Sunday, November 30, 2008

Black Friday Blues!

I feel like I haven't posted for a year, but I think spending a week at WMAL, and getting to work by 3:45am kind of did me in! I woke up yesterday feeling sick and spent the day sucking on Cold-eeze and napping off and on all day.

By contrast, my lovely bride has not stopped moving! She's been in her element ever since 5 am on Friday morning, when the Wal-Mart in Germantown opened. For the past several years, Robin has been WMAL's un-named Black Friday correspondent, calling in and doing a fabulous job of describing the mayhem that IS the morning after Thanksgiving.

No one died in Germantown this year, but if you listen to this, you can hear Robin describe the mayhem... It's no wonder a store clerk was trampled to death in New York!

During this particular year, Robin and I were somewhat of a tag team. She kept calling me at WMAL to offer some audio for the broadcast, as well as to consult with me on what she should or should not be buying. When she reported trouble reaching the electronics department to pick up some new movies that were selling for 9 bucks, I went on and bought the movies online for the same price - they were having a Black Friday sale, too! It turns out that Robin couldn't reach electronics because Wal-Mart's biggest deal of the day was a flat panel TV for 700 bucks... and the people buying them were clogging the aisles trying to get them out of the store.

This year, with me being underemployed, the search for bargains is more important than ever! But Robin will not be denied... She buys everything, and then decides later that most of it is going to be returned - and that just gives her another excuse to go back to the store! After leaving the house at 3:45 Friday morning, she did not get home until nearly 6 pm Friday evening - clearly exhausted but anxious to eat dinner and go back out into the fray... Fortunately, a hot shower and a warm meal did her in... But she then proceeded to be out shopping for another 5 hours on Saturday afternoon, and another 4 hours Saturday night.

'Tis the season to go shopping - thank the Lord I'm too sick to go along!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

I Have Perks Again!

One thing I've definitely missed about my old job is that I used to get perks. Some pretty good perks, actually. When I worked for Disney, there were free theme park tickets and huge discounts for everything else, making it easy to feed my Disney addiction.

But being a news director had its own benefits all by itself. I would routinely receive gifts in the mail - things like T-Shirts, or tote bags, or Girl Scout cookies, from outfits looking for some free publicity. I could routinely schmooze myself into sporting events or local shows without paying. If I wanted to go to Sea World or the San Diego Zoo, I could arrange to get into those places for free as well.

So imagine how quickly I crashed to Earth knowing I could no longer just fire off an email or pick up the phone to arrange freebies. Well, at least in a small way, I'm back to getting a pretty cool perk.

When I started freelance work at ABC News, I was required to join the Writer's Guild of America. And I did not discover until just this week that it came with a pretty nifty side benefit.

It turns out the Writer's Guild hands out awards each year for writing in tv shows and movies... It's part of the same awards season that includes the Golden Globes and the Oscars. Well, as a member of the guild, I am eligible to vote. And I have started receiving review copies of Hollywood movies!

Two of the movies I've received have just arrived in theaters - In fact, one of them, "Slumdog Millionaire", arrived at my home the day before it opened in theaters. In the packaging, Fox Searchlight pictures has basically threatened my life if I try to pirate the dvd they sent me, and they've asked me to destroy the dvd as soon as I've watched the movie. I'll take that request under advisement.

I don't know if I'll ever watch any of these movies, let alone vote in the Writers Guild awards. But it's still pretty cool to own films that are still showing in theaters!

Of course, I'd trade them all to get my Disney Silver pass back... But that's another story!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sayonara To Sequins And Sambas!

Well, the latest season of "Dancing With The Stars" has wrapped up, and I am digging deep into my testosterone-driven courage to write a blog entry about it! There is nothing unmanly about enjoying a good paso doble - and if it's manly enough for ESPN, then it's manly enough for me.

I have been a devoted fan of the show from the start, and as such, I have long since given up on any notion that it is a fair competition. In fact, I firmly believe it is fixed - but I still enjoy the spectacle of it all... and I think the show's producers have done a good job of picking a winner each time who brings the right combination of talent and popularity to the show.

This season was weaker than most... The best dancer, TV host Brooke Burke, was the best but this was a fairly sad bunch compared to some recent seasons. Burke was pushed by former NFL star Warren Sapp, who had little talent but massive appeal with the audience... and third place went to N Sync's Lance Bass, who I truly cannot stand to look at any longer. He was played up as a villain this season - perhaps unfairly - but he and his professional partner, Lacey Schwimmer, went out of their way to be "different" - so I guess they got what they deserved.

Here's Brooke Burke's winning freestyle dance that sealed the deal for her this week... the perfect Dancing With the Stars combo of cheese and talent! Enjoy!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Back On The First Amendment Soapbox

Every time I see a cop who thinks his badge gives him some sort of super powers, I get steam coming from my ears. The fact is that most cops don't like members of the media, presumably because they don't like being caught ignoring people's civil rights. I hate to sound like a law-enforcement hater, because I swear I'm not. But every time I see video (and I've seen plenty)of a police officer forcibly deciding what is and what is not appropriate for a photographer or cameraman to shoot, I think it gives police a bad name. This cameraman was detained in the back of a police car for more than an hour. If you or I did that, we'd be charged with kidnapping. The fact is, the cop had no right confiscating the guy's camera or detaining him to begin with! Watch and learn:

What cops need to realize and remember is simple. Members of the media and members of the public are one and the same. If you want to keep the media from shooting video of something and you have a legitimate reason, then shut down the street to everyone. I can't tell you how many times as a reporter I was blocked from being at a crime scene, even when members of the public were allowed to roam freely on the other side of the yellow police tape. That's not only unfair, it's also illegal. I was also thrown off the grounds of Dulles airport one time for asking members of the public questions. The officer decided I was harassing people. I most certainly was not - certainly not as much as the hare krishnas who used to walk up to complete strangers at the airport and solicit them for money. No one ever stopped them.

Again - treat members of the media like you treat members of the public (because we ARE members of the public), and you'll get no beef from me.

But that cop in Newark should lose his badge.

Like Riding A Bicycle...

Well, there I was this morning... back in the newsroom at WMAL, doing the exact same job I was doing nine months ago (almost to the exact day) when I was let go. I was not sitting at the same desk, because I had bequeathed it to my friend and protege, Jen Richer, when I was dispatched the first time around. But all in all, it felt pretty much the same.

Most of the equipment that didn't work then still doesn't work now. The same people who had crappy attitudes then still have crappy attitudes today. (And THEY still have jobs! HA!) I can still finish the sentences of the people who still work there. All in all, it felt comfortable and familiar.

All of the routines that I had carefully developed over 25 years came back like muscle memory...

As usual, I woke up at 2:35am - Five minutes before the alarm went off, because it rarely ever woke me up. Last night was no exception, but I will confess to a night of tossing and turning... You'll have to excuse me for a fitful sleep the night before going back to my old job - this blog entry comes to you courtesy of a STRONG midday cup of Starbucks Verona blend coffee!

I was at Seven-Eleven by 3:15... WOW - they put in big new coffee urns to replace the old dirty pots since I was last there! As usual, I appropriated as many "International Delight" creamers as I could for my friend, Bill Thompson, who, as it turns out, switched to black coffee months ago after I stopped bringing him creamers! Well, Bill, we have four days to restock your desk drawers! The guy behind the counter saw me and said (in his best clipped Indian accent), "It's been a long time, sir!" When the guy at the 7-11 in the middle of the night remembers you, you know you'd been doing something for a while!

I headed down Connecticut Avenue pretty much by myself, as usual, except that a motorcycle cop whizzed past me by the speed cameras in Chevy Chase, thereby setting off the flashes... not that he'e ever going to be paying any fines.

I brought in a beautiful and tasty coffee cake from Costco, and I set it down on the counter to be shared before I went into the studio to do my 10 am newscast. By the time I got out of the news booth 10 minutes later, it was already 2/3rds consumed...

Yep. Nothing much has changed!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

SNL - The Next Four Years!

We're done with Tina Fey as Sarah Palin - at least for now... But after seeing its ratings go through the roof before the election, the producers of Saturday Night Live are going to keep politics front and center on the show. Enjoy this clip of Andy Samberg as Barack Obama's new Chief of Staff - something you DIDN'T see on SNL this week!

Not Back To The Future... Back To The Back!

By the time many of you read this, I shall be once again, on a freelance basis, be working at 630 WMAL, the place that furloughed me in a corporate restructuring nine months ago. I have had this work scheduled for a couple of months now, and as the day has drawn near, I have found my own personal anxiety level growing a bit.

From the day I was let go, I have never felt those feelings of anger and bitterness towards my former employer that so many have felt - or at least, not against the managers of WMAL. They were given an unpleasant task to perform, and so it was done. I have appreciated their support these many months as I have sought a permanent job, and I also appreciate that they have called me for fill-in work when they clearly had no obligation to do so.

I have been back to WMAL on two or three occasions since I left - each time on business that was unrelated to my former job there. The first time I returned, it felt very strange, but since then, it's felt strangely comfortable - as if I had never left, except for the fact that someone else is occuying my office. And even that didn't matter much, because I had spent most of my time in the newsroom instead of my office even when I was working at WMAL.

This time, I'm actually returning to work FOR the radio station, writing newscasts and anchoring a couple of them a day as well... and hoping I don't fall flat on my face. I don't have any real expectation that I WILL fall flat on my face, but nothing could be worse than going back there and showing my former co-workers that my furlough was actually justified!

If there's one thing I have learned from my months on the beach, it is to treasure every opportunity I get to work. It's a joy that gainfully employed people who've never lost jobs cannot possibly appreciate. I thoroughly enjoyed filling in at WBAL over the summer, as well as my ongoing freelance job at ABC News. When I am scheduled to work, my adrenaline goes a little nutty, and I find myself a little giddy at the opportunity to channel my creative muscles in a constructive and income-producing way.

It makes me thankful at a time when finding things to be thankful for is a bit of a challenge. And those positive thoughts will make it that much easier to take when my clock radio goes off at 2:30 Monday morning!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Y2K - The Good Old Days!

In recent days, I’ve been enjoying the first season of “The West Wing” on DVD. It’s incredible how well written that show was - more intelligent by a good stretch than anything on the air today - but I was struck by one episode I saw recently that showed in quite a few ways just how much the world has changed in a few short years.

The episode, “He Shall, From Time To Time”, was first aired in 2000, and takes place in the days prior to President Josiah Bartlet’s second State of the Union address. There is chaos at the White House – a developing scandal involving Chief of Staff Leo McGarry. Word has leaked out that six years earlier, Leo, who was then the Labor Secretary, had received inpatient treatment for an addiction to alcohol and Valium. In fact, the senior staff gathers at the White House one evening because the story has just popped up on the internet, and it is sure to be a big story once the newspapers get a hold of it the next day!

Meanwhile, McGarry, mindful that the President is about to give his State of the Union speech, tells Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman to choose a member of the cabinet to stay behind at the White House while the rest of the cabinet goes to the Capitol to attend the speech. Josh explains to his assistant, Donna Moss, that someone needs to stay behind to run the government in case all of the nation’s top elected leaders are killed in a terrorist attack. The two share a good laugh imagining what the government would be like if the Capitol was blown up and Donna was left behind to run things.

Now, here’s what struck me as odd…

1/ If a big story broke on the internet in 2008, it would be plastered on every cable news channel and on every other news website in the world within minutes… not to mention on cell phones and Blackberrys around the world. Back in 2000, when a big story really did pop up on, say - the Drudge Report – it really DID take several hours for the media to vet the story, and newspapers were still somewhat the arbiter of what constituted news. That’s not the case any longer.

2/ Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not sure if it was revealed that President Bush’s Chief of Staff had a substance abuse problem years before he worked in the White House that it would be that big of a story. I don’t know if the times have changed, but it’s certainly less of a big deal today than it would have been in the past.

3/ I seriously doubt in the post 9-11 world, even more than 7 years later, that anyone would show two TV characters in the White House making light or making jokes about a possible bombing at the Capitol. It just wouldn’t happen.

Here’s a clip from the end of that episode, as the President explains to the Agriculture Secretary in friendly, but by today’s standards, chilling terms, what to do in case the Secretary is left to run the nation:

Thank You, Robin Ficker!

We offer a hearty congratulations and our deepest thanks this morning to an obnoxious pain-in-the-ass loudmouth whose very name has been little more than the punchline of a joke for the past three decades. Robin Ficker is an anti-tax gadfly in Montgomery County - someone who has railed against tax-and-spend local government for decades - and someone who had become accustomed to being roundly ignored by both local lawmakers and voters.

Ficker is known mostly for getting anti-tax referendums placed on county ballots - referendums that have been soundly defeated, until now. After a count of absentee ballots, Ficker's latest amendment has actually been approved by voters. The measure, which requires a unanimous vote of the county council to increase taxes beyond a cap set by the county's charter, will likely have little effect, and will likely be reversed as soon as lawmakers can figure out a way to do it.

But in passing Ficker's amendment, voters have done two things. They have told lawmakers to find other ways to generate revenue aside from increasing taxes. And more importantly, they have reminded elected officials that there IS more than one valid point of view in Montgomery County. Ficker himself told the Washington Post, "As evidenced by this vote, there are a lot of homeowners who feel their voices are not being heard," he said. "Someone is going to give these bipartisan homeowners a voice."

When I was a news director, I didn't take Robin Ficker very seriously, and neither did anyone I worked with in the media. Thank God for his thick skin and stubborn determination. Thank you, Robin Ficker.

Reasons To Be Thankful

Sure, the economy sucks, and yes, it's scary to think that things are going to get worse before they get better. But the fact is that human nature (or is it simply being American) dictates that we spend more time obsessing over the things we don't have instead of appreciating the things that we do have.

Check out this video by comedian Louis C.K. with Conan O'Brien. C.K. recognizes that we take too many things for granted. Yes, he's doing a stand-up comedy routine, but he makes some excellent points! So the next time Tivo clips off the last minute of a program you had recorded, don't be angry... Be thankful!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

More Inauguration Bullsh**!

Two items of note on the inauguration today...
First, it looks like organizers (well, everyone but Mayor Adrian Fenty) are now backing away from yesterday's rediculous report that as many as four million people could be on the Mall for the inauguration, and now the top figure seems to be 3 million. As mentioned yesterday, I believe four million is logistically impossible, and I don't think they'll get to three million, either.
Charlie Gibson mentioned on ABC's World News last night that 3 million would exceed:
  • Reagan's First Inauguration
  • LBJ's record-setting 1.2 million inauguration
  • Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech and
  • The Million Man March

COMBINED. He also mentioned that the region's 90,000 hotel rooms could accomodate three million people - as long as folks didn't mind sharing 33 people to a room!

It's heartening to see other media call B.S. on this Inauguration crowd story, but there's not a whiff of crowd size revision in this morning's Washington Post.

The Post does redeem itself somewhat by reporting in Marc Fisher's blog that Montgomery County School chief Jerry Weast has called B.S. on an online petition from students and teachers asking for an extra day off to observe the inauguration. Weast says he doubts very many students would actually try to go down to the Mall, and he says, in any case, they'd learn more by watching the ceremony in school where it could be discussed in class - a point I made in this space last week!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Happy Birthday, Mickey Mouse!

I would be remiss in letting this day go by without wishing a great big happy 80th birthday to my personal friend, Mickey Mouse! "Born" on November 18, 1928, when his film, "Steamboat Willie", the world's first cartoon with sound, made its debut at the Colony Theater in New York. Mickey's creator, Walt Disney, had created Mickey after an unscrupulous film distributor pulled a fast one on Walt, and retained the rights to Walt's earlier creation, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Oswald remained the property of Universal pictures until just a couple of years ago, when NBC/Universal traded Oswald back to Disney in exchange for agreeing to release "Monday Night Football" host Al Michaels out of his contract with ABC Sports in order to join NBC's new primetime football broadcast team. Oddly enough (or not), Oswald bore a striking resemblance to Mickey, with long ears instead of round ones, but no matter. The rest, as they say, is history.

To celebrate Mickey's milestone, we present his greatest film role - as the Sorcerer's Apprentice in 1940's Disney classic, "Fantasia".

OK - I'm calling Bullsh** On The Washington Post!

Earlier this week, the Washington Post's media critic, Howard Kurtz, made the observation that the so-called "Mainstream Media" is falling all over itself to fawn over the Obama administration. I can find no better evidence of that than in Kurtz' own newspaper this morning, where the Post is warning that as many as four million people could fill the Mall and environs for Inauguration Day on January 20th.

I have no doubt whatsoever that President Obama's swearing-in will smash all previous inauguration records, but the premise that it will draw a crowd of that size is logistically impossible - and the Post knows it.

The largest crowd in recent history occured during the Million Man March - pictured above - and that crowd fell well short of a million, despite any political assertions made otherwise. When the US Park Police set the figure at closer to 400,000, march organizers threatened to sue, and Congress ordered Park Police to no longer provide crowd estimates for events.

But let's set aside political motivations, and ask logistical questions instead.

  • How will four million people get to the Mall? The busiest day in Metro history carried 850,000 thousand passengers - and most of those were round-trips, so that accounts for about 450,000 people. Can you tell me how Metro is going to increase its passenger load by a factor of 8 or 9?

  • They will park buses at RFK Stadium, and some people will walk from there. If they had a thousand buses - an extraordinary number - and they each had 50 people on board, that is still only 50,000 people. A pittance when you're trying to get four million people on the Mall.

  • Where will four million people eat and sleep? There are 90,000 hotel rooms in the area. Even with four people to a room, you need to find basement floors for millions of more houseguests to sleep in. And when those four million get to the mall, where will they go to the bathroom? Are there even enough porta-johns in the DC area to accomodate four million people?

  • This event is in January - Where will these four million people be when it rains or snows?

Look, I get the excitement that the Obama inauguration will bring, but there's just no way, short of having people camp out for days in ideal weather, that even half that many people are going to be on the Mall or on Pennsylvania Avenue on January 20th. The government is doing its job by preparing as much as it can for huge crowds, but the Washington Post is NOT doing its job by not calling B.S. on those kinds of crowd estimates... So I'm calling B.S. on the Post!

Live Long And Prosper!

It's a Slow Tuesday morning, so until I come up with something scintillating to entertain you with, please enjoy the just-released trailer from the new Star Trek film, coming to a galaxy near you next May...

Monday, November 17, 2008

Monday Musings

Just a few random thoughts and news notes from over the weekend...

  • If the Redskins don't get a pass rush, they might end the season 6 - 10.

  • I have a small rant. I will admit up front I am a bit of a lead-footed driver, and I've written about that before, more than once. But why is it when motorists drive past speed cameras, they slow down below the speed limit? It drives me insane. People who are tooling along at 40 in a 35 mile-an-hour zone will slow down to 25, when they'd be perfectly fine if they had just stayed at 40. The law in Montgomery County states that the camera will be triggered only for drivers going 10 or more miles over the speed limit. As these cameras mature, you have to wonder how effective they are. Everyone knows where the cameras are, so one-block stretches of roadway are being protected. Beyond that - not so much.

  • I filled up my minivan for 30 dollars yesterday at the Costco in Frederick, where the price for regular for $1.89 a gallon. I've been trying to remember the last time I paid this little for gas, and I just can't. I know this is a really bad indicator for the economy, but at the moment I just don't care. I can't wait to fill my Civic for less than 20 bucks! You can't help but wonder what shape the US auto industry would be in if this plunge had happened a year ago instead of now... But then again, if this had happened a year ago, a whole lot of things about the economy - and perhaps the outcome of the election - would have been different.

Finally - A video for you that harkens back to the days when jet fuel was cheap, but jet travel was not. A time before baggage fees and sardine class seating - when people would wear their Sunday best on planes, instead of their pajamas. It's Pan Am - 1958!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Why American Express Is In Deep Sh**!

American Express received permission this week from the Federal Reserve to in essence, shift from being merely a credit card company to becoming instead a full-fledged bank. The move is being made so AMEX can get in line and put its hand out for some of that 700 billion dollars in federal bailout money.

Maybe AMEX wouldn't be in the crapper if it was more selective about the customers it goes after, and if it didn't give away the store in an effort to generate more business!

I received an offer in the mail this week for an American Express gold card. If I signed up and spent 500 dollars on the card between now and the end of January, AMEX would give me 50,000 Membership points - enough to cash in and receive 500 dollars in gift cards. Plus - the 150 dollar fee for the Gold card would be waived for the first year.

Now, I do have excellent credit, but I haven't had a regular job in nine months, so I was a bit concerned my application would be turned down. Silly me. When I went on line to apply for the card, and declared myself "self-employed", that was enough for AMEX. My application was approved in a few seconds, and the card is now on its way.

I will easily spend 500 bucks over the holiday season (we need a brake job for our minivan - that'll eat up most of it right there), receive my points, pay the bill (on stuff I would have bought anyway) and cancel the card. AMEX will be out 500 bucks, and I'll get a nice little prize essentially for free.

I know this will work, because we received the exact same offer at this time last year, except it was in my wife's name. We spent exactly 504 dollars, paid the bill, cancelled the card, and received two roundtrip tickets on Southwest Arilines AND a 50 dollar gift card to the Cheesecake Factory. Our friends, the Bernsteins received the same deal and did the same thing.... Now imagine how many other people did what we did.

Is it any wonder American Express is now asking the government for help? Maybe if it didn't give away so much money, it wouldn't be in such dire straits!

Not that I'm complaining!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Congratulations, Sherwood!

Sherwood High School is having a fine weekend! Last night, the undefeated Warriors football team beat Northwest High School, 38 - 3, to advance to the second round of the county playoffs. And this morning, on Channel 4, Sherwood beat Mt. Vernon and Eleanor Roosevelt to advance to the second round of It's Academic! Congrats to Brad, Molly and Josh for a great come-from-behind win! Here's the intense final round... You can also find the rest of the match posted on youtube!

The team will play again on TV in the spring! Go Warriors!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Brad Matthews, TV Star!

Just a quick reminder for anyone who cares... My oldest son, Brad and his teammates from Sherwood High School will be on It's Academic tomorrow morning, Saturday, November 15th, at 10:30am - on WRC-TV, channel 4. You'll finally be able to find out how they did! Check back at this space next week and perhaps you'll find a youtube recap!

Have a good weekend!

The Holidays Are Here!

Yes, I know Christmas decorations are already up in the department stores, and the Sunday newspapers are already getting fat with sales circulars. But for me, the arrival of the holiday season always comes when the annual cliched stories start popping up in the news. Just this morning, I heard Jim Hickey tell us on the ABC Network news how much more a Thanksgiving dinner would cost this year:

Here's the news from the American Farm Bureau:

WASHINGTON, D.C., November 13, 2008 – Menu items for a classic Thanksgiving dinner including turkey, stuffing, cranberries, pumpkin pie and all the basic trimmings will cost just a bit more this year, but remain affordable, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.
AFBF’s 23rd annual informal price survey of classic items found on the Thanksgiving Day dinner table indicates the average cost of this year’s feast for 10 is $44.61, a $2.35 price increase from last year’s average of $42.26.

I don't know about you, but I don't know anyone who serves Thanksgiving dinner for FOUR for 45 bucks, let alone 10! Where does the American Farm Bureau buy its food - the dollar store? And they also don't mention the cost of alcohol, which is really the only way most families can make it through Thanksgiving dinner! You can read the entire press release here.

Now that we've heard the cost of Thanksgiving dinner story, we'll have the Butterball turkey hotline story, followed by the warnings from the fire department about the hazards of deep-frying turkey, and then the mother of all post-Thanksgiving stories - Black Friday shopping crowds! I will be writing and anchoring at WMAL that day, and following a long-held family tradition, Mrs. Matthews shall be calling in to report on the size of the crowds, and on what they're buying!

Happy Turkey Day!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Inaugurate This!

This happens every four years... School systems are falling all over themselves trying to figure out whether to be open on Inauguration Day. The pressure is even higher than normal in Prince George's County because of the historical nature of the event, and one school board member there says there's no point in trying to stay open because no one - staff or students- will show up anyway.

I have conflicted feelings about this. I am all for letting students off IF they will use the day to go down to the Mall and take in the ceremonies. The only problem is there's no way of proving they will do so. In addition, January 20th comes the day after MLK day, which means it would be a four-day weekend. Some families will use that as an excuse to go out of town, and they won't be observing the change of administrations anyway.

Teachers in some counties are pushing for the day off, presumably so they can join the hoards on the Mall as well. I think they should perhaps put their money where their mouths are. Our school systems are struggling to meet their budgets, and are considering furloughs in many places. How about giving everyone the day off, and count it as a furlough? It would save money and allow everyone to celebrate at the same time.

I have been to three inaugurations - and those were back in the days before heavy security measures were in place. If you like freezing your assets off, standing in long security lines and not really being able to see anything, then I think you'll enjoy Inauguration Day. I will happily stay home, thank you.

In any case, whether schools are closed or not, they need to be using the inauguration as a learning experience. If schools are open, they should be shutting down instruction to let kids watch the ceremonies, and they should plan quizzes and other activities around it.

If schools are closed, there oughta be a quiz on Wednesday!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

How Far Has The Radio Business Fallen?

When I started this blog back in March of this year, I named it "Life On The Beach" for a reason. "On the beach" is a common term - especially in the radio business - for people who are out of work as they search for their next job. I took the name from a popular feature on a radio industry website that people in the business use every day, Each week, the site profiles a "beached" radio pro, in hopes that it will help that pro to find a job. Well, this week, my profile finally came up. (You can see it if you'd like, but you would have to register - it's free)

To give you an idea of just how rotten the shape of the radio industry is, I had completed my survey about 5 months ago, and it just now popped up online, meaning that I sat in a long list of people - and I bet the line behind me is even longer.

Since the posting first appeared yesterday, I have heard from several people, including two former colleagues whom I had not heard from since my departure from WMAL. Both offered kind words, and it was great to hear from them. They both still have jobs, and I hope their situations don't change.

I also heard from a couple of complete strangers who are in the same boat I'm in. I do plan to write them back and comisserate. It's always nice to trade words with folks who know what you're going through.

One of the guys also sent along an audio clip and resume to me, asking me to review it and offer suggestions. I don't know quite what to say to him. What if my advice works, and he beats me out for a job? And is another unemployed guy really the best place to go for career advice? Hmm.

A common thread running through all of the emails is that I'm hearing from people who love radio, and who, like me, are chagrined to see the business we love crumbling in front of us. This must be akin to what it felt like when plane travel began to threaten large-scale railroad transportation. A lot of railroad employees lost their jobs as the passenger train business dwindled. The same thing is happening now in radio, and each month, literally hundreds of radio workers are hitting the street with nowhere to go in the business they love.

This beach is sure getting crowded.

Election leftovers!

Two post-election things to post this morning... First - Senator John McCain proved he is a good sport during his appearance on Leno:

And Camille Paglia has offered her election post-mortem at There's something here for both parties, as Paglia shares her continuing affections for both Barack Obama and my gal, Sarah Palin! Enjoy the read!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Early To Bed, Early To Rise

I'm putting my old man hat on again today to let you know that back in the day, when we had to get up before dawn in order to catch the bus to go to high school, we just did it, dammit! It beat the hell out of having to trudge through 3 feet of snow and walk 5 miles to school like our parents did!

Fairfax County parents are lamenting this week because they will probably have to scrap a costly plan to switch up the county's school bus schedule in order to allow teenagers more sleep time, and to go to school later in the morning. The rationale for this is that doctors have declared that teenagers need more sleep than they can get when classes start at 7:20am - and that they will perform better in school if they are more rested.

OK - I concede that this is probably true. I'm sure we all would perform better if we all had more sleep. But I would like someone to try and convince me that if teenagers didn't have to be at school until 9 am, that they would end up getting any more sleep than they do now. To me, that would just give them an excuse to stay up until midnight or later...

I actually like the idea of having teenagers getting up early in the morning. It creates a level of discipline and encourages sleep habits that will serve them well as adults - especially for teenagers who live in the suburbs, as I do, where long commutes are commonplace. Of course, I say this as someone who's wakeup time over the past 25 years has averaged at around 4 am.

My son, Brad, goes to bed by 9:30 every night, and rolls out of the sack at 5:15 am. He does go to bed earlier than any of his friends, but he is also a straight-A student, and most of his friends are not. Brad would certainly like to be able to go to bed later during the week, but he recognizes that sleep is an important commodity, and he doesn't gripe about going to bed relatively early.

Rather than spending millions to further coddle our teenagers, I say send 'em to bed early!

They'll thank you later.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Well, He's No President Bartlet, But...

Someone clever has taken the Obama campaign and merged it with the West Wing open... and they did a very clever job of it, too:

I just happen to own the last two seasons of the West Wing, which covered the campaigns of the two candidates vying to succeed President Bartlet, and I started to rewatch them about a week before the election. It has been fascinating to watch the fake campaign - Rep. Matthew Santos (D-TX), played by Jimmy Smits, vs. Sen. Arnold Vinick (R-CA), played by Alan Alda - and the real campaign at the same time... It makes you appreciate the drama of the actors even more, and I highly recommend it if you get the chance.

By the way, President-elect Obama's chief of staff, Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), was reportedly the model for the character of Josh Lyman, who was President Bartlet's deputy chief of staff and later Matt Santos' campaign manager. So there ya go!

I'm Having Facebook Issues!

It's been seven months now since I joined Facebook, and it's amazing how quickly people of my generation have caught on. Back in April, there were about a dozen people from my high school class signed up, for example... Now, nearly 50 people have signed on, and that number is climbing every day. While this is largely a positive phenomenon, there are some drawbacks. First of all, this sudden contact with people I have not seen in nearly 30 years has brought me face to face with my own age. Here's an actual recent exchange I had with a girl I last saw in 1979. She had requested friendship with me:

Me: Hi there! Life is good... it's the economy that sucks! Happy and honored to be on your friends list!

Woman : LOL back at ya, John! Good to "see" you again. 30 years is right around the corner! Can you believe it?!

Me: What I can't believe is that I have a sophomore at Sherwood, so I'm living high school all over again!

Woman: I know what you mean! Mine are 24 and 20 .. and.. I have a grandson! whew..

Me: Kill me now.

There are still things about this Facebook networking that I don't get. For some reason, there seems to be a pressing need for some people to sign up as many "friends" as they can get - whether they are friends or not. For example, I signed up to become one of my son, Brad's friends, just so I can keep an eye on what he's doing online. But now, a couple of Brad's female friends have asked to become MY friends, so now, I receive a steady stream of updates from adolescent teenage girls... filled mostly with misspelled words and dopey fake gangsta speak. Just brilliant.

I'm also receiving friend requests from people who I've either A - never heard of... or B - who I've heard of but have no desire to ever hear from again. In the case of people I've never heard of - it's akin to someone dialing a wrong number, except it's also possible that I once knew these people back in some dark past, and I'm just not remembering them... (I'm getting old, remember? Some of my contemporaries have grandkids!)

Meanwhile, I'm still struggling with the etiquette of how to deal with friend requests, and I've even faced the phenomenon of people not taking a hint! I have ignored their requests, only to have them come back not once, but two or three times, demanding to be my friend!

A lot of people have taken on Facebook as the new way to be non-productive at work. At this point, I'd prefer some more work to keep me away from Facebook!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Rockville Tea Party!

Just as the colonists of Boston sent a message to the king, voters in Montgomery County have sent a warning shot to the County Executive and Council... I gleefully give you this editorial from today's Washington Post:

The Montgomery Tax Revolt
Voters send a clear message to Rockville: Cut spending and curb union influence.

Friday, November 7, 2008; A18

THE JOKE HAS always been that Montgomery County residents never met a tax they didn't like. Voters, tired of being a punch line, sent a contrary message to county leaders on Tuesday: Stop the tax hikes and start spending less. Half of Montgomery voters supported a measure that would make it more difficult to raise the limit on property tax rates. The ill-advised measure, which could hinder the County Council's ability to raise revenue in a time of fiscal crisis, became an outlet for voters frustrated with spending in Rockville. It's unclear whether the measure will pass -- it's ahead by a few hundred votes with thousands of absentee and provisional ballots uncounted -- but, whatever the outcome, Montgomery lawmakers would be wise to take voters' concerns seriously.

The possible success of the measure, peddled by anti-spending ideologue Robin Ficker, isn't a total validation of Mr. Ficker's three-decade crusade against taxes. But it is a repudiation of the county government's warped fiscal priorities. The council, and County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), buckled to union pressure last year and approved audacious pay increases that far exceeded inflation and defied common sense. The raises, which total 8 percent this year for many county employees, contributed to a severe budget deficit that forced the council to approve a 13 percent increase in property tax rates earlier this year. Taxpayers, incensed by the increase, wondered why they had to bear the brunt of the budget crunch. At a time when the county is shedding jobs and many feel lucky to have a steady paycheck, shouldn't county workers also contribute to a solution?

No doubt many voters also may have had in mind the recently reported excesses of the county's disability retirement program. More than 60 percent of Montgomery police officers who retired in the past four years are collecting service-related disability payments. Some officers have legitimate complaints; others are gaming the system and taking taxpayers for a costly ride. Reforming the disability program would have tangible fiscal benefits -- $35 million was awarded for service-related disability benefits in fiscal 2008. Reform would also send a message to voters that county leaders are serious about rebuffing excessive union influence.

Mr. Leggett could reinforce that message if he takes a firm position in negotiations about possible pay concessions. Usually the soul of conciliation, Mr. Leggett must make the case that it's better for union leaders to compromise on wage hikes than risk the council's deciding not to fully fund the increases. The council must buttress Mr. Leggett by making clear that such threats aren't idle. The alternative will be serious budget cuts that reduce services and cut jobs. That's no laughing matter.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Are You Now In A Com(obam)a?

Obama Win Causes Obsessive Supporters To Realize How Empty Their Lives Are

The Fairness Doctrine Is Inherently UNfair!

Now that the election is over, and the Democrats control the House, the Senate and the White House, there will be some movement from within Congress to control the media as well. A frightening number of Democratic leaders want to bring back the Fairness Doctrine, a pre-Reagan era regulation that requires broadcasters to give equal access to points of view from across the political spectrum. This would force a station like WMAL to carry an equal number of programs that are left-leaning to counter the station's successful right-leaning lineup.

Proponents say Americans need and deserve to hear from all points of view as it concerns the important events of the day, and that regulating content like this will ensure Americans have that kind of access. There are a million problems with this line of thought, but let me hit you with just a few reasons why the Fairness Doctrine is WAY WAY WAY wrong.

  • Congress' approval rating with the public is at 18 percent. Would you want someone who you agree with only 18 percent of the time controlling the remote control in your house? Me neither. I only agree with my wife about half the time, and I still don't control the remote!

  • This is a not-so-veiled attempt to get payback on conservative talk radio. A big F.U. to the Rush Limbaughs and Sean Hannitys of the world for making liberals' lives so miserable over the past 20 years. The problem is that the liberal argument of conservative unfairness carries no weight. How can you argue the conservative point of view is too strong when the Democrats now control Congress and the White House? Rush Limbaugh may be a painful rectal itch to Democrats, but he is not a cancer.

  • If you mess with conservative talk, you're going to kill the ratings for an entire format of commercial radio - an industry that is already having a hard time making ends meet. And you're going to cause great damage to public stations as well. Do you really think successful NPR stations are going to be able to raise as much money as they do now if their listeners are asked to contribute to stations that now have 50 percent conservative content? And if you are a fan of NPR - or Air America, for that matter - Do you really want the government messing with your programming, either?

  • I would be willing to bet that a large majority of the people who bitch about Rush Limbaugh have never even listened to Rush Limbaugh. How can you be harmed by content that are not in any way exposed to?

  • The fact is - The market will correct itself without government intervention. The same world that gave us Fox news is now giving us MSNBC. Broadcasters are motivated by money. Money is generated by ratings. People who generate ratings are going to be on radio and TV, whether they are Rush Limbaugh or Keith Olbermann.

You don't need to blow up broadcast radio and TV to ensure fairness - especially when those mediums are getting their asses kicked by the very home of open opinion - the internet. The web is where opinions of all stripes are being formed in the 21st century - not on radio or television.

We should not be eager to allow the government to decide how much information of a certain political bent is deemed to be enough or not enough. The free market is doing well enough on its own on that score, and any attempt by the Democratic Congress and the Obama Administration to regulate "fairness" will ultimately create the groundswell of conservative noise that they will indeed be endeavoring to mute.

You have rights, people! Protect them!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Doing The Work Of The People - Election Edition!

Some miscellaneous observations after working election night at ABC News in downtown DC.

  • The most asinine thing I saw on TV was CNN having reporters reporting via hologram. I saw Jessica Yellin chatting with Wolf Blitzer from Chicago, with this strange blue haze around her. And the camera was careful to pan around Wolf Blitzer's studio, just to prove to the audience that Yellin was really a hologram. To bring home the point, CNN put up a chyron on the screen that read "Jessica Yellin reporting live via hologram". It did look cool - like Princess Leia giving election results. But what did it add to CNN's coverage? Absolutely nothing. A standard split screen would have done the job just as - NO - more effectively, because the audience would have heard what Yellin had to say instead of focusing on watching her glow.

  • The most presidential thing of John McCain's campaign was the last thing he did - give a brilliant concession speech... And does anyone really doubt he'll follow through with his promise to support President Obama?

  • With 2008 out of the way, there's no time like the present to start on 2010. One of the many interviews I edited during the evening was with Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), who chairs the GOP's House campaign committee. Even in defeat, Cole focused on the silver lining for Republicans, and pointed out that Democrats will now be held responsible for everything that happens in Washington, and he boldly (and correctly, I think) predicted that if the Democrats don't move to the center and work with Republicans, that the GOP will pick up a lot of seats two years from now.

  • When I walked out of ABC at 1:30 this morning, I could hear people shouting and car horns honking as they left the White House. There were people all over the place - this being about 5 blocks north of the White House, where crowds had gathered. I could not help but smile at the young people's youthful exuberance, and feel a bit sad for them that what they had just lived through was the easy part. Campaigning is one thing - leading is another... and even in a best-case scenario, this 21st Century Camelot is going to be severely tested from day one.

  • I got home at 2:30, and to bed around 3 am. I thought surely that my hard day's work would merit me the opportunity to sleep in, right? Wrong. The Empress bellowed at about 7:15. She was racing to get ready for work, and needed her coffee. She needed HER coffee. I'm telling you.... Daddy's been home too long, cuz Mama is getting spoiled!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Well - That's That!

I drove up to my wife/son's school this morning, waited about 15 minutes in line, and cast my ballot. I will tell you truthfully that I stared at the screen for President for about a minute before I cast my vote, and to be honest, as I have mentioned before, I would be relatively comfortable with either Obama or McCain in the Oval office... or at least as comfortable as one can be considering I don't think either of those guys have a clue of what to do about the economy.

I will not reveal my specific presidential vote - not that it matters much in far left Montgomery County, Maryland - but I will say that my votes on the ballot swung from the far left to the far right. If I am a squishy moderate, so be it, but I believe what I believe, and I think anyone who simply votes on a party line year in and year out represents part of the problem in our polarized society rather than part of the solution.

How many bad incumbent members of Congress will be returned to Washington this fall, simply because they represent the majority party in their districts? I suspect a great many.

But at least this election is over! There will now be a bye week, and then it's time to get ready for the next one. Palin in 2012, anyone?

Monday, November 3, 2008

In Case Of Election Emergency, Watch This!

There's a mathematical chance that the winner of the popular vote in today's election will not win the electoral vote, and will therefore lose the election, just as Al Gore did to George W. Bush in 2000. If that happens in this year's election, please watch the following video before you light your torches. It explains how our nation works. Thank you - and please vote early and often!

Of course, none of this will really be necessary, because the Redskins election rule is in effect.

In the Redskins 76-year history, whenever the Skins win the game prior to election day, the party that currently holds the White House wins the presidential election. Whenever the Skins lose the pre-election game, the party NOT currently in the White House wins the election. This streak is 16 for 17, with the only exception being Dubya's victory over John Kerry four years ago. With the Redskins' loss to the Steelers last night, it ensures the streak will be back on track, and that Barack Obama will be elected our next President.

So there's no need for you to actually vote. Have a nice day.

A Rose Growing Among The Weeds!

Let's face it... there's a lot to not be happy about these days - especially with the economy being what it is... So we take our good news where we can find it! And I found it yesterday at the gas pump at Costco in Columbia, where I filled up the minivan for (drum roll please..... ) $2.12 a gallon!

It cost me less to fill up my minivan this week than it did to fill up my little Honda Civic last week! This prompted me to google "gas prices", and here's what I found out!
  • Regular gas is now averaging $2.44 a gallon nationwide, down $1.11 cents in a month, and down $1.67 since the price peaked at $4.11 a gallon in July!

  • Gas prices have fallen for 46 days in a row, and some analysts think the average price will drop another 25 cents or so before it bottoms out in December.

  • Gas has not been this cheap in 19 months.

  • The cost of crude oil has dropped even further than gas... Down more than 50 percent, from nearly $150 a barrel to 63 dollars a barrel this week.

One wonders what might have happened on Wall Street and at the ballot box if the spike in gas prices had never happened. There's really no way of knowing. But I do think the auto and travel industries would be in a lot better shape than they are now!

Still, I somehow don't think the SUV is on the verge of a comeback!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

One Day More!

OK - Now I swear this is the last time I shall post about the election before the election. My friend, Joanie, who knows I have a weakness for broadway musicals in general and Les Miserables in particular, has forwarded me the following via WMAL's Engineer emeritus Burt Cohen.

And he may have his ass handed to him on Tuesday, but as I have mentioned previously, John McCain is a good sport, and has a great sense of humor. If you didn't see him on SNL this week, check this out:

Now, get out there, and vote, everybody!