Monday, June 29, 2009

Just Call Me The Man In Black!

You know by now that I have a thing for credit cards... There's nothing I like more than getting a good offer in the mail that offers me a full range of benefits. Typically, I've signed up for cards to receive free airline miles, fulfilled the minimum requirements, sucked all of the benefits out of the offer, then sent the cards to cancelled-account Hell. But today, I have truly been rewarded.

The offer arrived in a black envelope. Not a cheap flimsy cheap drug store model, but the heavyweight, expensive stationary store variety. The promotional card informed me that I have been invited and pre-selected to receive the EXCLUSIVE Visa Black Card.

But wait, there's MORE. The promotional brochure informed me:

For those who demand only the best of what life has to offer, the exclusive Visa Black Card is for you. The Black Card is not just another piece of plastic. Made with carbon, it is the ultimate buying tool.

The Black Card is not for everyone. In fact, it is limited to only 1% of U.S. residents to ensure the highest caliber of personal service is provided to every cardmember.

And there were bullet points, too!
  • Limited Membership

  • 24-hour Concierge Service

  • Exclusive Rewards Program

  • Luxury Gifts

  • Patent Pending Carbon Card

And my favorite:

  • Annual Fee $495

Yes - that's right. For 500 bucks, I can pay with plastic that's not even plastic, but CARBON!

Having been wooed with the marketing, I took a harder look at the nitty gritty. The current APR on the card is 13.24 percent... Not too bad, but still nearly twice the rate of my current credit card. But while the $500 annual fee allows me a level of exclusivity, it does NOT buy me much trust. If I make one late payment, the APR jumps to 29.99 percent!

Of course, these expenses are just the price one must expect in order to belong to such an exclusive club. After all, just one percent of Americans are being sent this offer. The small print says Black Card membership is limited to one percent of the US population, based on the 2000 census. That number is 281,421,906, which means 2.8 million people are being offered this credit card. Doesn't sound so exclusive to me, somehow...

I'm quite sure I will live to regret this, but I'm afraid I will have to say no to the Black Card. As big as it is, my ego is simply not big enough for this card. If you'd like to join, let me know and I'll put in a good word for you!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

An Ad To Make You Blush!

Is it hot in here?

Michael Jackson Is Dead - What To Make Of That?

I heard just before 6:30 this evening (literally at 6:27 pm) that Michael Jackson died today. My first reaction was to turn on ABC's World News to see how the network was covering the story. MJ was the lead of course, followed by Farrah Fawcett, who also died today of cancer. Poor Farrah will now forever be remembered for having died on the day that Michael Jackson died, and Ed McMahon will be remembered for starting this particular celebrity death trifecta.

I am still trying to come up with a "take" on Jackson's death. My sister, Jill, has already plastered Facebook with 3 or 4 quick hits expressing her sadness. It's probably a gender thing, but I cannot be sad, per se. I mean, it's obviously sad whenever anyone dies, but in a way, Michael Jackson's death almost comes as a relief to me. It's the end of a freak show.

There will be those who demand that Michael Jackson's talent be remembered with respect, transcending his personal foibles and troubles. Perhaps that will be the case someday, but it certainly isn't today for many people. Michael Jackson was a child molester, just as clearly as OJ Simpson is a murderer. It's kinda hard to look past that. He spent tens of millions of dollars to keep his victims and their families quiet, and it almost seems inevitable that stories about Jackosn's private life will come flooding out into the media any second now. It's tough to see how Jackson's legacy as a popstar will be able to rise above all of that.

Jackson's "Thriller" is the best-selling album of all time, but I have always preferred the "Jackson Five" Michael Jackson... the one who sang "I Want You Back" and "I'll Be There" and "ABC".

Child stars are too young to have tarnished legacies.

Let's Stamp Out Stamp Ignorance!

Against all odds, we received our first letter from camp yesterday... just two days after dropping the boys off at Camp Airy. The letter was from our youngest son, 11-year-old Spencer, who informed us in three sentences that he had already made two new friends and was having fun. I can only imagine that his counselors made every boy in the bunk send a letter home. Last year, we did not receive a single letter from him, and I wouldn't be surprised if, despite our pleadings, that Spencer does not write again.

It's not exactly difficult for Spencer to write us something. Mrs. Matthews sends along pre-addressed envelopes - All Spencer has to do is put a stamp on it, and we also sent along an abundance of "Forever" stamps - or so I thought. I noticed on the envelope that someone had added a three-cent stamp to Spencer's letter. I thought that was kind of odd. "Forever" stamps don't NEED to have any extra postage added. So I poked around online, and went to the US Postal Service website to confirm that my stamps were indeed "Forever" stamps. The USPS website was, of course, no help. (I've had problems with the USPS site before) The Postal Service wouldn't want to set a dangerous precedent and provide competent customer service, would it?

Eventually, however, I discovered that the American Flag stamp I had been using as "Forever" stamps, are, in fact, worth 41 cents, despite the fact they have no postage amount listed on them. The current cost of mailing a letter is 44 cents. It's interesting to note that I have mailed several letters with the old stamps, and they have all been delivered without incident. I can only assume that the Postal Service let them slip because they know that customers have no way of knowing the stamps' value without a PRICE ON THEM!

Robin and I stopped by the local Post Office and bought a bunch of three-cent stamps to use with our outdated ones, and Robin also bought a sheet of "Simpsons" stamps to send to the boys, in hopes that their cartoon value will somehow prompt the boys to want to write home (She's dreaming, but I indulge her...) I also now know that the ONLY "Forever" stamps are the ones with the Liberty Bell on them.

So now you know. And so do I!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Tacky Response To Tragedy.

I just finished watching a live news conference concerning yesterday's tragic Metro train crash in Washington, hosted by D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty. What an exercise in frustration!

Nearly half a dozen people spoke, from Fenty to Metro's General Manager, to the Chairman of Metro's Board of Directors and DC's Fire Chief. Between those four, there was very, very little new information released. We did learn that Metro has set aside $250,000 to help bury the dead, and we did learn the names of some of the people who died in the crash, but for the first half-hour, we mostly heard either old information - stuff we had heard in the hours after the crash - or we heard Fenty and others thanking each other for the hard work they had put in for the previous 24 hours. Essentially, these public servants were kissing each others asses for doing what they are being paid to do - their JOBS.

This is not a new complaint of mine. It's been a pet peeve of mine ever since I was a cub reporter covering deadly boring hearings on Capitol Hill... Hearings that largely consisted of Senators thanking their esteemed colleagues from South Carolina for having the courage and fortitude to hold hearings on whatever subject the hearing happened to be about.

But back to the rant at hand... The worst part of this news conference is that there WAS real news to be reported, but it came from the last speaker - Debbie Hersman, the National Transportation Safety Board member overseeing the investigation into the crash. She had real and new and compelling information, including that the striking train was operating under automatic control when the crash took place, and that the operator apparently DID try to use the emergency brake.

In the news business, this is what we call burying the lead. The NTSB board member should have gone first, not last. She had, by far, the most important information to present. However, if she had gone first, the TV stations carrying the 5:30 pm news conference in the middle of their newscasts might not have stuck around to hear Mayor Fenty and others kissing the backsides of their colleagues. So instead, the politicos kept us all waiting around so they could make their political points before mucking up the news conference with real NEWS.

So tacky and so sad.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

It's Deja Vu All Over Again!

The boys are leaving for camp in two days, so we've started the arduous task of schlepping in their trunks from the garage and getting them packed to go away for the next month. As Robin was going through Spencer's box filled with stationary and stamps (that largely go unused every summer!), she found a letter that she had written to him LAST summer. Gee - it sounded awfully familiar - she was packing up to leave one school and move to another, just as she is doing this summer! Here is an excerpt...

June 28, 2008

Hi, Spence!

Things here are very quiet without you and your brother. I'm still trying to pack up at school! I have too much stuff! The good news is that I am getting better at backing up the car into the driveway - the bad news is that I am quickly filling up the garage with my junk and running out of space, and I still have more to bring home!

What's really bad is that I have to move it all again in a few weeks to Greenwood! My office looks really strange - nothing on the walls, my shelves are all dismantled and for the first time in 6 years, I can see the floor and even my desk! Dad is trying not to think about how much stuff I have and how much I have spent on my classroom... Let's put it this way - I have an entire box of pens (mostly purple, of course) and another container of Sharpie markers in all shapes, sizes and colors. The crazy thing is that I'll still be going to Staples to take advantage of their Back to School sales! Right now, I'm in the middle of looking for my wrist brace, since I seem to have hurt my wrist while moving all of my stuff. If I'm lucky, maybe I'll find it before next Christmas!

Ya know... some things in life are best lived just once. Unfortunately - no one asked my opinion!

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Friday, June 19, 2009

I Need A (Pack) Rat Exterminator!

For the past three days, the boys and I have been helping Mrs. Matthews pack up her classroom. She is leaving her old school and going to a new school this fall, so in effect, she has been evicted. This means that for the next two months, my garage will be home to boxes (and boxes and BOXES AND BOXES AND BOXES!) of books, games, files, curriculum binders, school supplies, paper and the other minutia of school teacher-dom.

My wife is not making this easy for the rest of us. She swears she is throwing stuff away that she doesn't need, or leaving it for her successor. In fact, she's left a lot of stuff. But the problem is, my wife is a packrat. She has major abandonment issues. In my garage, there is one large plastic tote filled with crayons. You've heard of the 64-color pack? Think of this as the 64-THOUSAND color pack! There is a large cardboard box filled with ziploc bags, and one tote filled with nothing but glue sticks. She could teach paper-gluing classes for the next five years, and we would still have leftover glue sticks.

This all creates a conundrum or two. First of all, there is the matter of our garage. It is now half-filled with her school materials, and some of those materials will now never be leaving the garage, because there is stuff she bought for Kindergarten (this past school year) that she will never use for Special Ed Preschool (this coming school year). So it will now have a permanent home here. Robin actually said to me last night "Well, I guess this means we won't be able to park in the garage". We have lived in this house for nearly five years, and we've never (ever - not once) parked in the garage! (Like I said... PACKRAT!)

Then there's the matter of moving stuff again. I have discovered that we have been moving some materials that have already been moved twice without being used. Case in point - Yesterday, I moved a box containing two gallons of Elmer's Glue. I recognized the box, because I had moved it from her PREVIOUS school last year, to our home last June, then to her old school last August, and back to our garage again yesterday. Will I dare move it to her new school again in eight weeks? How about most of the hundreds and hundreds of Scholastic books that Robin has somehow amassed over seven years of teaching. Her new students will not be literate, so am I really going to be moving a dozen cases of books that will only return home again in the (hopefully way, way, distant) future?

Robin insists she needs ALL of this stuff. I think what she really needs is an educator's yard sale.
Or, better yet - a gallon of gasoline and a match!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

John Edwards - Please Go Away!

It's been 10 months since the world learned that former Presidential Candidate John Edwards (D-NC) had cheated on his wife and possibly fathered a baby with another woman. During that time, Edwards has been, in addition to kissing the ground his wife walks on, doing charity work to aid the poor in places like Haiti and El Salvador, and he has studiously avoided the press, even as his wife published a book and toured the country and appeared on Oprah.

Now, Edwards has broken his silence and granted an interview to the Washington Post. You can read the complete article here. The story opens by stating that Edwards has no illusions about how America views him. Yet, in these two paragraphs, it sure sounds like Edwards is making an effort to rehabilitate his public image:

Yet as he spends his days in his family's mansion on the outskirts of Chapel Hill, N.C., Edwards can't help but fret about how Washington and the country are getting on in his absence. He worries about the concessions that may be made on health-care reform, which he was promoting more aggressively than anyone on the presidential campaign trail. He worries about who will speak out for the country's neediest at a time when most attention is focused on the suddenly imperiled middle class.

"What happens now? If you were to ask people during the campaign who's talking most about [poverty], it was me," he said in an interview a few days ago. "There's a desperate need in the world for a voice of leadership on this issue. . . . The president's got a lot to do, he's got a lot of people to be responsible for, so I'm not critical of him, but there does need to be an aggressive voice beside the president."

Well, guess what, Mr. Edwards? That voice should not be you. Why do you think you deserve a second act before the American public (third act, actually, if you count your run as a VP candidate)? I will concede - cheating on your spouse as a politician has almost become de rigueur (as well as tacky and cliche), but you also likely fathered a child with your mistress, and you cheated on a woman with stage 4 cancer.

You claim you are not on a PR campaign, yet you refuse to rule out a return to politics. Eliot Spitzer (former NY Governor and employer of call girls) is at least pragmatic enough to see the forest for the trees. He knows his life as a politician is his over. Do you really think people are going to listen to what you have to say? Are you waiting for your wife to die so the living reminder of your sins will be gone and you can make a comeback? I'm sorry to have to be a soup nazi, but no more public time for you!

I think its grand that you seem to truly feel a need to champion poverty as a cause, and I'm equally sure you can make a real difference. But please - do it someplace else - away from the cameras and the microphones. Don't write a book. Don't send an op-ed to the New York Times. Don't do any more interviews. Redeem yourself with your family, and make peace with your God. You're not going to be able to do either on the public stage.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Honesty May Be The Best Policy, BUT...

When you work for several employers, as I do, and all of your paychecks come in the form of direct deposits, it's always a bit of a guessing game as to when you'll get paid, and what the exact amount of payment will be. So every week or so, I find myself going online to look at my checking account and match up the deposits to my calendar and make sure I've been paid properly.

Yesterday, I went online and saw something impressive... a deposit of nearly three thousand dollars! The thing is - I haven't done anywhere NEAR three thousand dollars worth of work for any single employer in recent times. I checked and double-checked my calendar, and then started doing some detective work, and figured out which employer has the overly generous payroll department.

I found my pay stub for this client in the company's online portal, and soon discovered the company's error. While we had agreed on a DAILY rate, the company's timesheet still required me to post the number of hours I had worked. What happened was that the company ended up paying me my daily rate PER HOUR!

So now, I'm left with this very impressive pile of extra cash in my checking account. Do I tell the company, or do I jet off to Vegas? Lest you think of me as some dishonest cad, I will let you know that I immediately emailed the employer, and even sent them a screen cap of my online paystub to explain the error of their ways. I know from having run a departmental budget for many years that as soon as the news manager noticed a sizable spending anomaly in his budget, it would take about 5 minutes to figure out what happened. I have not heard back from them yet, but I'm sure somehow that the little "gift" will soon be gone as quickly as it arrived...

But in the back of my mind, there's a little fantasy playing out that they will be so embarrassed by their shocking oversight that they will tell me to just keep the cash.

I can dream, can't I?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Faded Photographs...

...covered now with lines and creases...

Those lyrics come from a song called "Traces of Love" by a group called "Classics 4" - a song that USED to play on WMAL way back in the day. And it's only fitting because WMAL's chief engineer, David Sproul, recently uncovered a folder full of photos from the radio station "back in the day", including many that have not been seen for years. He was kind enough to share them with me, and I am delighted to share a select few of them with you!

This is a picture of the WMAL News team, circa 1995. I'm the guy sitting behind the wheel of "Cruiser 630". Back in the day, I was the station's morning drive "man on the street", and I had to end each report with "John Matthews - Cruiser 630, OUT!" It was a little embarrassing, but my boss told me people would sure remember me. They sure did. (It was still embarrassing)

This is Pat Anastasi and Dorothy Jones in a picture from approximately 1983. Pat was, at the time, the Assignment Editor at WMAL, and Dorothy was the house mother of the newsroom, although I'm quite sure she had a better title than that. I think she was officially the "Editorial Director". Anyway - I chose this shot because this is what the WMAL Newsroom looked like when I started there. Note that Pat is sitting at a manual typewriter. We did have some IBM selectrics, but about half of the people in the newsroom were still breaking their fingers banging out stories on three-copy carbon paper when I started out at WMAL.

Yep - WMAL was a station with a lot of PULL back in the day. This is Morning Show producer Janice Iacona in 1985 with then-Vice President George H.W. Bush. Bush was a big WMAL listener, going back to his days at the Director of the CIA and as a Member of Congress. I also met Mr. Bush once when he visited the station for a news interview.

This past weekend, I went to a reunion of old WMAL News team members - people who were at WMAL when I arrived in 1982. It was quite nice - and a little novel - to be the youngest person there! Marge Kumaki, who was a reporter/anchor at radio 63 back in the day, says she always thought I looked like I was 15 years old. I can assure you I was MUCH older than 15 when this head shot was taken in 1995 or so...

Oy. Sometimes looking back can be painful! Look at that punim!

Monday, June 15, 2009

I Have A Weak Crotch Problem.

As I write this, I can look out the window to my backyard, where a large branch from one of my Bradford Pear trees is lying neatly across my lawn. To call it a branch is somewhat of an understatement. At it's widest point, the branch has a diameter of about 7 inches, and it accounts for about a quarter of a 40 foot tree. It will cost me several hundred dollars to have a tree guy come out, cut it up, then grind it up and haul it away.

This same problem happened to me with another Bradford Pear last year, and I blogged about it then as well. The problem is apparently very common in these kinds of trees. Simply put, Bradford Pears have weak crotches. Here's how the Washington Post defines a crotch in tree-speak:

The crotch is the joint between two branches and, as the Bradford matures, the spot becomes especially susceptible to breakage -- often without warning and often to the detriment of cars parked beneath it.

Well, I don't have to worry about one of these branches falling on my car, but my house is a distinct possibility - and the problem is, these trees are all apparently just time bombs waiting to go off. Cutting them down would cost several THOUSAND dollars, and of course, we'd have top spend thousands more to replace them with something that would presumably have heartier crotches.

Mrs. Matthews takes the pragmatic approach, of course. She says "Honey, we can't cut them down, anyway. They look so beautiful when they bloom in the spring!"

Of course! Putting up with 24/7 impending disaster vs. one week of blossoms a year. Beauty tames the Beast... What was I thinking?

See? Donuts DO Clog Arteries!

I love my doughnuts, but this should make anyone give pause...

Krispy Kreme fires back; suit moved to federal court

By: William C. Flook
Examiner Staff Writer
06/14/09 8:31 PM EDT

How are you going to find a jury impartial to doughnuts?

The running feud between Krispy Kreme and Fairfax County over a ruined sewer system has moved to federal court, and the doughnut maker wants a trial by jury.

It’s the latest legal meandering in a protracted dispute that’s recently garnered national attention, and chuckles.

Fairfax County last month filed a $19 million lawsuit against Krispy Kreme, alleging that years of dumping waste at the company’s Lorton plant clogged and corroded the system’s pipes.

Krispy Kreme, in a U.S. District Court filing last week answering those charges, laid the blame for the damage at the county’s feet.

The county operated the sewer system despite “faulty design and construction,” and knew that sewage would become stagnant over time, “thereby creating conditions that have caused the corrosion to the metal and the failure of the system,” Krispy Kreme alleged.

The neglect led the sewage to become anaerobic, or without oxygen, leading to a buildup of sulfuric acid, Krispy Kreme argued.

Fairfax County’s lawsuit, first reported by The Examiner, charged that the problems originated from “excessive quantities of highly corrosive wastes, doughnut grease and other pollutants” dumped since 2004 at the Furnace Road doughnut plant.

The county claimed to have at one point run a closed-circuit camera along a pipe to document the buildup of goo, only to get the camera stuck. It said Krispy Kreme ignored the $2 million repair bill.

A Fairfax County spokesman declined comment, citing a policy on pending litigation. Krispy Kreme spokesman Brian Little did not return a call for comment. In May, Little called the lawsuit “completely groundless.”

Friday, June 12, 2009

Wicked And Evil - But True!

The Daily Show paid a visit to the New York Times this week, and in the course of five minutes of irony, sarcasm, silliness and satire, proved the case that newspapers are headed for the graveyard...

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
End Times
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorNewt Gingrich Unedited Interview

Let Your Fingers Do The Walking - On Your Keyboard.

The phone rang last night...


"Mr. Matthews? This is Patuxent Publishing calling. We want to check to make sure you received your new Olney Yellow Pages."

"Yes, I saw it in my driveway."

"Do you plan to use it?"

"No. It's already in my recycling bin."

"So what book do you use to get phone numbers?"

"It's called the Internet."

"Thank you!" Click.

I actually lied about throwing the phone book away.... the new one, anyway. The old one IS in my recycling bin. The new book is on the top shelf of my hall closet, where it will sit untouched until this time next year, when I replace it with the 2010 edition. Mrs. Matthews won't let me throw the new phone book away. I think she thinks it's against the law or something.

So Funny, I Forgot To Laugh!

I've been watching this feud between David Letterman and Sarah Palin pretty closely, and I am ready to declare a pox on both of their houses. If you are unfamiliar with the genesis of this feud, you can read about it here, or get the gist of it by watching this:

I was all ready to come to David Letterman's defense when I first heard about this. After all, jokes are whan Letterman does, and pushing the edge of propriety is part of his job. Plus, Palin's daughter, Bristol, who is now 18, was, in fact, "knocked up" even before her Mom came in to the national spotlight. Bristol Palin is fair game. However... Letterman made a joke about Palin's daughter getting knocked up at the Yankees game, and the problem is... the Palin daughter at the game was not 18-year-old Bristol, but 14-year-old Willow.

I can't defend jokes about getting innocent 14-year-old girls pregnant. Letterman should have apologized, and explained that he got the daughters mixed up. That would probably have been the end of it. But Letterman is not really going to apologize. Late night talk show hosts don't DO that. He has to save face with his audience... More significantly to Letterman, he's now in a white-hot ratings war with NBC, where viewers are still trying to decide whether they like Conan O'Brian. Letterman could have handled this with more class, but he's not going to.

At the same time, I can't paint the Palins as real victims in this, either. The feud keeps Sarah Palin in the national spotlight, which serves her political career well, and she's been able to use it to whip up a frenzy (and a few bucks, I'm sure) from the conservative right. Palin is right to defend her daughter, but you don't see her doing anything to try and quiet the controversy, either. And her husband, Todd, who accused Letterman of making a rape joke, just takes a valid complaint against Letterman and skews it way out of proportion.

There is one other news item that, sadly, is also drawing some laughs. Through a spokesperson, Chastity Bono has announced that she is, after years of consideration, going to transition and become a man. I heard my friends discuss this on the radio this morning and have a good ol' belly laugh over her decision to become "Chaz Bono". One of the hosts went so far as to say "I thought she already WAS a man".

Look - you can think transgenderism is misguided and wrong if you want - but to mock and laugh at someone's personal life decision is both cruel and disrespectful. Chastity Bono never asked to have a public persona. She was born with it, and has dealt with it her entire life. There is no way this transition was going to be allowed to take place privately, so it took enormous courage for Chaz to go forward with it at all. He is getting by with his life the best way he can.

How can you laugh at that?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

It's D-Day for Digital TV...

For the 15 percent of Americans who still get their television via rabbit ears, today is a momentous occasion. It's the last day ever for analog TV in America. By tomorrow night, your analog TV will be emitting a very nice shade of grey hash unless it's hooked up to a cable tv box or a digital TV converter.

The Washington Post has a very sympathetic front page article today warning that about 3 million people in the US, including 60,000 in the DC area, will be without any TV service tomorrow night, because they didn't or couldn't get the situation resolved in time. I'm sorry, but I find it very difficult to offer much sympathy.

The analog-to-digital transition has got to be one of the most publicized events ever to take place in America. How many times have you been distracted in the past couple of years by having to watch conversion announcements crawl by on your screen as you've been watching a program? How many news stories have you seen about the transition? Back in February, when the nation came within 10 days of making the jump, the government stepped in and delayed the conversion - and that should have been been more than warning enough.

Here's a news flash for you... Anyone who needs to get a converter box or an antenna by now and hasn't, would not have gotten the conversion done even with daily reminders until after their screens went blank. That's just the way some people operate.

Do you know how many times I've gotten my driver's license renewed on my actual birthday? Probably 3 or 4 times over the years. They always give you a couple of months notice, but somehow, I manage to wait until the last minute AGAIN. Of course, that will change this year, when my license is up for renewal again. That's because the state of Maryland now offers license renewal by mail! As long as you don't have any outstanding items with the MVA, and as long as you've had an eye exam in the past 12 months, you can just mail it in! It's the greatest thing ever! But I digress...

I know some grandmas out there are going to be flummoxed when the analog signals cut off, and I hope they'll be able to get the help they need. Somehow, this is going to work itself out, because America is not going to stand by without its television.

But don't expect me to cry you a river when you can't get your fix. You've been warned REPEATEDLY.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Marketing Nightmare

I was called in at the last minute to write and anchor newscasts at WMAL this morning (YES!), and my favorite news story of the day involved an ad for Tysons Corner Center - the largest shopping mall in the DC area. The print ad, an approximately 2 1/2 by 3 foot poster that hangs inside Metro subway cars, depicted a woman standing in front of a wall of names. This wall was black, and the letters of the names were an off-white. Here's the picture:

Well, as it so happens, some Vietnam veterans saw this ad, and took instant offense, because they thought the ad was clearly aping the wall at the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial. Jan Scruggs, the president of the Vietnam Veteran Memorial Fund, told the DC Examiner that the ad is an “obvious and blatant misuse of the image of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which has a serious place in America's heart and soul.There is nothing clever about this ad. It is, rather, both distasteful and disgusting.” You can read the entire Examiner article here. And here's a picture of the real wall for comparison purposes:

Was this, in fact, a deliberate parody of the Vietnam Memorial wall? The Mall says it was not. I originally expected it was, but upon further review, I can't imagine why anyone would find that to be funny or attractive, nor can I figure out why a shopping mall would want to be associated in any way with an unpopular war.

But in the end, does it really matter whether the slight was deliberate? All that mattered to Tysons Corner Center is that the story went away. Quickly. And so it did. The Mall apologized and removed the same ads that had just cost them 56,000 dollars to produce and to install in Metro stations. And the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund accepted the apology. And whadda ya wanna bet a few sheckles are heading the Memorial Fund's way, just as a final courtesy?

Men and women died for this lesson in Marketing 101. Just remember that.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

There's Stubborn... And Then There's Stupid.

Newspaper Guild employees at the Boston Globe have, by a narrow vote, rejected a request by the paper's owner, the New York Times, to accept a new contract that would have included an 8.3 percent wage cut, five-day unpaid furloughs and cuts in health care benefits, 401(k) contributions and pensions. It also would have eliminated lifetime job guarantees for 190 Guild workers, which were negotiated in 1994.

Now that the request has been rejected, the Globe says it will impose an across-the-board pay cut of 23 percent for all Guild workers, a move that the union promises to sue over. The Globe says the 23 percent cut will achieve the 10 million dollar cut it needs to keep the paper from folding altogether.

I hate to take the side of management, but what are these union workers thinking? The Boston Globe lost 85 million dollars last year, and the New York Times, by itself, lost 75 million. Newspapers are not charities. Shareholders are not going to suffer losses just to keep newspaper reporters and editors employed. I agree that pay cuts and furloughs suck, but what is the alternative?

As I have written several times here, newspapers are dying. The cancer is terminal... it's just a matter of how long the patient can linger. By refusing to play along with management, the Newspaper Guild may have just unwittingly committed euthanasia in Boston.

Those workers say they won't go down without a fight. But they are still going down.

Real Men DO Enjoy Showtunes!

I made sure to TiVo the Tony awards this week, and I am sure glad I did, because this year, the producers went out of their way to cram in as many musical numbers as possible - most of them from familiar shows, too! In fact, I'm pretty sure they spent more time doing music than they did presenting awards - which were, blessedly, almost an afterthought.

For some reason, it is considered unmanly in some circles to enjoy show tunes - a stereotype that is both untrue and somewhat offensive. Now, it IS true that a large segment of the Male Broadway community is gay - but there is also nothing wrong with that - and in many many ways, Broadway embraces its gayness in a way that I find kind of endearing... but I digress...

In any case, I really enjoyed the Tonys this year, despite numerous audio troubles that were really distracting. It was really tragic that they had to have a stage manager run in a handheld microphone for the singer in "Sit Down, You're Rocking The Boat" from "Guys and Dolls". I love that number, but it was really distracting to watch the poor guy trying to perform for a national TV audience in that way.

Just as I found it fun and comforting to see familiar bits from "Guys and Dolls" and "West Side Story" and "Hair" and "Mamma Mia", I found it equally disappointing to see numbers from new Broadway shows, which certainly don't seem like they are going to be making any revival tours anytime soon. The big winner was "Billy Elliot", a musical that's apparently about a working-class British kid who wants to learn to dance as his family struggles through some sort of union labor dispute - or something... The show won 10 Tonys, including "Best Musical", but the number they did from the show - involving a kid who danced great, but with a Tourettes-like wail, and with a wall of plexiglass behind him - did not exactly endear me to the story or its music. I guess I could do a better job of describing this mess, but if you care to watch, here's a video of the performance...

There was also a performance of the title track of the revival of "Hair". What was presented 40 years ago as revolutionary is presented today - virtually unchanged - as nostalgia. Go figure. All I could think of as I watched the performance was "Those hippies look unclean - and they all need haircuts!". That didn't make me feel nostalgic - it made me feel old!

What I really DID enjoy was watching the show's host, Neil Patrick Harris. Doogie Howser did himself proud as the host of the show. Some of his jokes fell a little flat, but Harris delivered them well, and he hosted with an enthusiasm that I found to be energizing... He was having a good time, and therefore, so was I. And Harris saved the best part of the show for last - performing a closing number that recapped-the entire evening. Watch the video below, then make sure to go and read the backstory in the New York Times!

It's Like Nerd Nirvana!

I am in the midst of a (for me) very busy work stretch... 12 days of work in 15 days and counting, so I'm afraid the ol' blog has suffered a bit from neglect! I will attempt to make up for it a bit - in part by stuffing this mutha with videos!

We start with this little gem - a mishmash of LOST, Star Trek, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and Back To The Future... in other words - a nerd's paradise! Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

What We All Need - A Good Producer!

I've been working in radio news/talk for a long time, and I thought I had a pretty good sense of what it takes to get a show on the air and make it sound semi-decent.

But I can tell you now after working three days as a show host that I have a whole new appreciation for producers. Show producers are the people who work behind the scenes, busting their tails to make the talent sound intelligent and the rest of the program to sound slick and polished.

The show I'm hosting this week on Sirius/XM, "The Morning Briefing" on the POTUS channel, could not possibly get on the air without its excellent producer, Joanna Welch. Even as I'm working on pounding out my news copy and inserting audio into the script, reviewing guests and preparing interview questions, Joanna is working behind me to make sure the show stays afloat.

She'll see what I'm doing and suggest a piece of audio to make it better, or replace one of my ideas with a better idea. Or find nat sound for a story that I'm doing to make that story sound alive. She's also a safety net. When I don't know the exact format that's needed, or when I say something wrong, she is able to step right in and gently make a course correction. And she is constantly pushing me to make the show better - even when I'm trying to focus enough merely to keep the show on the air without bringing everything to a crashing halt!

If you listen to any talk radio programs on a regular basis, you will frequently hear show hosts referring to their producers - and occasionally, the producers' voices will even get on the air. Don't be folled into thinking those people are merely there to be stooges or sidekicks. They are every bit as important as your favorite talk hosts - the show would NOT go on without them.

I have worked with many good producers at WMAL over the years. Andrea Perry put up with Chris Core for many years - more than he deserved! Dan Loukota produced WMAL's morning show for nearly a decade, and kept it sounding young - a big challenge on WMAL. And the current morning show producer, Ann Wog, deserves every penny she gets and much more by trying to corral Grandy and Andy.

I had always been aware of their knowledge, wisdom and patience. But until I put on the "talent" hat myself, I never realized how integral producers are to making the shows go! Imagine how nice it would be to have someone like a producer in your personal life, helping you choose what to buy at the grocery store... setting up your job interviews for you... calling the plumber and whatnot. And think about how much more interesting your life would be if you had someone to put a soundtrack behind you!

Thanks, Joanna!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Sometimes You Have To Suck Before You Can Go Forward...

I made my on-air debut this morning on XM Satellite Radio, filling in on the POTUS Channel (Politics Of The United States for the People Of The United States) at Sirius 110 and XM 130!

I am spending the week (and Monday of next week) filling in as the host of "The Morning Briefing", a three-hour morning drive news program that features newscasts and interviews focusing on American politics. No fluff - no Susan Boyle - no car crashes... but LOTS of Obama and Congress!

Politics is not my natural forte, and neither is long-form talking (at least on the radio), but POTUS' Program Director, Joe Mathieu, who hired me for the job, has a similar background to mine in traditional commercial radio, and he swears that after the initial panic attacks, everything gets better. So, taking Joe at his word, I started training last week to become a satellite radio political analyst/radio talk host.

Now - I want you to imagine driving a Hummer when you're used to driving a Prius. Every few minutes, as you are driving this large and unfamiliar car, you will be required to find the glove box, reach inside, and read a road map, all without stopping the Hummer. On top of that, you'll be required a couple of times each hour to pick up a passenger whom you've never met, and carry on a conversation for 7 or 8 minutes on a subject you know nothing about... all while driving this big car and consulting your road map AND not taking your eyes off the road. THAT's what hosting this show was like for me - at least in the first hour.

Working with an unfamiliar audio board in an unfamiliar studio, following an unfamiliar format, and discussing unfamiliar topics with unfamiliar guests can be a bit intimidating. I found myself speaking with an expert on North Korea, and fighting the urge to make my very first question "So where exactly IS North Korea? " I should note for the record that I was properly trained... It's just that sometimes you have to suck before you can go forward. And boy - did I suck!

I went on the air at 6 am, and everything went flawlessly - for the first 30 seconds or so. My show intro didn't play, so I continued on, introduced myself and ran down the list of stories being covered today. Then I began my newscast, and things really went to Hell. The audio clips for the newscast run on a computer screen, which by default, runs in "autoplay" mode. Which means that once I played my first cut, the audio just kept on playing. And playing. And playing. By the time my producer, Joanna, figured out what was going on and stopped the audio, my newscast was completely ruined. On top of that, I really struggled to regain my composure until I arrived at my first break, which in commercial-free radio is TOO DAMN LONG FROM NOW! Suffice it to say... Hour one of the John Matthews satellite radio tour was a "MUST MISS" extravaganza.

Thankfully, my boss, Joe decided that one air play was enough for this abomination. When it came time to repeat the first hour of my show, he took mercy on the audience and substituted another hour in its place.

After the hour one disaster, things got much better. I still made a couple of mistakes, but they were less noticable, and I became more comfortable in trying to move past them. By the end of the show, I was feeling almost competent!

But I don't want to get ahead of myself... After all - in the words of Scarlet O'Hara... Tomorrow... is another day!