Thursday, July 29, 2010

Around the dials

A few notes with observations from the local radio and television stations:

* Back when I was a kid, in the stone age, the local television stations used to have plenty of sports on weekend afternoons. If the network didn't throw something on, the station would purchase some sort of syndicated programming.

The shows covered a lot of different ground. One of my favorites was "Sports Challenge," hosted by Dick Enberg. The show would bring in sports celebrities, divide them into two teams ('61 Yankees vs. '65 Celtics), show a video highlight, and ask a trivia question. I particularly liked the time that the boxers didn't know what had happened in their own fights. They had some pretty big names on -- Muhammad Ali, Red Auerbach, Joe DiMaggio -- and it was fun for a kid with interest in sports history to watch.

Now, of course, the local television stations have given up on using programming that might actually be entertaining. They simply run, you guessed it, infomercials. Sigh.

* I've been waking up to Bill O'Laughlin's call-in talk show on WECK Radio lately, in an attempt to hear a variety of different stations at that hour. I don't listen to AM radio talk shows that often, mostly because the hosts seem to be to the right of Sean Hannity or Attila the Hun -- same thing. But it's nice to keep up with it, if only for a few minutes.

In this case, O'Laughlin seems to have a unique status among call-in show hosts -- I almost never hear him taking any calls. When I was in the talk-show business, I was fine as long as I had calls. When I didn't, I'd starting calling friends during promotional announcements, and say, "HELP!!!" O"Laughlin is better than I ever was at filling time, perhaps because he's had so much practice. But it has to be discouraging.

I must say in general, though, that the talk-show business has turned into egos on parade or keeping the political fringes (mostly right-wing) chatting. I don't find either entertaining.

* This item is about my employer, but it's worth a mention anyway. Last Friday night/Saturday morning, the presses at The Buffalo News had major mechanical problems. Delivery was delayed for quite a while into the late morning. It happens.

Someone told me that that the lead story on the WBEN News at 8 a.m. Saturday was the fact that The News was having delivery problems. I'll repeat that -- the most important story in the world was The News' delivery problems. The anchor then supposedly said, "To get your news for free, go to"

I don't expect the anchor man to tell people to go to the Web site. But I used to work in radio news, and I know what a skeleton operation is can be -- particularly on weekends. When I worked the news side, one of my first tasks was to get the morning paper off the front entrance ... and rewrite the stories we didn't have. There were always a bunch, because radio stations can't compete with a newspaper's much larger staff.

We're all in the same business here. Can't we all just get along?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Setting the record straight

There were few winners in the Shirley Sherrod case. She was the one, you might remember, who made a speech to an NAACP meeting in March. Those remarks were chopped up, edited to reverse her true feelings on race, and placed on Andrew Breitbart's Web site.

From there, the media went crazy, the Obama Administration asked for her resignation, the true story came out, everyone apologized, and Sherrod is said to be pondering her next move.

Hopefully, Sherrod will get a nice big job out of all of this, and we'll all learn a lesson.

Speaking of lessons, Sherrod actually taught a good one in the original speech. We could all learn it. Peggy Noonan told it well. Read it here.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Let's make a deal

I'm sorry I haven't written for a while. I've been busy.

On Monday, my 1997 Saturn was diagnosed with a severe disease -- a bad fuel pump. With a loved one, you might say, "Money is no object," when it comes to healing such matters. With a car -- and I'm not one of those who expresses loved a specific car -- you start making judgments. Should I spent $600 to fix a car that has gone 131,900 miles and is 13 years old?

No, I don't. We thank the folks of General Motors for putting out a quality automobile once upon a time and move on. Saturn was quite an interesting innovation in the car market once upon a time, but they seemed to forget their mission statement along the way and became just another division. Too bad -- the plastic body and the no-haggle pricing were quite attractive, and the car has run well over the years. Even better than my Renault Alliance from 1984.

Car shopping ranks right down there with root canals for bad experiences with most people. It's not like a supermarket, where the price and UPC code are on the outside. Not only do you have to figure out what sort of car you want, but a trip to multiple deals is necessary to get an idea of the market and what prices are out there for a car and for your old car as a trade-in. Asking for quotes on the Internet has helped, but a crash course, so to speak is still needed.

The catch here is that my car sometimes didn't start, so I needed a replacement fast. That's not a great bargaining position. But, as they say, knowledge is power. I read every review I could find on the Internet on Tuesday, and took a look at Consumer Reports. It's tough to get through some of the options, but after reading several sources I had an idea about what I might like.

The first test, for me at least, is actually getting in the car. I'm about 6-foot-2, and there are some cars that just aren't comfortable. My mother's Scion, for example, makes me feel like Dino on the Flintstones, sticking my head through the room in order to see. I tried a Plymouth Neon and in 10 seconds it was "thanks, we'll see you down the road." I didn't have that problem this week, at least.

We went to a few dealers, and I'm happy to report the quality of salesmen was pretty good. (Interesting that it's always a man, isn't it?) The last time we went car shopping, we encountered a man who lit up a cigarette without asking permission, and who only talked to me even though my wife was doing the decision-making. See ya.) About the only stereotype that fit was that every one asked the question, "Is there anything I can do to make a deal right now?" When we said no, the response every time was, "That's fine. They tell us to ask that." Must be part of the job handbook.

We finished up looking around on Wednesday. Thursday, I stammered over a decision between two cars that were both said to be quality machines. I finally made that decision on Friday, let the salesman know he was the winner, and watched Caller ID to make sure I didn't answer calls from other salesmen. (Not polite, but probably necessary.) And we wrapped up the transaction today.

Let's hope it's another 13 years, minimum, before we go through this again.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Boss

I don't envy the nation's sports commentators this week. They have to sum up the legacy of George Steinbrenner.

Nuclear physics is probably easier. Especially for a Red Sox fan, which would be me.

Steinbrenner's exploits have filled a couple of dozen books over the years. He was much more fun in the first dozen or so years of owning the Yankees than he was in the years leading up to his departure from controlling the team a few years ago. You never knew what he was going to do next -- trade someone, fire someone, sign a free agent.

It was never dull, at least. The New York tabloids ought to make a huge donation to charity in his honor.

Steinbrenner, according to all reports, was bound and determined to show his late father that he would do something worthwhile. His methods may have been questionable but there's no doubt he succeeded. He bought a Yankee franchise for $10 million, and improved it to the point where it is now worth $1.5 billion, maybe second only to Manchester United in terms of net worth.

Steinbrenner's aggressive ownership dragged the rest of baseball out of the stone age in terms of marketing, creating a big pot of money for everyone. (The Yankees always did have the biggest pot, of course, especially in the last 10 years.)

He also can be credited with a couple of other points. He didn't sit in his office and put the profits in the bank. Steinbrenner put those profits right back into the ballclub. No matter how many fans didn't like his tactics, there were few that didn't secretly hope that Steinbrenner had bought their favorite team. Particularly in Cleveland; history could have been rewritten if the Ohio native had purchased the Indians.

He also made baseball quite a bit more lively. When he took over the Yankees in the early 1970's, they were pretty boring. Think of the current Knicks, only worse. It took only a few years before the Yankees became everyone's favorite target. He sure did wonders for the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry, which had been quiet for almost 30 years.

The stories about Steinbrenner as a boss are another story. The almost endless dance with Billy Martin were horrific to watch, the belittling of employees left few happy to work for the team at times. Yet, Steinbrenner kept veteran employees on the payroll even if they didn't do anything for the team. He helped many charities, and sent high school kids to college on his dime.

How do you decipher someone like that? Well, you don't. You just say things won't be the same without him.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Enough blame to go around

Sick of hearing about LeBron James yet? Glad that after this final burst, we're done with him until training camp, more or less?

Are there any heroes in this story? Well, no. Let's recap.

Start with the Cleveland Cavaliers. They had one of the biggest breaks in the history of sports fall their way. They happened to have the first draft pick seven years ago when they LeBron James was draft-eligible. James was considered a superstar-in-waiting at the time, and sometimes teams aren't that lucky. Sometimes you get Kwame Brown.

Oh, and just to add to the fun, he was from Akron, Ohio. As in, just down the road. And he loved the area, couldn't wait to play before family and friends.

The Cavs had seven years to assemble the rest of the parts around James to build a championship team. They couldn't do it. Some of that is luck, of course, but you'd have to think there might have been a way to make the Finals a little more often, at the least. That might haunt the Cavs for decades.

From the sounds of it, the Cavs apparently had one last good chance to keep James. They needed to convince Chris Bosh to come to Cleveland in a sign-and-trade deal with Toronto. Bosh, reportedly, wanted nothing to do with Cleveland under any circumstances. Fans in Cleveland will be busy booing James in years to come, but maybe Bosh deserves a few boos in Ohio too.

Finally, there is James himself. I'm not sure I can attack him for his basketball decision. He is walking into a pretty good situation, although it's tough to say who exactly the rest of the roster will have. But who told him this hour-long show announcing his decision was a good idea? It just made him out to be a self-promoting show business wannabe. And I'm not sure what Jim Gray's role in all of this is, but talk of his involvement in the process doesn't sound good. LeBron, have a news conference in Miami, explain your situation, and move on. This was rather ugly.

Sometimes you can have too much talent in basketball, and we'll see if the Heat can keep three good-sized egos fed while taking a few other guys to inbound the basketball.

Meanwhile, if I'm NBA Commissioner David Stern, I am doing one thing: I call up my schedule-maker for 2010-2011, and say, "Can we have Miami at Cleveland on Christmas afternoon this year?"

Friday, July 02, 2010

Our pals...

It was just another reason to hate the local cable television company.

The letter came in the bill, as it always does. Another channel realignment was on the way. I swear, sometimes cable companies used to move the channels around just to confuse customers and make them reprogram their remote control units on a regular basis.

There was some juggling of outlets in the digital tier, which I don't get. Me, I think $70 a month is enough for television, and there are enough programs out there as it is without adding 150 bad new channels.

Then I saw that a couple of channels were being kicked off basic cable and moved to digital TV. One of them was C-SPAN II.


C-SPAN is one of the great treasures of the cable system, in my opinion. They set up the cameras at a variety of different events, and let them run without commentary. You want fair and balanced for real? You can't do better than that. I can't say I spend afternoons watching sessions of the Senate and legislative hearings, but it's nice to know I can.

The problem with C-SPAN II departing is that it carries something called "Book TV" on weekends. For about 48 straight hours, the channel carries interviews and speeches with nonfiction book authors. It's a terrific way to get a preview of a book without reading it first.

Then there's "In Depth," which airs once a month on the first Sunday at noon. Authors get to answer questions and take calls for three straight hours. When a good guest is on, it's quite fascinating to watch the range of subjects and answers come up.

I don't watch C-SPAN II constantly by any means, but then again there aren't many channels that meet that standard. Alas, it's headed to the digital tier, as Time Warner Cable reduces the number of options on my package and charges me the same price. Fine work if you can get away with it. Heck, that's what they did with HBO, and I cancelled (costing TWC $15 a month) rather than pay for digital cable.

Monopolies -- they are so lovable some times.