Friday, July 27, 2007


It's one of those times when you feeling like having one of those Web polls in which 130,000 people vote on

Which was the worst, most depressing event to happen in the last week or two in sports? Has there ever been a longer list of contenders?

Let's go through the carnage:

* Michael Vick is indicted for being heavily involved in dog fights. This is one of the top five names in the National Football League, with millions of dollars coming in through football and non-football avenues. Yet he may have thrown much of that away so that he could watch two dogs fight to the death. It's difficult to say if this is arrogance or stupidity, or some combination of the two, but it's fair to say Vick has torched his reputation. He won't be able to play a football game for years without having fans through dog bones or collars at him ... and that assumes he'll be able to play for a team outside the walls of a prison.

* A referee resigns his post after an investigation reveals he apparently altered the outcome of games through his officiating. His actions instantly stripped basketball of a bit of its credibility. After all, if the games aren't on the up and up, we have professional wrestling. Pro sports need to have the illusion of completely fair play in order to be successful. Perry Mason may win every case on television, but sports can supply that win-or-lose drama.

* The man apparently on his way to winning the Tour de France is kicked out of the race by his own team. Let's repeat that last part. By his own team. In a sport in which practically everyone has been at least accused of doping over the last several years, this one set a new standard. Just when we thought cycling wouldn't be taken very seriously again thanks in part to the Floyd Landis mess of a year ago, this comes along.

* The most hallowed record in baseball is under attack by one of its greatest-ever players. Most times, this would be cause for celebration. But Barry Bonds seems to be taking any shred of joy out of the proceedings. Not only is he accused of taking steroids over the years, but he brings a personality to the chase that makes it even more difficult to root for him. The other day he went so far as to call Bob Costas, certainly one of the most credible and well-liked people in the broadcasting business, a midget. Costas pointed out that he comes by his 5-6, 150-pound frame naturally at least. I'm not sure who would be a worse target than Costas for such a remark. John Wooden? Oprah? Just to add to the situation, Bonds has gone into a slump that has dragged out the chase, meaning we all have to have shows interrupted indefinitely to watch him pop out to short.

* Wake Forest basketball coach Skip Prosser dropped dead after a jog. Prosser by all accounts was one of the good guys in the coaching business, a family man who always had a smile on his face. I remember him finishing up an interview session of the press area after a game at Niagara University. He immediately walked to a nearby phone and made a call. "Hi, it's Daddy. ... Yes, we won. ... Is Mom home?" Never saw another coach do that so quickly after a game.

I'm sure I'm forgetting something or someone, but you get the idea.

Too often the world of fun and games has been less than fun and games. It's part of the bargain, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Old friend

I spent a little time recently with something of a long-lost friend: The World Radio-TV Handbook.

You have to be a radio hobbyist to get the reference. The WRTH is the best book out there for telling what's on radio and television internationally. It's for those who like to listen to the radio to hear distant stations, as it is full of program listings, addresses and other information. If you want to write to Trans World Radio of Bonaire (Netherlands Antilles) or Radio Prague, that's the reference source.

I bought the book through a discounter, Hamilton Books ( It took me instantly back to the early 1970's, when I used to listen to such stations. I was in high school then, and a friend down the street was heavily into radio. Not only was he a ham operator, but he had a big radio and listened to as many stations as possible -- AM (medium wave, as it is called internationally) or Shortwave, mostly. (Distant FM and TV stations are hard to receive on a regular basis, although it can be done.)

He got me interested, as I was already doing some listening to out-of-town shows and sports events. I quickly fell into the hobby, an I in turn convinced a couple of friends to follow. We had a nice little group there for a while. We even took a tour of a local radio station one Thanksgiving; as I recall the chief engineer seemed happy that some teen-agers seemed to care about what he did for a living.

I used to stay up until all hours, hoping stations would sign off so I could hear the stations behind them come through louder and clearer. In hindsight, I'm surprised I don't have hearing problems. After hearing the station, I'd send details of my reception and the station would send back a QSL (letter or card) saying essentially, "That was us." In hindsight, I wonder how many people checked -- I only got a couple of letters out of a few hundred that said "not us." The mail usually was pretty exciting, as it often had material from foreign countries. Heck, Radio Havana sent a 5x7 of Fidel Castro. AM station receptions would be reported to the International Radio Club of America (IRCA), a group of hobbyists that compared notes, essentially.

Well, I went off to college, AM stations continued the trend of staying on all night/every night (making it difficult to hear bunches of them), and the big radio and antenna disappeared frm my room one day. (Insert a Puff the Magic Dragon reference here if you like.) I don't even remember selling them, but I certainly did. I still listened to out-of-town games once in a while, but I was generally out of touch. My only contact came when traveling, when I could rattle off a couple of AM stations in a given city. Seattle? "Honey, put on KOMO, 1000."

The WRTH was only $5.95 for the 2006 edition -- I think it is $29.95 normally -- and it surprised me how much I recalled and how much things had changed. When did Radio Moscow change its name? When did Trans World Radio reduce its power to 100,000 watts? When did the AM band go past 1600 kilohertz? That doesn't even include the Internet, which makes it easy to hear distant radio stations at all hours. I put on the Voice of Russia the other day on line; it's almost as boring as it was as Radio Moscow back in the Seventies.

I e-mailed my friend about my experience, and he's at the same stage I am. As he put it, he doesn't listen to the radio anymore, and he doesn't get the neighborhood together for pickup football or basketball games. Sometimes things go away without telling you they aren't coming back.

But at least the WRTH is on my bookshelf again. We'll see if it gets opened again.

Friday, July 13, 2007


It's one of the worst feelings around.

I recently was a captive audience for someone who was absolutely, completely sure of himself, and absolutely, completely wrong.

Here's the situation: I was recently getting a haircut when the barber's friend showed up; the two of them were apparently going to do something together once the day's haircuts were done. For some reason, the visitor launched into a discussion on global warming.

When he said something like "I don't know anyone who thinks global warming is actually taking place," I meekly raised my hand. I pointed out that the warmest years of the last several decades had happened in the past years. While I was unwilling to make conclusions on the causes, something, I said, was clearly happening.

Our pal was having none of it. It was a beautiful day today, he said. What's one extra degree going to do to it? And the raising of sea levels? Garbage. When ice in a soft drink melts, does the level in the glass go up? Of course not. So the seas aren't rising.

Before this, he argued, we used to hear alarms about the population explosion. Or the ozone layer. Weren't we talking about global cooling about 30 years ago? Now all's we hear is about is global warming. Nonsense. Everything will be fine.

And if pollution is a problem, why is China building all these coal-powered energy plants?

The ignorance was pretty much breath-taking. And I had to remember that I was sitting in a barber's chair, with the guy's good friend snipping around my ears, neck and eyes. Danger! Danger!

I was more or less unprepared to launch into a vigorous debate on the subject, but I did think about how many things he was wrong about. Global warming is indeed raising sea levels, in part because glaciers on land are melting. Been to Glacier National Park lately? I have, and it may need a new name soon. Melting icebergs may not affect water levels, but melting glaciers do. And it won't take much to make New Orleans an island in the Gulf of Mexico, according to National Geographic.

Growing seasons are changing as we speak, species are dying out, the Antarctic landscape is changing. But everything is fine, according to my new pal.

Meanwhile, skin cancer rates in the Southern Hemisphere are quite high, to the point where you don't go outside for very long without sun lotion. And Beijing is closing some of its industrial plants during the upcoming Olympics to improve the breathing conditions for the athletes.

I should be headed for oral surgery soon. It's what happens when you bite your tongue for 15 minutes at a time.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Less than classic

I recently attended a concert of one of my favorite bands, a group that has been recording together for more than 30 years. It was a fine time, as usual, but the show serves here as an introduction to a relatively easy target: classic rock formats in radio.

The concert was co-sponsored by the local classic rock station. OK, nice to have it help out. The show featured the usual mix of new songs off the latest CD and the greatest hits, more or less. After the show, when we got in the car for the drive home, we turned on the radio for the traditional "concert replay." Sure enough, it was there.

But a funny thing happened during that replay. Nothing that was recorded after the mid-1980's was included. It was almost as if nothing musically had happened in the past two decades. Since the band played nine songs off the new CD, you might guess correctly that this shortened the concert replay considerably.

It's pretty typical of classic rock stations, which aren't quite conservative enough for Mitt Romney's tastes. There's never any risks taken on these stations. You almost never hear a song that you haven't heard a few thousand times before. It's the same old/same old, hour after hour. It won't make you turn the dial with an objectionable song, but it won't lure you in to hear something new either.

Now, this goes against a long tradition of rock music's roots, which challenge conventional thinking and expanded horizons. But I'm not naive enough to think that something like that will happen on stations anxious for any sort of ratings. Heck, there's money involved here.

Still, would it kill this station to play new music from bands they are playing anyway? Would it be better to play "Lonesome Days" or "Open All Night" by Bruce Springsteen once in a while, rather than "Born to Run" for the 90th time this month? Maybe "Magnification" from Yes rather than "Roundabout"? "We Got a Hit" by the Who instead of "Won't Get Fooled Again"?

Classic rock is comforting in big cities when traveling, because at least it's familiar and usually doesn't require a major search when navigating Interstates. Otherwise, I prefer to take the time to find something a little more adventurous.