Thursday, July 31, 2008

Winding Down

Today is the last full day of my vacation, and it's been an uneventful one. I'm not complaining.

My major tasks were catching up on my sleep and wondering what to do with the 60 cents I won at Mohegan Sun the other morning. I also made endless changes to the blog header. Your patience has been appreciated. The current design might stick for a while.

If you haven't guessed by now, I have very little to say today. You know my philosophy-- nothing to say, put up a picture. This is another one from early Sunday morning. It's the hole cut in the dike at Wilkes-Barre. Notice the attempt at being artsy. You can see the Market Street Bridge in the background.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


No big issues today, just a little fun with construction. This is the new intermodal transportation center on South Washington Street in Wilkes-Barre. I took this picture because I thought the towering elevator shafts looked neat.

This is the under-side of the West Lackawanna Avenue bridge in Scranton. The bridge will soon be history. Construction crews have cleared away some of the brush and trees beneath the bridge, and now you can get a good look at the architectural features. Enjoy it while you can, because the bridge is being demolished. The construction company promises the new bridge will also be architecturally pleasing.

And finally, a little good news... As Newswatch 16 reported the other evening, the 60 year old Markowitz Brothers newsstand has found a new home. It's just down the street, in the 200 block of Linden Street. The current building, at Wyoming and Linden is being sold, and the newsstand has to move.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sorry, I Still Don't Get It

I visited the old casino building at Mohegan Sun in Plains Township two weeks ago, and the experience was less than thrilling. I gave the new building a try yesterday morning.

The new slots parlor, restaurant and shopping complex is excessive in every sense of the word. You know what? It's a casino. It's supposed to be. It's worth a visit, even if you're not "in" to slot machines and overpriced food. You really have to see it. They did it right.

My visit was around 7:30 am, and the building was just about empty. I had my choice of machines. I sat down at one of "The Price is Right" slots and stuffed in a $5 bill. After a few tries, I was up 60 cents! Mr. Lucky has a philosophy: quit while you're ahead. I walked out a wee bit richer than when I entered.

Even though the new Mohegan Sun building is spectacular, slot machines bore me. Sorry, I still don't get it.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Working for You

Two recent events illustrate why we have no faith in our government.

The Federal Communications Commission has finally approved the merger of the Sirius and XM satellite radio services. It took more than one year to decide! The FCC was concerned about the combined company being a monopoly. First, if the price gets too high and if the service is poor, a consumer can simply get rid of it. It's not a "must have." I wish the government would spend more time worrying about the monopolies the utility companies enjoy with essential services. Anyway, no one kept their eye on the ball here. If the merger was blocked, one company was going to go out of business, and the remaining company would still be a monopoly.

I was watching C-SPAN the other day. Senators were debating a plan to drill for oil in areas where it's currently forbidden. One senator says the plan to drill is a waste of time because it would take years for all that oil to make it to market. It's because of all the necessary environmental reviews. I'm not saying if the plan to drill is good or bad, but why does an environmental review take years? Yes, look at the impact on the environment. That's important. It shouldn't take years. Come up with a plan. Take a good, hard look. Decide. It's not complicated.

We've very good at talking in this country. We're not very good at doing.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Adventures in Retail II

It's sad news. Published reports say the Boscov's department store chain is having some financial difficulties. Some manufacturers have stopped shipping to Boscov's stores because they're not getting paid.

The newspapers say Boscov's is trying to avoid filing for bankruptcy under Chapter 11. Remember that Chapter 11 does not signal a "going out of business" sale. It gives the company a chance to re-organize and get its financial house in order.

Boscov's management claims it's been hit hard by an economic downtown.  I suspect the chain got too big, too fast. Boscov's took over several mall locations left vacant when Macy's and Kaufmann's merged. It was a lot to swallow at once. I wouldn't be surprised if there are second thoughts at company headquarters. Opening all those new stores seemed like a good idea at the time. Unfortunately, no one saw the coming of some severe economic problems.

The newspapers also report the Boscov's chain might close ten underperforming stores. The downtown Wilkes-Barre store has been a notorious money loser. So far, no list of closing candidates from the company.

Other published reports quote Boscov's management as saying they will survive this downtown, and the chain will not file for bankruptcy protection.

My most recent trip to Boscov's was Monday morning, as I wandered about the Steamtown Mall in Scranton. Not many shoppers in Boscov's and the rest of the mall, but that's normal on an early weekday morning. The Boscov's shelves and racks looked normal-- no shortage of merchandise.

I stopped in a Public Square newsstand to buy some out-of-town papers yesterday morning. The Boscov troubles was the major topic of conversation. The man behind the counter speculated the Wilkes-Barre store was safe because, he claims, it's the place where the chain dumps all the merchandise that doesn't sell at other stores. Who knows?

I've never really understood how retail in a downtown situated between two college campuses doesn't prosper. There's still a lot of vacant space around the new cineplex and South Main Street.

Is it time to give up the ghost? So-called community leaders and elected types try to preserve and bring in new downtown retail. Why? America has changed. It's a waste of time to try to re-create downtowns of the 1950's. These days, downtowns consist of government buildings, private offices, medical facilities, and some small businesses, like restaurants, that cater to them. There might be a small entertainment strip. Like or not, big retail has fled to the suburbs, and it's not coming back. Modern shoppers don't want to go downtown.

Will clusters of smaller specialty stores work better than a big department store downtown? Maybe. What happens to the Boscov's building?

While I'm on the subject of downtowns, I took a long stroll around downtown Wilkes-Barre yesterday morning. There was a lot of activity around King's College. I asked a young man what was going on. He replied it was some sort of testing program. Several people were scrambling to come up with the change to feed the parking meters. I came to the rescue of a young woman who needed change for a dollar.

My point is this-- why didn't King's make parking arrangements somewhere, and why is the city busting chops at parking meters on a Saturday morning? I know it takes a lot of money to run a city, but I think Wilkes-Barre can do without the handful of quarters that come in on Saturdays. Want to make downtown more attractive to shoppers and businesses? Make it easy for people to people to park.

Saturday, July 26, 2008


Yes, I know it's a weekend, and I know I'm on vacation.

I'm in the habit of getting up early. Today was no exception. I wandered around downtown Wilkes-Barre to play with my camera for a while. I took this one shortly after sunrise-- a rather interesting silhouette, if I do say so myself.

As some of you may know, I usually spend my weekend mornings sequestered in a television studio. I was struck this morning by the number of people out and about very early-- people on bikes, construction workers, people setting up yard sales, folks just sitting on Public Square benches...

It was nice to see a lot of activity on a really nice summer morning.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Rain, the Park, and Other Things

Wednesday's rain wasn't all bad. It livened up the waterfall at Aylesworth Park in Jermyn Thursday morning.

I'll be enjoying a rare weekend off. Trish Hartman will anchor the Saturday and Sunday morning broadcasts.

The blog is nearing its fourth anniversary, and I think I've touched on this topic every year. Someone is going to get seriously hurt or killed covering a hurricane.

A television news crew from Austin was cut up on South Padre Island, TX this week covering Dolly. They were covered with glass when a satellite truck window got blown out.

It's just needless grandstanding, and it's going to continue until some poor reporter, photographer, or satellite truck operator winds up in a body bag. You can cover a hurricane without standing in the middle of it, looking like a fool. You're not impressing anyone. Viewers spend more time thinking "why is that idiot out in the storm?" rather than listening to what you're saying. At one time, it was almost interesting. Now, it's a cliche-- and a dangerous one at that. Risks are part of the job. This is just plain silly.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Adventures in Retail

The news in the Times-Tribune was disturbing. The building that houses the Markowitz News Stand at Linden and Wyoming in downtown Scranton is being sold. The news stand, in business for sixty years, will have to move or close. The owner, Sid Markowitz, was quoted as saying the search, so far, hasn't turned up a suitable site.

Sid's brother, Hyman, was my freshman year civics teacher. He also spent a lot of time at the store before his passing. Hyman was near retirement when our paths crossed at Mid Valley Junior High many years ago, and he was just a sweet old man. You have to know a lot about how government works when you're in the news business. I have Hyman Markowitz to thank for that.

I stopped by the news stand yesterday morning to take a few pictures outside. Inside, I bought a can of Diet Pepsi for 50 cents. Where can you get a can of soda for 50 cents these days? As I gave my money to Sid, I wished him luck and added I hope he finds a new building. Places like Sid's are rare these days. He sells every newspaper and magazine currently in print. There are a lot of cigars and cigarettes, but I know nothing about that stuff. I'd hate to see the store disappear. There is so much history here.

Shifting gears, I keep a medium sized fan in my bedroom. I use it to stir up the air on those days and nights when it isn't hot enough to kick on the air conditioning. The fan, after many years of loyal service, burned out yesterday. My Wednesday morning task was to find a new one. I hit those two big box home improvement stores near the Viewmont Mall. It was during the heavy rain. Both stores had a lot in common-- they didn't have what I wanted. The small fans were too small. The large ones were too large. If that wasn't enough, both stores had leaky lobbies, which doesn't give you a lot of confidence in their products. Walking through indoor puddles is a turn off at stores that are supposed to sell you things to improve your home.

I found a decent sized fan at a near by big box department store, and I'm grateful for that. Stores didn't have a lot of fans in stock. It's almost time to start selling snow throwers.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I Read the News Today...

Wow!-- and not in a good way.

The publisher of the Allentown Morning Call says the paper is eliminating nearly 40 editorial positions, about 25 per cent of its newsroom staff.

The news business is changing. Newspapers used to be "it." You didn't believe it until you saw it in print. Now, newspapers in their current form are on the verge of becoming irrelevant.

The internet killed the newspaper star. The Allentown Morning Call is an excellent newspaper and it has a very good web site. Like everything else, it comes down to money, and it's not just the news. I don't know the numbers from Allentown, but some newspapers used to get half their revenue from classified ads. In some places, it's down to 20 per cent. The old business model doesn't work. The internet is great. Unfortunately, at least right now, it can't generate the money at the level and the way newspapers are used to seeing-- ad revenue, subscriptions, and newsstand sales.

We're all in this together. Something that hurts one method of news delivery hurts us all. It's a new world out there, and we have to figure out how to make it work. A much leaner, trimmer newspaper may be one of the answers, but that doesn't mean I don't have sympathy for those losing their jobs.

By the way, I have an unsolicited advice for some of our newspaper friends and their web sites. I don't think the Morning Call does it. I've seen it in a few other locations here in our area. There will be a short internet blurb on "breaking news." It usually ends with the line "for more, see tomorrow's editions of ----------." No! They just don't get it. The internet has trained people to expect the information NOW. When you ask people to come back later, or wait until tomorrow's newspaper hits the streets, all you're accomplishing is driving your readers to another source of information.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Church and Starbucks

The news is coming out in bits and pieces. The Scranton Catholic Diocese is looking to close a bunch of churches, much as the Diocese of Allentown did. The number could be staggering. We'll have the final tally early next year.

Like it or not, the church is a business. If you don't have the staff (priests), if you don't have the money, if you don't have the parishioners, you have no options.

There were numerous complaints about an alleged serious lack of compassion and humanity when the diocese closed several schools a couple years back. We'll see if any lessons have been learned.

I hate to see people lose their jobs, but it's hard to scrounge up sympathy for Starbucks. The chain is closing hundreds of stores. Who thought it was a good idea to charge a lot of money for a little bit of coffee, and to put a store on every corner? I wasn't a business major, and even I can see how that business model doesn't make sense.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Who's In Charge Here?

Nothing charges out today as a "must write about" topic, so here are thoughts on a few things...

The FBI has decided against recommending criminal charges against former Scranton tax collector Ken McDowell. The FBI launched an investigation after more than $12 million mysteriously appeared in accounts McDowell oversaw.

The Scranton Times-Tribune did a very good story on the case a couple weeks ago. One line jumped out of the story and bit me on the nose. It is attributed to "veteran office employees." "He (McDowell) also failed to make monthly financial reports to city, county and school district, which also is required by law." My question is this: How many people were asleep at the switch? You have the tax collector failing to make monthly statements to three different agencies. Didn't anyone realize something was wrong? Didn't anyone speak up? Why? Why not?

Scranton's new public access channel really hasn't hit the ground running, has it? There are always issues with a new enterprise, but I expected more than a few meetings and a whole bunch of graphics and public service announcements.

Some of you may have noticed I've been playing with the blog page header. It's still not where I want it, and I'll be experimenting a little more in the days to come. Yes, I need a hobby-- badly.

Good luck on your bike ride, Joe.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Law & Order

I've been looking for the words to describe the past week here in our area. Only one word jumps out at me: chilling.

A man was beaten to death in Shenandoah over the weekend. Some say it was racially motivated.

Three people were found baten and stabbed to death in Scranton yesterday morning. A suspect was located in Wilkes-Barre yesterday afternoon. The suspect's words to people outside the arrest scene: "I had fun."

You'll go crazy trying to make sense of the week.

One of my former co workers, from my radio days, spent some time in Detroit. He summarized local homicides by saying people around here usually kill people they know. We don't have much random crime. That doesn't make it any easier to take.

Scranton Police were quick to supply the suspect's name and a picture Thursday morning, even a vehicle description. You'd be amazed at how infrequently that happens. It often takes days to get information-- things that could help you spot someone dangerous.

We were looking at surveillance pictures in the newsroom the other morning. The pictures were those of robbery suspects at a "big box" department store. They were awful. A huge company can afford better surveillance gear. I'm beginning to think surveillance pictures on the news encourage crime because would-be thieves see how the cameras can't get a good look at them.

It's good to see we can solve crimes, even though we can't prevent them.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Politics and TV

Several publications are reporting FOX News anchor and Washington managing editor Brit Hume will go into semi-retirement at the end of the year. He'll work about 100 days a year and will have a role in major event coverage.

I like Brit Hume. He had the onions to move from ABC to FOX, even before the FOX operation was fully up and running. What I really like is his economy of words, a rarity in the business these days.

Two things I've seen recently register as brilliant, in my book. I have one from the Democratic side and the other from the Republicans.

Preparations are being made for Barack Obama to accept the Democratic presidential nomination at a football stadium in Denver, rather than the convention arena. The arena can hold about 20,000. The stadium holds four times that number. It's guaranteed to be an impressive sight.

An extremely well done John McCain commercial is currently being broadcast here in our area. It re-introduces McCain to the American people, what's called an "image" spot. It's among the better political ads in recent memory.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I Don't Get It

The new slots parlor/restaurant/shopping center at Mohegan Sun in Plains Township opens tomorrow. I took this picture of the $200+ million dollar building last week, during the final phase of construction. It's spectacular from the outside, and I'm sure it's just as nice on the inside. If it delivers even half of what it promises, people will walk away pleased and impressed.

Having said that, here it comes. I had a few minutes to kill on a recent morning. I'd never gambled, so I decided to give the existing slots parlor at Mohegan Sun a try. I gave myself a $25 limit. I left after spending $10. The reason? I was bored out of my mind, and the experience didn't work for me. I just didn't enjoy sitting in darkened, windowless room. Playing the slots takes no skill. I tried several different machines. They all seemed the same. Press a button. Stare at the screen. Wait. Tedious.

I know people who love Mohegan Sun. I've met several people with the company. They've always been great to me. Mohegan Sun seems like an extremely well run enterprise. The new building is on my list of places to visit.

I guess I'm just not a gambler.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Random Thoughts

I haven't done a "Random Thoughts" blog in a while. Translation: I have nothing to talk about today.

Noreen and I briefly touched on it Sunday morning, and Joe expanded on it yesterday morning-- if you consider summer to be the months of June, July, and August... summer's half over. I'm okay with that. I've already seen a few "back to school sales." Time flies.

I have no desire to own an i-Phone.

The opening of the Scranton Farmer's Market interests me more than the opening of the new Batman movie. I'm also having a problem generating interest in the upcoming summer olympics.

The Simpsons Movie has made it to HBO. I've watched bits and pieces recently. I'd forgotten how underwhelmed I was by this film.

I've done stories on two mine reclamation projects in two weeks, and they're really good things. The one I covered last week opens up a new part of the Hazleton area for development. The news is not as good in Carbondale. A mine reclamation project above the city is apparently causing massive run-off problems. Several homes and Business Route 6 were flooded Sunday night and Monday morning. I can almost understand it happening once. Twice is inexcuseable. It has to be fixed and fixed fast. It will also be nice to look on the mountain above Carbondale and see trees and grass rather than mine scarred land.

The word staycation has grown old-- fast. I was doing staycations before they became fashionable. The reason-- catching up on some rest was more important than wandering around America. I have a week off at the end of the month. No plans, even though I'm feeling a bit of wanderlust. I usually save major travel for my September vacation. Cooler weather works for me.

Why do we pay attention to yearly hurricane forecasts? Every year, we hear it's going to be an active season. It rarely happens. However, all it takes is one big storm hitting the U.S. to cause major headaches.

I now work for a much bigger outfit. The company that owns WNEP just acquired eight stations from FOX.

Watching all those churches close over the weekend in the Allentown Diocese was sad. If there aren't enough priests to go around, your options are limited. There are rumors of church closings on the way in another Catholic diocese, but you know how rumors are. On the other hand, I've been hearing those rumblings from too many people lately. There's a strong feeling that something's up.

I don't know if I'll watch tonight's All Star Game. Interleague play has diminished my interest.

Brett Favre has the right to un-retire. The Green Bay Packers have the right to control his fate. Frankly, I'm sick of the whole thing.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Sad Weekend

Former White House press secretary Tony Snow died Saturday morning. Regardless of how you feel about his politics, you couldn't help but like the guy. Snow was a conservative Republican. FOX took some heat when it hired Snow to host "FOX News Sunday" in 1996. He proved the critics wrong. Snow played it straight. You couldn't tell what way he leaned.

Tony Snow had a radio talk show for a couple of years. No one around here carried it, but I was a frequent listener via XM. All too often, hard core political talk shows, both Republican and Democrat, are shrill and mean spirited. Unlistenable. Snow's show was different. He said what he believed, and he was a gentleman in doing it.

Vice President Dick Cheney said Snow would have been a great candidate for any public office. I agree. The man had charm and charisma. You can't teach that.

A friend said it best-- when Bobby Murcer died Saturday, he lost part of his childhood. I'll never forget what a shock it was when the Yankees traded Murcer to the San Francisco Giants before the 1975 season. Murcer seemed crushed. His fans felt the same way.

Who could forget Murcer's 5 RBI performance in the first game after Thurman Munson's funeral in August of 1979? The YES Network re-runs the game occasionally. Do yourself a favor. Watch it next time around.

We ran a "sound bite" with Yankees' manager Joe Girardi on Newswatch 16 Saturday night and Sunday morning. Girardi was nearly in tears. It was moving stuff.

Murcer went in to broadcasting after retiring from baseball. Television has a way of exposing the phonies, letting people know who you really are. I think everyone agrees that Bobby Murcer was a very nice man. You can't fake "nice."

Friday, July 11, 2008

They Make It So Easy!

I've railed against the people in Harrisburg many times before. You know how the speech goes. They care more about the special interests rather than the people they're elected to represent. They hire the connected rather than the best and the brightest. They have no problems wasting your money. Meaningful reforms? Forget it. Many are sanctimonious and arrogant. At least one is a proven liar. They make it easy for the public to hold them in low regard, and they really don't seem to care.

A dozen people, including a current state representative and a former one, were indicted yesterday. The charges include giving out state bonuses (your money) to people who worked on political campaigns. On top of that, the accused allegedly tried to get rid of the evidence.

It's disgusting and we deserve better.

I bet there's more to the story, and I hope the investigation doesn't end here.

The accused are innocent until proven guilty, but one fact is not in dispute-- thousands of dollars in "bonus" money was tossed around. While the bonus program itself is not illegal, it's criminal to spend that money when our schools need help, when our roads and bridges are falling apart, when our taxes are so high.

They stole our trust, and that's more valuable than the money.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


It's been exactly one month since I installed a counter on the blog, and things have been going better than I expected. The 6,000 hit mark is approaching, and we may have surpassed it since I posted this.


The site meter gives me more than a number. It also lists the locations (but not the identities, so don't worry) of visitors. About 90 per cent of the hits come from northeastern and central Pennsylvania. There are small clusters in the Harrisburg area and New Jersey. Northbrook, IL is on the list daily. Pittsburgh and Baltimore are there as well. A foreign country pops up from time to time. Reading the list never fails to be interesting.

The blog averages about 200 hits a day. I think we topped out at 265 a few weeks ago. I can't figure it out. Some mediocre efforts do well. Blogs I really liked occasionally fail to strike a chord with readers. My blog doesn't offer a comment section. It's to avoid competition with "Talkback 16." It appears the "inside tv" blogs and bad photographs get the most attention.

Thanks again. I'd be thrilled with five hits a day.

In an attempt to appease the people who like the "inside tv" stuff, we got a couple new trucks recently. Here's one of them.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


While I was waiting for someone who knew something to give me an answer on the closing time of the West Lackawanna Avenue Bridge Monday morning, I had some time to wait.

I'm always drawn to trains, and there was a cluster of freight trains and an old caboose near Steamtown and the state office building parking lot. Note to the state people: get rid of the weeds and trash in your parking lot. It's disgraceful, and not what we want visitors to Steamtown to see.

Big diesel freight engines might not have the same charm as steam locomotives, but I still find them fun and interesting.

Enjoy the mid week show.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

One Good Turn, and Signed, Sealed, Delivered

Thanks to Vince Sweeney, who gave me a mention in his blog, It's a discussion of our first experiences looking for work in broadcasting.

Last week, I told the story of being rejected by WCDL in Carbondale. Yes, it was my first radio turn down, but not the first time I didn't get the broadcasting job I sought.

My first failure was at WDAU. I actually interviewed for a job in the mail room when the station was in the basement of Scranton Prep. Yes, the mail room. The mail room was more important back then. There was no e-mail, and there wasn't any satellite delivery of programming. The year, I believe, was 1980.

Stand by for what radio DJ "The Greaseman" calls a "geezer moment." Before satellites, television producers and syndicators actually made dubs (copies) and mailed the film or video to television stations. Take Goodson/Todman for example. It produced "To Tell the Truth." Let's say the show aired on 150 stations. Instead of making 150 dubs, which was costly, it made considerably fewer. WCBS received week one's shows. WDAU received week two. WBNG received week three. WHP received week four, and so on. When WDAU was finished with its tapes, it sent the them to another television station for airing. TV stations swapped tapes until every week in the programming cycle was broadcast. The practice was called "bicycling." Now, everyone tapes a satellite feed at a designated time and the shows are delivered to every station simultaneously. A bit of trivia-- the guy who really got the satellite thing off and running was Merv Griffin. Smart man. It allowed him to have more timely shows. A big star could sit on the couch with Merv and promote a new movie just before the premiere rather than wait for programs to make their way around the country.

Anwyway, I remember showing up at Prep, being led down a long, dark green hallway, and being interviewed by a very nice man named Carl Reiner. No, it wasn't the guy from the Dick Van Dyke Show. We had a short talk, and I was on my way. I don't know why I didn't get the job. Never found out. Never asked. I'm okay with it, even though I really wanted it. Please see last week's reference to "a foot in the door" in broadcasting, even if it was the mail room.

Moral of the story: sometimes, what doesn't happen to you is more important than what does.

By the way, I've had far more great experiences in this business than bad ones, and I'll share those stories one of these days.

One other note: says Channel 22 signed on 55 years ago June 7. Congratulations!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Bridge Work

It's finally happening. The West Lackawanna Avenue bridge in Scranton closes today for replacement. The project is long overdue.

Because the bridge is considered a gateway to Scranton, they're going to try to dress it up a little, retaining some of the architectural elements from decades past.

I have mixed feelings. It's nice to have a nostalgic look, but there's nothing wrong with clean and simple, either. Is this the best use of $5.2 million?

Getting a good look at the underside of the bridge wasn't easy. It's rather overgrown. It is a handsome bridge, when you can see it.

10,000 cars and trucks will have to use a detour until the bridge is complete in December of 2009.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Bad Photography Weekend

The second half of "Bad Photography Weekend" features boats on Lake Wallenpaupack.

I hope you enjoyed the long holiday weekend.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Bad Photography Weekend

I haven't inflicted a "Bad Photography Weekend" on you in a while.

Today's offering is the Middle Creek, near the Lackawaxen River at Hawley.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Independence Day

We did a story on it, over the weekend, on Newswatch 16... Volunteers put up yellow ribbons all over Dickson City to show U.S. troops serving overseas will not be forgotten in Independence Day.
The video was good. It's even better in person. Add the flags lining Main Street, and you have quite a sight.
Have a happy and safe Independence Day.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Stunts and Giggles

A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre radio station is in the middle of a format change. WQFM 92.1/100.1 used to be the "80's, 90's and today." That format disappeared the other day, replaced by The Beatles 24/7.

In the business, we call that a "stunt." It's designed as a transition, and something to get people talking. It worked. I actually heard a couple discussing it at the post office Tuesday morning. The Beatles thing is supposed to sound like a traditional format until a change is made. A radio message board predicts the new format will be unveiled today.

WQFM wasn't a bad station, but it never really took off. Did I listen? Yes and no. I'd stick around for a while if something good was on when I hit "scan" on my car's radio. On the other hand, it wasn't a station I actively sought out.

I like The Beatles, and as a stunt format, it's working surprisingly well. After you listen for a while, you're reminded of the range The Beatles had-- so many different styles, so many different sounds, such variety, even though the band really wasn't together that long. Alas, even though I like The Beatles, I got sick of them after a couple hours.

What comes next? Your guess is as good as mine. This is a tough radio station town. Pick a format, and there are already at least two other stations doing it.

I became a satellite radio fan about six years ago because of the consistency. When I punch in the 70's channel, I get 70's music, and it's going to stay that way. The sports talk stations always have sports talk. There's no interruption for play-by-play of teams that don't interest me. The loss of local news and weather really isn't a factor because over-the-air radio stations around here have cut way back on that. It's like their management is saying "we don't care if you go someplace for your entertainment and information." The internet takes care of the information part. I choose satellite for my entertainment while others have turned to things like I-Pods and MP3 players.

Traditional radio still commands a big market share, but it's slipping, and it's not hard to see the reasons.

>>>UPDATE<<< The station flipped to oldies this afternoon, a format it abandoned a couple years ago. Everything old is new again.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Drama King

This blog will be four years old in November, and if you've been along for the ride, you probably realize by now that I'm not what you would call a warm and fuzzy "people person." I talk for a living. I'm talked to, for a living. When I'm off duty, I don't want to talk.

The last several weeks haven't been fun. I couple people I know passed away. A couple others are battling some severe health issues. Some people in my life continue to disappoint. Thankfully, it's a small number. I've been a little more tired than usual, and the Tampa Bay Rays are in first place in the American League East. On top of all that, I worry about everything. It's a pre-existing condition.

I violated my "no talk" policy in mid-May, when I called a former college classmate on the 25th anniversary of our graduation. She blew off the reunion. So did I. Thanks to conflicting schedules and her malfunctioning answering machine, we never connected. I was about to give up when I decided to give it one more try. That was last week. The answering machine has been repaired. I left a message. The return call came Monday afternoon. It was 31 minutes and 34 seconds of heaven.

I really needed to hear a friendly voice. She sounded exactly the same, and her memory of events 25 years ago was astounding. It was worth suspending my "no talk" policy for an afternoon.


Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Booted Off Melody Mountain

It's been eons since we've had "Uncle APAL's Story Time." Today's offering-- my first stab at getting a job in radio.

The passing of Paul Oles got me thinking about the old WCDL radio in Carbondale. Paul worked there for a very long time, before coming to WNEP. I applied for a job there in 1980.

I don't remember how I heard about the opening. I think there was a posting on the bulletin board at my college radio station. I made a phone call. The news director had me drive to Carbondale for an interview and audition.

At the time, WCDL was in a little old house on top of Salem Mountain, just outside of Carbondale. They used to call it "Melody Mountain." Cute. This is a picture I took yesterday, with the tower out back. WCDL was, and is, 5,000 watts at 1440. That's a pretty strong signal. Unfortunately, it's a daytimer. That means it signs off at sundown and comes back on at sunrise. In November, the station shuts down at 4:45 PM. It's 4:30 in December. Radio geeks, like myself, will delight in knowing WCDL has applied to the Federal Communications Commission for permission to go 24 hours. The night time power will be a whopping 37 watts. You can spit further than the signal will reach, but hey, it's better than nothing.

The news director gave me some wire copy to read, and I recorded it in the production booth. Not great. Not awful. We had a short chat, and I was on my way. It was one day a week, Saturday mornings. I really wanted that job to get my foot in the broadcasting door. It didn't happen.

I assume I'm like most people when they don't get the job they want. There's anger. There's depression. There's often a combination of both. I don't remember getting bent out of shape when I didn't get the WCDL job. I wouldn't have hired me. I was a sophomore in college. I was green and had yet to develop the fake radio voice I still use today. If I'm not mistaken, the job went to John Webster, now half of a very successful morning team at Rock 107.

I did get lucky a few months later, and hooked on at WARM. It wasn't much of a job, but I was thrilled to have it. My responsibility was running the Sunday morning religion and public affairs shows. Put a reel of tape on the machine. Press "play." Do the same thing a half hour later, and a half hour later, and a half hour later... The WARM job was just what I needed. I picked up so much knowledge there, and I weaseled my way on the air a few months later. I stayed for nearly eleven years.

If you remember local radio in the 60's, 70's, and early 80's, there was WARM-- and then there was everyone else. Still, I have to give the people at the old WCDL a lot of credit. It was a solid community radio station. It was in the schools, it broadcast high school sports, and it did all the small town events in Carbondale and the mid valley. I can count on the fingers of one hand the stations around here that are interested in that stuff today, and it makes me sad. WCDL isn't what it used to be. The studio is miles away, in Avoca. There is no community involvement.

I occasionally wonder what would have happened if WCDL hired me. I don't think my life would have been worse, but most certainly, it would have been different.