Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Best Thing I've Read Today

An in-depth profile of Billy Joel by Nick Paumgarten in The New Yorker:

Billy Joel has never really been hip. He is widely loved but also, in many quarters, coldly dismissed. The critics got on him early. “Self-dramatizing kitsch” (Dave Marsh); “A force of nature and bad taste” (Robert Christgau). The contempt embedded in the lyrics of “Piano Man,” toward the patrons at the bar and the whole enterprise of entertaining people with music, soured many on him from the start. Joel wasn’t what the critics were looking for in the mid-seventies, when punk was knocking on the door. Their notions of authenticity, however flimsy, didn’t allow for his kind of poppy piano tristesse. One slam on him used to be that he was derivative, aping other voices or styles, or else mercenary, a soulless craftsman exploiting his technical and melodic agility to churn out insidious confections for the purpose of making money. These charges he has answered over and over. In the old days, he’d tear up reviews onstage. He used to call critics on the phone and scold them. (“You can’t know what I was thinking when I was writing that song.”) In his mind, he wasn’t trying to write hits. He just wrote songs that he hoped would sound good together on an album. The record company picked out the singles.

And it did a good job: he had thirty-three Top Forty hits. That’s an awful lot—about twice as many as Springsteen, the Eagles, or Fleetwood Mac. Some were schmalz, others were novelties, but a crate of them are songs that have embedded themselves in the great American jukebox and aren’t going away anytime soon. If you hate them, fine. A lot of people, even some rock snobs, love them still. I’m tired of “Piano Man,” too, but “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” gets me every time. “Summer, Highland Falls” is for real. As for derivative, Joel won’t deny it; he loved the Beatles, Ray Charles, Otis Redding, and Smokey Robinson, so why not try to sound like them? At his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, in 1999, he was introduced by Ray Charles. Joel said, “I know I’ve been referred to as derivative. Well, I’m damn guilty. I’m derivative as hell.” He said that if the Hall of Fame disqualified candidates on the basis of being derivative, “there wouldn’t be any white people here.”
Read Paumgarten's full piece here.

iPhone 4s Problems

I'm waiting for my iPhone 6 to arrive next month, but in the meantime, I downloaded iOS 8.0.1 a couple of weeks ago to my iPhone 4s. Big mistake! I knew the operating system was much larger than iOS 7, but I figured that my 64gb phone could handle it. It couldn't.

The phone suddenly worked much more slowly and with a lot of aggravation. Switching between apps (by double-clicking the home button) didn't work correctly, and some of the apps would get stuck so badly that I'd have to re-boot the whole thing. Plus, Siri seemed to have a bad attitude, like I was making her work overtime.

The biggest problem was that the bluetooth I used in my car wouldn't connect, or if it did, it connected for audio but not for phone calls. Many times, I'd get in the car and the handshake between the vehicle's audio system and the phone's bluetooth would cause the phone to ring once and then pause, locking up the whole system for both audio and calls. I'd have to disconnect bluetooth, turn it back on, then choose the car's connection again and again. A huge pain.

But I'm happy to report that Apple has fixed those problems with the new iOS 8.1, which became available this week. After downloading it, I'm not having any significant problems with the 4s.

I mention all of this because many of you may also have an iPhone 4s, and I'd suggest that you the same thing I told my wife for hers -- do not download any version of the new operating system, particularly if you own the 16gb version. Also, because most of the apps have been updated by their providers to work with the new operating system, they may be incompatible with your phone running on the old OS. To avoid those problems, go into Setting > General > Background App Refresh and turn it off.

I wish someone had told me this two weeks ago so I could have avoided these problems.

Message On My Voicemail

Last week, Jimmy Fallon had Sting on "The Tonight Show" and asked him to try to imitate cell phone ringtones with his voice. The bit was cute, although like almost everything else on late night talk show, not at all spontaneous.

Fallon always acts like he's asking guests to do something they're not prepared for, but of course they've already planned the whole thing out, gotten the guests' approval, and probably rehearsed it -- if they didn't want to do it, the bit would have been scrapped. The ideas and games are usually amusing and guests know that Fallon's bits regularly go viral online, so they're happy to play along, but they don't hear the idea for the first time on the air.

This bit ended with Sting singing "Message On My Voicemail" for an audience member chosen at random. But while the guy might have thought it was cool to have as his outgoing message, it wasn't personalized for him, and the audience's reaction drowned out part of Sting's singing. Fallon and Sting and The Roots should have recorded another version backstage (without the crowd), which they could have given to the guy, and then put online for the public to download at 99¢ each, with the proceeds going to some charity (like Sting's Rainforest Foundation). I bet they'd have a million downloads, minimum.

Then there's the reality of having that song as your outgoing message -- it would get old very quickly. Imagine calling someone and, every time they don't answer, you have to listen to all 30 seconds or so of Sting before you can leave your message. In our immediate-gratification world, that would be really annoying after the novelty wore off (by approximately the second time, I'd guess).

It's like the people who still have a voicemail message that says, "You have reached 555-5555. I'm sorry I can't take your call at this time. Please leave your name and number and the time you called, and I'll get back to you as soon as I can. Thank you for calling." Too much information! Everyone in the world knows how voicemail works, we know we're supposed to leave a message, and we don't need any instructions. Perhaps it dates back to the days when we had answering machines with cassettes inside, and you had to have a 20-second-duration outgoing message because that's how long it took for the tape to wind around to the silver metallic strip that created the beep (remember calling someone whose message wasn't long enough, and there were several seconds of dead air at the end?).

The best -- briefest -- outgoing messages I've ever heard were from John Ogle (my newsman at WCXR/Washington in the 80s and 90s), who simply said, "You've reached a machine," and Penn Jillette, who got it done even more efficiently with a simple "VIVA!"

Those were much better than having to sit through "Message On My Voicemail" every time I called you. In fact, I'd probably stop calling you, opting instead to conduct our business via text, where no instructions are necessary.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Long Live The Rock

Dan Hayden was Program Director of WHCN/Hartford when I worked there (1981-85). He was a visionary who led the station through its greatest years as the most popular rock radio station in Connecticut. Dan's the one who turned me from a nighttime music personality to a full-blown morning man, a daypart I stayed in for 15 years as I moved on to New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, until I was too tired of waking up at 4am to go to work. After I left WHCN, Dan brought back Michael Picozzi to take over the morning show for the next decade with my former news guy/sidekick, Gary Lee Horn.

Last night, Dan posted this on Facebook:
On Sunday Michael Picozzi managed a very cool move. Quick background, around 1980-ish WHCN moved its studios from a downtown Hartford high rise to an old mansion on Asylum Hill.
I thought it would be a good idea to place a very large rock in front of the building so all would know what the station stood for. General Manager Bill Lee and I spent a day searching quarries for the ideal stone. We found it at the bottom of a hill at a quarry in Danielson (I think) -- a long haul from Hartford.
Years later Clear Channel purchased WHCN and moved the station back downtown. The other rock station in town, WCCC, moved into the former WHCN building and carried on the rock tradition until recently being sold.
So the cool move is this: Picozzi managed to have the rock – weighing several tons – moved to the front lawn of his house. And there it sits in all its rock ‘n roll glory. I won’t give out the address you can ask Michael for that. In the history of Hartford radio there have only been two commercial rock stations and ‘the rock’ was an important part of both of them. Many, many rock artists and radio personalities were photographed hanging around that glorious rock. Nice move, Michael!
Going to work every day for four years in that unique facility was one of the highlights of my career, a place where I learned an enormous amount about making great radio and worked with a lot of talented people. The photo above shows the WHCN staff gathered next to The Rock circa 1983.

That's me in the back row -- in a tie and beard and full head of hair! The beautiful young woman on the bottom left was a relatively new employee who made the mistake of falling in love with me (and vice versa) that year -- and we're still together more than three decades later. Also in that row are Kim Alexander (who replaced me in evenings when I moved to mornings), newswoman Phyllis Parizek, production guy Tom "50,000" Watts, Dan Hayden, and promotions director Teri Milling.

Gary was next to me (our show was "Harris and The Horn"). The guy on the upper right was weekender Andy Geller, who went on to a career as a bigtime voiceover guy, as did Bob Smith, the only one in sunglasses. In front of me was Bob Bittens, then the Midday Man/Music Director and later Program Director when Dan left WHCN. In the middle with the v-neck and beard was Phil Kirzyc, a truly great disc jockey who regularly kicked my butt in a video football game we played in his apartment a lot.

I apologize for not remembering everyone in the photo, as the years have not been kind to my memory, but each of them contributed to a truly remarkable radio experience for all of us who worked there -- and a helluva lot of listeners, too.

Harris Challenge 10/17/14

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes trivia categories "Dead People Who Make More Than You," "Cringing At The Debate," and "Movies About Scary Diseases." Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News® 10/17/14

My latest batch of Knuckleheads In The News® stories include a fire in a crematorium, two convenience store robberies gone awry, and traffic tickets for a woman without a car.  Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Worth A Link

  • Stephen Colbert explains his workday and how "The Colbert Report" is assembled.
  • Buzz Bissinger on how insulated pro athletes are from everything else in the world.
  • Nate Silver explains why a ban on flights from Ebola-ravaged west Africa wouldn't work.
  • Geena Davis says she got her big break as a mannequin in a clothing store window.
  • When the NFL goes pink for breast cancer awareness, very little of the money goes to help the cause.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

How Wolves Change Rivers

In 1995, when wolves were re-introduced to Yellowstone National Park after 70 years, they had a remarkable and unexpected effect on the animal population and the physical layout of the land...

Thanks to Bob Robinson for the link.

Friday, October 17, 2014

KTRS Today

I'll be back my KTRS show today (3-6pm CT) with another chance for you to play my Harris Challenge (the most fun you can have with your radio on), a brand new batch of Knuckleheads In The News®, plus Colin Jeffery's movie reviews. You can listen over the air, via the station's free smartphone app or via

He Said/She Said

When the Woody Allen/Dylan Farrow incident was re-hashed earlier this year, it was ugly, and several people who know I'm a Woody Allen fan asked whether I believed her or him. I told them that I couldn't take a side because I don't actually know what happened. Sure, I know her allegation and I know his denial, but I don't have any data to base a conclusion on.

That's why I was fascinated by this talk by social psychologist Carol Tavris at The Amazing Meeting this summer, in which she explained how difficult it is to dissect He Said/She Said questions in sexual communications. As the father of a college-age daughter, I was particularly interested in Tavris' take on states (like California) passing laws regarding explicit consent between two students engaging in sex.