Friday, January 28, 2011

Before the Flood

June 1991 I took my first news director's job at KSNT TV in Topeka, Kansas.  I had reached a career goal by becoming a news director before age 34.  Those close to me know how tumultuous my personal life was during this period but when I started particular job I was in a very good place indeed.

My first weekend in the position and historic Hoch Auditorium burned to the ground at K.U.  What a way to start the job.  Six weeks into the job I fired my first employee.  A young man who decided that a cut away of kids waving and smiling was appropriate footage at the scene of a car wreck.  Several years later I saw him on ABC in a story about high living in Las Vegas.  He was working as a butler, go figure.

Perry Chester was my first general manager and he did his best to teach me what it takes to run a television station.  I only had 18 months to learn from him because he took off for a better job in the Quad Cities.  We were on a belt tightening rampage and he forced me to lay off beloved anchor Ron Harbaugh.  I wanted to quit.  Harbaugh was a good anchor who was a real leader in the newsroom.  I decided that if Harbaugh was being jettison than the co-anchor should go too.  I don't think poor Chris Gallagher understood what was happening.  I also shuffled the weather department around until we hired Bill Spencer who was one of the great meteorologists I've ever worked with.

The anchor changes were tough and my first pairing of Art Navarro with Helen Neill never jelled.  Topeka wasn't ready for an Hispanic anchor.  Fortunately when Gary Sotir came aboard as GM the first thing he suggested was bringing back Harbaugh.  He took the words right out of my mouth. 

Gary was a very strange man who I never understood until the end of my tenure.  But he had scared me to the point that by the spring of 1993 I was frantically looking for another job.  Gary liked to come and sit on a stool in the newsroom and just watch what was going on.  I would be sitting in my office and wondering what in the hell is he doing?  It wasn't until the very end that he wasn't spying on us, Gary was just bored.  But by the time I had gotten used to his style I had a job offer from the NBC affiliate in Paducah, Kentucky.

It had come just after the most trying period in terms of work I probably ever experienced.  The summer of 1993 brought the greatest flooding in the modern history of the Midwest.  It was a Saturday morning in mid July and I had come in early to prepare a half hour special on the flooding threatening Manhattan.  Around noon my Chief Met Bill Spencer came in and said we were in for a major night of severe weather.  When the weekend weatherman came in at 2 p.m. and saw Bill in the weather office he came to me to complain about getting big footed.  I fired him on the spot. 

It only got crazier.  The storms began rolling in around 7 p.m., horrendous thunderstorms with tornadoes and torrential rains.  I called in a couple of extra bodies and we covered the heck out of this monster storm.  I remember making a beer run for the crew as a reward for a great 10 p.m. effort and reporter Rick Blum called from the Shawnee County Office of Emergency Management.  It wasn't good.  The sheriff was worried that a levee about five miles from the station was weakening and could collapse flooding a massive part of the valley.

Little did we know that already upstream between St. Mary and Wamego the Kansas River would flood massive sections of farm land.  Sheriff Dave Meneley came out to the station to show me the situation with maps in hand.  I called the chief engineer into work at 1 a.m.  Gary was in El Paso and out of reach.  We had to decided whether to sandbag the station in anticipation of a levee breach. 

At about 2 a.m. I decided to go forward with sandbagging operations.  I had to threaten the state emergency management officials within an inch of their lives for the much needed sand and sand bags.  My retort to their initial refusal was, who do I tell at the Associated Press made the decision to let our station flood during this time of great emergency. 

We called in all of our employees and our sports department called the local high school football coaches.  By 5 a.m. we had sand and sand bags along with plenty of football players and we were working like crazy to build a three foot high wall around the station and our transmitter building.  The work was finished by about two in the afternoon on a sweltering out July Sunday afternoon.  I had been awake for 36 hours and of course the levee never broke.  But our coverage through the rest of the month of the flooding that did hit much of the area was outstanding.

I hated leaving Topeka when I did, but some much needed lessons in life awaited me in Paducah.

Just About Worn Out

I've been MIA because of a quick trip back to sunny Southwest Florida.  I took the red eye back to Fort Myers last Friday which is always a waste because I can never sleep on the jump to Atlanta.  I could have slept most of Saturday away.

The Czarina was desperate for me to visit Fort Myers because she had some Christmas gift cards to restaurants she was dying to use.  One was for a swanky joint on 5th Avenue in Naples.  If you ever make it to Naples you'll understand.  We managed to blow through that 100 dollars with only one cocktail for the Czarina.

I had forgotten how much I could sweat.  Running in Florida is a completely different experience from Sacramento.  My running hat is still drying out from my daily runs.  The Czarina noted that I've packed on a few pounds since St. George and that's when I remarked that she looked like a penguin waddling down the trail.  That didn't go over very well.  I don't understand why women are so sensitive when it comes to issues of weight and age.

The trip wasn't nearly long enough, but I did manage to mow the yard and trim the hedges.  There's no telling how much longer we'll have to endure this enforced separation.  We're both hanging in there and with grand baby number two on the way in April, the Czarina has a trip to her homeland to keep her occupied. 

My trip back to Sacramento was a seven hour grind that took me back through Minneapolis.  The single digit temperatures served as a quick reminder as to why we left Fargo.  Then the flight itself was an adventure with mechanical problems delaying our departure and then a passenger having some sort of seizure which I thought would force us to make a emergency landing somewhere in the frozen Midwest.  Fortunately a doctor on board quickly addressed the issue. 

At least I didn't have to sit next to the weirdo who was carrying a dog in a satchel.  What is it now with idiots carrying pocket dogs onto planes without having them in cages.  Why in the hell do airlines allow this?  Can't wait for someone to get bit!

Don't even get me started on the 12 hour day I put in at work on my first day back.  It's amazing that we can be back to an almost full staff yet we're still short of bodies.  At least one of the other manager's took pity on me and I won't be producing next week, unless of course someone calls in sick!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Standing on the Rim

Kansas has rolled halfway through its season undefeated and I still don't know what to make of this team.  I thought Monday night at Baylor would be a sure wake up test and possibly the Jayhawks first loss of the season.  I couldn't have been more wrong.  K.U. came out and played the best half of basketball I've seen this team or any Kansas team has played since the first half against North Carolina at the 2008 Final Four.

Saturday's game against Nebraska showed a lot of holes in the Jayhawk attack.  What worried me most is that super frosh Josh Selby played only about a dozen minutes and scored just 3 points.  Coach Bill Self left the Selby on the bench in the second half relying on more seasoned players in the second half of this squeaker on K.U.'s home court.

But Selby doesn't have a conscience.  He came out against Baylor firing up shots from every conceivable angle.  And then there are the Morris twins.  A couple of double doubles waiting to happen every night.  If these two opt for the NBA after this season we're screwed.  If either gets into major foul trouble this season we're screwed.

Jeff Withey isn't a player.  You would think after a couple of seasons of banging with Cole Aldrich and the brothers Morris he would have become a decent post player.  He makes Eric Chenowith look like Wilt Chamberlain.

And then there's the puzzling case of Tyshawn Taylor.  He's a turnover waiting to happen.  He plays like Jacques Vaughn one moment and like Jacques Cousteau the next. 

But Kansas has one thing that people tend to overlook.  This team is tough as nails and it's not the menacing Morris twins or Thomas Robinson man muscle's that give the Jayhawks that edge, it's unheralded shooting guard Tyrell Reed.  He is the leader of this team.  He picked Kansas on his shoulders when Cal tried to manhandle Kansas last month in Berkley.  Tyrell did it again last Saturday when Nebraska pushed us around. 

I get the sense that this is much more of a team effort game in and game out, much more so than the title squad in 2008.  That team could have an off night and Rush, Collins, or Chalmers could will them to victory.  It's going to take a lot more than Tyrell to put this team in the Final Four, the twins, Josh and Tyshawn have 15 or so more games to prove it.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

An Open Letter to My Running Friends in the Midwest

What a rough start to the New Year.  I actually had to break out some winter running gear that I haven't used since I lived in Topeka.  One day I actually had on a jacket, sweat pants, gloves, and a headband to keep my ears warm.  My goodness it was 38... 39 degrees.  It's been rainy, drizzly, foggy, I hate to bore you with my weather woes but I thought I had moved to sunny California after all.

But fear not, I haven't missed a day of running since the calendar turned to 2011.  Even though one day it was so cold, mid-30's, that I used a treadmill.  I know, I know, I should have toughed it out, but I really didn't bring all of my cold weather running gear from Florida.  I really didn't think I would need it.

As for my friends out there still training in the great outdoors that is Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky, North Dakota, etc; I feel your pain.  Or the chill that is.  Bundle up and try to stay warm on those brisk winter runs.  Oh, one other thing I forgot to mention., there are actually hills in California.  Man I miss those flat, sunny, winter runs in Southwest Florida.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Blame Game

Jared Loughner is a nut job.  Trying to pin him with a political ideology is like trying to break one of those cheap pinatas you can buy for a kid's birthday party.  It's damn near impossible to do.  I don't care if he's a radical or a reactionary.

The problem starts with guns.  I have nothing against gun ownership.  But it's the kind of guns that you can purchase that bothers me.  Who needs a clip that holds 30 rounds, I mean seriously?  Someday, somewhere, the right combination violence will shake the United States and put the NRA in its place.  I seriously doubt that this incident in Tucson will do much to regulate the problem.

And then there are the remarkable and and incisive observations by the Sheriff of Pima County.  The vitriol of political hate speech in this country is nothing new.  The verbal sparing by our founding fathers would put Rush Limbaugh and Keith Olbermann to shame.  But there's a huge difference as we ride the political wave of talk in the 21st century.  It's everywhere.  You can't escape it.  The 24/7 media crushes any ability to absorb and reflect with any serious deliberation.

I used to love listening to Rush Limbaugh.  His blistering attacks of Bill Clinton, feminists, and environmentalists used to amuse me.  But after 9/11 I could no longer stomach what I was hearing.  Democrats aren't Communists anymore than Republicans are intolerant dimwits.

We are all accountable for what happened in Tucson.  It pains me that those engaged in the abusive political discourse can't own up to their own thoughtless rhetoric.  How can any one of us can these talking heads seriously as they try to shout down the words of someone like Sheriff Clarence Dupnik.

Friday, January 7, 2011

2011-My First Penny

Six days in the New Year and I've managed to run every day.  It hasn't been easy because my work schedule has been like a yo-yo, meaning I've had to catch a couple of miles here and there at odd hours.  Tonight I hit the street at 10 p.m. replete with my orange safety vest just in case a motorist wanted to take aim.  And there shining like a beacon on the dark asphalt about three-quarters of a mile into my run was my first penny of 2011.

I stopped and clinched the coin into my glove covered fingers (my first glove run of the year) and strode off into the night thinking all the while thinking of my good friend Craig Davidson.  People who follow this blog know all about Craig.  I like picking up coins when I spot them on a run because it reminds me of our friendship.  On the oh, so rare occasions that I fail to stop for one, I am riddled with guilt.

You see Craig has an epic streak of finding money every day while out on his runs. He recently sent out his haul for the year, a mere $190.90.  Craig lamented that it marked his lowest total since 1983.  Craig has plucked $8,683.71 during the course of his streak.  I've watched in amazement as Craig would somehow spot dark brown pennies on lamp black streets in the predawn hours of a run.  But the money streak pales in comparison of Craig's daily running streak now at more than 32 years.

Craig is loathe to part with his cash. To say he is thrifty would be an understatement.  But one year he did take some of his loot and spent it on a honeymoon to Hawaii to his ever patient bride Irene.  You see the honeymoon came a good decade and a half or so after their marriage.

But nevertheless, I did find my first penny of 2011.  I think in a given year I pick up between 50 cents and a dollar, a sorry comparison to Craig's prodigious efforts.  But then again, he ran 4250 miles last year, almost 3000 more than I did!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

2011 - Let it Roll

One of the great under recognized jam bands is Little Feat.  The band has been around for more than 40 years and undergone more line up changes than band could ever survive.  I was late coming to my appreciation of the group.

I used to frequent a bar in South Kansas City in the mid-1980's where the owner had a love affair with Little Feat.  After hearing "Dixie Chicken" and "Feats Don't Fail Me Now" one time too many I began to like what I was hearing and inquired about the band.  It dawned on me that I had heard the band before when I had lived in Minneapolis.  One radio station played cuts from "Down on the Farm", released shortly after the death of the band's main musical driving force, Lowell George.

Much of the band's music from the 70's is incredible and the live release "Sailing to Columbus" is one of the best live records ever, period.  My favorite song is one of the few great post-George releases from the band from 1988's "Let it Roll."  Aptly enough, it's the album's title song, enjoy!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

2011 - God Bless The Chemo Kid

I'm tired.  It's a few minutes after midnight when I would still feel wide awake but tonight I'm tired.  I've produced back to back doubles and face two more days of doubles over the weekend.  By doubles I mean producing two newscasts in a single day.  It's tough because in order to do it reasonably well you need to come in earlier than a normal night shift to do the 6 p.m.  That means 10  hour plus days and hurried dinners.

I'm lucky because I work with a bunch of professionals who know how to spin bullshit into gold.  And I must give credit to my E.P. colleague James Scullary for making sure I had plenty of content for the 6 to make my life easier.  I've even managed to hold onto five, count em' five, good stories, that should make my producing a lot easier this weekend.

But I'm tired because it was a sad end to the old year.  Shortly after 9:30 p.m. we heard police traffic coming from South Sacramento.  A 15 year old boy was shot in the head and killed.  Then just minutes before the newscast we got word that I had been dreading for the last few days.  A 26 year old man named Giovanni Goodman had lost his battle with cancer.

What made this important to me is that we had run a story about Giovanni exactly three weeks ago.  He called himself "The Chemo Kid" and became a rapper spinning lyrics about his battle against Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.  Giovanni fought the good fight for five years but shortly before Thanksgiving, doctor's gave him six months and he decided to forsake another round of chemo.

Will Frampton had profiled Goodman the year before and asked to do one more story on him when he learned of his decision to end his fight against cancer.  It's the best story Will's done in my time at News10.  It was a great story.  You can find it on

But this week my conscience began to gnaw at me.  It dawned on me that Giovanni may not make it to the New Year.  Sadly enough, my worries were confirmed when the family sent Will an email just before we went to air tonight.  I hurriedly put some words together to tell the story of the end of this young man's life.  But my words fell short, because three weeks ago I saw the most courageous man I'd seen in a long, long time, coming to terms with his own mortality.  God bless Giovanni Goodman and his friends and family.  Remember "The Chemo Kid" in your prayers.