Wednesday, January 17, 2018

JoJo

I was late to the game as a boy when it came to sports.  I really couldn't give a hoot about professional or college athletics.  That all began to change in the late summer of 1965 when I became aware of an awesome southpaw, Sandy Koufax.  I quickly became fixated on the Dodgers' World Series match with the Minnesota Twins.  Koufax winning game seven on two days rest really started to stir my passion for sports.  But it took a night in late February to really cement my love.

It was a Kansas basketball game.  My family had made the trip to Lawrence from Abilene as my oldest sister was to perform with a high school dance troupe at half time.  I watched the game on television from 9th Street and Wellington Drive in the home of Jack Mason, a family friend.  It was the first time I had ever watched the Jayhawks.  It was the first time I ever saw JoJo White.

The Jayhawks blew out Nebraska that night 110 to 73 and I was hooked. Walt Wesley and JoJo White were my newest heroes. I cried when Kansas lost in double overtime to Texas Western (UTEP) due to an officials call that JoJo had stepped on the boundary on a game winning shot.

I begged my mother for a chance to see Kansas play in person.  I finally saw JoJo and the Jayhawks at Allen Field House in January 1968 against Iowa State.  It was an overwhelming experience.  I sat high up in the massive structure, the players looked like ants scrambling around on the raised court.  I remember watching JoJo take his familiar off center stance at the free throw line.  I remember the public address announcer telling the fans of Phog Allen's presence at the game.  It was about then I discovered that the legendary coach lived across the street from my grandmother, but that's another story.

JoJo was why I was at that game.  I remember how disheartened I was when the team was bounced by Dayton at the then prestigious NIT tournament that year.  And then how when JoJo had used up his eligibility, Kansas couldn't even make it out of the first round of the NIT.  White left Kansas twice being named an All American twice and with a gold medal from the 1968 Olympics.

White went on to enjoy a great career with the Boston Celtics where he helped win two NBA titles.  With his passing Tuesday night most of the obituaries and tributes centered on his place in basketball history and his run with Boston.

I'm here to state without question that JoJo White is the best point guard in Kansas history.  He played for a very good coach, Ted Owens, who ruined more guards than any coach in NCAA history.  Owens believed in feeding the big men and was quick to sit guards who missed open jump shots.  White could have averaged at least five points a game more if Owens had been more lax.

White could defend, almost as well as one of the other great guard's during Ted's tenure, Darnell Valentine.  The only other point guard that belongs in the conversation of these two is Jacque Vaughn.  He was a great distributor of the ball and he could score.  Jacque lacked the defensive chops of the other two.  Others might argue that Kirk Hinrich, Sherron Collins or Frank Mason should rate as number one.  White was the best ever.  He succeeded in an offense that wasn't suited to his skills.  He was a tremendous player in the NBA, something the other five guards we've mentioned can't claim.  And finally, he was a two-time All American, something that none of the others can claim.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Ray

Ray Thomas is dead.  Those of my age will remember him as the flute player from The Moody Blues.  He was 76.  Why write about him?  Because I'm angry that he won't be part of the Moodies long overdue induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The Moody Blues were as big a band as any for a six year run from 1967 with the release of the ground breaking "Days of Futures Past" until the band's "Seventh Sojourn" in 1973.  Thomas only stood behind Jethro Tull's, Ian Anderson, as rock's great flute player.  Go listen to "Legend of a Mind" or his playing on the timeless "Nights in White Satin" and you'll hear some great progressive rock and roll.  They filled a place in British rock just a step behind The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and The Who.  The band sold out arenas.

For whatever reason, the mastermind of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Jan Wenner, hated The Moody Blues and kept them out of the hall for more than 20 years.  A lot of critics found the music created by The Moody Blues just to slick and pretentious.  But beneath the sheen of what was hated were some great songs, most of them penned by Justin Hayward, a couple of nuggets by the late Ray Thomas.

I had the great fortune of meeting Ray Thomas, Justin Hayward, John Lodge and Graeme Edge some 14 years ago when they opened one of their tours in Fort Myers.  It was one of the last tours Thomas was to make with the band as his health began to go into decline.  Ironically, the Moodies will be playing in Fort Myers this month.  I have seen the band more than a half dozen times.  As much as I want to go see them one final time, I won't ante up the money to see them in Germain Arena, where the acoustics are simply awful.

I was looking forward to seeing them, together, with Ray Thomas and hopefully with original keyboard man Mike Pinder, at their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Now that won't happen and that makes me very sad.  Ray deserved better and so did his band mates. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Small Ball

Neal Mask
Ranked second in the nation as I write this, the University of Kansas basketball team is just one injury away from being a .500 team.  Kansas hasn't been this thin in the frontline since Neal Mask and Randy Canfield constituted what passed for big men.  Oh, that was the 1971-72 team that featured All-American Bud Stallworth scoring 25.3 points per game.

I can't quite get my head around this year's version of Jayhawk basketball.  K.U. hasn't played a seven man rotation in more than 25 years.  Yes, that will change assuming big man Billy Preston isn't damaged goods due to his choice of automobiles and with the addition of Sam Cunliffe at mid-season.  Then there's the promise of Silvio De Sousa who could also join the team at mid-season which would help bolster the roster of big men.  But we have to live with what Kansas is here and now.

It's all about the guards.  It's hard to believe that Kansas can lose an All-American guard in Frank Mason and look even better in the backcourt,  You could see how much Kansas missed Mason's physicality when the Jayhawks played Kentucky.  Mason could drive the lane and draw fouls with artful ease.  This year the Jayhawks will live by the three and die by the three.

Devonte Graham will surely be an All American this year as Mason was the year before.  He looks more comfortable running the point, not forced to defer to anyone this season.  Syl Mykhailiuk is finally showing what seemed so promising when he was a 17-year-old freshman.  Syl is shooting the ball from beyond the arc with authority and doing a decent job of driving the lane.  He still can't play defense to save himself.

Lagerald Vick continues to show amazing progress for such an unheralded recruit.  His length makes him a defensive marvel, he can shoot from the three ball with ease and he's amazingly competent ball handler.  Vick along with transfer Malik Newman makes for a lethal four guard Jayhawk line up.  Newman isn't the best shooter from the outside but I love his mid-range shooting ability.  The four guards of Graham, Mykhailiuk, Vick and Newman can run teams into the ground.

And then there's the surprise of this young season, freshman guard Marcus Garrett.  He can fit into any of the open spots vacated by the other four guards when they catch a breather on the bench.  Amazingly, he may be the best defender of the bunch.  Garrett has shown no ego when it comes to the offensive end, he only takes the shots that are given to him.  The selflessness is amazing.

Inside is where the Jayhawk's are ripe for exploitation.  The massive Udoka Azubuike can dunk and throw up a weak baby hook shot.  He has almost no offensive tools.  While he clogs the paint and can block shots, he doesn't appear to understand the concept of blocking out for rebounds.  Let's put it this way, he's no Greg Ostertag.

Mitch Lightfoot is Azubuike's lone back up for now.  At just 6'8" he reminds me of Dave Magley.  For those of you who are saying Dave who, Magley was a heralded recruit who became a star his senior season on a bad Kansas team in the early 80's.  Magley was a wing player and like Magley,  Lightfoot is better suited out on the floor but he's doing the dirty work that's being asked of him.

Adding transfer Sam Cunliffe at mid-season only means that Kansas will be able to run and run and run.  If DeSousa is allowed to graduate from high school and joins the Jayhawks then K.U. will get some much needed inside beef for what is sure to be a tough conference run.

Something tells me Billy Preston will never play for Kansas.  After the Cliff Alexander episode and with all of the fallout surrounding the Adidas scandal I think Preston could be gone by the end of this semester.  I hope I am wrong, because with Preston, the Jayhawks will be primed for another run to the Sweet 16 and dare I dream, a trip to the Final 4.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Sin of Sinclair

The death of local television news is coming.  And the Federal Communications Commission is doing all it can to help it along.  Just as the Internet has gutted local newspapers, the FCC is looking the other way as local stations, which use the public airwaves, are rapidly turned into cookie-cutter, profit centers, unconcerned about the communities they are pledged to serve.

I started working in television news in 1978.  The ownership rules limited groups to holding no more than seven stations.  Then President Reagan came along and those rules were loosened to 12 stations.  The FCC also began to look the other way when it came to the rules which forced television stations to share the various voices that made up its community.  Between the FCC and the surge of consultants and the crapola that too many of them offer, local TV news began a decades long slide.

I worked for a "cheap" group, Taft.  Long gone from the television landscape, Taft managed to run good news operations.  Taft was one of the first companies to take advantage of the looser ownership rules.  Flush with cash and great stations in growth markets, it became a target.  The result was a hostile takeover, a splintered group and new ownership left with a billion dollars in debt.

The bulk of the former Taft stations didn't recover from the 1988 financial bombing until FOX, yes Rupert Murdoch's FOX, purchased the group.  It was about this time that station groups run by accountants were swallowing up stations with abandon.  The FCC had further loosened ownership rules so along came Nexstar and Sinclair, buying TV stations at break neck speed.

By the mid-1990's there were only a handful of ownership groups worth a damn.  The stations owned and operated by the networks, Cox, Belo, Gannett, Hearst, and Meredith enjoyed reputations as good groups to be a journalist.  20 plus years later that list is shrinking.  The O and O's are still held in good regard as is Cox.  Hearst saved itself by buying out its shareholders and going private.

Gannett is now Tegna and has joined the race to the bottom with other big groups such as Nexstar and Sinclair.  Yet as bad as some of these groups are, none can compete in absolute awfulness with Sinclair.  The company holds an ultra-conservative bent that makes FOX look liberal.  It has been gobbling up stations for the past 25 years and wants to add even more stations by adding the Tribune group.

25 years ago television groups were limited to 12 stations.  Sinclair currently owns 173 stations in 80 of America's 210 television markets.  The Tribune deal would add 42 more stations to its massive groups.  The FCC stands ready to approve this deal but a handful of conservative groups are howling about the acquisition as are a murderers row of liberals.

The FCC may require Sinclair to sell off a handful of stations to get this deal through, but it will go through.  When that happens, I will wait for the other shoe to drop.  Sinclair is up to its eyeball in debt.  The company came dangerously close to bankruptcy in 2008 when the economy tanked.  The next hiccup in the economy will be Sinclair's undoing.  The viewers won't be the only ones getting screwed.  The stockholders will too.

Sinclair is marching toward centralized news.  They are shuttering local newsrooms and offering "local" news from other stations located miles and miles away from the communities they are mandated to serve.  Look at the ratings of these awful Sinclair owned stations and they without fail rank at the bottom.  The stations are poorly equipped.  The employees, save for upper management, is poorly compensated.  And yet the FCC looks the other way while Sinclair's competitors look and begin to wonder if this approach to "television news" is the way, the future.  It isn't, it's truly the vast wasteland.

But here's the final rub, my television home for 12 years, WDAF TV, is one of those Tribune stations about to be swallowed up by Sinclair.  I think of my work colleagues who have stayed on Signal Hill more than 10, 20, or 30 plus years.  Their world is about to implode.  The debacle of the Bass Brothers in 1988 will look like the good old days.  For those on the verge of retirement, this will be the final shove.  For those who have spent the better part of 20 years at FOX 4 and looked forward to making it their home for the entirety of their broadcast career, I share your heartache.  

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Chuck

I am absolutely crushed this morning.  I just found out that Chuck Woodling has died.  His passing is like losing a piece of my childhood.  He was a cornerstone of my love of all things Jayhawk.  Strange to write a man who graduated from the University of Missouri.

Let me start at the beginning.  Chuck started as a byline to me.  My mother took a subscription to the Lawrence Journal-World when we lived in Abilene, Kansas.  By the late 60's I devoured the Journal-World sports section to keep up on all things regarding athletics at the University of Kansas.  There were Bill Mayer's opinion pieces but it was Chuck Woodling's stories about Kansas basketball that really warmed my heart.  It really helped stoke my love of sports and got me to thinking about a career that somehow involved sports.

Chuck made Jayhawk sports stars like John Riggins and Dave Robisch come alive for me.  He was a subtle homer, carrying the banner but if you read between the lines you could see the where the success and failings lie with any given individual or team.  I also enjoyed reading his columns.  They weren't as pointed as Mayer's or full of the down home humor of Topeka Capital-Journal legend Bob Hentzen, but he filled it with facts, facts that might have escaped the reader in the course of a week.

Fast-forward five years later and I'm a freshman at K.U.  My path began to cross Chuck's in the press box at football games.  He was really hard to read.  What at first appeared to be a standoff personality was really just a man who possessed an incredibly dry wit.  It took a few years to figure out that this was who Chuck really was.  So for those first two or three years, I was simply scared of him.

But I began to realize that Chuck shared a deep love of track and field, just as I did.  And our friendship began to form over that mutual love.  A moment that stands out for me was a simple act that happened after the 1977 Big 8 Indoor in Lincoln.  I had traveled to meet with the late Allen Quakenbush, who had left the Journal-World for the Capital-Journal.  Chuck was sitting in the parking lot stranded.  Allen and I helped Chuck out with a jump and got him back on the road.  The next week he gave us a subtle thank you in his weekly column.  It made me realize what a big heart he really had.

As my career progressed and I became a journalist I would always delight in seeing Chuck.  His humor was always there.  I hadn't seen him since 2006 when he was at the start of his retirement and I was trying to build a news operation in Topeka.  I didn't know he had been battling leukemia the last four years.  I simply enjoyed his snarky broadsides on Facebook, usually aimed at the Kansas football program.

I realized today that Chuck was one of the reasons that I became a journalist.  Reading him, listening to Jerry Bailey and Tom Hedrick broadcast Kansas sports, watching Bruce Rice and Len Dawson on television, all made me think about a career in sports journalism.  And then there were men like Rich Bailey who mentored me through college and helped me become a television journalist.  Thanks Chuck, thanks for all those stories.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Irma

I have been asked over and over, why did I stay.  It was a confluence of events that led me to ride the hurricane out in my home.  Trust me, I was ready to fly out to Kansas City on Wednesday but I don't want to get ahead of myself.

Saturday, September 2nd, I drove my wife to Fort Lauderdale where she boarded a flight for Riga, Latvia.  I knew Irma was out there.  All signs showed the storm was supposed to take a swing up the east coast and miss Florida entirely.

The next day it became clear that Irma was tracking further west.  That sickening feeling of anxiety swept over me as I watched the forecasts every three hours.  Given the size of the storm, it was going to do hit the entire state.  This wasn't anything like Hurricane Charley, which is the worst storm I had experienced.  Charley was small and intense.  Irma was a beast.

Monday my anxiety began to wane.  It looked for sure to be headed up the east side of Florida.  Being on the west side of a big hurricane isn't nearly as bad as being on the east side of the eye wall.  Little did I know how prophetic those thoughts would be.

Lee County was being swept up in hurricane insanity.  Every old fart was out on the road looking for gas, water and food.  It was pandemonium driving around the city.  By the end of the day, finding gas to fill up my car was a challenge.  My wife's children asked me for my big gas can that I had filled for the emergency, reluctantly I agreed to hand it over.

That night the thought crossed my mind to book a flight Wednesday to fly out to Kansas City.  Seats were still available and I had plenty of miles to cover it.  But here's the rub, I was sponsoring the county's biggest cross country meet on Saturday.  At that time, the meet was still on.  I had to be here for it, plus the storm was still tracking east.

Tuesday, the shit hit the fan.  At 11 a.m. I am informed by Fort Myers High School that our meet is being moved to Thursday afternoon.  I scrambled to make arraignments to get my friends from Saucony included in this change.  Two hours later the school district decided to cancel all events beginning Wednesday afternoon.  I think they overreacted.  But it is what it is.  Now I had to consider my options.  Flying out of Fort Myers was no longer one of them, plus I had to implement a plan to protect my home and my store.

Thursday I had a detailed approach to prepping the store and the house.  I had plenty of water.  I had a small generator.  I knew I would close the store on Friday.  Business the entire week had been paltry.  I brought in every item sitting outside that could end up turning into a missile.

Back at the house I sweated my ass off putting up the window shutters.  We hadn't used them in more than eight years and it was a bit of a challenge.  They are old and need to be replaced.  Oh, did I mention, we were supposed to have hurricane proof glass installed by August but that's another story.

Friday morning the son-in-law helped me get the big aluminum pieces in place over the large windows.  I eagerly watched the forecast and it was clear this storm was moving to the west and aimed at Southwest Florida.  I thought about driving out Friday afternoon.  I was talking to my wife, weighing my options when disaster struck.  At 5 p.m. my cell phone died.  It wouldn't charge.  I cleaned to contact points of the battery.  It was dead.

I desperately drove around town looking to see if T-Mobile was still open or WalMart.  Everything was closed.  Feeling betrayed, I decided to head out to Sarasota County, an hour north, where stores were still open.  As I left at 7:30 p.m. and headed to the interstate, I noticed a B.J. Wholesale store still open.  I went inside to a staff on full zombie mode.  Without a membership, they sold me a Samsung phone and a data plan for $158.  I was connected back to the world.  It was late and I didn't relish the thought of hitting the interstate but I did advise my step-kids to evacuate, which they did.

Saturday I woke up weighing my options.  I could flee and go to a friend's house in Orlando.  Flee and hope to find a hotel.  Flee and get caught in gnarly traffic.  I searched the internet for hotels.  Everything in the state appeared booked.  I thought carefully about what being on the east side of the storm would mean.  My guts told me east of Fort Myers might not be a good place to be.

I spent 30 minutes on Skype talking with the Czarina about the options.  Driving out of town into a gas starved state with uncertain traffic conditions at the beginning of tropical storm force conditions just seemed like a big risk.  I decided to stay.  I was at peace.  I knew the storm wouldn't kill me if I took the right precautions.

I prepared a safe place in an interior bathroom.  I had pillows, a helmet and a large mattress to cover me.  I made sure every door in the house was closed.  I carefully parked my truck up against the garage door to secure it against the wind.  Then I realized that I had left one of my most precious possessions in my store and hurried out just before dark to retrieve it.  I was ready.

I woke up earlier than I planned on Sunday.  It was very brisk outside but I wish I had gone for a run.  The run on Saturday was a joy.  The weather was almost crisp.  It was even better than Sunday morning.  Media friends began to reach out to me for Skype interviews and phoners.  As the weather worsened I started playing reporter.

My power finally went out at 2:28 p.m.  I began using my new phone as a hot spot and watched the live stream of the local station.  I could see that the most powerful part of the storm would pass to the east of I-75.  I live four miles to the west of it.  I knew it would be rough, but I was ready.

As the weather got worse, I continued to do interviews for various media.  Then disaster struck.  As hurricane force winds began to pound the house, I notice a shutter was banging violently against the window.  I stripped down, grabbed a pair of exercise shorts and a bike helmet and headed outside.  The pins that hold the shutter down had come free.  I rapidly put them back in place.  They both seemed tight and secure.

One hour later one of the pins had come free again.  The weather was bad but not awful, so I repeated the exercise.  I wish it had occurred to me to grab with plastic wire to tie it down but I was thinking too clearly.  30 minutes later it was loose again and now the storm was reaching its peak.  I made one last frantic dash outside and secured it only to watch it fail again 15 minutes later.  At this point the eye was on the house and I went and hid hoping the shutter wouldn't fly off.

Sometime in the next 45 minutes a large tree in front of the house split in half while another large limb next to my route to the bad shutter also came down.  I am so glad that I wasn't outside for that.
I must admit that last dash outside was exhilarating.  A couple of 100 mile per hour gusts slammed against my body was I was crouched down on the ground.  The rain was vertical and stinging my body.

The worst of the storm lasted less than 90 minutes.  I had survived.  The street had flooded.  My garage and lanai had minor flooding, but it was over and I was incredibly relieved.

I went out at 8 a.m. the next morning and saw the damage to my property and to my neighbors.  I carefully drove to my store which was in the heart of a zone that was supposed to be hit by terrible flooding.  The store was untouched.  As I drove through my community, the tree damage was abundant, but we had escaped what could have been a catastrophic storm.

Just 30 miles to the south in Naples, the people of Collier County were not so lucky.  Irma was still a very strong hurricane when it came ashore in Marco Island.  The flooding was much more intense.  It will take weeks if not months for some part of that county to recover.

 I'm guessing that the following six weeks will be very, very lean at Run Florida On McGregor.  Paying bills could be a challenge.  But it is much better than the alternative.

I am a very lucky man.  Next time I will button up and leave early.  Lesson learned.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Fail

Weather is the bread and butter of local television news.  How stations manage a weather crisis can well position a news operation as the market leader for years ahead.  This weekend the three newsrooms that cover Southwest Florida missed the mark in the midst and immediate aftermath of major floods that swept through Lee County.

While the nation is transfixed on the events surrounding Harvey and the awful destruction the storm has brought to the Texas gulf coast, a tropical system sat atop Southwest Florida dumping copious amounts of rain over a four day period.  The street where I live floods about every five years.  After two days of rain, water covered the road in front of our home on Saturday.  I must admit I didn't give it a second thought.

Heavy rains on Sunday changed the equation, completely.  By 3 p.m. Sunday, water was lapping at the front of my garage and creeping across its floor.  Cars began stalling out in my neighborhood as fools attempted to drive through 18 inches of water.  I flipped on the television expecting to see some coverage of what I suspected was a flooding mess that was sweeping across the county.  What I didn't see shocked me.

I flipped through the five channels that one could view local news on.  NBC had NASCAR, CBS golf, FOX was showing NFL, ABC the Little League World Series and the CW had a movie on.  The only consistent crawl I saw was on ABC warning about the flood danger across the area.  Now mind you, flooding was rampant, not just in my little slice of the world.  Roads were covered with dangerous amounts of water over a large area.  Houses a mere five miles from mine were filling up with water.

I saw no cut-in's, no urgent warnings, nothing from the local media outside of pictures on my Facebook feed which should the unfolding disaster.  It wasn't until 6 p.m. when the NBC station finally hit the air that you had a sense that something big was unfolding because all of their main anchors were on the set.  The ABC station took the same tact at 6:30 p.m. as did the CW although all of their main players weren't on the air as one would expect.  The CBS station which owns the CW didn't hit the air until 11 p.m.

All we got from each station was a 30 minute slice of the flooding.  Worse still, it was a mostly light, fluffy, look at the high water type of coverage, outside of the evacuation of a nursing home.  Meanwhile in the Island Park area of Lee County, people were getting water in their homes.  That news really didn't come to light for another 24 hours.

I knew in my guts by 5 p.m. Sunday that this weather event was an all hands on deck type of event for local journalists.  It was as bad as a tropical storm, without the winds.   A tropical storm would bring wall to wall coverage yet none of the stations made the effort.  Fortunately the damage was only in terms of property and not in lives lost.  But Fort Myers news directors need to reassess their coverage plans after Sundays big fail.