Thursday, April 25, 2013

We Called Him Obi Wan

I started in television 39 years ago.  One of biggest lessons I've learned in this very difficult and nasty profession, you're news operation is often only as good as the public information officers that you rely on to keep your viewers informed.  I think I can speak to this because I worked for almost three years as a PIO.

Harold Knabe
I write with a heavy heart tonight because we lost the gold standard in PIO's.  Harold Knabe passed away this week.  He served for a long time as the public information officer for the Kansas City, Missouri Fire Department.  Harold retired from that position a long time ago.  But he held that job during some of the department's toughest hours and some of its finest.

What made Harold so good is that day or night, regardless of the story, he would talk to you.  He was always friendly, honest and in good spirits.  I can't say the same far too many PIO's I've worked with through the years.  In Phoenix, they were just plain jerks, in Topeka they tried to play it coy, the same with some of the folks in Fargo.  The PIO's in Sacramento were by and large pretty good and the same is true right here in Southwest Florida.

Kansas City was a tricky place when it came to finding information.  Most of the suburbs were hell to deal with on any given day.  Kansas City's Police Department was like navigating a minefield.  If you could get the right detective, your job was a dream, if not, you were in for a real ordeal.  But not Harold, through it all, he played it fair and square.

My favorite Harold story happened in 1983 or so.  For some reason the day side crew had sent photojournalist Phil Maslin to shoot the funeral for Sparky, one of the KCMO Fire Department mascots.  Both the 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. producer had passed on the video so I decided to run it at 10 p.m. 

Sometime after 8 p.m. I looked through the video to write the story.  It was a very solemn ceremony, the Dalmatian being laid to rest in a simple pine box at a pet cemetery.  The honor guard of firefighters were lowering Sparky's casket into the hole dug in the ground when they encountered a problem.  The box was a little too big for the hole.  Now down on all fours the firefighters started to push the box into Sparky's final resting place.  The next thing the box goes whoosh with the firefighters tumbling into the hole with it. 

Why Phil never told anyone about his video gold is beyond me, but then again, that's just Phil.  After I got done laughing it occurred to me that running this might offend our friends at KCFD.  So I called Harold at home.  Yes that's right, we could call him at home.  I told him about the funeral and Harold just started laughing and begged me to run it.  Harold told me he was happy I called because he wanted to be sure to videotape the newscast.

Poor Stacy Smith couldn't even get to the end of the copy he was laughing so hard.  And that's what I think of when I remember Harold Knabe, the man we lovingly called Obi Wan Knabe.  RIP, Harold.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A.J. can go "F" Himself

It's the viral video sensation of the week.  A.J. Clemente, anchoring his first newscast, fresh out of college, dropping an F bomb and another choice four letter word, not knowing his microphone was open at the start of the newscast.  KFYR fired him, which in my book, is a crock of crap. 

The kid screwed up and maybe should have been suspended and never allowed to anchor again, but not fired.  The person that deserves to be punished in this case is the news director.  Yeah, I'm sure Monica Hannan told him, as she proclaimed in her statement, that we tell all employees to treat microphones like they're always on.  I call bullshit.

But I digress.  The real story is the on air barrage of foul language that I dropped on KLWN radio in the winter of 1978.  I had been working for the station for a couple of months, mainly taking the horrendous 6 a.m. shift where I had to man both the AM and FM stations until noon.  It was a terrible job for a college senior who enjoyed staying out late on Saturday nights.

The job was even tougher because after my on-air shift ended at 1 p.m. I drove straight to Kansas City where I interned at KMBC TV.  It made for an 18 hour day.  But that's what you do when you want a chance at making it in broadcasting.

During part of that radio shift I would simultaneously operate both radio stations through the control panel in the FM studio.  I would listen through one station in my left ear in the cheap foam headsets and the other station in my right ear as I would give both station ID's, one at a time, by flipping the microphone switch first to one side, then the other, before throwing into the off position in the middle.

On one particular morning, sometime in February I believe, I came in to find that the right side of the headset wasn't working.  The morning went along uneventfully despite the technical handicap, until 11 a.m. when I went to patch in the second church service of the morning from Plymouth Congregational.  I had given the top of the hour ID's on both stations and bent over to reroute some plugs needed to bring the church service's signal into the audio board.  I couldn't hear a thing.  I kept plugging and unplugging forgetting about the headset problem unable to hear the church service.

That's when the vulgarites started falling out of my mouth.  I think it went along the lines of, I hate this fucking shit, I fucking want to go home.  As the obscenities spewed out of my mouth across the glass newsman Dale Martens, who had arrived for his shift, began pounding on the glass, pointing to the red light that loomed above my head.  I looked up and sheepishly realized what had happened.  I closed the microphone and sure enough the church service was up and running.

Dale was a young radio pro.  He took it in stride.  I openly wondered how long it would be before station general manager Hank Booth would fire me.  I certainly figured I had it coming.  I certainly hadn't impressed him or station operations chief Bob Newton during my short tenure at the station.  I think they saw me as something of an unkempt hippie, who was pretty much clueless.  They weren't too far off.

Monday came and nary a word came my way about the swearing incident.  A week passed, then a month and still no one had said a thing about the cussing incident.  It was about six weeks to two months later when Hank finally summoned me into his office.  When he did I didn't even have the church service on my mind.

Hank cut right to the chase, "What's this I hear about you swearing during the Plymouth Congregational Church Service?"  I looked him in the eye, confessed my sins and told him why it happened but said it still wasn't an excuse.  He looked at me, shook his head and said, "Don't ever let it happen again." 

Serendipity and grad school found me in that exact same job 17 years later.  I no longer had to contend with running both the FM and AM side but I was working as a DJ for KLWN AM on that same 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. shift.  My second weekend morning on the job severe weather swept through the area and I handled it with reports from citizens, advising people of the danger and doing all of the things I had learned in 17 years as a television producer and news manager.

The next evening when I came in for my shift Bob Newton stuck his head in the door of the control room and said something to the effect, "You got good."  It's probably the best compliment I ever received in my 30 plus years in the business.  In fact, the next time the station expected a severe weather event I was invited to man the control room board.

My outburst didn't earn me an appearance on The Today Show or David Letterman and I'm fine with that.  Swearing on the air happens.  A once in a lifetime slip shouldn't cost anyone a job.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Boston Experience

Running the Boston Marathon is a unique experience.  Most marathons are rather lonely affairs, even in large cities, where crowds are generally sparse, at least until you hit the finish line.  Not Boston, it's a party for the ages.

I've run it only once and then on a whim.  I had qualified a half dozen times or so through the 70's and 80's.  I thought about it, knew I wanted to do it, but it just didn't seem to be a priority.  I remember my coach Tom Dowling telling stories about running Boston.  Boston is a suckers race.  The first 10 miles are lightning fast.  It is deceptively downhill and takes a toll on your quads without you realizing it. 

Then after 15 miles or so the climb begins to the famed Newton Hills, Heartbreak Hill, before the gentle glide into downtown Boston.  The problem is that after all that downhill and the climb up Heartbreak often times your quads are shot.  If you haven't trained for the hills you pay a terrible price over the last 6 miles or so.

Finally in 1994 my buddy Steve Riley got into my ear.  "Come with me and run Boston," Steve said.  I hadn't run a decent marathon in three years and was woefully out of shape.  I agreed to join Steve in February to run the St. Louis Olympiad Marathon in an effort to get a qualifier.  This was when Boston still held tight to its qualifying standards, before the field was swelled with charity runners and folks who got in with special exemptions.

It was brutally cold in St. Louis the morning of the race.  Add to that the course served up several brutal hills.  Steve ran with me, carefully guiding me along.  I got to 13 miles in good shape, right on 3 hour pace, well under the 3:15 I needed to qualify.  Steve took off and I slowly came apart.  By 19 miles I was struggling.  I was now stumbling along at 7:30 per mile pace but I managed to hold it together and ran under 3:14 and got my qualifier.  I also got pneumonia from running in the brutal cold.

I had two months to get ready for the race in April.  I trained, but not nearly enough.  I was served by my youth, being a mere 38, at the time.  I stayed with my friend Gary Welsh who lived a mile from the course in Newton.  I went for a run the Friday before the race and went to the hills and thought, what's the big deal?

I also went because Coach Dowling was running that year.  I never found him at the start.  But I ran into a half dozen or so other running friends I had picked up through the years.  It was like a big reunion.  The hard part was waiting at the start line to get going.  I had to pee like all get out by the time the gun went off.  I held off, hoping the urge would go away, until 10 miles where I hit a port-a-potty.  Unfortunately the pit stop cost me my rhythm and while I was on 3 hour pace up to the halfway point I knew I needed to save myself for the hills.

Running through Wellsley was amazing.  The hairs on my arm stood up as the co-eds screamed their hearts out.  I looked on amazed as one man after another stopped for quick kisses from the girls lining the course.  Heartbreak came and I passed dozens and dozens of tiring runners.  I struggled on to the finish line clocking a 3:12.  Steve and the Sand Rat gang was there and we reveled in running the world's greatest marathon.

9 years later the Czarina and I returned to Boston.  She'd wanted to run it and we both qualified.  I got injured in the month leading up to the race.  The Czarina experienced the great race on a super hot day.  I watched the finishers from a restaurant overlooking Boylston with my sister Mary and my friend Gary.  We were about a block up from the actual finish.  The Czarina ran great given the conditions and I had a blast watching the great runners and not so great coming down Bolyston.

You couldn't help but notice the security in the post 9/11 world.  Getting access to the prime seating area was just about impossible.  Remarkably by the time the Czarina finished, just over 4 hours, I easily made my way down to and into the finish chute.  I had my number with me so they  let me into the area.

Boston is a very different race than it was in 2003.  About 10-thousand more runners sign up for it now than they did just a decade ago.  The field is so large it goes off in waves.  And I think that's why the terrorists who launched this attack did so without getting caught right away.  The explosions came almost 5 hours after the elite men started along with the bulk of the field.  The first place man had finished almost 3 hours before the blasts hit.

My guess the smaller crowds and with it a less intense amount of security allowed those responsible to strike.  I know if I could, I would run Boston next year in support of the city and those who were killed and injured.  It's one of the world's great sporting events.  It is a sad day indeed. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Free TV Really Isn't Free

If you're one of the few, the proud, still using an antenna to watch television, congratulations.  You're part of a dying breed.  Between cable and satellite, more than 80 percent of us watch the boob tube with an assist.  For a lot of years cable and satellite grabbed those over the air signals for free.  But over the last 20 years broadcasters have forced cable and satellite to pay up for use of that free signal.

Why I am writing about this?  Because something transcendent is coming the way of television's way and it could be a game changer in the same way the Internet has destroyed the newspaper business.  A tiny company named Aereo wants to take those free TV signals, feed them into an app, that you can pay them for so you can watch television on your hand held device, laptap, or pc. 

As you can imagine broadcasters aren't happy about this.  They've gone to court twice to stop Aereo and twice they've lost.  Now broadcasters, at least one in particular, FOX, is threatening to do the unthinkable, stop broadcasting. 

Let me say that this doesn't surprise me one bit.  This is a train that's been coming down the track for for the better part of a decade.  I think in 15 years, probably a lot sooner, broadcasters will stop broadcasting.  Obviously television can be delivered quite easily now over the Internet.  But there are a lot of good reasons to give up TV the way we know it.

First of all, it costs a lot of money to put a television signal up a tower and out to homes across the area.  The electric bill for a typical television station over the course of the year tops 6 figures.  Then there are the costs associated with the upkeep on those big towers and the transmitters.  It's not cheap.
Second, pulling the plug on over the air television would do away with government control.  TV stations wouldn't have to worry about the Federal Communications Commission and their nonsensical rules that burden television owners. 

I find cutting off the FCC at the knees a delicious thought.  You see, the same bible bangers who bitch and moan about too much government regulation are the same morons who wailed when Bono dropped an "F" bomb during the Grammys or when Justin Timberlake helped Janet Jackson give the nation a Super Bowl flash.  Without the FCC looking over their shoulders broadcasters wouldn't have to worry about the nasty fines that come with such incidents.

Free television is going away my friends.  The big cell phone companies want the band width that broadcasters currently hog to help that new iPhone or Droid you own work that much faster.  The economics say that television by Internet or by wireless is going to be more cost effective.

The troubling part will be if the networks decide in the long run to ditch their affiliates.  That means your local television providers will have to come up with a new source of programming.  I believe in the long run it will only further consolidate the ownership of television stations, something I've railed against for a very long time.

Broadcast television is at a crossroads.  For the local broadcast stations this could mark the beginning of the end.  It will likely mean in the long run, fewer sources of reliable information.  Good God, I'm glad I'm nearing retirement!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Running to Stand Still

As I walked down my block cooling down after an 8 mile run I spotted a dime on a driveway and thought of my friend Craig Davidson.  I bent done and picked it up, noticed that it was pitted and worn and wondered how long it had sat there.  Craig has been picking up money at an epic rate for nearly 3 decades. 

Craig is probably the best known runner in Phoenix, Arizona.  He owns a daily running straight that dates back to the late 1970's, is slowly closing in on 200 marathons, and all the while works at one of the city's best known running stores, Runner's Den.  Craig's streak has come at a cost.  He deals with one injury after another.  I don't know how he runs through them.

I write this because I am once again, slowly grinding my way back from injury.  That's why you haven't seen any posts about my racing this spring.  While running the Naples Daily News Half Marathon back in January a hot spot popped up at about 9 miles in my right calf.  It didn't really bother me but it did cause me to back off my pace at the time.

After a day's rest I went for a 4 mile run and my calf got incredibly sore.  It wasn't a muscle pull, but something else.  I went to my chiropractor, tried cross training, and a lot of rest but nothing seemed to help.  It felt as if a red hot poker was jabbing at the muscle.  I could run short distances after a month but it wasn't getting any better.

Another good running buddy Chris Ronan sent me an article from John Parker, a pretty fair miler in his college days and the author of the best fiction piece about running called "Once A Runner."  Parker described it as a calf heart attack.  He detailed my problems to a "T" and offered a solution that worked.  By early March I was back running again.

What's frustrating is that runs of more than 4 miles are tough to do at anything other than an exceedingly slow pace.  I don't have any pep or snap to my legs.  My weight is actually pretty good so I attribute it to age.  I'm just happy that I can run, even it is at a laggardly pace.

The biggest disappointment is that I haven't been able to race.  I don't even feel like racing.  This spring will be pretty much a washout.  It's a shame because we've had the most incredible winter/spring for running.  We still haven't been hit by the humidity that usually rolls in by late March.  I might, might try to run a race in late April, just to blow off the rust. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Reality Comes to Fort Myers

As soon as Florida Gulf Coast University beat Georgetown almost two weeks ago, I knew the gig was up.  Andy Enfield would become the hot new coaching property.  The impressive win over San Diego State sealed his fate and their was no way that he could not help but accept an offer from the University of Southern California.
Enfield came here two years ago to take over a failing program that was dipping its toes into big time basketball.  Dave Balzer had successfully launched the program 11 years ago but when FGCU started playing real competition about 5 years ago, wins became much harder to come by.  Enter Enfield from Florida State, a life long assistant who dipped his toes into a successful computer business while landing himself a major league wife.

Enfield's success this year should have come as no surprise to knowledgable sports fan.  His very young team almost took the Atlantic Sun last season with a hot tournament run that faltered in the finals.  Then the Eagles beat a top notch Miami team early this season and you knew this team could be good, really good.  I picked them to beat Georgetown but had no idea they would actually make it to the Sweet 16.

The local newspaper is questioning Enfield's judgment, daring to take on a underperforming basketball program at a football school.  USC basketball will always rate behind UCLA when it comes to college hoops.  John Wooden's shadow looms large over the City of Angels.

But if Enfield can do what he did in Florida and that's recruit the kids that UCLA rejects, he's got a fighting chance.  His style of basketball is a lot more appealing to kids who may not want to play Steve Alford's possession to possession style of basketball.  In fact, Enfield has what the NCAA needs more of, more run and fun and less physical play.

For anyone watching the NCAA Tournament one can't help but notice that the quality of basketball is suffering.  The experts want to blame the one and dones but it's not that.  It's about the grind it out style and the referees allowing the game to get overly physical.  College basketball looks more like the bad boy Pistons of the late 1980's or the Knicks of the early 90's and nothing like it did just a decade ago.  The game has become deadly dull.

But enough bemoaning the current state of college basketball, what about Enfield?  FGCU doesn't have the history or the alumni base to afford a top college coach.  If not USC then when and where.  Sure, Enfield could have come back for another year and a possible tournament run but what if the heart and soul of his offense, Brett Comer gets hurt.  The storied run of 2013 would quickly be forgotten. 

And what other jobs are looming out there next tear that would top USC?  Texas, perhaps, if Rick Barnes doesn't get the Longhorns back on track next year, but I wouldn't bet on it. Let's be honest, there are only a half dozen of so to die for college jobs out there and I don't see Billy Donovan, Roy Williams, Bill Self, Tom Crean, John Calipari or Rick Pitino going anywhere in the next year.  Oh, and only fools will line up to replace Mike Krzyzewski at Duke.  Congrats to Enfield for giving the sleepy City of Palms a new moniker, Dunk City.