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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Cone of Silence


Wilkes-Barre has been experiencing a crime problem lately. We asked Wilkes-Barre Police what they're doing about it. A lieutenant was willing to speak on camera, but he had to get clearance from the city's spokesperson first. When the spokesperson called back Sunday afternoon, we were told the crime issue is "not something we are prepared to comment on."

Huh? Not prepared? Prepare yourself. That's your job.

Hiding under the Cone of Silence is not the answer. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. The citizens deserve to know what's going on. I know the officer who was willing to speak, before the muzzle was applied by the city's spokesperson. He would have reassured people that the police department was doing its best. People are safe, and the culprits will be caught. Wilkes-Barre is lucky to have some very good policemen and women. Residents should know that, and hear that.

Unfortunately, city government thinks silence is golden.

Monday, March 30, 2009

If It Walks Like a Duck...


Here we go again...

In the ABC News 20/20 report on the crooked Luzerne County judges that aired Friday night, correspondent Jim Avila referred to Wilkes-Barre as "the heart of Pennsylvania's struggling coal country."

Our area continues to be referred to as "coal country," even though the mines closed decades ago. It's wrong.

On the other hand, perception is reality. You're greeted by a rusting old coal breaker as you enter the valley from the south. Lackawanna County's big tourist attraction is an old coal mine. Culm banks continue to scar the region. Acid mine drainage pollutes our rivers and streams. Should we change the names of Carbon County, Carbondale, Minersville, Coaldale, and Coal Township? A famous mine fire continues to burn beneath Centralia, and that's in Columbia County. The Eckley Miners' Village draws thousands to the Freeland area every year. There's a huge hunk of coal sitting between the lanes of the North Scranton Expressway.

The mines may be gone, but they are forever part of our history and our current image. Northeastern Pennsylvania will always be about the mines, even as we struggle to move forward. We're stuck with it.

Complaining about a poor choice of words by an ABC News correspondent isn't the answer. We all share the burden of refining our area's image.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Irving R. Levine



As I noted in Thursday's TMI blog, I grew up in a Cronkite household, but, even as a kid, I was a news junkie. I knew the top tier correspondents on the other networks, including Irving R. Levine at NBC.

He was a unique individual, not what we would call "telegenic." Bald, bow tie, glasses, professorial. Levine had the economics beat. The Los Angeles Times called Levine a pioneer in covering economic issues on television. Remember, this was a long time ago-- before whiz bang graphics could help illustrate complex economic stories.

Before talking money on the nightly news, Levine covered a variety of stories for the old International News Service and NBC Radio.

Levine retired from NBC in 1995. He was an occasioinal contributor to PBS until last year. He was one of the people who helped invent television news.

Irving R. Levine died Friday in Washington, DC. Cancer. He was 86.

Friday, March 27, 2009

POL Expo 2009

It was nice meeting all of you yesterday morning at the Pennsylvania Outdoor Life Expo at the Columbia Mall, and it was especially nice meeting those who think I'm younger and thinner in person.

As always, I'm working at the office this weekend, so my Expo time is done.

There's still time to get in on the fun. The Expo wraps up when the mall closes Sunday afternoon.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

TMI


When you hear discussions of "Where were you when...?" moments, the accident at Three Mile Island is rarely in the mix. It occurred in stages, starting small, escalating, then lessening in severity days later. It wasn't just a "second" in time like man on the moon and the Kennedy assassination.

Anyway, I remember where I was when I first heard about TMI, on the afternoon of March 28th 1979, thirty years ago. I was a senior in high school. I had just picked up some pictures from a "Photo Quick" booth in Dunmore, and I was headed home on the O'Neill Highway. As always, my car radio was on, and I heard a newscast discussing the incident. It sounded serious, but not overly so. That changed as the hours wore on. A teacher in school, the next day, told us about plans to evacuate the city of Harrisburg, and the severity sunk in. There were essentially two sources of news back in the day-- radio and Cronkite. We got updates on the radio during the day, and from Walter Cronkite at 6:30 PM.

I also remember J. Kristopher, doing the weather in WNEP's backyard, holding a Geiger counter, and noting the occasional tick. It likely had nothing to do with TMI. There are many other sources of radiation floating around.

So, what have we learned? The TMI accident showed the nuclear power system works, or it doesn't work. Outside of TMI, the safety record has been good. On the other hand, you don't screw with nuclear material. All it takes is one accident. Just ask the folks in Chernobyl. Yes, American plants have better construction methods and standards than the ones built in the old Soviet Union. A comparison is perhaps unfair.

The only thing for sure, is the debate will continue as long as the uranium half-life.

By the way, all of this got me thinking about those Photo Quick booths that sprung up in shopping center parking lots around the area in the 70's. I did a Google search and couldn't find any good information or photos. They sort of looked like this, but a little more ornate.

You'd drive up, give your film to the person working inside, and your prints would be ready the next day. Remember, we're talking about the 70's here. Next day developing was still revolutionary, and getting your film developed at the Photo Quick wasn't cheap. Someone would pick up the rolls and cartridges of film in the late afternoon, develop everything in a lab somewhere else, and deliver the prints to the booth the next morning.

What a horrible job it must have been-- stuck in a tiny booth all day, no plumbing, no room to walk around. Veal was treated better.

If I remember correctly, Photo Quick was around for only a couple of years.

I actually found something from that era in an old desk drawyer. Like today, your pictures came in an envelope, and this is the back of that envelope. If you look carefully, you can see a sketch of the booth on the Beacon Film box. Click to enlarge.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mailing It In


The economic downtown has one huge advantage: my mail box is no longer cluttered with credit card offers. I still get a fair amount of catalogs, and I don't mind that.

The cost of mailing a letter goes up May 11th, and I'm not complaining. Mail a letter, coast to coast, for 44 cents? And have it get there in less than one week? That's an incredible bargain. The US Postal Service is bleeding red ink. At one time, I was dead set against cutting back on deliveries. Now, I think I can live without Saturday mail.

I don't Twitter, FaceBook or MySpace, but I do e-mail a lot. Still, there's nothing like sending or receiving a hand written letter. I still send letters via snail mail, but most of them are typed out using a computer's word processing program. After sitting behind a keyboard for years, my handwriting is shot. I can still read it-- barely. I wouldn't want to burden others. Do they still teach penmanship in elementary school?

All Newswatch 16 reporters carry laptop computers. There have been several recent occasions where I've been assigned to late breaking news. It was quicker to scribble some notes on a legal pad and go on the air than to power up the laptop, establish a connection to the office with an air card, and bang out the script.

Sometimes, old school is best.

Race car driver Danica Patrick is 27 today.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Bouncing Around


Nothing of any major consequence today... just a little bouncing around.

Barack Obama's "Tonight Show" appearance was a good idea. It was a chance to explain the economic mess on a personal, relaxed level. It was an attempt to show he's a "regular guy." However, I can't believe he made the "Special Olympics" crack. How could Obama even remotely think that was funny? Obama is riding a wave of new president popularity, so he got away with it (after a quick apology). I wonder if other politicians, past and present, would have been issued the same pass.

First one of the year yesterday-- a "red flag" alert for brush fire potential.

We just experienced the busiest news weekend in quite a while-- homicides, fires, haz-mat crash, small town evacuation. The homicides were sad, and I'm anxious to discover what was behind them. I'm happy the haz-mat incident wasn't worse.

A few people read yesterday's blog and asked about my first destination with my driver's license. It was the library at the Penn State campus in Dunmore. Born to be wild.

Len Woloson passed away over the weekend. He was the "Morning Mayor" on WARM in the early 70's, just before Harry West returned to the station.

The 30th anniversary of the Three Mile Island accident is coming up, and I'll likely write a few words about that this week. I got a chance to look at a Mike Stevens piece that will air on Newswatch 16 tomorrow night. Mike covered TMI in 1979. You'll enjoy the "look back" Mike put together. It brought back a lot of memories.

I'm really not that excited over the approaching new baseball season.

The "Twilight Zone" was such a great series. I caught an episode before work Monday morning. Jack Klugman was a pool hustler, who played a champ from the great beyond, played by Jonathan Winters. It worked on so many levels, and you don't see TV like that these days.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Driver's Seat


Yesterday was the anniversary of the day I received my driver's license. The year is irrelevant, so let's just say Jimmy Carter was president, and he was fairly new to the job at the time.

You know what? I didn't drive anywhere in the first month I had my license. I thought the test was too easy. It wasn't an adequate way to judge my skills, and I had no confidence in my abilities.

It's been a pattern throughout my life. On the ego spectrum, I fall at the low end, the very low end. The jerk spectrum is another story.

When you you're in the news business, especially the television news business, you encounter more than your share of big egos. It's not just co-workers and competitors. It's people in law, government, politics, entertainment, etc. There's a common thread. I've found that the people with the biggest egos are the ones who have the least talent. The ego is a cover up for their inadequacy.

Some ego is healthy. You need it, as long as you don't over do it. If you don't believe in yourself, no one is going to believe in you. There are times I wish I had a bigger ego, but it's just not me. The legendary Kim Supon used to have a sign on her desk. It read "no one can make you feel inferior without your permission." I inherited Kim's desk. I wish she left the sign. I think of it often, and I fear I've granted permission a few too many times.

As that great philosopher Popeye once said, "I am what I am."

Friday, March 20, 2009

AIG


If it wasn't so tragic, it would be funny.

AIG got hauled before congress this week, to be spanked for using government bail out money to pay fat bonuses to its executives.

During the grandstanding, and early campaigning for re-election, by members of the house, at least one of whom knows a lot about questionable and shady finances, the essence of the story got lost.

Don't blame AIG. Blame the system that allowed AIG to get away with it. Congress is going after the symptom, not the disease.

AIG is like many other banks, financial institutions, and insurance companies. They got too big, too fast. Deregulation allowed abuses. We keep hearing how AIG and the others are "too big to be allowed to fail." Why did they get too big? Congress asleep at the switch.

Keep your eye on the ball and follow the money. Going nuts on AIG, which clearly did wrong, diverts attention from the real problem.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Sign of Spring


You don't need a robin to tell you it's spring. All you have to do is look on the sidewalk in front of a tax prep business. Its mascot is the Statue of Liberty, and some poor soul gets stuck standing near traffic to remind people the income tax filing deadline is approaching.

They're out there, regardless of the weather. I always blow my horn and wave. It has to be tough duty.

The gimmick seems to be an effective one, but my business goes elsewhere. I'm loyal to the guy who's done my taxes and kept me out of jail for a rather long time. This year's returns were prepared more than a month ago. The refund check is already in the bank.

I'm always an early filer, and I understand a lot of people filed early this year. The refund check helps carry you through these difficult economic times.

Whether or not you're swayed by the Statue of Liberty, hurry up. The deadline is less than a month away.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

St. Patrick's Day After


I considered going out for a while last night, but then I realized it was St. Patrick's night. In other words, amateur's night, and not a good night to be on the roads. Plus, most night spots were destined to be crowded, and not my idea of fun. I was too tired, anyway.

So how did my St. Patrick's Day go? It was a good one.

I did a wrap up of the Harlow Cuadra trial on Newswatch 16 This Morning. If I never say or write the words "gay porn producer" again, it will be too soon.

After that, it was a trip to Peckville to watch members of Double R Twirlettes get on buses to New York City. The group was performing at the St. Patrick's Day Parade. The kids were pumped. So were their parents. All their hard work and dedication paid off with the Twirlette's first NYC St. Patrick's Day Parade appearance.

A trip to Dunmore followed. There was a special St. Patrick's Day mass at St. Mary of Mount Carmel Church. Unfortunately, we couldn't stay for the whole thing. What we saw was well presented. The kids from St. Mary's School, just across the street from the church did a nice job with the readings, music, and dance.

It was a beautiful, sunny morning. I pulled out my camera while I was waiting for the mass to start, and this is a picture of the steeple.

I hope your St. Patrick's Day was a good one.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I Honestly Don't Know


I've read about government bail outs and the economic stimulus package. I've watched TV news shows about it. I was at a meeting yesterday when Specter, Casey, Kanjorski and Carney talked about it, and I still haven't made up my mind.

There are those who believe business failures are part of the natural economic cycle. Still, you hate to see all those innocent employees suffer because of bad decisions made by the people running the show. We pay to bail out the businesses and banks-- or we pay unemployment compensation for the people who lose their jobs. It's going to cost us either way.

We keep businesses and banks afloat now, but we saddle the generations to come with a lot of debt.

I think people would feel better about the whole thing if they know their money is being spent wisely and efficiently. We've all seen how good government is at doing that.

You can't wave a magic wand and fix the problem. It's too late to reverse the excesses of the past. Deregulation is not necessarily a bad thing. Unfortunately, some people misbehaved because there was no scrutiny, no oversight. That has to be fixed, and fast.

Specter, Casey, Kanjorski and Carney all agreed yesterday that doing something is better than doing nothing. I just hope what we're doing is the right thing.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Howard Stern Gets It


Howard Stern's smut filled radio show has made him a millionaire, many times over. The thing that makes Stern's show a decent listen, for me, is his abundance of plain old common sense.

Last week, his sidekick, Robin Quivers, was reading an item about "Heroes" star Hayden Panettiere complaining about being photographed. That set off a Stern rant, centering on how bad "Heroes" is and how the show is destined for cancellation. Stern added that when "Heroes" is gone, and Panettiere is yesterday's news, she'll be begging to be photographed. Panettiere is too young to appreciate how cruel and difficult show business can be. She's a little, shallow brat-- at least according to Howard.

The bottom line is that stardom does have its drawbacks, but it's better to be photographed, than not photographed. Be happy and thankful someone is interested in you.

Friday, March 13, 2009

They Didn't Buy It


Harlow Cuadra was found guilty of first degree murder, yesterday, in Luzerne County Court. He'd been charged in the January 2007 stabbing and slashing of Bryan Kocis in Dallas Township.

I was in the court for part of Cuadra's testimony. I saw him on numerous trips to and from the courtroom. Cuadra's attorneys did their best to make him look like a nice, little boy. He wore glasses. His clothes were just a little too large. It was clearly an effort to make the accused killer look like a mild youth-- someone who couldn't possibly have committed those horrible acts.

Then, there was the testimony. It didn't seem genuine to me. It seemed fake. It seemed like a lie, an act. Apparently, the jury agreed.

Cuadra blamed the actual slashing on Joseph Kerekes, the man who pleaded guilty to second degree murder back in January. It carries a life in prison sentence. While Kerekes might have been the one wielding the knife that night two years ago, Cuadra was a willing accomplice, and that makes him just as guilty. The jury followed the law, even though it's human nature to place less blame on the person who didn't actually commit the murder.

Here's what put me over the top. Kerekes AND Cuadra bought a big knife and a can of lighter fluid before their trip to Dallas Township. How could Cuadra have NOT known Kocis was going to be harmed? Cuadra told a false story to the jury. He got caught.

While sitting in judgment of another is never pleasant, Cuadra made things a little easier for the jury by lying to their faces.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I Can't Keep Up


The Pennsylvania Lottery has come up with another way of separating you from your money. The first drawing in the "Super 7" game is tomorrow night. It replaces "Match 6," which I used to call the lottery game no one ever won.

I rarely buy lottery tickets. It's just not my thing. I do grab some scratchers from time to time. They're nice stocking stuffers, or an addition to a birthday card.

Yes, the lottery does fund senior citizens' programs. That's important, and it's nice because no one forces you to buy lottery tickets. However, I was never comfortable with the state being in the gambling business, and I felt that way when the first lottery tickets were introduced in the early 70's.

The lottery has become a news anchor's nightmare-- so many games to keep straight, so many numbers to read, so many jackpots to note. More names of games, more numbers. It becomes confusing at times, and I wonder if the audience can handle so many numbers coming at them so quickly.

The pressure to get money in the hands of the state is greater than ever before, so expect more lottery games to come flying through the screen in the years to come.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Return


My "financial consultant" and I usually keep in touch through e-mail and regular mail. Occasionally, there's a face to face meeting, and one is scheduled for today.

This one will be a little different. It's the first since her company opened an office in the 400 block of Lackawanna Avenue in downtown Scranton.

While it's a different site for the company, it's a familiar one to me.

It's the site of the old WYOU. You may remember, I spent about seven years there, in two tours of duty. I just couldn't get enough the first time around.

This is no indictment of the current WYOU or any of the people who now work there, but let's talk a little about the past.

To say the least, we had our challenges. Maybe "struggles" would be a better word. We tried our best, but there are times when your best isn't good enough. If you watched, you knew. There's no need to go in to it.

Looking back, most of the bad memories has been shifted to a back burner. I did have some good times there, did some good stories, worked with some great people, learned a lot. Laughed. Cried. Some things worked. Many did not.

I don't know if it's a coincidence, or if the site is cursed. My portfolio has dropped in value since my financial consultant's move to Lackawanna Avenue.

Let's hope it turns around soon. Like my time on Lackawanna Avenue, nothing lasts forever.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tuesday Scrapple


Like scrapple, we've added a little bit of everything today...

I don't watch "America's Most Wanted." First, I'm usually asleep when it's on. Second, it's just not my type of program. However, I respect what the show's done, and that's assist in the capture of more than 1,000 fugitives. Among the latest, a pair of accused killers from Scranton. I'm sure FOX can put something else in that time slot and make more money. It's a good thing it's still around.

We've been getting hit lately for paying more attention to the dogs killed in a Carbon County kennel fire, rather than the propane truck driver who was injured. We tried to get truck driver information over the weekend, and other attempts were being made as I was leaving the office yesterday. Hospitals have privacy rules. We got a condition and little else. I'm not complaining. That's the law. While the dogs may have received more attention, it doesn't diminish the importance of a human life.

The state is paying about $200,000 to teach manners to liquor store employees. I don't go to liquor stores often, but I've never had a discourteous clerk. It's another fine example of your tax dollars at work.

I've been seeing a lot of news stories lately about people suffering from a "bad economic news fatigue." I can relate. On the other hand, the stories are too big and too important to ignore.

My Space, Facebook, Twitter, Linked In... I could not possibly care less. As I've said before, if a "friend" wants to get in touch, contact me directly. There's no need for a "social networking" site.

For some reason, the Blogger.com site spell checker red flags "scrapple."

Monday, March 9, 2009

Now and Then


Welcome to another vacation photography expedition.

It's seems like it's taking an eternity, but in actuality, the project began only seven months ago.

I was there when Scranton's West Lackawanna Avenue Bridge closed to traffic in July. A replacement was long overdue. It's an important gateway to the downtown. It's near the Steamtown National Historic Site-- a big tourist attraction and the bridge looked absolutely awful.

Thankfully, that's all history. The old bridge is gone. Unfortunately, the arches beneath couldn't be saved. The pace should pick up, now that spring is here (almost). The new bridge should be open by the end of the year.

TOP PHOTO: THURSDAY
BOTTOM PHOTO: JULY 21

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Best of Time


Daylight Saving Time begins Sunday at 2:00 AM. It is one of my favorite weekends of the year. While you lose an hour of sleep, I lose an hour of work. I'll pay for it in November, when standard time returns, and my shift is extended by one hour.

At one time, I loved DST. Who doesn't appreciate later sunsets? I don't. Let me explain. I have two wake up times-- either 10:00 PM or 2:00 AM. I'd rather see that daylight in the early morning, when I'm working. I do realize I'm in the minority here, so if you're happy, I'm happy.

This is a photo of the big clock tower at the old Scranton Lace Co. factory. It pains me to see the building rot away. There are plans to do something with it on the drawing board, but nothing seems imminent. However, I did see a couple suits prowling around yesterday afternoon, so maybe something is in the works. The complex is too massive for a total make over, and it is in the flood plain. Maybe part can be saved, including the clock tower. Make a park out of the rest. It's too historic to lose.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Git R Done


I happened to be in Wilkes-Barre Township a couple weeks ago, the same night as the Larry the Cable Guy show at the arena. My car was stopped at a red light at the bottom of the exit ramp. I watched all those cars stream into the arena parking lot. All I could think of was "that's why the terrorists hate us."

I don't know what triggered the memory, but a short lived television series from 1996 popped into my head the other day. It was called "Men Behaving Badly," and it was the U.S. version of a British series by the same name. The first U.S season was a scream. The second was lousy. I located the DVD's at Amazon.com. They arrived Tuesday. By the way, is there anything Amazon doesn't have? My memory was correct. The first season was fantastic. There were cast changes for the second season, and the magic was gone. It was cancelled before the second season was over. Don't go out of your way for it, but if you trip over the DVD's somewhere, you won't be sorry.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Spring?


This blog is more about spring than it is baseball, although the two go hand in hand.

Cold weather and snow are not unusual, in these parts, at this time of year. Still, it's hard to take. Cold weather and snow do have their charm, but by March, most of us have had our fill.

If the seven day forecast is accurate, we're looking at a warm up in the next few days, but don't get too excited. There will be more snow and cold. Book it. It always happens.

Winter can't last forever.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

What's Happened to Me?


One thing leads to another. See if you can follow me here.

Due to a bizarre set of circumstances in the wonderful world of broadcasting, I found myself with a rare winter vacation.

A friend and I got into a discussion last week about our misspent youth in bowling alleys.

Put one and one together, and I would up in a bowling alley yesterday morning.

I hadn't picked up a ball in a few years, and I wondered if I could enjoy the game as much as I once did.

First of all, Jeez O'Pete, when did bowling get so expensive?!?! One guy, three games, one pair of shoes: $14. Add another $1.50 for a bottle of pop. It was not an inexpensive 45 minute early morning outing. I was the only bowler in the building at 7:30 AM yesterday. There was one old buck paying a video game machine. How about some cut rates for off peak times? I bet you'd be able to fill some of the 33 lanes that WEREN'T in use during my visit.

So, how did I do? 151, 137, 140. Not bad for my first outing in a few years, and it really wasn't as awful as the scores would indicate. I got more than a few strikes. Here's my problem: I got a lot of 8 and 9 counts on my first ball, but I had difficulty picking up the spares.

Will I go again? Probably. Obviously, bowling wasn't as much fun as it was in my teenage years, but it was still a pretty good time.

Jessica Biel is 27 today. Happy Birthday!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Where Did Everybody Go?


Saturday's passing of Paul Harvey inspired a "geezer moment." I started thinking about radio in general and radio news in particular.

Who are radio's biggest stars? Two immediately jump to mind-- Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern.

Limbaugh and Stern host talk shows. Who's left in news now that Paul Harvey has exited the stage?

NBC got out of the radio news business a long time ago. ABC/Disney sold its radio division to a company called Citadel a while back. CBS is the only one of the big three with an active radio news operation. CNN and FOX also offer news to affiliated stations. The latter two are respectable, but neither have the rich history of the others. Mutual disappeared years ago.



The signature radio newscast has been the CBS "World News Roundup." It's a program that traces its roots back to 1938. The 10 minute "World News Roundup" isn't heard in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area. It was the broadcast of Edward R. Murrow, Douglas Edwards, Dallas Townsend, Reid Collins and Christopher Glenn. I defy anyone to name the anchors now. It shows how radio news has slipped over the years. In case you're interested, it's Nick Young in the morning and Bill Whitney in the evening.

I've always felt there is a big appetite for solid radio news, and there are still some good stations putting out a strong product. Unfortunately, they seem to be the exceptions these days. News costs money, and even though people want to-- and need to-- know what's going on, very few companies want to pony up the bucks to make it happen.

It's time to pass the torch, but is anyone there to take it?