Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Waterman Way

It took me a long time to ratchet up the nerve to write this one.  But I think the last year has shown the steady slide underway at one of the strongest broadcasters in Fort Myers that actually started long before their mind blowing decision to show Craig Wolf, an employee of 17 years, the door a little more than a year ago.

While WBBH remains a competitive force in the market, a series of personnel decisions has left it vulnerable.  The comedy of errors began five years ago when they left popular morning weatherman Jim Syoen walk over money.  That decision precipitated a slow steady decline in their morning numbers and forced management to flip-flop Robert Van Winkle and Haley Webb and then switch the pair again after the move failed miserably.

Wolf anchored the news for WBBH in Fort Myers and was in large part along with co-anchor Kelly Burns, a major reason why the NBC station became competitive with CBS powerhouse WINK TV.  Television news is a cruel and heartless business.  Waterman Broadcasting exemplifies the worst of those traits.

I know this because against my better judgment I went to work there in the fall of 2006.  I lasted four.  At Waterman Broadcasting isn’t about good journalism, it isn’t about good storytelling, it’s about being aggressive to the point of obnoxiousness.  It's about the art of the oversell, and above all it’s about ruling the staff, made up mostly of young impressionable journalists, through fear and intimidation.

The station does one thing extremely well.  It's investigation team is top notch.  They constantly break great stories and win awards doing it.  But the big I-Team stories appear only in sweeps, four times a year.  The day-in-day out in over-hype, over-sale, takes a lot of luster over what their investigative team accomplishes.
Darrel Adams relishes and encourages a dog eat dog approach to the running of his newsroom.  Those that hammer back and stand up to the unending bullying and brow-beatings by his management team will rise through the ranks and survive.  Those that don’t are thrown by the wayside regardless of how good a producer or reporter they are.  It’s a savage place and the strategy worked as they steadily ate into WINK's massive ratings lead turning it into a two station slug-fest.  WINK three years ago responded by beefing up their news operation and WBBH failed to take advantage of its staff size which it enjoyed for several years to wrest the top spot away from WINK.

The thing that made Craig Wolf stand out is that he refused to part-take in the mind games encouraged by Adams.  Wolf just wanted to do good television and beat the competition.  I think this was partly his undoing.  He’s over 50 and he’s making good money and put his family before his job, hence his decision to leave the 11 p.m. news a few years back.  That made him vulnerable.  Ratting out the station for its God awful working conditions to OSHA didn't help and that led to his ouster.

But the other show dropped in less than a year when Len Jennings, another straight forward good guy, who shined when he was moved into Wolf's spot, announced he was heading to greener pastures.  Len's opportunity to go to KMBC in Kansas City represented a professional coup.  Suddenly WBBH is suffering through to major departures and the aftermath of a failed weather staff shake-up.

The final twist comes with the return of Krista Fogelsong.  The one time FOX anchor in the market left with her tail tucked between her legs.  She overestimated her value to the station and overplayed her contract demands while a strong replacement sat in the wings, Amy Wegmann.  Fogelsong was shown the door and the station didn't miss a beat when they promoted Wegmann.

Now WBBH is hoping Fogelsong will stop the morning ratings slide.  Call me skeptical, bitter, or narrow-minded but I don't see it. WINK is coming and coming on strong.  And according to Nielson, WFTX, my station, won the key demos in the late evening news race.  Where will this all stand in two years or so.  I have no clue.  But if FOX can get its prime time programming sorted out.  It's going to be a three station race and the third station won't be Waterman's bastard step-child, WZVN.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Neil Young follows his own heart.  His musical whims can exact an exasperating toll on his fans.  "Fork in the Road" served itself as a powerful message at a time of economic disaster but it fell short of the impact of the power delivered by "Living with War."  "Greendale" delivered a strong warning about our ecology and the strains delivered on our lives by the ever present, style over substance driven media. 

The last decade has seen some incredibly power music punctuated by "Prairie Wind."  But missing in the decade was Crazy Horse. Neil delivered Crazy Horse, but in a way that has left many fans scratching their heads.  "Americana" is a collection of old time ballads and working songs with a power acoustical tradition.  But Neil delivers these classic like a shotgun blast with Crazy Horse and the whimsical backing provided by a children's choir.  Some of it works, but as a cohesive theme it feels lacking.

Neil's earned the right to try just about anything he wants.  I was highly skeptical of Bruce Springsteen's "Pete Seeger Sessions."  It took me a long time to embrace this music from the boss.  Bob Dylan's double whack at blues standards "Good as I've been to You" and "World Gone Wrong" in the early 90's served as a launching pad that propelled Dylan back to some of his best writing and the classic "Time Out of Mind."

Neil's allowed to stumble.  But in the shadow of the epic "Le Noise", "Americana just comes off as rough as a corn cob.  Another follow up with Crazy Horse apparently awaits in the wings.  I hope some rib rattling rock and roll awaits.  We've waited much too long for the return of the Horse.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Running with Debby

When of the few times running is bearable in the summer in Southwest Florida is when a tropical storm comes through.  Debby officially arrived on Saturday although it's been raining off and on since the middle of the week.  I headed out the door Saturday afternoon to enjoy the relatively cool weather (under 80 degrees) and the relentless, sometimes heavy rain.

Running in tropical storms is a lot of fun.  Debby is more rain than wind.  Although Debby is producing more than its share of tornado warnings in our area.  Fay which came in 2008 packed a lot more wind and a lot less rain.  What's odd is that this late spring/early summer has been amazingly lacking in humidity.  The rain from Debby will go a long way in easing our drought conditions.

The biggest right now problem is my conditioning.  Since hurt my left hamstring in early May training has been at best, sporadic.  It wasn't until the middle of this week I could tell the muscle was ready for me to resume running in earnest.  Despite biking and using an elliptical I have lost a ton of conditioning.

Saturday's run told me a lot as I crawled along at 10 minute pace for just 3 miles.  I know two things.  I am not going to travel to Kansas to run Lake Atwood in three weeks.  I probably could run 10 miles at just under 8 minute pace but it would be a less than enjoyable experience.  The other is that rushing to get into shape to be able to do that would put me at risk of hurting the leg again.

Our racing season is a good five months away so I have refocused my goal.  I'm looking ahead to the Sand Rat Race in early October.  I haven't run it in a half dozen years or so.  It will give me a chance to go back to Kansas, see friends and enjoy the trails along the Kansas River.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Comeback Kids

The U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials got underway tonight promising an incredible 10 days of action.  The two 10K finals marked a milestone in Kansas City area distance running history.  Matt Tegenkamp and Amy Hastings both attended high school in the metro area.  Both were on the outside looking in coming into these trials.

Tegenkamp has been one of the best 5K runners ever following a great career at Lee's Summit High School and Wisconsin.  A former Olympian, he had become something of an afterthought despite running a very good 10K debut last spring at Stanford. 

Tegenkamp kept his eye on Galen Rupp and Dathan Ritzenheim throughout tonight's final.  When those two began to push the pace Tegenkamp smartly latched on the ride for the last 3000 meters and finished second securing a trip to London.

The bigger surprise came from Amy Hastings.  The Leavenworth High grad who attended Arizona State had finished a heart-breaking fourth at the marathon Olympic Trials in Houston back in January.  She had only one option and that was to try and land a spot on the team at 10000 meters. 

Hastings started pushing the pace after 5000 meters.  Not known as a great kicker she dug deep as first Shalane Flanagan, an Olympic bronze medalist, and then NCAA Champion Natosha Rogers rolled by her on the back stretch of the final lap.

You could see Hastings eyes squeezed tight in determination.  She had a spot secured having run the Olympic qualifying standard earlier in the year.  But she dug deep and raced around the home stretch to an amazing victory over Rogers and the USA's greatest medal hope in the marathon, Shalane Flanagan.  For Hastings the win was redemption for a lot of hard work and a lot of races were she was just this close.  Here's to Amy Hastings, Olympian!

Sunday, June 10, 2012


I called Fargo, North Dakota home for three years.  It was the best of times and the worst of times.  I'll start with the bad.  Moving to Fargo was the wrong thing to do to my new family.    Hindsight being 50/50 it would have been better for the boy and the Czarina to stay in Kansas City.  The move was especially hard on the boy.

Then there's the weather.  The winter's are long and brutal.  Unless you love snowmobiling or ice fishing it's not the best place to call home.

Fargo is very isolated.  The people there are good, friendly Midwestern folks but unless you're from there, grew up there, they keep you at arms length.  We never felt part of the community, but then again, part of that fault lies with us.

The good far outweighs the bad.  There is no crime.  There is no traffic.  The economy was the best in the country and that's before the oil boom of the last two years that has fired North Dakota's economy up beyond belief.

I went to work for a small group of station's owned by Sandy DiPasquale.  The station had a core group of veteran managers who had worked together for a very long time.  I was the first outsider ever brought in to be a news director in Fargo.  Television news was dull, plodding and predictable.  But the quality of journalism was actually quite good.

It became pretty clear that the corporate bosses wanted me to be a rat.  They wanted dirt on the long-time general manager Charley Johnson, who was anchoring the 6 p.m. news and had been the news director a few years before.  Charley and I clashed frequently about my approach to news.  Charley was very old school.  I didn't like covering meetings and preferred looking for stories about the community and the people in it.  We managed to do a nice mix of both while become the station for live breaking news in the market.

Then just three months into the job corporate ordered a 20 percent station wide budget cut.  I fell on the sword and took one for the team.  I think corporate wasn't too happy with me for giving Charley an escape hatch on that one.  I know it hurt my attitude toward the station and I became more detached in my approach to what was going on at the station for the rest of my tenure.  But we built the numbers especially in the key demos and by the time I left at the end of 2002 the station was on a roll.

As much as the Czarina and I disliked Fargo, the good far outweighed the bad.  We enjoyed our trips to the beautiful Minnesota lakes country.  We loved opening our house up to the news staff and throwing parties.  The staff was just an amazing group led by super photographer Dave Grant, one-man band extraordinaire Mel Stone and a number of great reporter/photographers, Andrea Larsen, Carol Han, Adam Pemble, Dave Erickson and Roxana Sabieri.  And then there was the unsinkable Julie Holgate who played mother hen to us all

Thanks to a great staff of anchors, reporters and photographers we cranked out award winning journalism on a consistent basis.  We ran circles around our competitors when it came to covering breaking news live, our chief met Too Tall Tom was as good as it gets and won an Emmy to prove it.  But I was most proud of quality storytelling that we delivered on a consistent basis.  Believe me, we were pushed hard by WDAY and they kept us on our collective toes.

Had I been single I don't think I would have ever left Fargo.  But the Czarina wanted to live in a city.  She hated the isolation.  So the quest for a new job went on in earnest in 2002 and after a number of close calls the lure of the sun and the sand of Fort Myers seemed irresistible.

Sandy sold the station just before I left.  Then the station was sold again a few years ago.  The current owners Hoak are a symbol of everything that's wrong with television now.  They've managed to run off the bulk of the veteran staff that had made KVLY a great television news operation.  Charley is gone, the strong anchor team of Daron Selvig and Robin Huebner have been run off.  A lot of talented behind the scenes people have exited.  The bottom line is all that matters.  Anything that resembles journalism be damned.

Sunday, June 3, 2012


London looms in less than two months and two men could establish themselves as the greatest Olympians of all time on the track.  First the case of Usain Bolt, the Jamaican who turned the world of sprinting upside down.  Bolt owned the Beijing Olympics in 2008 with world records in the 100 and 200 meters and a took down a third with his teammates in the 4 X 100, the last of his three gold medals.

He doubled down the following year in Berlin at the 2009 World Championships with three more golds and two more world records in the 100 and 200.  Bolt showed he was human in South Korea when he false started in the 100 at the World Championships.  But he redeemed himself with a blistering 200 in Daegu along with yet another world record in the 4 X 100.

Bolt could firmly establish himself as the greatest Olympic sprinter of all time (if he hasn't already) ahead of greats like Carl Lewis and Jesse Owens by just winning either the 100 or 200 in London.  Right now he is the odds on favorite and only two of his countrymen, Yohan Blake and Asafa Powell, and two Americans, Tyson Gay and Walter Dix, appear to have any hopes of slowing down the great Jamaican.

Then there is the great Ethopian Kenesia Bekele.  Many already consider him the greatest distance runner to have ever lived.  I think one more gold medal would remove any doubt that Bekele has surpassed his countryman Haile Gebrselassie.  Bekele has 4 Olympic medals, 3 of them gold.  He owns 6 World Championship golds and 1 bronze.  A victory at 10000 meters for Bekele in London would erase any doubt about his stature as the greatest.

But Bekele has looked vulnerable this year.  He ran a well beaten 4th in Eugene this weekend at 5000 meters.  He has run only 1 quality 10000 in the last three years.  A win by Bekele would be one for the ages.  He must defeat American Galen Rupp, Britian's Mo Farah, and a 5 other great runners from Kenya and his own country to claim his 3rd gold medal at 10000 meters.  London is calling and I for one cannot wait for 2 weeks of incredible track and field.