obviously thinks gambling is OK, but his views of online gambling are less known.  And as Adelson proves, one can be pro-gambling yet anti-online-gambling.

In both gambling and dope, it’s not so much Trump position, as those who he would have in his cabinet, as advisors, and those currently in the GOP-controlled Congress.  Think Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani.  And Sheldon.

Marijuana is still considered a Schedule 1 drug, and federally, it’s illegal.  Because it is, banking issues are the norm for marijuana distributors – it’s a “cash only” business, and they cannot take certain tax breaks available to regular businesses.

Yet marijuana has been a cash cow for states where it’s legal, shoring up revenue streams due to the inability to raise taxes on constituents.  Recent research shows that legalizing marijuana has actually decreased crime (kinda like “consumer protection,” eh?).

Does that last paragraph sound familiar to online gaming proponents?  Darn right it does.

Now the good news (for the marijuana industry) is that many in the industry think their position is pretty good to OK (few say “safe”).  With recent wins at the ballot box, nearly 1 in every 5 Americans lives in a state where some form of legalized marijuana.  Online gaming wishes it had those numbers.  So the only question I have is whether Sheldon gets one or two more wishes from the magic lantern.  If he’s greedy, he’ll try to get everything he can. 

Crap…I think we know how that’s gonna end up. 

Our only hope is our continued vigilance, and perhaps the hope that recreational and medical marijuana can continue to exist as states’ rights issues (and can continue to exist).  In that case, online gaming has a chance, too.  Otherwise, we’re in for a really bad beat.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Not Five Days Later…

As shocked as the rest of us
I wanted to avoid discussing Election Night the day after, and was lucky that we had some medical appointments in Portland on Wednesday so that I was away from the computer (and the news) almost all day.  Initially, I was fairly sanguine about the election results.  I can afford to be – I am a middle-class, older male with less than a year left to retirement.  If any of those attributes were different, I might be less sanguine.  If ALL of them were, definitely so.  Once I got home and read some of what others were saying, I made a vow to wait until five days had passed in order to have a clear head and a clean idea what, exactly, happens from here on.

Fuck that.

I read lots of after-election analysis.  Certainly, the Trump fans were happy.  Gleeful.  Ecstatic.  And why not – they have the House, the Senate, POTUS, and many state legislatures and governorships.  Life is good (for them) and we can expect a HARD turn to the right for the next two/four years.

Dems were sad.  Shocked.  Angry.  Apoplectic, even.  About that anger – it’s OK, IF we channel that anger to work hard and to fight for the things we all care about.  Another direction to channel that anger is to get people to realize the importance of voting and in educating themselves about the issues.

And that’s why I decided to end my five day sabbatical four days early.  It was clear to me in talking with people that there were many more “undecideds” this year than in the past.  I figured that, with apathy (and downright disgust) towards both major candidates, more people would have a hard time choosing.  I figured than one reason Clinton failed to gain the Electoral College majority was because of this, in the form of the new accidental Ralph Nader (Libertarian Gary Johnson).  Mathematically, I’m right, but that’s not the answer.

Paul Harris had it first:
Raw numbers to remember: Obama got 65.9 million votes in 2012 while Romney got 60.9 million. As of 11am today (Wednesday), Clinton has 59.3 million, Trump has 59.1 million. Bottom line: Democrats and Obama supporters didn't show up and vote for her, to the tune of 6.6 million missed opportunities.

Here in Oregon we saw about 75% voter participation.  That’s sounds pretty good, but frankly, that’s shit considering we have vote-by-mail.  EVERYONE who is an eligible voter gets a ballot – all they have to do is fill it out and send it by mail (or drop it off at an election ballot drop site).  No lines, no waiting, no muss or fuss.  And yet 25% of those who could vote, did not.

And that’s the other thing – there were many who could not vote because they weren’t registered.  Nationally, it was reported that almost HALF of Americans eligible to vote (more than 90 million) never cast a ballot.  If you want to be angry about something, be angry about that.  And it you didn’t vote, you have no right to be angry about anything.

So apathy about taking action is one thing.  But “apathy” about being informed is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.  This election showed that “Truthiness” no longer matters.  Say whatever you want.  Facts be damned.  Fake news sites on social media like Facebook and Twitter were given the same “consideration” (I laughed when I wrote that) as NBC, Fox News, AP, and Reuters.  Maybe more so, because they pushed the “National Enquirer”-type headlines that seems to eventually resonate into the MSM when reporting on the candidates, always with the “people are saying…” lead-in as if that was the gold standard of reporting.

No wonder people want to know how to block political posts on Facebook.

Oh, one more thing – Trump called for “draining the swamp,” yet, as always, incumbents ruled the day (as always, 90% of incumbents were reelected).  In fact, many of those who pulled the level for Trump helped sent those incumbents back.  Incumbents like Little Marco Rubio.  And Ted Cruz.  And many other Republicans who failed to “heartily endorse” Trump.  Plus Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

That’s gonna be awkward. Top of Form

So how can we wake people up to (a) pay attention and (b) do something about it?

Well, let me make some post-election predictions first:
  • James Comey’s job at the FBI is safe for now.
  • The ACA is DOA.  Its replacement?  Don’t hold your breath.  As many as 20 million people may lose their insurance.  I wonder how many of these 20 million are part of the 90 million who didn’t vote.
  • There will be no more Benghazi hearings, nor hearings on the Clinton Foundation or Orgy Island or whatever else drops in the next little while.  No need – “Mission Accomplished,” if you get my drift.  The GOP has more pressing issues – they already got what they wanted out of this one.
  • Meanwhile, the Clintons will continue their foundation and their good works on the global stage, and not many will notice except the ones they assist.
  • Based on his own speeches, tweets, and postings, Trump has made a LOT of “first day” promises, and plenty more for his first 100 days.  It’s anybody’s guess whether he’ll be able to keep them all (hint: no). 
  • However, the promises he will keep will be the ones that will cause the most damage.  Don’t take my word for it.

And that’s probably how people will have their eyes opened.  Not by words alone, but with action.  Things are going to shift hard right, for sure, but I believe they’re headed south as well.  When things get bad enough, will the people finally pay attention?

As for me, I plan on giving Trump the same level of support the GOP gave Obama for eight straight years.  Good luck!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Trump Sucks, but he’s no Hoover

One of these things is not like the other ones...
Last week I did a political post and claimed it as my last one…so consider this one more of a history lesson, although it does involve politics.  Political history…yeah, that’s it.  And you CAN learn from it.

I’ve seen a couple of Presidential political posts this week where, rather than asking for comments about one’s opponent, the posters requested that commenters say why they support their candidate WITHOUT making any comments or comparisons to the other candidate.  Needless to say, for many this was a challenge (in that they could not resist making some or all of their post the usual “your candidate sucks because…” comment).  I was able to provide seven reasons why I was voting for Hillary, and it took a while for someone to finally post a legit comment about why he was supporting Trump.  Basically, he liked the fact that Trump was an outsider “with no previous political experience whatsoever.”

Of course, that’s one reason I could never support Trump.  This is the most important political position in the land, and while many newcomers are elected dog catcher, school board rep, city councilman, assemblyperson, state representative, even Senator – who could even conceive that a beginner could start at the top?  This eventually came up in the discussion – we HAVE elected individuals who have never held political office prior to becoming President.

Sort of.  In the last century, the newbies Eisenhower and Hoover ascended to the highest office in the land, but their paths (and outcomes) are very, very, very different than the one currently under construction by Donald Trump.

Take Eisenhower.  I like Ike, and many others did, too.  Prior to running for President in 1952, he HAD been a President – of Columbia University.  Prior to that, he dabbled a bit in the military.  No bone spurs for him.  Of course, he was five-star general, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, and later, of NATO.  He was Army Chief of Staff under President Truman…so while he never held ELECTIVE political office, he was more than aware of and experienced with the ways and means of government.

His prior experience made him one of the most-liked two term Presidents of the past century.  I’ve never understood why Republicans don’t mention Ike in god-like tones like they do Ronald Reagan (who was governor of California before becoming President, BTW).  Ike was strong on infrastructure (National Highways), social and racial reform (military and education – see “Little Rock”) and balanced budgets and higher tax rates (the top marginal rate fell during his administration from 92 to…91 percent).

OK, maybe that’s why he’s not discussed in the same breath as Reagan.  Too bad.

As for Herbert Hoover…he had an Oregon upbringing (born in Iowa, he moved here early in life, and his childhood home is in Newberg, about a 2-hour drive from my house).  So I should be somewhat favorable to him.  So should you – while he made a bundle in the mining industry, he was also quite the philanthropist.  During World War I he organized relief efforts for Americans stuck in Europe, then for Europeans. After the war he was head of the US Food Administration, and continued with post-war relief.  He later became Secretary of Commerce under Harding and Coolidge. So, like Eisenhower, he had PLENTY of experience within the government that he eventually became ran as President.

Trump has no military experience, no involvement with government at all, yet many believe him qualified for what many call the hardest job in the world.  History would suggest his lack of preparation invalidates his claim to qualification.

But that’s not the history lesson.  No, the lesson is this: We all know Hoover was in charge when the American economy fell into the Great Depression.  Hoover made attempts to rescue the economy, but these efforts fell flat, and the Depression worsened.  Some economists argue that his interventions made it worse.  No matter – he was soundly defeated for reelection in 1932 in what many recall as a landslide.

An Electoral College landslide, yes.  But Hoover, despite everything, managed to capture 40% of the popular vote.  That’s right – despite a 25% unemployment rate, a complete halt to construction, bank failures, bankruptcies, and the disastrous Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act (which worsened the already miserable foreign trade situation, but really, I just wanted to be able to say “Smoot-Hawley” in this blog) – 40% of American voters pulled the handle for the Republican.  No matter what the reality.

Just like now.  And that’s your history lesson.