Friday, March 24, 2017
Strange to say, but I used to be a frequent vacationer in Erie. My first trips there were during Tom Ridge's run for governor in 1994. My itinerary was the same for each vacation visit. I'd drive out on Route 6, one of the best rides ever. Scenery. Small towns. beautiful, but long. I'd get a room at a downtown hotel, indulge in their appetizer specialty called the "basket of fire," walk ten blocks to the lake, watch the water, go back to the hotel, do a little driving and wandering for a couple more days, then go home. My return trip was on Route 17 (now Route 86) across the southern tier of New York. There would be a stop in Corning to visit friends on the way back.
Erie has its charm, but # 1? I don't see it. It's a great place in the summer and fall. Winter? Forget it! There are attempts at a downtown revival. Erie has a minor league baseball stadium, a restored theater (like Wilkes-Barre's Kirby Center) and an ice hockey. There's a downtown park that's filled with a festival just about every weekend. Some restaurants, not much retail. Gannon University. A couple of hospitals. A bayfront hotel and a casino. You can't forget about Presque isle State park.
The outskirts of the city look like any other one-- a mall, countless trip malls and other stores. There are some beautiful vineyards along the lake.
I found the people of Erie to be very nice. Unfortunately, they've heard the nasty Erie jokes so long, they start to believe them. Industry has deserted the place, and Erie is the definition of "rust belt."
Overall, it's not a bad place, and I like it there (when the weather cooperates). Top billing on the list? Well, I'm not there yet.
Thursday, March 23, 2017
Every reality show, past, present, and future, can be traced back to Chuck Barris.
He started as a page at NBC. Barris moved to ABC where was one of his jobs was to keep an eye on American Bandstand, so Dick Clark didn't take payola. ABC later allowed Barris to develop game shows.
As stated in his book, and my copy is pictured on the left, Barris wanted to do game shows, but he didn't want what he thought was an overdone and tired question and answer format. That led to the birth of The Dating Game and The Newlywed game, among many others.
Chuck Barris never intended to appear on camera. John Barbour was the intended host of The Gong Show. Barbour never grasped the concept of a bad talent show, rather than a good one. He was replaced and the rest is television history.
I was never a huge fan of The Dating Game and The Newlywed game. The Gong Show was funny for a while. I veered away when it went over the top. However, you'll love Chuck Barris after you read the book. It's not all about his game shows. It's about selling it all, moving to France, and looking for meaning in life. It's a great book, one of my all time favorites.
It's not all laughs. There were struggles to get shows on the air, battles to be taken seriously, allegations he was ruining television, and he lost a daughter, the pretty little girl who you saw on The Gong Show, to drugs.
Chuck Barris died of natural causes in Pallisades, New York Tuesday. 87 years old. Writer, composer, television show producer...
You know what bugs me? Chuck Barris was reviled. 60 Minutes and Mike Wallace tried to nail his hide to the wall several years ago. A lot of people thought Chuck Barris was the absolute worst-- degrading television, having fun at the expense of others. Bunk.
Ryan Seacrest is the toast of the town these days. He is executive producer of "Keeping Up with the Kardashians." It's one of the worst shows on television. Ever. Period. Full stop, as Shepard Smith would say. Barris productions were Masterpiece Theatre in compared to that garbage. People love Ryan Seacrest. Don't ask me why. Chuck Barris had an image problem, and it follows him to the grave. That's wrong.
Chuck Barris was The King.
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Backing up for a moment, I never aspired to be a newspaper reporter, but I have great respect for the profession. It was always a treat when the morning and afternoon newspapers arrived on the front porch when I was a kid-- and the out of town papers on Sunday. It was extra special when the NY Daily News and the NY Post started becoming available around here on weekdays.
My early radio days were spent watching, in awe, the competition among the two Scranton newspapers and the two Wilkes-Barre papers. We were so lucky around here to have real competition, and the readers benefited. There were some gifted writers back in the day.
Jimmy Breslin worked for a few different papers in New York, and he was the total package. Blunt, yet poetic. His column on JFK's grave digger, the last man to serve the 35th president is viewed as a masterpiece. Breslin was connected. He had sources. Breslin also had that elusive "everyman" quality, and that encouraged people to open up. His editors knew he could sell papers (something very few columnists can do), and he had the freedom.
If there is one knock, it is that Jimmy Breslin became celebrity journalist, and was often bigger than the stories he covered. I'm not sure if anyone is at fault. Sometimes, that's just the way it happens, but there was a wee bit of the despised "It's all about me" in there.
Jimmy Breslin died Sunday. He was 88. One of a kind.
Tuesday, March 21, 2017
Photographer Jason loaded up one of our trucks and we headed south. It was quite the scene as we came down the avenue-- flashing red and blue lights all over the place, a dozen police officers, and a lot of blood on the sidewalk.
We got some quick facts from one of the detectives, and it was time to get on the air, plus update social media. The chief later arrived and filled in the blanks.
Man and woman fought in club. Fight moved to sidewalk. Man stabs woman. Security guard shoots man who had the knife. I've been doing this a long time, and this was a new one on me.
There are many days I'm thankful I got my start in radio. It trained me in quickly spotting the essential elements of the story, boiling it down quickly and efficiently. Yes, I'm allowed to pat myself on the back once in a while.
After the last units cleared the scene, and I watched the fire department hose the blood off the sidewalk, it was time to return to the office and put together a story for our noon broadcast.
Photograher Dave put it together. Next thing you knew, a live update was on the air, and it was time to hand off the story to someone else.
Someone once said that, when it comes to bars, nothing good ever happens after midnight. I'm sure we'll be following this one for a while. It appears the security guard will not be charged. It's likely the security guard prevented a homicide.
As it stands now, both the shooting victim and the stabbing victims will survive. This one could have ended a lot worse.
Monday, March 20, 2017
A lot of things impressed me, and here is a partial list: the volunteers, young and old, who shoveled the area around fire hydrants... neighbor helping neighbor... stranger helping stranger... people stuck at work for extra hours, or even days... the work of the road crews and first responders...
I spent one night in a hotel, and that was more than enough. Other than out of town assignments, this is the first time a storm has kept me from getting home. As I noted last week, I slept poorly. It wasn't the hotel's fault. One of the factors was the lack of a radio. I always sleep with the radio on at home. I guess the days of clock radios in hotels are over. There was a very nice clock on the night stand. No radio. The hotel had wi fi, and I could have punched something up on my phone, but I didn't want the hassle. Mistake on my part.
Was the snow removal a perfect operation? No. There were things that could have done better, but show me any venture, personal or professional, public or private where there wasn't room for improvement. I trust the Blizzard of '17 will be used as a teaching moment. At least, interstates weren't shut down and drivers stranded, as in past storms.
It seems like most of the problems were in the cities. As one mayor noted, the snow couldn't be pushed. It had to be picked up and carried away. Try to do that on a narrow street with cars parked all over the place. It's not easy. Outside of hiring an army, I can't think of a solution. If you have one, I'd love to hear it.
For a writer, the words for this part are difficult to choose. The storm was serious business. People died. Property damaged. Crashes. Injuries. We haven't heard the last of this. Schools have to make up days. Roof damage. Removal bills. I don't want to make light of the situation, but working for my little slice of the blizzard was rewarding. We got some good information out there on a timely basis. I upped my social media game. I watched coworkers rise to the occasion. I got to know some a little better. I don't want to use the word "fun" when so many were experiencing so many horrible issues. It reminded me quite a bit of covering flooding back in January of 1996, when I was down the street.
I guess, to sum it up, it was an interesting and fascinating experience.
I don't know about you, but I'm ready for spring.
Sunday, March 19, 2017
Saturday, March 18, 2017
These are early AM photos, from the 10th, mot long after the show started to fall. The scene in Scranton Prep, on Wyoming Avenue.
Friday, March 17, 2017
Winter can't last forever. Warm and sunny days are coming, eventually. Think good thoughts. Let's hope for a gradual melt down so rivers, creeks and streams stay within their banks. We want a speedy return to normal and an end to disaster declarations.
I want my co workers to return to their homes, rather than live at the hotels next door to the office.
I want to hear lawn mowers. I don't want to hear snow throwers. I want to smell freshly cut grass. I'm tired of the odor of desperation.
I want my legs to be tired from riding my bike, not trudging through snow. I want sore arms from lifting weights at the gym, instead of shoveling snow.
Above, a sunny and warm picture of Carbondale City Hall and the park across the street, taken on a beautiful afternoon in May of last year.
Thursday, March 16, 2017
Adversity often brings out the best in people. As I noted yesterday, our live van repeatedly got stuck in the deep snow, and there was always someone there to help us out. Thanks again. We weren't the only ones. People helping stranded drives was a scene I saw over and over again.
After a snow event, its traditional to beat up on road crews. I'm not going to do that here. The snow was falling fast and furious. There was no way to keep up with it. Road crews couldn't thrown down salt and anti skid material at the beginning because it would just get buried under more new snow. Was there room for improvement? Most certainly. Interstate on and off ramps were lousy. I understand they were concentrating on the main traveling lanes, but cars and trucks had to exit and enter, too.
I think a key to this is getting cars and trucks off the roads. The state has to pull the trigger on more severe trucking restrictions. Some of that was done early, before the storm started. The ban should have been more severe. There isn't much you can do about cars. I suspect part of that was business that chose to remain open. I know you need some essentials in a storm, like drug stores and gas stations. Of course, there are hospitals, law enforcement, and other emergency services. As for the rest, one day off in a major emergency wouldn't hurt.
I did enjoy the Newswatch 16 story on the pre blizzard beer rush at distributors.
I had my first experience with the Hampton Inn, next to the station, in Moosic. I slept poorly, but I always do in hotel rooms. It wasn't their fault. Clean place, great staff, good breakfast. And, having said that, I hope I never stay there, ever again!
Wednesday, March 15, 2017
Let me tell you about my day.
I got up about midnight Tuesday morning, shaved, showered, etc, and headed to the office. There was a couple of inches of snow on the ground and it was coming down pretty hard. However, the drive to the office was a breeze.
WNEP management made assignments the day before. Carmella Mataloni got the Poconos. Ally Gallo was sent to Pottsville. Photographer Erich and I were designated to be the "metro" crew. No problem. I like working in the cities. That's where the people are. That's where the stories are. Cities, as you can see below, even in the middle of the night, are well lit. There's action. There's activity.
Producer Kim and I discussed location-- Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, or any of the surrounding communities. We decided I would work out of our Wyoming Valley Newsroom. Public Square is pretty in the snow. The office gave us the chance to get warm and dry between live reports. We had access to computers to check the latest information, and it was changing by the minute.
The photo above was a real kick. PEMA, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, was watching several television stations around the state to see what the blizzard was doing. I was on one of the monitors at PEMA headquarters in Harrisburg. It was nice to help. Obviously, our work is held in high regard, and is a trusted source for the decision makers in Harrisburg.
After we finished Newswatch 16 This Morning and Good Morning America duties, it was off to work on a story for our noon broadcast.
The roads were horrible, as expected when you get two feet of snow in a short amount of time. We got stuck four times! Thanks to those who shoveled us out, pushed us out, and towed us out.
There was a lot of housekeeping to do when I got back to the office, and some recording for a future project. More on that down the road.
I finally got a chance to leave at 3 PM, but the roads were still terrible. It was a short walk next door to the Hampton Inn. As I write this, every appliance I have is recharging. Jeans and socks are drying on the heater, even though I have extra. Some other staffers here and I are getting together for a little lobby party, which will be long over by the time you read this. Joe Snedeker put a group photo on his Facebook page. In nearly 19 years of working at WNEP, it was the first time I stayed in one of the adjacent hotels. There were a few times I was out in hotels in Hazleton and Hawley for storm coverage, but this was the first time I couldn't make it home. Thanks to management for making the offer.
One other thing I should note... I started doing some social media things very early Tuesday morning and the hits/likes started piling up immediately. Thank you for the Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and blog followers. Tell your friends. It means you turn to us for the latest information and some things we don't have the time and opportunity to show you on TV. I still have my social media reservations, but I will admit it did make me feel good.
I headed back to my hotel room just before 10 pm. I don't sleep well in hotel rooms. I miss my radio. I miss my pillows. I miss my cat. This stay was no exception. I got about three hours sleep, and headed back to the station to see if the staff needed any help. The situation was well in hand. I hung around for some computer time anyway.
This will sound weird but I will say it anyway. Working a blizzard was a lot of fun. Adverse conditions, technical challenges, travel issues... It's a long list.
I'm not much of a cheerleader, but even though tensions were high and there was considerable stress, there were no arguments, no raised voices, and a ton of teamwork. I was proud to be part of it.
Having said all that, let's not have another blizzard for a very long, long time.
I'll have a few days off. The blog continues. See you again on TV Saturday morning.