Friday, February 24, 2012

Is This Guy For Real?

The late Hunter S. Thompson famously said, "The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs.  There is also a negative side."
Luther Massingill spins the heavy hits at 89
Hands down, the broadcast racket is at least the equal of its co-dependant music biz.  Both radio and TV eat up people like a Sears wood chipper.  Bad ratings?  You're gone.  Good ratings?  They could have been better.  You're GONE!  Through nearly forty years, seventeen radio stations, ten states, and four fairly ugly firings I think I know what I'm talking about here.  That's why the following story stunned me and probably everyone else who has ever toiled before a microphone or in front of a camera.
Luther Massingill, 89, has been hosting the morning show at Sunny 92.3 FM in Chattanooga, Tennessee for--get this--SEVENTY YEARS.  That is a record almost beyond belief.  When Luther began his career on New Year's Eve 1940 the station was WDEF-AM.  FM was barely on the FCC's radar at that time.  If you were blabbing on the radio, you were blabbing on the AM band.  Apparently management liked Luther well enough to keep him around as the station morphed to FM and, no doubt, an entirely different kind of format.  It's almost impossible to fathom the number of musical incarnations  and station images old Luther must have seen, never mind the boatload of managers and knucklehead program directors he endured.  This guy must be some kind of flexible!  The longest I ever lasted was seven years at one station and the last two of those years were pure hell.  
Radio used to be a great place to hang.  It was like high school with money.  Nobody made you dress up, the hours were short, and the money--once you made it to a major market--was mighty fine.  Sometime in the mid 1990's, everything changed.  It was as if all the cool people who had been in charge for years got drunk at the party and gave the keys to the Poindexters in accounting and asked them to "take the wheel for a while".  
They never gave it back.

So, Luther, though I've never met you, may your flag continue to wave!  You are a hero to old disc jockeys everywhere.  Most of us never came close to seventy years on the air ANYWHERE.  Heck, way too many of the guys and gals I've been in harness with will never see seventy...period.  You are an anomaly in an industry built on literally nothing but hot air.  You have accomplished much but remember you must always be on guard because...They are coming for you!

Try not to:  make too much fun of the program director or the general manager even if they are half your age.  Also, you probably already know this one, ---never throw up on corporate vice presidents who are guests at the station Christmas party.  And, if you think of it, try to refrain from taking a poke at a listener during a personal appearance.  It's frowned upon.  Trust me.

Keep these pointers in mind and you should be good for another seventy years or so, although I can't imagine you could take another seventy years of some of the crappy music that lands on today's playlists.
Oh, by the way, if you do manage to "get the cab', where do the rest of us send our tapes and resumes? There aren't that many carney jobs available lately.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Let's PAWS For A Commercial

21" of pure evil
We were the last family in the neighborhood to get a TV.  My dad thought, it turns out quite correctly,  that television was the end of family life as we knew it.  Conversation, household chores, homework, and kids playing outdoors would become second fiddle to hours spent in the warm glow of a 21 inch black and white "idiot box".
 I was six or seven when the Philco showed up in our living room.  No longer would I be spending most of my time nextdoor at the Chamberlain's.  They had six kids AND TV and for at least a couple of years I had been the honorary "seventh" Chamberlain  as I showed up each afternoon to watch Howdy Doody.  
This, kiddies, is a test pattern.

Buffalo Bob and termite bait

In the early 1950's television stations weren't broadcasting 24/7.  Most local stations ran a test pattern on their frequency until late in the afternoon when they fired up their kiddie programing.  There were lots of local "stars" who dressed-up as clowns, cowboys or captain video who "turned on the cartoon machine" for the boys and girls "out there in TV-land", but the biggest kahuna of them all was a national show that featured a painted piece of pine named Howdy Doody.  He and his human co-star, Buffalo Bob Smith, were about as big as any of the stars in the so called "Golden Age" of television.
In those days we had three, later four, TV stations in our area of southern Michigan.  NBC and CBS had affiliates broadcasting from Detroit, Lansing and Kalamazoo.  We were thrilled when an ABC station was launched in Flint as this meant we could get American Bandstand and some other dopey shows heretofore unknown in the Michigan sticks.  Dick Clark was snowy and the picture tended to roll--come to think of it, not unlike his New Year's Eve appearances lately, but Little Richard, Dion, and Fabian were loud and clear.

Fifty years later much has changed.  Most of us consume television not from an over the air source but via cable, Internet or satellite delivery.  Our picture is now in color high definition; some even 3-D, and we have access to more channels than ever.  Oprah has her own, as do most sports franchises, churches, hobbies, old movie buffs, the military and now---DOGS.

Yes, just yesterday I opened the local paper to read that Cox Cable in San Diego is about to give local canines their own TV channel.  Dog TV is a television station created for dogs to watch with or without their humans,  "San Diego is an amazing dog city,"CEO Gilad Neumann said during Monday's kickoff party at the Fido & Co. "canine country club" in Hillcrest.  The commercial free (how will they make this thing pay?) channel was created to soothe and distract dogs when their owners aren't home.  The programs feature mellow nature scenes for relaxation , scenes with dogs playing for stimulation and scenes of dogs dealing with those pesky doorbells, delivery men and other distractions.  Dog TV will be available on Cox Cable and on Time Warner Cable free for a limited time.  After the initial teaser freebie a subscription will cost about $5 per month.  Good luck with that.  (Perhaps old Tippy can pick up a part time job?)

"I want my PAWS TV!"
Wow!  We have certainly traveled far in half a century.  From a handful of black & white local signals to hundreds, maybe thousands, of color digital video outposts that offer mostly crap, crap, crap, for which you pay extra, we are now livin' large with a TV channel just for our dogs.
What's next?  Gerbil TV?
Wait a minute.  I'll bet there is real market for gerbil porn.

Dog TV...  We have a country with an economy deader than Elvis and more debt than our great great grandchildren will ever be able to repay, yet our dogs have their own TV channel.  Obviously the circus is still in town.

Pass the kibble.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Confederate Road Trip

Business took us to Orlando and the temptation to revisit old haunts prompted a car rental and some added vacation days in Dixie.  We realized that outside of a brief trip in 1986 we hadn't spent any time in Florida since heading for California in 1976.  Our oldest daughter had been born in the Sunshine State and my first "big city" radio job had been in Tampa so Linda and I have a natural affection for the place.  Like most of America, much has changed in Florida over the past several years.  Disney altered the look, pace, and feel of central Florida and the population of the state has doubled since the 70's. 

Granted, the nation's down economy has hit Florida harder than most other places but still I was stunned by how decidedly downscale the place looked.  Housing is in horrible shape and, as a consequence, many properties looked unkempt and in need of paint.  Lawns often appeared neglected and lots of streets seemed in need of a good hosing.  And, I realize this is completely subjective, I saw more than a few people who have taken "casual" dress to depths not seen before.  I'm no fashion plate but, unless there is a dog to be washed or a yard to be raked, I know enough to put on clean jeans and a t-shirt sans holes.

We ventured north to revisit a couple of spots in Georgia and South Carolina after making the Florida loop.  Savannah was new to us; so we spent a day checking it out.  Augusta had been a brief Army assignment for me so naturally it was only a stop for re-fueling this time. (At ease! Smoke 'em if you got 'em.)

King Street in Charleston, SC
Charleston, South Carolina was a REAL find.  Having never visited, I kept wondering how we could have possibly missed this beautiful gem of a city.  The history alone makes Charleston exciting, but the friendliness and charm of the people not to mention the beauty and cleanliness of its streets and neighborhoods puts Charleston near the top of my favorite places.   It's nice to be surprised by a city at this point in life.  We are already planning a return trip.

Typically, the week went fast and it was time to hop a plane for San Diego and Pacific Standard Time--my zone of choice.  That meant Atlanta and their godawful mega airport.  We did stop to visit fun relatives we actually like before setting the Garmin for Atlanta/Hartsfield and the trip home.  All I can say is, "thank God for Garmin" because without it we would still be circling the plane place looking for the damn rental car return.   Atlanta is the Southeast's answer to L.A.-- about a million suburbs in search of a city.  I've always found it a tough terrain to navigate and an even harder place to like.  Also, it's too damn cold in the Winter and way too hot in the Summer.  To balance the ledger, there is fantastic barbecue and moonshine,  but we won't be moving there.

As always, it is good to be back in America's Southwestern most corner.  Even though Jerry Brown and his cast of mental midgets and crooks in Sacramento make California increasingly hard to love, San Diego is home for now.  Still, the folks in Charleston had better be saving lots of palm salad, shrimp, grits, and steaming bowls of she crab soup because we will be back soon to "put some south in our mouth".

Thursday, February 2, 2012

They Ain't Makin' Kids Like They Used To...

Sharon Terlep of the Wall Street Journal surprised me with this one.  A few weeks back she wrote a piece on the problems car manufacturers face with modern kids.  Simply stated, it is this:  "Fewer teens today are getting their driver's license and more 20-somethings aren't sold on OWNING A CAR."

 I nearly dropped my racing gloves.  How could this be??!!  Young people, the lifeblood of the new car business, don't want cars?  It's official, I am a pathetically out of touch geezer.  While my generation is paying a gazillion dollars for the cars of our youth at the Barrett Jackson auction, or at least watching our more successful contemporaries wave their paddles on the Speed Channel, kids are saying they'll wait for the "app".  

Once the stuff of 16 year-old, just another middle-age crazy mobile..
It's not like the car guys aren't trying.  General Motors has appointed a "youth emissary" who says he hopes the kids will tell him what they want in their rides.  John McFarland, a 31 year-old former Procter  & Gamble marketing guy, spent the past year talking to more than 9000 16-to-30 year-olds about tech gadgetry and other goodies that will prompt them to purchase a car.

This struck me as, how do I say it politely, IDIOTIC!  Nobody needed to ask guys like me questions like that when we were young.  We wanted a car--ANY CAR!-to get us as far away from mom and dad as possible.  How else were we going to study the female anatomy, smoke cigarettes, or have a few barley pops?  The car was a right of passage--a ticket to the adult world, and we would not be denied.

If only the backseat could talk...
Maybe it's because they don't need a place to hide from "the 'rents" anymore.  Probably both parents are working two jobs just to keep the kids in Captain Crunch and Bosco and aren't home to cramp any teenage "style" or impromptu physical examinations.  Cars?  "We don't need no stinking cars!"

There is a slight glimmer of hope...
Bubba Watson, the young PGA star recently took $110k of his most recent golf winnings and plunked it down to purchase  his "dream car", General Lee, the bomb that jumped the cop cars in the "Dukes of Hazard" TV show. "I almost passed out when I saw it and thought there was a chance I could get it," Watson said.  After buying the car, Bubba said he drove it to a gas station and stopped at the In-N-Out, where he let dozens of people sit in it.  Cool guy.
Bubba's "General Lee" sled
Maybe this is the beginning of a turn around in auto attitude or, more likely, it is just an aberration.  Somehow we seem to have strayed from being a culture of fins and fuel injection to a nation of Facebook and photoshop.  Instead of T-birds and tailpipes our kids seem to prefer Twitter.
Not me. NO way!  Let the kids have their computers and the net, I'll be clinging to the memories of my first convertible, the freedom of the open road and the good times that happened on four wheels.   "Won't you step into my office my dear?"

"Fun fun fun 'til her daddy takes the Internet away"  naahhh.  Make mine gasoline.
"We'll just park over here for a while.  You can stay out a little longer.   Your dad won't care."