Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The AM 1640 Saga

Today, a story about the dysfunctional nature of state government, federal government, and American business.

Regular blog readers will know I've been whining about AM 1640 in the Scranton area for months.  It's one of those travelers information stations.  Their existence is noted by signs along the interstates.

1640 in the Scranton area had been down for months.  When it was up, it was rebroadcasting the forecast provided by National Weather Service radio.  I loved it.  It was a forecast and the current temperature, all the time.  It had a button on my car radio, and it was the first thing I hit, every day.

When the station fell silent several months ago, I complained to the local Penndot office.  There was a promise to investigate.  Weeks passed.  I e-mailed my state representative.  Nothing.  Not even the courtesy of  a "we received your e-mail" response.  I complained to Penndot in Harrisburg.

It appears the Penndot Harrisburg guy got back to the local Penndot guy, and this is what I've learned.  AM 1640 is for emergencies only.  It wasn't supposed to be rebroadcasting National Weather Service radio because the Federal Communications wouldn't allow it.  The reason?  below is a quote from the Penndot response, and that's a quote from the FCC case.

The chief opposition to the authorization of TIS operations originally came from
commercial broadcasters who argued that it would duplicate information provided by commercial
broadcasts, siphoning off advertising revenues. 

By the way, TIS stands for travelers information station.

Yesterday, I received this clarification of a clarification from Penndot:

All Highway Advisory Radios (HARs) are regulated by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) in accordance with 47 CFR § 90.242 (Travelers’ information stations).  In 2013, the FCC released new rules for HARs which restricted the broadcast of “routine, non-emergency information" including NOAA weather forecasts.  Subsequently, the FCC received a number of petitions asking the Commission to reconsider its decision on the basis that such weather information would help travelers to plan their routes.  In 2015, the FCC reaffirmed the restriction concerning the rebroadcast of routine NOAA weather by stating the rebroadcast of weather information is restricted to periods of unusual or extreme events.  To reflect the FCC’s decision, the broadcast of “routine weather information” has been prohibited in PennDOT’s standards.  Although we understand your concerns, PennDOT must adhere to the FCC’s ruling.

Let's examine this a little more.  The reason I loved AM 1640 because it's nearly impossible to get a forecast from a commercial radio station around here.  At best, they deliver the weather twice an hour, and that's only during the day.  Most stations have some sort of computer controlled automation at night.  No humans.  Possibly, you get a recorded, old forecast in the middle of the night.

I'm proud to be a broadcaster.  It's all I ever wanted to be.  Unfortunately, I feel my radio brethren are way off base here.  Do they really think a series of pea shooter powered AM radio stations, broadcasting the droning computer voice of the National Weather Service, will hurt their bottom line?  I wish you could see my skeptical raised eyebrow right now. 

AM 1640 is now silent once again, unless there's a traffic jam or some other emergency.  I hope someone remembers to turn it on.

In the meantime, I'll be reaching for my smartphone.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

By Any Other Name

Words fascinate me, and I certainly hope so.  It's how I make my living.

A co worker and I fell into the same trap during our coverage of Pope Francis' visit to the United States.

She kept writing "Pope Benedict" in her scripts.  I had the tendency to write "Pope John Paul."  Of course, the slip ups never made the air.  It's just a case of old habits and the hands on the keyboard occasionally moving faster than the brain.

It's not the first time it's happened.  I started in radio when Jimmy Carter was in the White House.  Making the shift to typing "President Reagan" was quite the adjustment.  I wonder who's name will be in my scripts in January of '17.

Of course, the name game goes beyond people.

When Gerrity's Supermarkets provided its yummy hot dog buns to the Wolf Inauguration in January, it set off a newsroom discussion.  Is it a bun or a roll?  For the most part, the words are interchangeable.  The best definition I could find:  If you stuff something in to it, it's a bun.  If it's eaten alone, it's a roll.  But then again, I've heard of submarine rolls, but never submarine buns.

That leads me to a discussion I had with a gym buddy last week.  I don't know how we got on the subject, but we were talking about macaroni salad.  Her mother always called it "noodle salad."  Born and raised here.  I never heard that.  We made sure we were talking about the same product-- elbow macaroni in a maynnoaisey dressing.  Yep.  That's it.  When I think "noodle salad," something Asian comes to mind.  Now I know.  It can also be plain old, American macaroni salad.

Delicious discussions over words.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Rite of Fall

I'm a firm believer in flu shots, and for the life of me, I can't figure out why some people oppose them.

I haven't had a super serious case of the flu in years.  Last season was a little different.  I felt flu-ish for a few days, late in the season.  It was nothing major  I took it easy for a while, and was back to normal in no time.

Yes, the flu shot doesn't guarantee a flu free year, but it's good protection-- especially if you're around the very young and the elderly.

Insurance usually covers the cost of the shot.

I got mine the other day, while wandering through my favorite drug store.  A little paperwork.  A little stick in the arm.  Boom.  Done.  I was out of there in just a few minutes.

It didn't hurt.  There is no reaction to the vaccine.

I feel better already.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Andy's Angles: To Infinity, and Beyond

A friend and I share the same view of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  It was always a kick to travel it because it meant you were going somewhere, usually fun, like the beach or a ballgame in Philadelphia.

I get, sort of, the same feeling, when I look at railroad tracks, stretching to infinity.

Yes, I know passenger service is long gone, but I still marvel at the millions who got somewhere via this track, and others like it all across the area.

This particular section is in Tobyhanna.  The view is to the south.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Train Station Saturday: Glenburn

Today, it's a bonus-- a train station actually in use, but not as a train station.

Several years ago, Glenburn in Lackawanna County turned this old train station into its municipal building.  It can be difficult to find, but if you're ever in the area, it's worth a look.

And, there's another bonus.  This caboose has been here for a long time, but it's recently been repainted, and it looks great.

Friday, October 2, 2015


Scranton teachers are wrapping up their first week on the picket line.

While not commenting specifically on the Scranton situation, good teachers should get good money.  Bad ones should get fired.  I've encountered far too much laziness and incompetence during my personal and professional life.

I do see the need for the union.  Even the best teacher might need some protection from politically charged school boards.  Once again, I've seen far too much "it's who you know" type behavior out there.  School boards are another topic for another time.  I've seen a lot of baffling and questionable behavior over the years.

Scranton's strike is different from most others.  Extra curriculars, including sports, are done until the strike is over.  I know academics are more important than football games, but this one really seems to hurt the kids.

I can't help but wonder how many times we have to go through this before we come up with a better way of handling and compensating our educators.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

About the Cover: Train Day

Most of the time, I have a specific goal in mind when I go out to shoot a monthly header photo.

This month, a fortunate accident.

I was photographing the Old Forge train station when I heard a rumble in the distance.  A Reading and Northern Freight train was approaching from the south, and I was in a perfect position to snap a few photos.

When I got back and loaded them into my computer, I saw the colors were good, the lighting was right, and the sun angle was favorable.  It screamed out "header."

The header photo is the engine at the back of the freight.  Above, it's the front of the train.

Enjoy the serendipity.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Are You Kidding Me?

What's going on at my alma mater, Marywood University?  Yes, it was a college in my day.

Bomb threats, vandalism, student protests, faculty protests, unanswered questions about finances, complaints about a lack of transparency, general dissent and unhappiness...  The list grows longer by the day.

The latest incident is a dust up between the student newspaper, The Wood Word, and the vice president for business affairs/treasurer.

According to the newspaper staff, they've been trying to verify financial information that appeared in a recent protest related flyer.  The staff complains the VP is attempting to censor them by demanding all of his responses be printed in their entirety, and he gets a chance to look at the newspaper stories BEFORE THEY ARE PUBLISHED.

That's a huge no-no in journalism.

Granted, The Wood Word doesn't enjoy a lot of protection.  It's an arm of the University and the University holds all the cards.

For the most part, I've found the newspaper staff to be a responsible bunch, who take their roles seriously.  I had a bit of a problem with an opinion piece that repeated unsubstantiated financial problems back in the spring.  I believe the staff knows that a newspaper is a powerful tool, and they should use their power wisely.

As for the VP, it seems like he wants to make sure his message gets out unfiltered, but what he wants is unreasonable.  The school has a public relations staff.  I'm guessing he didn't run his policy by them.  I hope he re-thinks things.  I also hope administration and the students come up with a reasonable solution.

In spite of its problems, Marywood is a fine institution.  It can be better.  Improvement won't happen until everyone works together.  You also have to look at the culture here.  Marywood has never been known as a place for rapid change.  Take small steps, and eventually, I hope, everyone will be satisfied with the destination.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Tuesday Scrapple

OK, so we have another teachers strike.  There has to be a better way of getting a fair contract for those who educate our kids.

The pope's trip to Washington, New York, and Philadelphia is generally regarded as a success.  Wasn't it nice to see a weekend of positivity?

I'm still not sold on Trevor Noah as host of The Daily Show.  But then again, I was never a regular viewer in the first place.

John Boehner likely has a book deal and a network news job in his future.  I'm sure the networks were lining up at his door, minutes after he announced his resignation from the House of Representatives.

Fall is a great time of year.  Unfortunately, it goes from "delightfully chilly" to "bone numbing cold" rather quickly.

Can you trust your car?  General Motors is paying a hefty fine because it knew about its faulty ignition switch problem, and was slow to fix it.  Now, VW is caught lying about emissions.  George Carlin had a great line about how "business ethics" was an oxymoron.

State government is not the most efficient body to begin with.  The Kathleen Kane case has to be a tremendous distraction.  A lot of people are looking for it to be settled, one way or another.

What's up with all the water main breaks lately?

"The Intern" didn't do well at the box office over the weekend.  Why do people still put Anne Hathaway in movies?

A lot of wet weather is on the way.  Yes, let's be careful and keep an eye on it.  Let's not panic.  Social media is already beginning to pop.  Calm down.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Bottom of the 9th

Dick Enberg announced last week that 2016 will be his last season calling San Diego Padres' games.  Enberg is 80.

Vin Scully recently said he will retire after next season.  He's been in the Brooklyn/LA Dodgers' booth since 1950.

This is going to be perceived as unAmerican, but I'm not a Scully fan.  Enberg is head and shoulders above, in my view, and let me offer a few nuggets to back it up.

Dick Enberg always worked with a color man, and he always succeeded in making that color man a better broadcaster.  It led Enberg to the top spot over at NBC.  He called several sports, including football, basketball, and tennis for CBS.

Vin Scully could have been CBS' number one NFL broadcaster.  He was tested with the great John Madden, but there was no chemistry.  Scully never gave Madden the room and opportunity to be Madden.  Madden was then tested with Pat Summerall, and it clicked.  Summerall's ego didn't get in the way.  John Madden was quoted as saying Pat knew how to set him up.  According to Madden, Summerall asked him questions he (Madden) knew Summerall could have answered on his own.  Pat Summerall:  team player.  Vin Scully:  not so much.

For the final years of the NBC baseball contract, Scully worked with Tom Seaver on Saturday afternoons.  Tom Seaver, another guy who knows his stuff.  Scully kept him on a short leash.

To this day, Scully works alone, even though fans prefer having a play by play and color man in the booth.

Vin Scully has been around a long time, and he does have legions of loyal followers.  I respect that.  However, his act never worked for me.

Dick Enberg, who was also an employee of the California Angels, knew how to turn off his "homer-ism" on national broadcasts.  Scully didn't.

I'll miss one of the two.  You can guess which one.

My Pittsburgh Steelers fandom went on hiatus after the team signed dog killer Michael Vick.  Baseball could be next.  Liar and illegal gambler Peter Rose met with the commissioner last week.  It was his latest bid to get back in the game.  I've already expressed my feelings here.  No.  Never.  Rose committed the greatest sin of all.  I know there's the whole forgiveness thing, and I get that.  Perhaps I'd feel differently if Rose came clean when he got caught.  Pete Rose only admitted to his crimes decades later, when he had a book to sell.  If Rose gets in, I'm out.

Before I hit "enter" for the day, a few words on the passing of Yankee great Yogi Berra.  What a great life he led!  Universally loved, financially secure, well regarded, a long life...  We should all be so lucky.